The Search For Redemption
Amir’s quest to redeem himself makes up the heart of the novel. Early on, Amir strives to redeem himself in Baba’s eyes, primarily because his mother died giving birth to him, and he feels responsible. To redeem himself to Baba, Amir thinks he must win the kite-tournament and bring Baba the losing kite, both of which are inciting incidents that set the rest of the novel in motion. The more substantial part of Amir’s search for redemption, however, stems from his guilt regarding Hassan. That guilt drives the climactic events of the story, including Amir’s journey to Kabul to find Sohrab and his confrontation with Assef. The moral standard Amir must meet to earn his redemption is set early in the book, when Baba says that a boy who doesn’t stand up for himself becomes a man who can’t stand up to anything. As a boy, Amir fails to stand up for himself. As an adult, he can only redeem himself by proving he has the courage to stand up for what is right.
The Love and Tension Between Fathers and Sons
Amir has a very complex relationship with Baba, and as much as Amir loves Baba, he rarely feels Baba fully loves him back. Amir’s desire to win Baba’s love consequently motivates him not to stop Hassan’s rape. Baba has his own difficulty connecting with Amir. He feels guilty treating Amir well when he can’t acknowledge Hassan as his son. As a result, he is hard on Amir, and he can only show his love for Hassan indirectly, by bringing Hassan along when he takes Amir out, for instance, or paying for Hassan’s lip surgery. In contrast with this, the most loving relationship between father and son we see is that of Hassan and Sohrab. Hassan, however, is killed, and toward the end of the novel we watch Amir trying to become a substitute father to Sohrab. Their relationship experiences its own strains as Sohrab, who is recovering from the loss of his parents and the abuse he suffered, has trouble opening up to Amir.
The Intersection of Political Events and Private Lives
The major events of the novel, while framed in the context of Amir’s life, follow Afghanistan’s transitions as well. In Amir’s recollections of his childhood, we see the calm state of Kabul during the monarchy, the founding of the republic, and then watch as the Soviet invasion and infighting between rival Afghan groups ruin the country. These events have a hand in dictating the novel’s plot and have significant effects on the lives of the characters involved. The establishment of the republic gives Assef an opportunity to harass Amir, simply because Assef’s father knows the new president. Later, Kabul’s destruction forces Baba and Amir to flee to California. When the Taliban take over after that, they murder Hassan and even give Assef a position that lets him indulge his sadism and sexual urges without repercussions. Both of these events factor into Amir’s mission to save Sohrab and his redemption by confronting Assef, subtly implying that Afghanistan will similarly have its own redemption one day.
The Persistence of the Past
All the characters in the novel feel the influence of the past, but none so much as Amir and Sohrab. In Sohrab’s case, his past has been so traumatizing that it affects all his behavior. The prolonged physical and sexual abuse he endured makes him flinch anytime Amir touches him. He also fears the abandonment he experienced when his parents died so much that he attempts suicide when Amir says he may have to go back to an orphanage. For Amir, the past is always with him, from the book’s first sentence, when he says he became what he is today at the age of twelve, to its final sentence. That’s because Amir defines himself by his past. His feelings of guilt for his past actions continue to motivate him. Amir even feels responsible for the Taliban murdering Hassan because he thinks he set in motion the events that led to Hassan’s death when when he pushed Hassan and Ali out of Baba’s house. As he says on the book’s first page, the past can never be buried.
More main ideas from The Kite Runner
Forgiveness - an Essay on Hosseini's The Kite Runner
Forgiveness is a necessary part of human existence, although it is rarely easy to give, and sometimes hardest to give to ourselves. The Kite Runner illustrates humanity's tendency, and even willingness, to dwell on past mistakes. The opening sentence sets this theme with "I became what I am today at the age of twelve," as Amir unapologetically relates how he believes one action at that young age defined his entire life. However, as the novel progresses, the reader comes to the conclusion that it was not one action, but a series of choices and events that created Amir's persona as an adult. By holding onto his guilt and fear of discovery, Amir could only bury his past for short periods of time before his own conscience uncovered it and the emotional baggage attached. Throughout the course of Amir's life, he made choices based on jealousy, fear, and guilt, and thus allowed his life to be immersed in regret and shame until he finally allowed himself redemption.
At the age of twelve, Amir committed the act which would dominate his thoughts for the rest of his life. His childhood friend and servant, Hassan, was raped by the neighborhood bully, and Amir watched in horror. Afraid of the same fate, Amir made no attempt to help his friend or to make his presence known. Instead, he hoped that Hassan had not noticed him watching. This is not uncommon for children. Not all children can be expected to face their fears or to try to be heroes. Children often try to pretend things away, as well. Guilt-ridden, Amir avoided Hassan, but the more he did so, the more guilt he felt for abandoning his friend in his time of need. Deciding that he could no longer stand Hassan's presence, Amir framed Hassan for stealing objects from the house. He had second thoughts and planned on confessing until his father forgave Hassan. Amir had always been jealous of his father's love for Hassan, so when his father readily forgave Hassan for, according to his father, one of the ultimate crimes, Amir said nothing. Unfortunately, Amir let his jealousy make the decision for him because if he told the truth, he would have feared that his father would dislike him even more. Hassan's father took Hassan and left because they both knew that Amir had tried to frame Hassan.
Despite Hassan's departure, Amir learned nothing. He continued to try to hide his past and cover up mistakes. He and his father moved to America, and Amir felt closer to him, but he still could not bring himself to talk about Hassan and what happened. He let it eat away at his relationship with his father. In a way, he was also jealous of his father, who Amir considered almost perfect. He felt as if his father was constantly comparing Amir with himself, and Amir was nothing like his father. Over the years, Amir had witnessed his father helping people, standing up for himself, making his presence known. His father was considered a great man in Afghanistan. Amir felt guilty because he had taken Hassan away from his father, had robbed his father of someone to be proud of. Amir chose a career path that his father considered weak. He felt that his life was defined by his father's and that he could never measure up.
When Amir married, he continued his pattern of behavior. His wife, Soraya, had a slightly shady past, but she shared the details with him before they wed. She wanted nothing to come between their relationship. However, Amir kept his past a secret. Although his "crime" had occurred when he was just a child, he considered it just as shameful, if not more so, as what she had done. Yet, he kept it to himself and let it create a hole in his relationship with her. He felt that no one knew him or what evil he was capable of.
Eventually, Amir received a call from his old mentor, who told him to come back to Afghanistan because "there is a way to be good again." What Amir learned while he visited his mentor would lead him to what he considered redemption. Hassan had been killed, which Amir partially considered his fault, but Hassan's son, Sohrab, was still alive. With the idea of giving him to a good placement organization, Amir set out to save Sohrab. Amir found Sohrab in the possession of a Taliban member, the same man who had raped Hassan when they were children. In order to save Sohrab, Amir had to fight the man, and he was injured very badly in doing so. Despite his injuries, he felt better about himself. He felt free, at peace. He finally had the courage to tell his wife about what he had done, and that took a weight off of his shoulders, as well. Even though Hassan had forgiven him long ago, Amir refused anything less than Hassan's fate.
Amir's entire life had been haunted by what he saw happen to Hassan. Although he was a child at the time, he couldn't accept his shortcoming during a time of need. He was jealous of his father for being able to stand up for himself and others and Hassan's undying loyalty to him. He developed a pattern of behavior - of covering up his mistakes and hiding his past – that he could not rid himself of until he suffered like Hassan did. He made it up to Hassan by saving his son, and he made it up to himself by suffering the way he felt he would have had he not hidden while Hassan was raped. In reality, he probably could have made peace with himself years before had he just recognized that his mistake was that of a child and could have been solved with a child's honesty.