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Psychoanalysis of The Kite Runner

Updated on November 4, 2014

“You can’t always get what you consciously want, but you get what you unconsciously need.”

Psychoanalytic appreciation of literary work is a common feature of today’s literary criticism. It has become a routine to discuss the psychological pros and cons of the work and its characters. Discussing psychology of a literary piece has, we can say, become part of our thoughts. But unfortunately a lay man has acquired a much unsophisticated idea of Psychoanalytic concepts such as sibling rivalry, inferiority complexes, defence mechanism and trauma. It will be easy to say that psychological knowledge is affected by him as everybody has taken it for granted that he knows psychoanalysis.

In depth study of the rules of psychoanalysis and Understanding of key concepts about human behaviours and experiences enable us to comprehend the quite confusing human behaviours. According to Sigmund Freud, the founder of classical theory of psychoanalysis every individual human being has a psychological history that begins in childhood experiences in the family and these experience construct his or her behaviour patterns of adolescent and adult life.

Human beings are motivated by desires, fears, needs, and conflicts but they are not aware of them, it is the Unconscious. These painful experiences, emotions, wounds, fears, guilty desires, and unresolved conflicts lay buried in the storehouse the unconscious. We do not want to know about them due to fear of being overwhelmed by them.

This happened to continue until we find a way to know and acknowledge to ourselves the true cause of our reclusive wounds, fears, guilty desires, and unresolved conflicts.

“The focus is on patterns of behaviour that are destructive in some way. I say patterns of behaviour because our repetition of destructive behaviour reveals the existence of some significant psychological difficulty that has probably been influencing us for some time without our knowing it”. In fact, it is our not knowing about a problem—or, if we do know we have a problem, not realizing when it is influencing our behaviour—that gives it so much control over us”. (Critical theory today A User-Friendly Guide- LOIS TYSON)

Amir who is the protagonist of the novel has such hidden feelings. He is jealous of Hassan, the son of his Baba’s servant. This jealousy or rivalry due to the sympathetic behaviour of his father towards Hassan does not let him save Hassan from the cruel clutches of Assef. The class difference is there but religious feelings as told by the writer Khaled Hosseini are not at the backdrop of this evasion. The religion is consciously intruded by the writer for covert purposes. The family circumstances has moulded his unconscious which makes him to run away saying himself coward. In the Same way the unconscious of other characters is revealed. Baba is guilty conscious and Assef is victim of inferiority complex.

The most severe situation in psychological disorder is the trauma. It is the situation which brings the hidden conscious before our eyes. We cannot return to normal condition after the dream. Same dream situation prevails.

Regardless of how frightening or disturbing our dreams are, they are relatively safe outlets for unconscious wounds, fears, guilty desires, and unresolved conflicts because, as we have seen, they come to us in disguised form, and we will interpret them only to whatever extent we are ready to do so.(Loius Tyson)

“I watched Hassan get raped,” I said to no one. Baba stirred in his sleep. Kaka Homayoun grunted. A part of me was hoping someone would wake up and hear, so I wouldn’t have to live with this lie anymore. But no one woke up and in the silence that followed; I understood the nature of my new curse: I was going to get away with it. I thought about Hassan’s dream, the one about us swimming in the lake. There is he’d said, just water. Except he’d been wrong about that. There was a monster in the lake. It had grabbed Hassan by the ankles, dragged him to the murky bottom. I was that monster.(The Kite Runner)

Assef who is the Antagonist of the novel has been deliberately depicted as vile and villain . He is the precursor of Taliban and the writer is unconsciously telling us that Taliban are not the pure race of land of Afghanistan. His words:

Born to a German mother and Afghan father, the blond, blue-eyed Assef towered over the other kids. His well-earned reputation for savagery preceded him on the streets. Flanked by his obeying friends, he walked the neighborhood like a Khan strolling through his land with his eager-to-please entourage. His word was law, and if you needed a little legal education, then those brass knuckles were just the right teaching tool. I saw him use those knuckles once on a kid from the Karteh-Char district. I will never forget how Assef’s blue eyes glinted with a light not entirely sane and how he grinned, how he grinned, as he pummeled that poor kid unconscious. (The Kite runner P-20) are the proof of writer’s misconception.

The Oedipal conflict and complex which is the competition with the parent of the same gender for the attention and affection of the parent of the opposite gender is very much there. Amir is the best example of this complex. Hassan never talks about his mother as he keeps the repressed repressed. It is a kind of defence as described by Sigmund Freud.

Hassan never talked about his mother, as if she’d never existed. I always wondered if he dreamed about her, about what she looked like, where she was. I wondered if he longed to meet her. (The Kite Runner p-2)

Lois Tyson says that there is Insecure or unstable sense of self—the inability to sustain a feeling of personal identity, to sustain a sense of knowing themselves. There are many instances of the exhibition of Eros (the sexual desires that influence us )and Thanatos (the death drive) in the novel. Baba’s illicit relations with Ali’s wife, rape of Hassan, his son Sohrab’s and Sohrab’s attempt to commit suicide all reveal the Freudian concept of sexuality and death drive.

The Id, Ego and Super Ego

As put forwarded by Freud and explained by different critics man is ruled by three things, Id, Ego and Super Ego. Our sense of right and wrong is formed by the rules and regulation of the society. It is the Super Ego. Then there is Id which is quite opposite to Super Ego, The Id consists largely of those desires regulated or forbidden by social standards. The Ego or the conscious self experiences the external world through the senses, plays referee between the Id and Superego, and all three are defined by their relationships with one another: none can acts independently of the others and a change in one always brings changes in the other two.

The ego is, the product of conflicts between what societies says we can’t have and what we want. For this reason, the relationships among ego, id, and superego tell us as much about our culture as they do about ourselves. (Tyson,)

There is lot of illustration of id, ego and superego in the novel. Assef is Id, he is totally controlled by Libido and has not a bit of Superego or conscience, Baba is superego, He is the illegitimate father of Hassan but cannot confess due to social pressure and Amir is ego, he is driven by both the instincts. He ran away and do not save Hassan from Assef but in the end fight for Sohrab with Assef. All other characters are there to support the psychological needs of these three instincts.

Carl Jung says that literature is the outcome of writer’s psychology. He expresses himself in his works. What he has not got but has wanted is the literature. If we look from Jungian psychoanalysis we clearly come to know that writer has expressed his unfulfilled desires and conflicts in this novel. He is Hazara and is biased against Pushtoon. He has shown his grudge against them on every page of the novel. He has dreams to see his Hazara people prospering and powerful in the royal ranks .That is what he has written in this novel which is obvious in each and every line. Moreover his ideals are western and he considers them superior than Pushtoon and fit for ruling Afghanistan.

He eyed me up and down. “What is a boy like you doing here at this time of the day looking for a Hazara?” His glance lingered admiringly on my leather coat and my jeans--cowboy pants, we used to call them. In Afghanistan, owning anything American, especially if it wasn’t secondhand, was a sign of wealth.(TKR P-38)

The only thing that flowed more than tea in those aisles was Afghan gossip. The flea market was where you sipped green tea with almond kolchas, and learned whose daughter had broken off an engagement and run off with her American boyfriend, who used to be Parchami--a communist--in Kabul, and who had bought a house with under-the-tabl money while still on welfare. Tea, Politics, and Scandal, the ingredients of an Afghan Sunday at the flea market. (TKR P-75)

“Baba, I read Dr. Schneider’s biography in the waiting room. He was born in Michigan. Michigan! He’s American, a lot more American than you and I will ever be.” (TKR P-84)

The protagonist Amir as well writer Khaled Hosseini along with all other major characters does not get what they unconsciously want but get what they consciously need.


Hosseini, Khaled. The Kite runner. New Yark: Riverhead books, 2003. Print).

Bertens,Hans. Literary theory, The basics.NewYark: Routledge, 2008

Seldon,Raman et al A reader's Guide to Cotemporary Literary Theory.Harlow:Pearson,2005

Tyson,Lois. Critical theory today, a user friendly Guide.London:Routledge,2006

Bennet,Andrew &Nicholas,Royal.Introduction to literature,criticismand theory.London:Pearson,2004

Harold Bloom - A Theory of Poetry, 1973; Poetry and Repression: Revisionism from Blake to Stevens, 1976

Jacque Lacan - The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1988; "The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious or Reason Since Freud" (from Écrits: A Selection, 1957)

Jane Gallop - Reading Lacan, 1985

Julia Kristeva - Revolution in Poetic Language, 1984

Marshall Alcorn - Changing the Subject in English Class: Discourse and the Constructions of Desire, 2002

Peter Brooks


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