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Thematic Ideas in "The Kite Runner"

Updated on April 3, 2013

Thematic Ideas Discussion

In every conflict there’s an easy choice, and then there’s the right choice. This is a story of redemption where a boy takes the easy path, and pays for it, until he can finally become a man and right what he has wronged. Kite runner is a coming-of-age novel that teaches many life lessons to those privileged enough to read it.

The story is told from the first person perspective by the main character, Amir. Most of the novel is told as a frame-story of Amir’s past which contributes greatly to the themes in the book because it allows the reader to understand all the aspects of Amir’s life. The reader learns about Amir’s fears, ambitions, personality, guilt, and most importantly, his past. The writing style allows the reader to grow close to Amir, sharing in his ups and his downs. The reader is able to read exactly what is going through Amir’s head, all the emotions and feelings that contribute to the themes within the novel. After understanding Amir, the reader can grasp the important themes within the novel: The love and tension between fathers and sons, the search for redemption, and the persistence of the past. The point of view in the story is important because it allows the reader to understand Amir, and only by understanding Amir, can the reader understand the underlying themes in the novel.

Families function in all sorts of different ways. They have ups and downs, but what makes them a family is they can always get through it. Truly there is no relationship more special than the one between father and son. In the novel Kite Runner, the relationships between kin are explored in great detail: the relationships between Amir, Hassan and Baba, Hassan and Sohrab, and between Amir and Sohrab.Amir’s relationship with his father is a very complex one. While he’s a small child Amir loves his Baba, but he feels that Baba rarely loves him back. He always just wanted his father’s approval and for him to be proud of his son. Amir constantly strives to win his father’s love; however, Baba never fully shows his love for Amir. Amir begins to resent his father for this and even hate him: “When they left, I sat on my bed and wished Rahim Khan had been my father.” (34) Amir doesn’t learn until later in life, that the reason his Baba hadn’t shown him love during his childhood was because Amir wasn’t his only son. Amir was just the only socially acceptable son; the one Baba was able to treat well, but didn’t. When Amir heads back to Hazarajat to meet with Rahim Khan to find “a way to be good again” (2), he meets Rahim Khan and learns that he had a half-brother, and it was in fact the boy who he had grown up with, the boy he had betrayed; Hassan. The relationship between Baba and his sons was one built on love, but overshadowed by tension, because he is father to not only Amir, but also Hassan. He can’t directly show his love for Hassan which makes him feel guilty about treating Amir well, so he chooses not to treat Amir well. He had to indirectly show his love for Hassan by bringing Hassan along when he takes Amir out, and by paying for Hassan’s lip surgery. There is a great deal of tension in the relationship between Baba and Amir, because they have next to nothing in common while Amir is growing up: Baba is a proud, strong man who stands up for what is right, while Amir is a coward. However, 15 years after Baba’s death Amir begins to realize that he had everything in common: “like father, like son. But it was true, wasn’t it? As it turned out, Baba and I were more alike than I’d ever known. We had both betrayed the people who would have given their lives for us.” (238). Amir could never have a real relationship with his father because he felt they were so different, but now after his father is gone he realizes they were the same, so the chance for them to have a loving relationship has passed now that they have something to build it on.

The relationship between Hassan and his son Sohrab, is in complete contrast to the relationship between Amir and Baba, as well as the relationship between Hassan and Amir. Hassan cares deeply for his son and had the kind of relationship Amir always wanted with his father: “Hassan taught him how to shoot the slingshot…Hassan taught him how to read and write—his son was not going to grow up illiterate like he had…In the wintertime, Hassan took his son kite running.”(224). Hassan has a real and loving relationship with his son, where he teaches him, enjoys spending time with him, and prepares him for the world. Amir and Baba had just gone on separate lives within the same household, never understanding one another. The relationships between these two families are so juxtaposed; it demonstrates the complexity of relationships between father and son. Sadly, all great things must come to an end eventually, and Hassan, as well as his wife, are killed by the Taliban, leaving Sohrab an orphan. Amir saves Sohrab and adopts him, attempting to be a substitute father for Sohrab. Their relationship experiences its own strains because Sohrab is attempting to recover from the loss of his parents, as well as the abuse he suffered. This creates tension between him and Amir, not allowing him to full open up to his “new” father. Truly, the relationship between fathers and their sons is a complex one, filled with both love and tension.

Another important theme explored within Kite Runner is the search for redemption. The first part of the novel is a frame-story of Amir’s past, in which he tries to redeem himself in Baba’s eyes because his mother died giving birth to Amir, and he feels responsible for it. He thinks he can redeem himself to Baba by winning the kite-fighting tournament and bringing the losing kite to Baba. In order to accomplish this, Amir had to betray his best friend, Hassan, which in turn, sparked the greater conflict of the novel, Amir redeeming himself for Hassan. Hassan runs the losing kite for Amir and finds it in an alley where he runs into a sadistic bully, Assef. Assef threatens Hassan, and says he will forgive him if he hands over the kite. Amir watches the whole argument from behind the corner of the alley. Hassan refuses to hand over the kite, so Assef rapes him. Amir could have stopped it, and although it would have caused Amir great physical harm, it would have been the right thing to do. However, he takes the easy way out and watches his best friend get raped, igniting the everlasting flame of Amir’s guilt: “I watched Hassan get raped,’ I said to no one…That was the night I became an insomniac.” (91) Amir’s guilt for watching Hassan get raped surpasses his guilt for “killing” his mother, and he embarks on a new quest for redemption. The bulk of the novel occurs after Hassan and Ali leave Amir’s home after Amir attempts to get Hassan kicked out to ease his guilt. Baba and Amir head to California, and Amir spends multiple decades building up a life with his father, then his beautiful wife, Soraya. He spends year after year attempting to phase out his guilt, ignore it, and get over it. However, it’s just not that easy. Amir believes there’s absolutely nothing he can do to get over his guilt, until receives a phone call in the summer of 2001. This happens in the very first chapter of the book, in which Rahim Khan tells Amir that “There is a way to be good again” (2). Amir heads to Hazarajat to meet Rahim and he learns that Hassan was killed, but he had a son, Sohrab, who is alive. Rahim tells Amir to go back to Kabul and save Sohrab. Amir is still a coward at heart and thinks that the mission is too dangerous until a little bit of self-reflection changes his mind: “There is a way to be good again,’ he’d said. A way to end the cycle. With a little boy. An orphan. Hassan’s son. Somewhere in Kabul. Amir heads out to Kabul visits an orphanage and learns where Sohrab is being kept. He meets with this hulking murderous man who is “taking care” of Sohrab and asks for the boy back. He doesn’t realize the man who took Sohrab is Assef, the man who raped Hassan, and is now doing the same to Sohrab. He says that Amir can take Sohrab if he beats him in a fight, and since amir has no other choice, he fights. Assef beats him to a pulp. The beating he should have suffered 26 years prior when he could have saved Hassan. He takes the beating and it finally allows him to be at peace with his guilt: “My body was broken—just how badly I wouldn’t find out until later—but I felt healed. Healed at last. I laughed.” Amir begins to laugh because this is the closure he needed in order to redeem himself and he could finally be at peace. Near the beginning of the book, the moral standard in which Amir could redeem himself was said by Baba: “A boy who won’t stand up for himself becomes a man who can’t stand up to anything.”(24). As a child, Amir failed to meet this standard when he abandoned Hassan in the alley. As an adult, he could only redeem himself by proving that he had the courage to stand up for what was right. As an adult, he took the beating he deserved from Assef, and saved the son of his best friend, and redeemed himself by risking his own life to save the most important part of Hassan’s, his son.

The final theme within the novel is the persistence of the past. This ties in very nicely to another book, Great Gatsby where it is said: “you cannot repeat the past.” In Kite Runner the past cannot be repeated but it also cannot be forgotten. It hovers over each characters shoulder, unable to be changed, but forever stuck in their minds. The two characters in the book that are most affected by their past are Sohrab and Amir. Sohrab is a young boy who has experienced a past so traumatizing, that it completely defines his behaviour. He has endured physical and sexual abuse for long periods of time and that makes him flinch anytime Amir touches him. He lost both his parents when they were murdered which left some huge abandonment issues with him. This fear of abandonment causes him to attempt suicide when Amir tells him he might have to go back to an orphanage. Even after Amir finally brings Sohrab to America to begin a new life, the past stops him from moving on. Sohrab doesn’t speak, at all when he’s brought to America. The Sohrab living with Amir in America I has been scarred so much by his past that he’s just a shell of his past self: “He didn’t so much live with us as occupy space. And precious little of it.” (381). Amir is another character greatly affected by his past. He defines himself by it: “I became what I am today at the age of twelve…it’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-sex years.” (1). He is motivated by his actions in the past. He’s not proud of what he did to Hassan and he’s been reliving that moment of betrayal each and every moment for 26 years. Amir even feels like he was responsible for the deaths of Ali and Hassan because he thinks he set off the chain of events that killed them when he pushed them out of the house. Amir made the wrong choices in the past and he believes that there’s no way to ever right what he did wrong. Even if you can put the past behind you, it just follows like a shadow, never able to be completely forgotten. Amir states this in the very beginning of the novel when he says the past can never be buried. Sohrab and Amir clearly demonstrate the theme that the past defines the present, and can never be forgotten.

In conclusion, Kite Runner is a coming-of-age story that teaches the reader about many different themes portrayed in the novel. It enlightens the reader about the complexity of the father son relationship, teaches how redemption is the only way to truly atone for one’s wrongdoings, and demonstrates that the past can never be buried. Those privileged enough to read this novel will have taken these lessons into account and will know that when the time comes, making the right decision, is better than making the easy one.

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