The Kite Runner – Some Big Questions

**SPOILER ALERT** Do not read on if you are yet to finish reading the novel!

A summary of our discussion in today’s lesson:

Do you think Amir ever redeems himself?

In many ways, The Kite Runner could be classified as a bildungsroman – a novel that charts the journey of Amir from childhood to adulthood, and explores the emotional and physical aspects of this journey towards maturity.

Is Amir at the end of his journey at the end of the novel? In many ways, the end is a new beginning. A beginning for Sohrab, as well as for Amir. He hasn’t reached the end of his journey. Has he redeemed himself? Or has he just begun the process of redemption? Perhaps his adoption of Sohrab the beginning of a lifetime of redemption…

The last sentence is interesting in this respect: ‘I ran’. Here, Amir seems to be adopting a new role – he has gone from being the kite fighter to the kite runner. Similarly, the image of a snowflake melting suggests the beginning of a new season, rather than the ending of an old one. The ending is thus a turning point. He has spent much of the novel running away – from himself, his past, his guilt, his cowardice. At its close, he is running towards. He is running for someone else. He is the Kite Runner of the novel’s title.

The symmetry here creates a sense of closure. Perhaps redemption has been achieved, after all. Chapter 22 is key, in this respect. In the description of the fight between Amir and Assef, Hosseini’s narrative has a distinctively timeless quality. The past events of 1975 are interspersed with those of the present, as if the old scars of the past are merging with the fresh wounds of the present. The remembered juice of the pomegranate is reminiscent of blood – in many ways, blood becomes a symbol of redemption in the novel. Blood stains the bath in which Sohrab attempts suicide. It stains the snow when Hassaf and Amir face each other after at the end of chapter 7. Now, Amir’s own blood is shed in this, his major act of redemption. Other wounds are important, too. As he recovers in hospital, Amir finds out that his lip will be scarred from being split down the middle – ‘like a harelip’ (p. 273). This scar acts as a visual image of redemption – an echo of the past.

Amir’s last spoken words are also an echo – “For you a thousand times over.” Here, the direct speech – made all the more prominent by Sohrab’s lack thereof – acts as a final reminder that, although the events of the past may remain unchanged, those that have lived them do not have to. The events of the alley into which Amir has been ‘peeking… for the last twenty six years’ are no longer the driving force of his actions. It is the moments prior to that event that now spur Amir to action. He is no longer driven by guilt, but by love. In this sense, he is a transformed and redeemed man.

Who do you think suffers the most in ‘The Kite Runner’?

So many of the characters suffer to an extraordinary degree. Perhaps Sohrab is the character who suffers the most: he has endured a traumatic childhood in a wartorn country which has led to his being abused physically, sexually, and emotionally. He has never really known peace and stability, and just as he begins to experience these, Amir tells him he must return to an orphanage. His suicide attempt is not so incomprehensible, when viewed in this light.

Amir also suffers a lifetime of guilt which is partly through his own actions – at many points in the novel we may well perceive him to be weak and cowardly. Yet his suffering is also a consequence of others’ actions – namely those of his father, Baba. In chapter 7, the narrative merges Amir’s failure to act with his tragic desire to secure the kite that he believes will pay the price of Baba’s approval and affirmation. He is a child denied the love and acceptance that he needs to be healthy – emotionally speaking. And for this, he is hardly to blame.

What do you think happened to Sohrab?

Sohrab’s silence reminds us of Hassan’s own mutism in following the events of chapter 7. In this, there is a symmetry to the novel: the son’s response to trauma echoes that of his father. However, Sohrab’s abuse has been extended over a greater period of time. The experience of trauma is different to Hassan’s, in that he has no-one to talk to about the murder of his parents, or the abuse he has suffered. He is also younger than the 12-year old Hassan, and so his trauma will affect him in a different way. The period of time he spends with Assef will have diminished his ability to communicate and interact as a child. He has been robbed of his childhood. His retreat into sleep / silence is a return to a safer place, something he has not known during the formative stages of his childhood.

Why did Amir act so hatefully to Hassan after he saw him get raped?

Amir’s behaviour is certainly fuelled by guilt and shame. He is ashamed of his actions, but he is also ashamed of himself. He perhaps believes that he is a weaker person than Hassan, that he cannot live up to his moral standards. This is in part due to the lack of affirmation he receives from Baba – he is never given permission to believe in himself. At the young age of 12, these emotions express themselves in rage and frustration. The scene under the pomegranate tree is important in this respect. We see Amir’s desire to atone for his guilt by being punished. He wants Hassan to hate him in the same way that he hates himself. When Hassan refuses, Amir seeks escape and refuge in a world of narrative – fictional stories written by others, then by himself – in rather the same way that Hassan seeks refuge in sleep.

Dolphus Raymond: In what ways is he important to the novel as a whole?

I very much enjoyed our discussion about Dolphus Raymond yesterday. Here is a summary of some of the brilliant and thought-provoking points that you made:

  1. Setting – By choosing to ‘live a lie’ (by pretending to be an alcoholic), the reader becomes aware of the extremes that people are willing to go to in order to survive in the small-minded, gossiping community of Maycomb. Dolphus Raymond is prepared to alienate himself from the white community by pretending to be ‘unacceptable’. His behaviour is, no doubt, frowned upon by the puritanical and self-righteous members of Maycomb’s religious community, and he is mis-judged, on a daily basis. Yet he is willing to put up with this because he feels it is better than attempting to explain his lifestyle to people who would not understand. This really alerts us to just how small-minded the community of Maycomb is.
  2. Character – In some ways, Dolphus Raymond can be seen as a contrast to the character of Atticus. Both men hold opinions that are unpopular (to say the least) with the majority of Maycomb’s residents. Dolphus chooses to live alongside black people as his equals; Atticus’ defence of Tom Robinson shows his strong beliefs in Tom’s noble and upstanding character, regardless of the general prejudice that exists towards him. In this way, both men are outsiders within their community. The difference lies in the way they deal with this. If he wanted, Atticus could excuse his defence of Tom by reminding his accusors that he did not have a choice – he was appointed by Judge Taylor to defend Tom. Yet he chooses not to do this – it would not be honest. In contrast, Dolphus Raymond chooses dishonesty. He is unwilling to face the persecution that Atticus receives, and so he chooses to live a lie (or ‘perpetrate fraud against himself’) rather than do so. He is perhaps less courageous than Atticus in this respect. Which leads us onto…
  3. Themes – Dolphus Raymond’s behaviour raises issues which are central to the novel’s themes of racism, justice and morality. For example, he is clearly dishonest (Scout says ‘That ain’t honest, Mr. Raymond’) and yet his behaviour is justified by the situation – ‘It helps folks if they can latch onto a reason…’ He is making a moral choice in which the ends justify the means. The same issue is raised at the end of the novel, when Atticus is reluctant to let the murder of Bob Ewell go without a fair and open trial, saying ‘I can’t live one way in town and another way in my home’ (like Dolphus Raymond does). And yet in the end, even Atticus is persuaded by Heck Tate that honesty is sometimes not always the best policy. For Boo’s sake, he agrees to go along with the story – ‘Bob Ewell fell on his knife.’ Dolphus Raymond shows us that what is right and wrong is not simple. Morality is complicated!