Pomegranate Tree, The Lake, the Wall of Ailing Corn
The pomegranate tree on the hill with the nearby cemetery is an important landmark for Hassan and Amir as they are growing up. They can see out over Kabul there and gain perspective, escaping the smaller social world. It is a place beyond trouble where they go to have fun or to console themselves in times of sorrow. It is where Amir reads to Hassan all the epic adventures of the Shahnamah. It is the sacred spot of their friendship memorialized by the inscription Amir carves on the tree, “Amir and Hassan, the sultans of Kabul”(Chpt. 4, p. 24). They eat the fruit of the tree, and in their love they are equals. Amir tells Hassan: “You’re a prince Hassan. You’re a prince, and I love you” (Chpt. 4, p. 26). The pomegranate tree on the hill is the scene of many memorable moments, as their history turns tragic. It is where Amir pelts Hassan with the pomegranate fruit staining him red with a symbolic martyr’s blood, trying to make him fight back. As an adult, Hassan writes Amir in his letter that he takes his own son to that tree, but now the tree does not bear fruit after decades of war. Their friendship too seems to wither over time.
Ghargha Lake is a nearby lake where Baba’s family goes for picnics. Baba always wants to take both Hassan and Amir, but jealous, Amir manages to get Baba to take him alone sometimes. On the morning of the kite contest Hassan recounts a dream to Amir about how they went swimming in Lake Gargha together though people warned there was a monster there. In the dream Amir fearlessly plunged in, claiming there was no monster, and Hassan followed. The two returned as heroes. The lake is renamed “The Lake of Amir and Hassan, Sultans of Kabul” (Chpt. 7, p. 53). Symbolically, the monster is the racial and religious divide between them. Until that point, the boys had largely ignored that monster in their love. But this is the day of the tragedy when the monster raises its head, and Amir runs away in cowardice. He denies kinship with Hassan when he is attacked by the Pashtun boys in the alley. Later, Amir thinks that Hassan was wrong in his dream. There was a monster in the lake, and it pulled Hassan under: “I was that monster” (Chpt. 8, p. 75). Whether he wants to or not, Amir becomes an accomplice to racial persecution by watching and doing nothing. Like the pomegranate tree, the lake symbolizes their landscape of joy turning to hell.
“The Wall of Ailing Corn” is a garden wall in Baba’s garden near which corn is planted that does not prosper. The boys give it a name that becomes symbolic, for though they sit on the wall together and play in the early days, later the wall is destroyed by a rocket. What is planted near the wall does not prosper. The wall can suggest division and separation, for Baba is one of the rich in Kabul who can build walls around his house to keep out the poor. The wall protects a certain order and lifestyle, protecting the garden that is just for the family. Yet the plants do not prosper there. Baba’s life and the life of the city are built on lies of racial and religious prejudice, with one race seen as undeserving. Later the wall is destroyed by a rocket, and Hassan as a man rebuilds the wall with his own hands. He tries to repair the past and prepare the house as if for Amir’s return, but that way of life is gone. When Amir does return during the Taliban rule, he sees the wall, but there is no garden there. The pomegranate tree is half dead, and the city is a desert of dust, with the Kabul river gone dry. The natural landscape reflects human turmoil.
The kites symbolize freedom, happiness, and power. The kite-fighting tournament “was a little like going to war” (Chpt. 6, p. 43). If the kite was a gun, Amir says, then the glass-coated cutting line was the bullet. The kite line is coated with ground glass and glue, leaving cuts on the boys’ hands, their proud battle scars. The kite string has to cut the other kite strings to down the opponent. Another comparison between kite flying and war comes out when a Hindi boy moves into the Kabul neighborhood and brags to Amir and Hassan that in India kite flying has strict rules. The narrator comments that the Hindi boy would learn “what the British learned earlier in the century, and what the Russians would eventually learn by the late 1980s: that Afghans are an independent people. Afghans cherish custom but abhor rules” (Chapt. 6, p. 45). In Afghan kite fighting, anything goes. Yet, like all sports that are a sort of mock war, there is competition but also joy. All the children look forward to the kite tournaments, even though some get injured chasing the kites down. They feel freedom, power, and skill in their games. It is significant that the Taliban forbids kites.
Kites are also a sign of hope. After Assef assaults Hassan, and Amir’s life is spoiled, he has a dream that he is lost in a snowstorm and falls on his face. Suddenly Hassan reaches to lift him with his hand and the snow disappears. It is a spring day with kites in the sky.
Finally, kites are a symbol of life. When Amir hears of Hassan’s death at the hands of the Taliban, he ponders Hassan’s “life of unrequited loyalty drifting from him like the windblown kites he used to chase” (192). If Hassan’s kite of life gets cut and blows away, he has still left behind a son. It is a kite that rouses Sohrab from his withdrawn state of traumatic shock on a spring day in a California park, as he helps Amir fly a victorious kite, using the strategies that Hassan and Amir had perfected.
Father as Bear, Hassan as Sacrificial Sheep
In stories that Amir has heard, Baba supposedly fought a black bear in Baluchistan with his bare hands. Amir has dreams about his father wrestling the bear, “And in those dreams, I can never tell Baba from the bear” (Chpt. 3, p. 11). Baba also has the nickname of “Toophan agha” or Mr. Hurricane: “My father was a force of nature” (Chpt. 3, p. 11). Baba is a towering man, 6’5” with a thick beard and curly brown hair. His stare is frightening. After Amir stands up to Assef, he hallucinates in the hospital that he sees his father wrestling the bear, and then he is his father wrestling the bear. He has become that bear of strength, instead of a coward.
After the assault on Hassan in the alley, Amir remembers a Muslim festival, Eid-e-Qorban that celebrates how Abraham almost sacrificed his son to God. The custom is to slaughter a sheep and share the meat. The mullah prays and then cuts the throat of the sheep. One year Amir looks into the eyes of the sacrificial sheep and is haunted in dreams by the sheep’s eyes, how it had accepted everything. The memory is triggered by watching Hassan get cornered in the alley like a sheep. Hassan’s acceptance of his fate haunts Amir with guilt and makes him angry at the same time. The paradox for Amir is that the victim, Hassan, always remains self-possessed, grateful for his life, and even happy in the photo with his son. He continues to love Amir, who is one of the dominant race, and does not give in to infectious hate, like Assef.