The main characters, Amir and Hassan, grow up as inseparable playmates, despite their difference in caste, even as Baba and Ali had done a generation before. Amir is the son of Baba, wealthy and respected business leader in Kabul, while Hassan is the son of their servant, Ali. Amirs mother dies at his birth; Hassans mother runs off five days after he is born. Hassan is both the kite runner of the book’s title and Amir’s alter ego. Hassan believes in Amir and forgives all his pettiness, believing he will one day be a great writer. Despite the tricks Amir plays on Hassan, such as reading the wrong words from books to the illiterate boy, Hassan cannot be corrupted or discouraged. He continues to love Amir even after they have been separated for years. He tells only good things about Amir to his son, Sohrab. Hassan’s first word as a baby was “Amir,” and whenever he does anything for Amir he exclaims, “For you, a thousand times over” (Chpt. 1, p. 1). His devotion never ceases, even when Amir manages to have him sent away.
The friendship of the two is demonstrated by their partnership in kite fighting. Amir controls the kite, while Hassan feeds him the string. When Amir downs a kite, Hassan is his kite runner to retrieve the opponent’s kite as a trophy. Hassan also encourages Amir’s writing, listening to his stories and genuinely appreciating them. As a servant he waits on Amir, which begins to spoil their comradeship as Amir grows older and understands that Hassan cannot read or go to school. Though Hassan defends Amir if anyone tries to bully him, Amir sees Hassan’s persecution as a minority Hazara by the Pashtun boys and does nothing to intervene. The older the friends get, the more social divisions separate them. Friendship is stronger than prejudice and violence, however, for finally Amir risks his own life to save Hassan’s son from the Taliban.
Fathers and Sons
Amir is raised by his father, as Hassan is raised by his. They live in motherless homes as only children. Ali and Hassan are close, and Amir envies this. He also envies the attention that Baba gives to Hassan, wanting his father’s approval for himself. All Amir’s misbehavior is for the sake of getting Baba’s love and attention. Baba, on the other hand, is put off by Amir’s apparently less noble and weaker personality, giving most of his approval to his servant’s son, Hassan. Reading the story of the battle between Sohrab and Rostam where the father accidentally kills the son, Amir asks, “didn’t all fathers in their secret hearts harbor a desire to kill their sons?” (Chpt. 4. p. 26). Baba is never given a first or last name. “Baba” means “father” and so he is an archetypal father for Amir, both threatening and loving. It is Rahim Khan, Babas business partner, who acts as the positive father figure in Amir’s life, giving him the unconditional approval and affection he needs. Rahim Khan recognizes Amir’s writing talent and encourages it, while Baba ignores it.
It is not clear in the beginning why Baba favors Hassan and gives him the same gifts he gives to Amir. Amir is always hoping for time alone with Baba, but Baba always wants Hassan to tag along. Amir is jealous. Only later does he learn from Rahim Khan, after Baba’s death, that Hassan was Baba’s illegitimate son, making Hassan Amir’s half brother. Amir is angry to learn this as an adult, for the secret has destroyed his life as it destroyed his father’s. Baba’s fathering a Hazara son out of wedlock is both a religious and social sin that cannot be spoken of. Baba overcompensates to Hassan and neglects Amir.
Once Baba and Amir come to the United States their relationship improves when they must rely on one another. The father relationship is the most important in Amir’s life, even becoming a theme for him as a novelist. When he cannot have his own son, Hassan’s son Sohrab takes that place in his life, though it is difficult for him to win the boy’s trust. The difficult relationship of the generations and the burden of carrying the father’s mistakes form a central focus in the story.
Betrayal and Guilt
Amirs insecurity and jealousy of Hassan lead to Amir’s betrayal of his friendship. Amir knows Hassan is more worthy of Baba’s admiration than he is and feels deficient in the presence of Hassan’s goodness. Though Hassan is of lower caste, he is morally superior. The betrayal begins with petty acts against the servant boy, such as contempt for his inability to read and changing the words of the text as he reads to him. Hassan is aware of Amir’s tricks but does not blame him or accuse him except silently. He is after all a servant and a Hazara, a minority, dependent on Amir’s family. Right before the tragedy, which changes both their lives, Amir begins taunting Hassan who had said he would eat dirt before lying to Amir. Amir asks if he would actually eat dirt if he asked him to. They look knowingly at one another: “If I was going to toy with him and challenge his loyalty, then he’d toy with me, test my integrity” (Chpt. 6. p. 48).
The turning point comes when Amir witnesses Assef’s attack on Hassan in the alley and does nothing to help his friend. At this time he is a young teenager and is well aware of the caste difference. He does not jeopardize his own safety or social standing for a Hazara. There is also his fear of physical pain: “I ran because I was a coward . . . I actually aspired to cowardice” (Chpt. 7, p. 68). Hassan has protected Amir many times, but Amir does not protect his friend in turn, and this leads to so much guilt that Amir plots to have Hassan sent away. Hassan has been sexually assaulted by Assef and needs love and understanding, but Amir is too young to know how to deal with this atrocity. As is often the case, the victim is blamed. He hates Hassan for letting himself be defiled.
Amir becomes the cause of disrupting the entire delicate balance of the household by falsely accusing Ali and Hassan of taking money. Baba is beside himself with grief when Ali says they must leave, and only when Amir sees his father cry does he understand how much damage he has done. Baba is separated from Ali, his own childhood friend, and from his own son, Hassan. Both Baba and Amir suffer lifelong guilt for their betrayals of their Hazara friends. Amir, Hassan and Ali, masters and servants, are all victims of the caste system, their true love for each other unable to survive human weakness and the brutality of the world.
The Kite Runner is a novel of sin and redemption, with Amir trying to redeem his own sin and his father’s as well. He returns to Kabul twenty years later, called by Rahim Khan, who is now dying, to save the boy Sohrab from the Taliban. Rahim Khan is the only character who knows everyone’s secrets. As a stand-in for his friend Baba, he has been taking care of the house in Kabul, and he even goes to Hazarajat to bring back Baba’s illegitimate son, Hassan, and his bride Farzana to live with him. They become an extended family, along with Hassan’s mother, Sanaubar, who returns. This new family with the Pashtun Rahim Khan sheltering the Hazara servants centers around the care and raising of Sohrab, Baba’s grandson and Amir’s nephew. Rahim Khan’s action of reconciliation has both good and bad effects. If he had left Hassan in his mud hut in Hazarajat, he might have stayed alive. In Kabul, Hassan’s family becomes a victim to the ethnic cleansing of the Taliban. Hassan and Farzana are taken into the street and shot, and their son becomes an orphan for sale at the orphanage.
By risking his life to get Sohrab out of Kabul, Amir confronts his own cowardice and in one stroke redeems himself and his father for their own past in sins against the Hazaras. When Amir finally returns to America, still mending from the brutal beating at the hands of Assef, the Taliban commander, his father-in-law wonders why all this trouble for a Hazara boy. Amir stands up to the General for once and tells him never to call Sohrab that in his presence again. As we see Sohrab start to come to life in the park in San Francisco, there is the hope that in America these ethnic crimes can be put to rest.