Themes in The Kite Runner

An analysis of The Kite Runner will unfold the key themes of betrayal, guilt, and redemption.

Ultimate Betrayal

As childhood friends in Afghanistan, Amir and Hassan’s relationship appears to be genuine as they play together and pester their neighbours. However, this does not seem to be the case once several discrepancies are introduced. Whereas Hassan is nothing more than a loyal Hazara servant, Amir is a Pashtun and the son of a wealthy father, Baba. Amir claims that “Hassan never denied [him] anything” and thus exploits his privileges on him even for trivial enjoyment, such as shooting the neighbourhood dog with the slingshot. Nonetheless, Amir faces a challenge.

He is perpetually in pursuit of Baba’s affections. In fact, it is his mission to gain recognition from Baba, who seemingly has too many expectations from a mere child. Thus, when the Kite-flying tournament comes along, Amir seizes his opportunity to win the prized kite, the key to winning Baba’s heart. Amir defeats his opponents and secures the win. When the last kite has fallen he asks Hassan to run it for him. With only a “for you a thousand times over!”

Hassan takes off, eager to bring home the kite Amir so desperately desires. It is near this moment, however, that Amir’s most cowardly act takes place. When he comes to an isolated alley, he sees Hassan valiantly protecting the kite from the neighbourhood bully Assef and his group. However, when he witnesses Hassan being raped, he turns his back to it and runs away.

This act portrays the ultimate betrayal in Amir’s young life.

Feelings of Guilt

An overwhelming guilt fills Amir after leaving Hassan to his fate in the alley. This guilt affects Amir to such an extent that he can no longer stand Hassan’s unfailing loyalty in the face of his own flaws. Thus, Amir attempts to compensate for the wrong he allowed to happen. He invites Hassan to the pomegranate tree to read him a story he had written.

However, instead of reading to Hassan he pelts him with pomegranates to test his loyalty and provoke him to do the same. Amir’s efforts fail, and instead of confessing to Hassan his dilemma and apologizing, he keeps everything concealed.

When the burden of living with the embodiment of his guilt, Hassan, becomes too great, Amir reverts to another act of cowardice and frames Hassan for a crime he never commits. Amir places his birthday money and watch beneath Hassan’s bed.

Final Act of Redemption

It is not until 26 years of carrying his guilt that Amir realizes he can atone for the wrong he committed and relieve his burden. Living in California after moving with Baba to the United States during troubled times in Afghanistan, Amir can hide from the physical reminder of his youth but not the painful memories that accompany it.

The guilt continues to haunt Amir even after he marries and starts a successful career as a writer, however, until one day Rahim Khan calls him and tells him “there is a way to be good again”, a way to redeem himself. Unable to reject his old friend’s beckoning, Amir revisits Afghanistan. There, to his astonishment, he learns that Hassan was more than a friend, but his brother after all. He also learns he was mercilessly killed, leaving his son Sohrab an orphan.

For a change Amir decides to show courage to retrieve Sohrab from the orphanage. Amir is further tested when he must confront Assef to save Sohrab. He is brutalized by Assef but stands his ground. For this is the punishment he’s been craving for 26 years. In fact, he begins to laugh near the end of the fight when at last he feels healed. For once, Amir has sacrificed himself for Hassan.

Reading Rahim Khan’s letter while recovering at the hospital, Amir realizes that rescuing Sohrab is only the first step to redemption. Amir initially decides to leave Sohrab in an orphanage, but realizes that he has not come to Afghanistan only to rescue Sohrab, but also to adopt him as his own son.

By accepting this reality, Amir displays the ultimate courage and redeems himself.