Baba and the bear

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English 2.3 The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini
Symbols and Motifs

Symbols are objects, characters, figures or colours used to represent abstract ideas or concepts. They sometimes have universal significance. Sometimes they can be quite complex to explain, as they develop in meaning. A motif is a recurring image, phrase or idea with a meaning specific to the themes of the text.

Kite running

This occurs only twice in the novel, yet the title is devoted to it and it becomes synonymous with the themes of betrayal and redemption. After twenty-six years, Amir still remembers Hassan as "The Kite Runner" because the activity represents both the happiness he and Hassan once felt together and the incident that parted them forever. Amir feels "healed" when Assef beats him nearly to death and he pays retribution for his sin when he adopts Sohrab, but things are still grim because Sohrab will not speak or interact with anyone. It is when Amir runs a kite for Sohrab that things truly come full circle. Amir saves Sohrab from physical harm, but only very reluctantly; Rahim Khan has to trick him into bringing Sohrab to America. Amir is selfish in his charity, not wanting to have another person's blood on his hands. Yet when he runs the kite for Sohrab, he shows true loyalty and selflessness because he is no longer trying to allay his guilt; he is trying to truly save Sohrab by restoring his faith in life.

In the end, Rahim Khan is the one who knows the true path to redemption. He tells Amir in his letter, "I know that in the end, God will forgive. He will forgive your father, me, and you too. I hope you can do the same. Forgive your father if you can. Forgive me if you wish. But, most important, forgive yourself." Rahim Khan understands that Amir takes pleasure in torturing himself with his guilt. As long as he is directing his remorse inwards, he cannot truly help anyone else. Only when he forgives himself and stops feeling the pain of guilt can Amir direct his full focus on repaying his debt to Hassan and Baba's debt to Ali. As he puts it, true forgiveness involves "pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night." Once Amir has stopped merely 'not wanting to have blood on his hands,' which he says when he turns to prayer in his guilt over the attempted suicide, he can make use of those hands. He does just that when he teaches Sohrab about kite fighting.

When Amir and Sohrab fight the blue kite, the story finally comes full circle. The sport takes Amir back to the moment before everything changed, when Hassan had not been raped and they were just two boys having fun together. He says, "I was twelve again." Now that Amir has forgiven himself, kite fighting reminds him of pleasure instead of pain. His memories no longer being painful, he shares them with Sohrab: "Did I ever tell you your father was the best kite runner in Wazir Akbar Khan? Maybe all of Kabul? ... Watch, Sohrab. I'm going to show you one of your father's favorite tricks, the old lift-and-dive." In the ultimate moment of circularity, Amir runs the kite for Sohrab just as Hassan ran his last kite for him half a century before. Finally Amir understands what it is like to be as loyal and loving as Hassan, and can truthfully repeat Hassan's words, "For you, a thousand times over." The kite is a symbol of Amir's good, fatherly wishes for Sohrab. He wants to bring him joy, opportunity, a sense of security, and the will to live again; if only this were as easy as bringing him the kite. The last time Amir went to find a kite, he ended up turning his back on Hassan for good by running away from the scene of his rape. This is why the novel's last words, "I ran," are so meaningful. Even though Amir's story has made a circle metaphorically speaking, it has not ended where it began. Amir is running in a positive way, away from Sohrab physically but toward him emotionally. He is finally running with freedom in his heart instead of fear.

Although both Amir and Hassan had equally good kites, Hassan always chose to be Amir’s assistant in the kite fighting. On the other hand, Hassan was an eerily good kite runner. On a symbolic level, what is the difference between a kite runner and a kite fighter?

Why do you think the novel, predominantly about Amir’s journey, is not named “The Kite Fighter”?

Baba and the bear

Amir, after fighting Assef, has a vision of Baba fighting a bear in Baluchistan, a story that is supposedly true. At the end of the vision, he sees that he is Baba. Amir's recovery is the second time in the novel that Hosseini uses broken images to convey a sense of detachment from reality. The first was when Amir witnessed Hassan's rape in the alleyway. The most important image from Amir's recovery time is his dream about Baba wrestling the bear, in which he is Baba (p. 271). The story about Baba and the bear was a neighbourhood legend, which Amir had later taken to represent any trouble Baba went through.

Where else in the novel is Baba’s fight with the bear alluded to?

This dream is full of symbolism on many levels. Level One: Compare Amir’s description of the fight with Assef (p.264) with this dream. What elements in the dream represent or match aspects of the fight?

Level Two: On a deeper level, what else could the bear, with which Amir finally recognises himself as struggling, symbolise? When Amir puts himself into grave danger on Sohrab’s behalf, what bear is he challenging?

Why is it important that the dream ends with Amir beating the bear but not killing it?
Sohrab, son of Rostam
Sohrab is the son of Rostam, killed by his own father who does not recognise him, and is a character in Hassan’s favourite story from the book Amir often shares with him.
Hassan names his son from the book he loved and shared with Amir. How does this reveal his feelings about Amir?
Amir describes the fight with Assef. Assef had used brass knuckles, his favourite weapon from childhood, to beat Amir and knock out his teeth. He remembers his ribs, a bone in his face, and his nose breaking. He remembers that at one point, he began to laugh uncontrollably; even though Amir's body was broken, his spirit finally felt healed. It was Sohrab who saved him in the end. Amir was lying on the ground with Assef on top of him, preparing for another blow, when Sohrab begged him to stop. He was aiming his slingshot at Assef's eye, just as his father had done half a century before. Assef tried to jump on Sohrab, who shot him and in doing so, gouged out his eyeball. As Assef rolled on the floor in pain, Sohrab helped Amir to the car. Farid drove away as fast as he could as Amir lost consciousness.

Just as Assef raped Hassan so many years before, he is now raping and humiliating Hassan's son. The fight between Amir and Assef is surreal not just because Amir does not remember everything clearly, but because it is an echo of his confrontation with Assef when they were children. Years before, Hassan saved him with his slingshot and now, Sohrab saves him with his. Even the way Sohrab defeats Assef is eerily similar to the way Hassan threatened him-Hassan had aimed the slingshot at Assef's eye once before, and now Sohrab finishes what his father began.

What does the child, Sohrab, represent for Amir in his struggle to come to terms with his betrayal, and how do Sohrab’s talents and actions reinforce this idea?

Why is it, in retrospect, interesting that Sohrab is Hassan’s favourite character?

Amir cannot escape the consequences of his past. When he and Soraya try to have a child, the idea of retribution makes a grand re-entrance. Because no medical explanation exists for their infertility, Amir decides that it is a result of his betraying Hassan. The silence that grows between him and Soraya over their inability to conceive is filled with Amir's feeling of responsibility for it. When General Taheri discourages the couple from adopting, he makes the case that adoption disconnects the family line and threatens the family's security. He says, "Blood is a powerful thing ... And when you adopt, you don't know whose blood you're bringing into your house." What neither he nor Amir knows is that adopting will allow Amir to continue his family line and also redeem himself from having wronged family so many years before. When Rahim Khan calls from Pakistan, he sets Amir's redemption into motion. Like Amir, Rahim Khan believes that life has certain inevitabilities; as he puts it, "There is such a thing as God's will." Just as certainly as he knows he is going to die, he knows that Amir must be the one to save Sohrab.

Cleft lip

When Amir finally regains full consciousness, the doctor, Dr. Faruqi, explains his injuries. He has had several surgeries in the two days since Farid brought him in; his jaw is wired together, his spleen ruptured and had to be removed, he suffered several broken ribs and a punctured lung, his upper lip was split open, and his eye socket bone broken. Dr. Faruqi said Amir was lucky to have survived such trauma. As Amir tried to take in the magnitude of what happened, one ironic fact stayed with him; he now had a harelip scar just like Hassan had.

Chapter Four brings attention to the theme of tragedy and violence that pervades the novel. We already know about Amir's violent birth, in which his mother haemorrhaged to death. Now we learn that tragedy was the reason Baba's father brought Ali into their family; he was orphaned by a terrible car accident. Hassan and Ali's physical problems were not caused by violence. Still, Hassan's harelip and Ali's stunted leg and lazy mouth make them targets for ridicule and violence. The fact that they bear physical signs of suffering while Baba and Amir do not reflects that they are people whose lives are defined by violence and hardship. The source of Amir's guilt is not so much the violence inflicted on Hassan, but his own exemption from violence as a privileged Pashtun and a coward. Indeed, it is only when Assef beats him almost to death that he feels "healed" of this guilt. Amir says, "...History isn't easy to overcome. Neither is religion. In the end, I was a Pashtun and he was a Hazara, I was Sunni and he was Shi'a, and nothing was ever going to change that. Nothing." In truth, it is not religion but privilege and suffering that separates the boys. True, Amir is a Shi'a all his life and Hassan is a Sunni. Yet when Amir has a split lip and suffering to match Hassan's, he can begin to reconcile their troubled history.

In what way did Amir’s experience of moving to America also allow him to begin to identify with Hassan, as he could never have done if he had remained in Afghanistan?

For you, a thousand times over.”

This phrase is said in three main places in the novel, as well as haunting Amir in his memories. Identify these 3 places and explain how the phrase is significant in terms of character and themes.

Where do the following ideas occur and how is each significant?

The look of the lamb

The pomegranates

The monster in the lake

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