In Khaled Hosseini’s novel, ‘The Kite Runner’, a strong theme that is weaved into the story is the contrast of good and evil, right and wrong, and hero and villain. However, instead of focusing on the distinct differences between the two, it blurs the lines between the two opposites, creating a world of many different shades of right and wrong instead of just simply ‘black and white’. This theme revolves around the main character, Amir, in particular; he is constantly faced with challenges that determine what kind of character he is, and in each instance, he fails to meet the reader’s expectations and resultantly is seen as less and less of a person with each failure.
Accordingly, it makes the reader wonder whether they could blame Amir for his actions completely, and sometimes may even prompt questioning on their own actions if put in Amir’s situation – this can trigger questions about whether Amir is just being ‘human’, imperfect and flawed, especially in comparison to the character of Hassan who is naive, kind and faithful – the bold distinction between the two merely propel each character further towards being an epitome of either good or bad in the readers’ eyes.
By his distinct choice of narrator, Hosseini establishes a motif of heavy irony in the story. This is due to the usual trend of the narrator being the hero of the story; the reader lives through the narrator and usually sympathises with them, however, on this occasion, the reader can grow to dislike Amir which in turn institutes his character to take on the role of an ‘anti-hero’ instead of the expected role of protagonist.
According to the theories of narratology, Amir, the overt narrator, is a typical protagonist – he abides by the guidelines set out by Propps ‘list of functions’, for example; “Misfortune or lack is made known; the hero is approached with a request or command; he is allowed to go or he is dispatched”. This ties in heavily with Chapter Seven of Khaled Hosseini’s ‘The Kite Runner’; Hassan is in dire trouble and it is up to the protagonist, Amir, to decide whether or not to save him. In this case, his decision was the latter; “I stopped watching, turned away from the alley.” – Though, as the protagonist, Amir is expected to be the hero of the novel, this action causes him to become the opposite; not quite an antagonist, but an anti-hero.
This also coincides with the Aristotelian theory of the key elements in a plot; ‘hamartia’, ‘anagnorisis’ and ‘peripeteia’ – otherwise, fault, realisation and reversal. In the book as a whole, the protagonist goes through this journey with the reader and experiences each element separately until the end where the three fuse together to mould his life. In keeping with Genette’s narratology theories, all the chapters but the first are told in a diegetic narrative, whilst Chapter One is told in a mimetic narrative; the effect this has on the reader is that it stains the novel with a retrospective tone, this way; the reader knows that the narrator is looking back on his earlier life.
Having the majority of the novel narrated by a diegetic narrative, Hosseini ensures that the reader experiences the story instead of merely hearing about it.The structure of the first seven chapters of Khaled Hosseini’s ‘The Kite Runner’ is that all the chapters are narrated by the ‘protagonist’, Amir and (with the exception of the first chapter) is in his younger self’s perspective. The effect of this structure is so that the reader is given a sense of deep regret and the theme of redemption is introduced as the reader realises the narrator is looking back on his life.
The novel has an analeptic narrative; he first chapter is set in his present day – a thirty eight year old Amir, and comprises of the narrator looking back on an event twenty six years ago; the reader is oblivious as to what the narrator is thinking of and is given few clues except that “the past claws its way out” – this quotation personifies the past a monster-like figure; from this, the reader concludes that the narrator did something in his past that he regrets. By keeping the reader near-blind to the narrator’s past, Hosseini presents his story as shrouded in mystery but tainted with wrongdoing which unfurls later in the novel.
After the first chapter, the narration goes back twenty six years, to Amir’s memories of his life as a twelve year old. This is where Hosseini starts to flesh out the characters mentioned in chapter one; he does this both through Amir’s eyes and his experiences, an internal focalization. As the reader sees the world through a child’s perspective, they see it without it being tinted with the scepticism or cynicism of the eyes of an adult. Through this, Hosseini shows hidden depths of certain characters since they are seen through the filtered perspective of a child; the author also shows the purity of the character of Hassan through both his actions and his words towards Amir, for example – “For you, a thousand times over”, though at the time, it does not seem very significant, the phrase is one that Amir will take with him all the way into his adult life. This one phrase captures the utterly sincere and pure innocence of Hassan.
It shows his devotion to Amir and his willingness to sacrifice anything for him. If the reader was not already on the side of Hassan, this is where they will convert; although the rape has not happened yet, it is easy to see Hassan’s dedication to Amir. There is an innate instinct inside human beings to protect and care for children; Hosseini plays on this by portraying Hassan as the ultimate illustration of a child: obedient, almost foolishly trusting, kind, and happy. There is another example of irony in this; although Hassan is younger than Amir, he works so much more than the latter – he does all the work that an adult would be doing in 21st Century Britain; he has taken on all this responsibility, yet it is him that has a simple, happy life.There is a complete reversal of this in the character of Amir; although he does have to deal with an inadequate relationship with his father, he does not do any chores, has a servant, and physically, has no real responsibilities in comparison, yet it is him that acts older – it is him that lies, that deceives, that is cruel; “Kind of like when we used to play insect torture.
Except now, he was the ant and I was holding the magnifying glass.” The fact that Amir is completely aware of his callousness towards Hassan, yet does not feel guilty – there are times like this, when Amir acts much older than he is in his cruelty, something most children are not capable of yet, in times like this, it is times like this when Hosseini may project his own traits or that of another adult, onto Amir – another example of this is Amir’s ambition of becoming an author – much like Hosseini is an author.In regard to the Afghanistan culture and when explaining the difference between a Pashtun and a Hazara, Amir and Hassan, Hosseini does it through Amir’s innocent childish knowledge: “For years, that was all I knew about the Hazaras, that they were Mogul descendants, and that they looked a little like Chinese people.” Amir, like most of the Pashtun children are not educated about Hazaras except from the racist comments they hear from the lips of their authority figures, even teachers: “He wrinkled his nose when he said the word Shi’a, like it was some kind of disease”.
However, Amir picks up a book in his father’s study, where he finds out the real factual history about the Hazaras and Pashtuns, from this, even though Amir is confused by it, the reader understands the situation – the Hazara oppression, the violence, the cruelty.Hosseini is clever to introduce the reader to the Hazara-directed racism in this way, because he shows them first the situation, both the obliviousness and the ignorance of the nation towards Hazaras and what really happened and how it is being painted over by opinions and prejudice. Consequently, Hosseini not only allows the reader to make their own judgments about whether Hassan is treated fairly, but he eases the reader into the Afghanistan culture and how to them, this was normal.
Since their culture differs greatly from Western culture, most readers would sympathise with Hassan, siding with him more than ever. “You know… I like where I live.” – Hassan is happy being a servant to Amir and does not doubt it; the way that Hassan accepts his life, his future, with such a cheerful disposition, just fuels the readers’ fondness of him and his likable personality is another way Hosseini makes the reader side with him.Another way Hosseini makes the reader side with Hassan over Amir is the devastating storyline of Hassan’s rape and the way Amir runs away. Since this is told from Amir’s point of view, it is not as graphic or detailed as it would be if Hassan was the narrator; but the reader is still overwhelmed by the impact of what has happened.
Something that magnifies the event is Amir’s comparison of it to a Muslim holiday – ‘Dhul-Hijjah’. (As with the words “naan”, “laaf”, etc. this is an example of the deictic lexis the author incorporates into the text to produce a sense of familiarity and authenticity.) He reminisces on memories and tells the story of the tenth day of the holiday when a sheep is slaughtered;”I watch because of that look of acceptance in the animal’s eyes” – in this frame narrative, Amir compares the look of a sheep’s acceptance of its imminent death to Hassan’s resigned acceptance of his oncoming rape, “It was the look of the lamb.” This is also a metaphor for the way Amir sacrificed Hassan for the kite and his father’s love, just like the way the sheep is sacrificed. Lambs are also a sign of innocence, purity – this is also like Hassan, and Amir being willing to sacrifice someone so kind and innocent creates manifesting feelings of anger, betrayal and dislike towards Amir.
Amir also says “It is a look that will haunt my dreams for weeks” – this is like how the rape of Hassan had haunted Amir for years, for most of his life. This makes the reader question whether his sacrifice of Hassan was really worth the punishment of his being submerged in guilt for the rest of his life, and whether this is the monster-like past that the narrator was referring to at the beginning of the book.In my opinion, Hosseini is very successful in persuading the reader to side with Hassan; he does it subtly, and does not force the decision onto the reader, but presents them with the truths, ironically through Amir, and allows them to make their own choices. His methods used to solidify the relationship between the reader and Hassan are effective and enhances the effect of the story itself.
A good story by itself is only competent of drawing the attention of a reader, but it is also the depth in which the reader sinks into the book – a good author is able to manipulate a reader’s mind into believing they are experiencing the story themselves, captivated, so they will cry for Hassan, and smile fondly at their friendship. The author has captured this, by making the characters so realistic, the reader feels obliged to side with one over the other. Hosseini has laid the foundations for an exquisitely written, intoxicating story, in just the first seven chapters. Add the rest of the book and any other books the reader reads after this, for a long time, will just seem insipid in comparison.