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Symbolism In The Kite Runner

Life is about love, and love is about you. Love is a major theme in The Kite Runner. Throughout the novel, Khaled Hosseini, the author, demonstrates the complexity of various types of love and the vastness of emotion. The relationship between Hassan and Amir demonstrates the nature of brotherly love; moreover, Amir and Baba’s relationship demonstrates the paternal love and expectations of the father for his child providing physical and emotional support. In the novel, many symbols present these different types of love. Symbolism is the practice of representing things by means of symbols or attributing symbolic meanings or significance to objects, events, or relationships (Answer). First of all, the kite is a major symbol in the novel; it symbolizes the friendship between the two boys and also the intricate relationship between Baba and Amir.

Furthermore, the slingshot, the scar and Hassan’s son-Sohrab- are symbolic of Amir and Hassan’s brotherhood. Besides the kite, the pomegranate tree is a significant symbol of the friendship between the two boys. Finally, the car and the wedding represent the greatness of paternal love. The author, Khaled Hosseini successfully uses symbolism to reveal the theme of love in the novel, The Kite Runner is a story about a young boy, Amir, the son of a wealthy and well-known man in the northern area of Kabul. He develops a friendship with his servant named Hassan. In fact, Amir is a Pashtun(1) and Hassan is a Hazara(2). He knows that neither history nor religion can change who they are; thus, he never considers Hassan as his friend. Amir and Hassan grow up together; they feed on the same breast and learn to crawl.

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They always spend time together, running kites, playing hide and seek, cops and robbers, etc. One of the most memorable times that Amir and Hassan spend together is sharing their dreams and stories. No matter what Amir thinks, Hassan’s selfless love towards Amir will never change. After twelve years of spending time together, Amir betrays his best friend, Hassan, and the fact that Amir and his father, Baba, flee to America; therefore, they never see each other again. Years later, an old family friend calls Amir from Afghanistan telling him “There is a way to be good again” (1,2). Amir journeys back to his hometown, Kabul, to save his only true friend’s son, Sohrab, in order to redeem his sins. When Amir goes back to Kabul, he finds out the secret, which has been hidden for so long, that Hassan is his half-brother.

The kite is an important symbol in the novel; it symbolizes the friendship between Hassan and Amir. They are both interested in flying and running kites. Together, Hassan and Amir are a perfect team as each is an expert in fighting kites: “Every kite fighter has an assistant-in my case, Hassan-who held up the spool and fed the line”(6,54), “But Hassan was by far the greatest kite runner I’d ever seen”(6,56). For many people to launch a kite is not easy. A windy day could be a perfect day for those to practice launching kites. Amir and Hassan grow up together. In fact, they are fed from the same breast. That is the wind that wings up their kite of friendship. Their friendship is beautiful and pure like the kite beautifully flies in the sky of Kabul. In Kabul, there is a major event that takes place every winter, kite fighting: “Every winter, districts in Kabul held a kite-fighting tournament.”(6,52).

The object of the game is to be the last kite flying in the air. In this winter, Amir tries his best to cut down the last kite in order to win the tournament. He wins eventually. Unfortunately, when the kite is cut down, it is a turning point in their friendship. After the tournament, the two best friends never talk to each other again. The reason for their broken friendship is when Amir witnesses Hassan being raped and he does not take a chance to save Hassan: “I had one last chance to make a decision… I could step into that alley, stand up for Hassan… In the end, I ran”(7,82). Hassan is raped because he holds up to the blue kite, the one that Amir cuts down to win the tournament: “I’ve changed my mind,” Assef said. “I’m letting you keep the kite, Hazara… remind you of what I’m about to do”(7,78); thus the kite is also a symbol of Hassan’s selfless love towards Amir.

The kite also symbolizes the relationship between Baba and Amir. According to Baba, there is something wrong with Amir, since he never stands up for himself, and the fact that he likes poetry. Hassan has an opposite personality. He is mentally and physically stronger than Amir: “Sometimes, I look out this window… he never fights back… there is something missing in that boy… when the neighbourhood boy tease him? Hassan steps in and fends them off”(3,23-24). To earn Baba’s attention and love, Amir shows him his strength by winning the kite running competition. The principle of fighting kite is fighting with the string to cut the other person’s kite down. In fact, the string is sharp enough to cut a finger; therefore, holding on to it is really dangerous: “In my head, I had it all planned… prized trophy in my bloodied hand”(7,72). At the beginning of the novel, Amir feels that Baba does not give him the attention he needs.

Anytime Amir wants to be alone with his father, Baba always asks Hassan to join him. Amir knows that to make Baba proud of him the only thing he can do is to win this tournament: “I couldn’t listen… the solution that I would win the winter’s tournament”(6,60). The kite is a common thing that Baba and Amir both have since Amir is totally different from his father: “Baba and I lived in the same house, but in different spheres of existence. Kites were the one paper-thin slice of intersection between those spheres”(6,52). The kite is a major symbol of love throughout the novel. The three symbols that represent Amir and Hassan’s brotherhood are the slingshot, the scar and Hassan’s son, Sohrab. In Afghanistan, the slingshot is the common weapon of every kid. Hassan uses the slingshot to defend Amir in an alley when they are attacked by Amir’s friends: “I turned came face to face with Hassan’s slingshot… Hassan held the slingshot pointed directly at Assef’s face”(5,45).

It shows Hassan’s selfless love and his devotion towards his master, Amir. Before the tournament, on Hassan’s birthday, Baba arranges a plastic surgeon, whose job is: “to fix things on people’s bodies. Sometimes their faces”(5,49), for Hassan to fix his harelip. The following winter, Hassan’s harelip turns out to be a faint scar; that was the time he stops smiling. In the end, after a fight Amir has with Assef in his journey finding Sohrab, Amir now has a scar on his upper lip which looks like his half brother, thus it represents their brotherhood. Sohrab symbolizes the redemption of a betraying love. By saving Hassan’s son Amir can alleviate his guilt and pays the debt he owns his half-brother, who loves him selflessly. In addition, Sohrab is a symbol of the reincarnation of his father in him: “The boy had his father’s round moon face… It was the Chinese doll face of my childhood”(22,293).

He reminds Amir of his best friend, Hassan, and his sins in the past. Again, Amir’s conscience is troubled. He knows that all he has to do now is to save Sohrab. Consequently, he stands up for himself and fights Assef: “I don’t know if I gave Assef a good fight… that was the first time I’d fought anyone.”(22,301); besides, fighting with Assef makes Amir feel relieve since he takes a chance to revenge Assef for what he has done to Hassan and his son: “Then he’s taken the pomegranate from my hand, crushed it against his for the head. “Are you satisfied now?”…but I hadn’t been happy, not at all… But I did now…Healed at last. I laughed”(22,303). Although the scar, the slingshot and Sohrab are the three minor symbols, they have important roles in making the theme of love clearer.

The pomegranate tree is a significant symbol of Amir and Hassan’s friendship. The tree is the two boy’s favourite place, where they usually hang out and share their dreams and stories. Their friendship is as sweet as pomegranate fruits. On a summer day, Amir and Hassan take knives to the top of the hill and carve their names on the tree: “Amir and Hassan, the sultans of Kabul”(4,30). Those words make the tree token of their friendship. In addition, those words always exist like Amir’s memory. Years later, when Amir goes back to Kabul as an adult: “the carving had dulled almost faded altogether, but it was still there”(21,277); besides, he realizes that tree has not born fruits in many years, like his friendship with Hassan had died. The tree also symbolizes Hassan’s, selfless love.

After the day that Hassan is raped, the guilt keeps bothering Amir, thus he decides to meet Hassan up on the hill. Amir keeps throwing pomegranates at Hassan and demands him to fight back: “I hit him with another pomegranate… I spat “Hit me back, goddamn you!”…I wish he’d give me the punishment I craved… I’d finally sleep at night”(8,98). He wants to inflict a physical punishment and lessen his guilt; however, Hassan does not do anything but scarifies himself again for Amir. He breaks the fruit over his own head. The tree is symbolic of Amir’s bittersweet tragedy. Now, Amir goes back to where his friendship with Hassan begins, but they never have a happy ending. Amir does not have a chance to tell Hassan again what he really feels about him. The pomegranate tree is a symbol of the two boys’ complex friendship.

Finally, the old Ford car and the wedding are the two symbols of paternal love. Everything changes since the day Baba and Amir move to America. Back in Afghanistan, Baba is a tough and distant father who wants what is best for Amir and wants him to grow up to be a thoughtful, strong and brave man. Unlike in the past, Amir now becomes a man. Baba depends on him to live a totally different life in America: “For two years, I try to get Baba to enrol in ESL classes to improve his broken English.”(11,133-134); therefore, they become closer. The first present that Baba proudly gets for Amir in the novel is an old Ford car when he graduates high school at the age of twenty: “He reached in his coat pocket and handed me a set of keys… pointing to the car in front of us.”(11,140). It symbolizes their changing relationship. Later on, Amir starts having his own life.

He marries Soraya the daughter of his father’s old friend. Furthermore, their wedding is symbolic of paternal love. Traditionally, Baba has to come over to Taheris’ place to ask for Soraya’s hand in marriage. Baba is dying because of his lung cancer which spreads to his brain; however, he feels happy again when he has such an important role in his son’s life: “Up to this? It’s the happiest day of my life, Amir,” he said, smiling tiredly.”(13,175). Moreover, knowing that he is dying, he does not want to spend his money on medical treatment; instead, he spends most of them on the ceremony, rings, and traditional clothing for the wedding: “Baba spent $35,000, nearly the balance of his life savings, on the across, the wedding ceremony ….the swearing ceremony”(13,178-179). These two symbols represent a vast amount of Baba’s love for Amir and their reconciliation.

Throughout the novel, Hosseini uses many items to symbolize the main theme of the novel, love. The kite is symbolic of the relationships between Amir and Hassan, Amir and his father. The scar, the slingshot, Sohrab and the significant symbol, the pomegranate tree, symbolize Hassan and Amir’s friendship as well as their brotherhood. Finally, the old ford car and Amir’s wedding are symbolic of paternal love. All the symbolic concepts throughout the book have great meaning in everyone’s life. When you truly love someone, you can be either selfless or selfish. Although Hassan is betrayed by Amir, he still loves Amir selflessly. On the other hand, Amir loves his father selfishly. He wants Baba all to himself. And most of them realize that both forgiveness and love of self are necessary before you are able to love another (Cliffsnotes).

Secondary sources

  • ANSER.COM. <http://www.answers.com/symbolism>, 19 January 2009
  • The Berkley Publishing Group. “The Kite Runner-Amir/Hassan’s relationship”. Paper Analysis. <http://essay001.blogspot.com/2007/11/kite-runner-amirhassans-relationship.html>, 18 January 2009
  • “Critical essay-theme in The Kite Runner.” Cliffsnotes. < http://www.cliffsnotes.com/WileyCDA/LitNote/The-Kite-Runner-Critical-Essays-Themes-in-The-Kite-Runner.id-199,pageNum-79.html>, 19 January 2009
  • (1) Pashtuns are an Eastern Iranian ethnolinguistic group with populations primarily in Afghanistan. The Pashtuns are typically characterized by their usage of the Pashto language and practice of Pashtunwali, which is a traditional code of conduct and honour.[ (2) Hazara are people who descended from Mongolia. They are servants and manual labourers in Kabul.

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