The Kite Runner: Guilt as a Driving Force of Humanity
[(Essay date 2 June 2008) In this literary criticism written by E.B. Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner” is seen as portraying guilt as a major force in the drive of two characters, Amir and his father, Baba. This guilt leads them to better the lives of other people while on their quest for redemption]

I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek. That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.(1)

The opening paragraph of Hosseini’s powerful novel "The Kite Runner" already expresses one of the main themes, guilt. Amir, the main character, is perpetually confronted by guilt. While on the surface, Amir seems to be a carefree child of a rich and popular father, he harbors the guilt of his sins deep within his heart. These guilts come back to haunt him throughout his whole life, reappearing as vivid flashbacks in which he relives his sins. While he tries to bury has past and forget about it, it comes calling and remorse he feels persuades him to take action. His father, who he fondly calls Baba, likewise harbors the guilt of his sins. To Amir, as well as to the rest of the world, Baba is seen as a strong and powerful man, strong willed in both actions and heart. Yet under these falsities lies a guilt that is so strong that all of his actions are based upon it. Both Amir and Baba are driven by these feelings of guilt, and every action they take and every decision they make is an attempt to reach redemption.

Amir is a very complicated character whose guilt runs deeper than that of which most children of his age experience. Amir compounds the guilt of three main things: killing his mother during childbirth, not being the strong and athletically inclined son his father wanted, and the final and most pertinent- his treatment of Hassan. The young Amir takes full responsibility for his mother’s death, blaming himself on being the sole reason she died. This theory that he has is not helped by his father who never quite got over his wife’s death and who, impart, also blames Amir for the fatal outcome of his birth. “Because the truth of it was, I had killed his beloved wife, his beautiful princess, hadn’t I? The least I could have done was to have had the decency to have turned out a little more like him. But I hadn’t turned out like him. Not at all” (19). Amir not only harbors the guilt of his mother’s death, but also the devout devotion for his father who, for most part, acts as though Amir is a large gaping crevice on his pristine highway of life, and turns him away with just a grumble. Although this plays a role in Amir’s guilt driven actions, most of the guilt that Amir has bottled up inside all pertains to his friend, Hassan.
Hassan had always been a loyal and loving friend to Amir. He silently took the blame for all the mischief they got into, even when it was Amir who badgered him to do it. Hassan also stuck up for Amir and defended him from bullies, sometimes fighting off two or three at the same time. In return for Hassan’s loyalty, Amir would make fun of Hassan’s illiteracy, or snap at him for asking a question. Then feeling guilty for his actions, he would turn around and try and make up for it by giving him one of his old shirts or a broken toy. He would never give him anything new or anything he wanted for himself, he did not feel the need to, after all, Hassan was only a Hazara, the lowly ethnic group in afghani eyes, he was not worth a sincere apology.

While these feelings of guilt were easily resolved and forgotten, the incident that sent Amir into the spiraling cycle of guilt was when Hassan was raped:
I had one last chance to make a decision. One final opportunity to decide who I was going to be. I could step into that alley, stand up for Hassan- the way he’d stood up for me all those times in the past- and accept whatever would happen to me. Or I could run.
In the end, I ran. (77)
This fatal mistake would haunt Amir throughout the rest of the novel. While he goes on with his life and attempts to forget what happened in the alley, Hassan keeps the happenings of that day secret, never blaming Amir or confronting him about the events that took place. This is what bothers Amir the most, he was never offered a shot at redemption by Hassan, and as the days and years wear by, Amir’s guilt continues to compound until he attempts to seek redemption for his sins rather than wait for a chance at redemption to come to him.

Baba faces his own guilt throughout the novel. His guilt is derived mainly from his regrets for cheating on his wife, and having a baby with this other woman, his servant’s wife. This child turns out to be none other than Hassan. The guilt here is even worse. The societal rules have deemed the Hazara the lowly race and because of this social barrier, Baba could never come out and claim that he was Hassan’s legitimate father. The guilt that he felt at seeing his son every day, but not being able to tell Hassan or treat him like a son, was unbearable. He tried to treat Hassan fairly, buying him the same things that he did Amir, but it was not the same. The guilt wore away at him day in and day out, mainly because Hassan was his child in personality but he could never be his child openly because of his race. Amir on the other hand was his legal and accepted son, and he just had to make do with the ‘weakling’ of a son he was stuck with. Rahim Khan explains this situation very well:
I saw how you suffered and yearned for his affections, and my heart bled for you. But your father was a man torn between two halves, Amir jan: you and Hassan. He loved you both, but he could not love Hassan the way he longed to, openly, and as a father. So he took it out on you instead- Amir, the socially legitimate half, the half that represented the riches he had inherited and the sin-with-impunity privileges that came with them. When he saw you, he saw himself. And his guilt. (301)
Baba was confronted by his source of guilt everyday. This guilt led him to take action against this remorse and seek redemption by bettering the lives of other people less fortunate than himself or people just stuck in a rut.

The guilt Baba felt drove him to do good and better the lives of many people, some of which he knew personally, and some who he had just met. Baba would bring handfuls of money with him when they went into Kabul. This money he saved to give to the beggars on the streets because he believed in everyone having food to eat. Baba also built an orphanage, sheltering all the children that would otherwise not have a home. This could be seen as a symbol for the way he sheltered Hassan and Amir, never telling them the truth but always providing for and protecting them. Hassan was an orphan because he did not know who his true father was, even if he did not realize it. Amir was an orphan because he felt shunned and rejected by his father. In addition, Baba also helped people find jobs, housing, lent money, and did everything in his power for those that came to him in need. This is Baba’s form of redemption, giving back to those that do not have and sheltering those from a world that is ruthless and unsympathetic.

Baba has a very Nietzsche-esc personality. His views on morality are quite similar to this philosopher who believed that the morality and Judeo-Christian religion were wrong. Baba disagreed with religious views also and shunned its value in life. Baba also viewed god in the same light as Nietsche who stated “God is dead” partaking in the belief of nihilism (existence is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value, there is not proof of a higher power, and even if one exists, mankind has no moral obligation to worship him.) Baba tries to save Amir from making the same mistakes that he did and instill in him morality that is not taught in school with his own philosophy:
When you kill a man, you steal a life […] you steal his wife’s right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness. […] There is not act more wretched than stealing, Amir. A man who takes what’s not his to take, be it life or a loaf of naan…I spit on such a man. And if I ever cross paths with him, God help him. (18).
Baba, while being a hypocrite in this scene, attempts to share with Amir a very valuable piece of information. This ‘passing of the torch of knowledge’ is a way for Baba to try and attempt to redeem himself from his sin towards his son.

Baba also hints many times at the fact that Hassan is his son, many times telling Amir that he wishes Hassan was there and in one moving scene, he exclaimed that this is Hassan’s home and that he is not going any where, they are his family. Even these small hints seem to lessen his burden of guilt enabling him to move on with his life. In the end, Baba dies happy, seeing his son Amir happily married to a beautiful woman and living in the United States, where everyone is considered equal. While he might not have been able to say outright that Hassan was his son, he mentioned him often and hinted at the fact that Hassan was more than his servant’s son.

Amir, unlike his father, is unable to forgive himself that easily. Amir struggles with daily flashbacks, reminding him of what a good friend Hassan was and how he betrayed him, “The bear roars, or maybe it’s Baba. Spittle and blood fly; claw and hand swipe. They fall to the ground with a loud thud and Baba is sitting on the bear’s chest, his fingers in his snout. He looks up at me and I see. He’s me. I am wrestling the bear”(295). The bear in Amir’s dream symbolizes his guilt of betrayal of witnessing this horrid event that he had the power to stop. Now that Baba is gone, Amir is left to wrestle the bear on his own and hopefully come out on top. Amir is utterly alone on his quest and he must continue to fight to make things right or fear being clawed to pieces and thrown into insanity by his own guilt.

Amir’s one last shot at redemption is to rescue Hassan’s son, Sohrab, from an orphanage in Afghanistan. Amir realizes that this is his one last gift that Hassan has placed before is his one last shot at redemption and he accepts the offer. If not for Amir’s guilty conscious, he might never have had the ambition to travel back to his war torn country in search of a boy that was not his, it was just not his nature, but because of the guilt that he still had he took up the offer and stepped back into Afghanistan, the origin of his guilt and haunting flashbacks.

Upon finding Sohrab, Amir comes face to face with Assef, the boy who raped Hassan all those years ago. Unlike the Amir that is presented in the beginning of the novel, the Amir that faces Assef is a strong man, set on his reasons and willing to fight for his beliefs. This sudden change in Amir’s character is like a second coming of age. He as reached a level where he is beyond reproach, he is untouchable and unwavering in his decision. When Assef suggests a fight to the death for Sohrab, it is what Amir has been waiting for, pain and the redemption that comes with it. As the first punch lands, the first bones break, and the first drop of blood falls, all Amir can think about is that this is the redemption he has been waiting for; this is what redemption feels like, “[…] for the first time since the winter of 1975, I felt at peace. I laughed because I saw that, in some hidden nook in the corner of my mind, I’d even been looking forward to this. […] My body was broken- just how badly I wouldn’t find out until later- but I felt healed. Healed at last”(289). Amir laughs at his realization that this is the worst Assef would have done to him. If he stood up for Hassan that day in the alley the worst he would have gotten was a beating and then things could have been different and Hassan could have still been with him. But know since time has gone by since this incident took place the beating has gotten worse, reflecting the severity of Amir’s choice to be a bystander. The wounds he received from Assef will heal in time, but the pain he felt by doing nothing for his friend has plagued him a life time. Now by giving his body willingly to Assef, like a lamb to the slaughter, he is portraying altruism and redeeming himself of his self-centered choice. Amir’s guilt was the driving force behind thee decision to sacrifice himself for the good of the little boy, Soharb.

Without the sense of guilt that these two characters felt, they would not have been determined to achieve what they did in their lives. Baba would not have tried to be the best, attempting to hide his mortal sin under the extravagance of his good deeds, and Amir would not have gone back into Afghanistan to save a young boy that he did not know. Without guilt, there would have been no reason for these two men to go up against the odds, to help others less fortunate then themselves, and to put their lives on the line for the well being of others:
And this is what I want you to understand, that good, real good, was born out of your father’s remorse. Sometimes I think that everything he did , feeding the poor on the streets, building the orphanage, giving money to friends in need, it was all his way of redeeming himself. And that I believe, is what true redemption is, Amir jan, when guilt leads to good. (302)
While the need for redemption and forgiveness of ones sins might not be the best drive for good, it seems to be the most effective. Guilt drives all people, not just characters in novels. All of our thoughts and gifts of generosity are given out of the guilt of having more than other people, of having a better life, of have food and a warm and dry place to sleep every night. Humanity is driven by the guilt of mankind. Every advancement we make is because we have guilt toward something that we as individuals or we as a population have done. Guilt is not easily stored in our minds and hearts. If guilt is present it should be harbored and used to do good, as Amir and Baba used theirs, and hopefully the redemption for the cause of guilt will be found along the way.

(E.B. 2008)

Women in Afghanistan: A Feminine Perspective of Afghanistan’s Politics in A Thousand Splendid Suns

[(Essay date 3 June 2008) In this essay, A.K.L. examines Khaled Hosseini’s novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and explores the societal expectations of women. The assertion is that Hosseini allegorically portrays the treatment of women in juxtaposition to the modern state of Afghanistan. Women are displayed through the Islamic cultural lens of females, which causes the reader to sympathize with them. While this emotion filled novel may be disagreeable to those who operate under Islamic Shari’a, a moral code of laws, A.K.L. believes that the suffering of women is rightfully exposed.]

Hosseini captivates his readers through an adherence to displaying the reality of gender roles in Afghanistan. Nana, Mariam, Fariba, Laila, Aziza, and other minor female characters enable the reader to understand the distress and turmoil that women must face on a daily basis. While the women struggle for survival, war and political upheaval sweep Afghanistan.

One is first introduced to Nana, the bitter mistress of a wealthy businessman, Jalil, and their harami, more politely known as an illegitimate child. This character was cleverly placed in the first chapter, not only for chronological purposes, but to begin the novel with a tone of feminine anger and pain. It is because of Nana’s personal dismay, of being cast aside to live in a shack with her harami, Mariam, that she is driven to hate Jalil and resent Mariam for her loyalty to him. She expresses that “a man’s heart is a wretched, wretched thing” (26). While one initially views Nana as a harsh mother, one is able to understand her reasoning through the later portrayal of Mariam and Laila. With Nana’s attitude, a comment is being made on the Islamic way of dealing with adultery. Nana was a simple housekeeper, used by a powerful man and then discarded. She was lucky to not have been punished in a more severe way. In this respect, Jalil was a generous man. He did not, however, provide Nana with any aid in conceiving (11). Her suffering of giving birth without care can be representative of the suffering of thousands of women.

Hosseini contrasts Nana’s emotions with the innocence of Mariam as a young girl. She admires her father and his riches, even though she does not share in them. His occasional visits are satisfying because she does not know anything else. The fact that Mariam relishes her time spent with Jalil, portrays that many women are born ignorant of reality. Mariam is kept ignorant of how carelessly Jalil regards her. Jalil is representative of wealthy men who are more concerned with appearance and status than a child who is of flesh and blood. He lives the greater part of his life disregarding his mistreatment of Mariam. It is because of society’s brutally negative outlook of haramis that Jalil is able to act in this manner. Nana is also powerless in the situation, just as women are essentially powerless in the society.

The allowance of multiple wives is displayed through Jalil and Rasheed (43, 193). In this society, it is acceptable for multiple women to be bound to one man. Jalil had three wives: Afsoon, Khadija, and Nargis. Rasheed married Mariam and then Laila. Upon the marriage of Rasheed and Laila, she is scared and unsure. Mariam, at this point, holds deep contempt for Laila. The sharing of one husband can cause great rivalry among women, however, they realize that without creating peace, they are even more powerless and miserable. Mariam’s initial discontent for Laila and Rasheed’s marriage draws attention to the demeaning practice.

Society’s emphasis on the male’s importance is displayed with Rasheed’s treatment of Mariam’s miscarriages. His mood is altered dramatically. He is irritable and so enraged that Mariam feels that she “failed him” and has become “nothing but a burden” (90). As Rasheed’s distaste for Mariam grows, military planes and bombs are heard overhead (91). The novel displays Rasheed’s growing anger towards Mariam as communism infiltrated Afghanistan and President Daoud Khan was murdered during the coup of 1978 (92). Shortly after this is mentioned, Rasheed forces Mariam to chew a “handful of pebbles” in order for her to understand how her cooking tastes. It is this act of brutality that shows Rasheed’s impatience at her ignorance of politics but, more predominantly, his disgust in her inability to reproduce. This concept is furthered when Laila gives birth to a daughter, that Rasheed would rather not have exist. It is once she gives birth to a son that he sheds some kindness on baby Zalmai, his cherished boy. He spoils him with gifts, such as a television and VCR (264). In contrast, he had previously refused to even buy girl clothes for Aziza, Laila’s first child. Shortly after this gift, he suggests that Aziza go into the streets as a beggar because he has spent most of their money on petty gifts (266). This cruel contrast enables one to understand the role of women. Rasheed wishes that Aziza beg and take on the burden of his actions. This irrational way of thinking causes one to pity Aziza and find fault in Rasheed.

Rasheed serves a symbolic character, representing the evil and oppression that Islamic law places on women. The rule of the Taliban, especially, creates an environment which makes it unbearable for a women to function on her own. Rasheed happily gives his wives burqas to wear after their marriages. It is the evil that emanates from Rasheed, his joy in the restrictive laws enforced by the Taliban, that make him an unfavorable character. He finds pleasure in listening to “Voice of Shari’a”, a radio program listing those who the Taliban would punish (251). Rasheed was not concerned with the Taliban because “all he had to do was grow a beard... and visit the mosque”, two things which he already did (251). The new laws had not changed his lifestyle. In his mind, the laws helped him by placing restrictions on his wives and the little power they had left. Rasheed had mockingly crushed Laila in asking, “What good are all your smarts to you now” (252)? This statement is accurate in expressing that women are helpless.

Fariba, Laila’s mother, was introduced as a women who was shockingly different. Her husband, Hakim, treated her with respect and care. Fariba did not serve the role that a typical Afghan mother pursued. She was defiant and “ferocious” when angered. Hakim, also, lacked the normal role with his “delicate hands, almost like a woman’s” (98). This description enables one to see that Hakim was not a man of malice or violent discipline. He was not familiar with “ordinary tools” and spent more time absorbed in books (99). Fariba took to laying in her bed on most days. Laila was responsible for completing chores and preparing meals that her mother seemed incapable of doing. The timid Hakim did not bother Fariba to get out of bed. In this relationship, she held the power. One witnesses the disintegration of Fariba’s strength as the days go on. After the death of her two sons, who had been away fighting, she took to wearing only black and never leaving her bed. It is this loss that transforms her into a ghost. She completely disregards any duties, including being a mother to Laila (130). Although this woman possesses the ability to act on her own, she is crushed by the result of war. It is the war that costs her her sons and, ultimately, her life and Hakim’s.

Death seems like the most probable option for an escape from the harmful invasion of the Soviet Union, the oppressive Taliban regime, or an abusive husband. Due to Shari’a law, which said that a woman must only leave her home when “accompanied by a mahram, a male relative,” Laila and Mariam were unsuccessful in their first attempt at escaping (248). With the return of Tariq, Laila was able to escape to Pakistan with her two children (320). Mariam reached peace in another manner. She had to stay in Kabul and face the consequences of killing Rasheed. Rasheed, who made her suffer for years. Rasheed, who nearly killed Laila (311). It was in the moments before Mariam’s execution that she thought it “was a legitimate end to a life of illegitimate beginnings” (329). She felt happy to have become a “person of consequence,” having loved people in her life (329). Just like the flimsy state of Afghanistan, one was not entirely safe under the house of a man like Rasheed. The message that is put forth is that the options are scarce for women. The death of Rasheed brings temporarily relief, which enables Laila to escape. Mariam’s death offers a final relief. In relation to the country, there can not be relief until the fighting ceases, one passes away, or one flees.

The last date recorded in the novel is April 2003. It is at this time that Laila, Tariq, and the children return to Kabul, at Laila’s request (356). Although Kabul is not perfect, there have been improvements. The city is slowly being rebuilt above the rubble. Hosseini chooses to have Laila’s family return to Kabul to express that the country is better than it was, and moving towards greater safety and choice. The orphanage, which represented a time of despair, in which Aziza was placed for a time, is being renovated with the help of Laila and Tariq (364). This optimistic ending shows the increased rights of women and conveys that Hosseini thinks that Afghanistan is headed towards more acceptance and freedom, despite the faults it still possesses.

(A.K.L. 2008)

The Social and Ethnic Divide of Hazaras and Pashtuns in The Kite Runner

[(Essay date June 8) In this essay, A.K.L. examines the roles of Pashtuns and Hazaras, as viewed in Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner,through the characters of Amir and Hassan. Hosseini illustrates the divide of Pashtun and Hazara, Sunni and Shi'a, an issue that continues to hinder the humanity of Afghanistan.]

It is through reading Khaled Hosseini’s enlightening novel that one is able to glimpse at the relationships between Hazaras and Pashtuns. With further research, one finds that the Pashtuns, at around forty-two percent, overpower the Hazaras, who account for only around nine percent of the population (Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook). While both ethnic groups are Muslim, their deep-rooted differences cause for disagreements, violence, and intolerance. The Shiites, mostly Hazaras, believe that after the Prophet Muhammad died, his lineage acted as leaders for the community. Those of his lineage are considered spiritually blessed. The Sunnis, in contrast, believe that the leader should be chosen based on political power and strengths (Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, Islam: Sunnis and Shiites).

It is an unnerving thought that a child may be taught to be racist in school. Through Amir’s ignorance and misconceptions, one is able to see that his teachers were biased. Amir reflects on his young ignorance and remembers when he found his mother’s old history book, and was shocked at his finding (Hosseini 9):

Amir had said he “was stunned to find an entire chapter on Hazara history. An entire chapter dedicated to Hassan’s people! In it, I read that my people, the Pashtuns, had persecuted and oppressed the Hazaras. It said the Hazaras had tried to rise against the Pashtuns in the nineteenth century, but the Pashtuns had ‘quelled them with unspeakable violence.’ The book said that my people had killed the Hazaras, driven them from their lands, burned their homes, and sold their women. The book said part of the reason Pashtuns had oppressed the Hazaras was that Pashtuns were Sunni Muslims, while Hazaras were Shi’a. The book said a lot of things I didn’t know, things my teachers hadn’t mentioned. Things Baba hadn’t mentioned either. It also said some things I did know, like that people called Hazaras mice-eating, flat-nosed, load-carrying donkeys. I had heard some of the kinds in the neighborhood yell those names to Hassan” (Hosseini 9).

Hosseini points out the problem that begins at an early stage. Teachers, especially those in Kabul, enforce a Pashtun elitist attitude. One can grasp the colossus shock of Amir through the use of stunned and the repetition of an entire chapter. Amir continues to say the book said which emphasizes his former lack of knowledge. It was a dusty book, written by an Iranian, that educated him on the truth– not his school teachers. The part that really points the guilty finger at teachers is when Amir mentions that he does know the names that people called Hazaras. This easily recalled knowledge shows that it is common and accepted for a Hazara to be harassed.

Amir talks of Ali and Hassan’s “Hazara Mongoloid features” (Hosseini 9). Genetically, Hazaras are said to be related to Mongols and the Uygurs of Western China, which gives them a flat-nose and Chinese features (Rosenberg, Genetic Structure of Human Populations). The physical characteristics of Hazaras make them an easy target. As witnessed in The Kite Runner, Hassan is publicly attacked because of his ethnicity. A group of soldiers make a mockery of him when he and Amir are walking to the cinema. “You! The Hazara! Look at me when I’m talking to you!” one soldier calls (Hosseini 7). He persists to make a vulgar motion with his hands and says, “I knew your mother, did you know that? I knew her real good...” (7). One does not need to hear the rest of his statement in order to understand the hurt and embarrassment that Hassan felt.

Ali and Hassan live in a shack outside of Baba and Amir’s large home. Ali is a cook who grew up with Baba. In this time period, there is little hope for a Hazara to be anything more than a cook. Because of Baba and Ali’s friendship, they are blessed with a home. When Amir speaks to someone about Hassan, the person refers to Hassan as Amir’s Hazara. Throughout the novel, Hassan is belittled by Pashtuns because he is Hazara. Hosseini establishes Baba as a character in order to show the potential for Hazaras and Pashtuns to act peacefully and decently towards each other. Amir said that Baba never missed Hassan’s birthday which could be because he was his son. Regardless, Baba had been raised with an acceptance of Hazaras. Although Hassan is Baba’s son, this intermix of Hazara and Pashtun is presented with a positive view. Baba is presented as a noble man, aside from his lying and deceiving to Amir and Hassan.

Amir struggles with the influence of those around him and the jealousy that he harbors. He once became angry because Hassan had proved to be more intelligent, despite his lack of schooling. In the heat of his jealousy, he thought: “What does he know, that illiterate Hazara? He’ll never be anything but a cook. How dare he criticize you?” (Hosseini 34). This hateful response is tragic, but it demonstrates the simplicity in demeaning a Hazara. Amir should have more kindness and consideration because he grew up with Hassan, however, this negative view of Hazaras is expressed throughout Kabul.

A particular quote speaks closely to the issue of the ethnic and religious conflict: “...history isn’t easy to overcome. Neither is religion. In the end, I was a Pashtun and he was a Hazara. I was a Sunni and he was a Shi’a, and nothing was ever going to change that. Nothing” (Hosseini 25). This thought represents the views of many Afghans. To many, especially Sunni Pashtuns, the idea of pluralism and humanism is not even up for discussion. This grim outlook presents no hope for change. Hosseini includes Amir’s childish, yet insightful, comment in order to put the issue into perspective. This problem exists because people are unwilling to acknowledge the differences of others.
Pashtuns have treated Hazaras with the most atrocious behavior. A National Geographic article, written by Phil Zabriskie, informs one that in 2001, “more than one-hundred and seventy [Shi’a men] were executed in four days” by the Taliban. There is no reason, other than that the men were Shi’a.

Assef, the hateful sociopath in The Kite Runner, shares the views of the Taliban as a young boy. The most disturbing scene occurs when Assef rapes Hassan. The reader is so angry with Amir for standing idly by the alley, capable of hearing “Assef’s rhythmic grunts” (77). Amir fails to accept the reality that Hassan is his friend, and allows him to be assaulted. Later, when Amir is in search of Hassan’s son, he encounters Assef. Assef, who embodies evil, has become a member of the Taliban. He keeps Sohrab, Hassan’s son, as a toy to amuse himself and for sexual indulgences. Assef’s twisted character seems unrealistic to the westernized reader, however, this is not unimaginable. Hazaras, women and children included, are subject to cruel treatment similar to this.

Amir is able to reach atonement for his sins after Sohrab gains trust in him. Living in California, Sohrab is free from the dangers a Hazara must face in Afghanistan. Although the U.S. succeeded in driving out some of the Taliban, the reoccurrences of suicide bombers, raids, and killings still exist. It is believed and hoped, by Hosseini and many Afghans, that Afghanistan is progressing. It is true that the Taliban inflicts destruction, however, their control over Afghanistan is far less. This story, however fictional, enables those ignorant of the real happenings in Afghanistan to better comprehend them. The Kite Runner teaches the reader, through a captivating novel, to become more aware. It is this education process which will help change Afghanistan.

(A.K.L. 2008)

A Thousand Splendid Suns: The burqa as a symbol of both the social plight of women and a hidden sense of freedom

[(Essay dated 9 June, 2008) In this essay, E.B analyzes the negative and positive symbolism of the burqa worn by females in ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ and compares the treatment of women to that of women in Margaret Atwood’s “Handmaid’s Tale”]

“Mariam had never before worn a burqa. Rasheed had to help her put it on. The padded headpiece felt tight and heavy on her skull, and it was strange seeing the world through a mesh screen.She practiced walking around her room in it and kept stepping on the hem and stumbling.The loss of peripheral vision was unnerving, and she did not like the suffocating way the pleated cloth kept pressing against her mouth” (65).
Khaled Hosseini’s “A Thousand Splendid Suns” focuses on the plight of women in Afghan society.It is in this society that the burqa is used as a symbol of both the repressive nature of male dominance and the suffocating effects of submission.

Much like in the novel “Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, women are seen only for their reproductive purposes.They are only considered a means by which to pass on the family name and business, not as loving caring individuals.In the “Handmaid’s Tale” they are forced to wear dresses of certain colors and have to wear special hats so that they can not see their peripheral vision. This lack of vision is a symbol not only for the experiences in life from which these women are cut off, but also for the blindness of society, which puts up its own blinders and pretends that treating women in this manner is acceptable. Offred, from the “Handmaid’s Tale”, is also suffocated by society. She is not allowed to speak unless spoken to and is not supposed to make eye contact unless commanded to do so.While Offred feels the suffocating ways of society theoretically, Mariam feels them literally as the cloth presses against her mouth, silencing her and making it difficult for her to breathe. These outfits are meant to show society the women’s roles in the family and make them submissive to the dominant male race.This scenario is the same for the burqas in “A Thousand Splendid Suns. The burqas are used to make the women submissive to their husbands. Mariam quickly learns from her husband that he too will enforce this unfair prejudice, “Where I come from, one wrong look, one improper word, and blood is spilled.Where I come from, a woman’s face is her husband’s business only.I want you to remember that. Do you understand?” (63). Women are to be completely covered by their burqas at all times, unless at home with their husbands.Separated and secluded from society, women are silenced by this thin layer of cloth that surrounds their bodies and are forced into submission.

Unfortunately, Mariam, like many of the females in the middle to low classes in Afghanistan, is forced by her husband to wear a burqa. This for of segregation and degradation is not so for the upper class; Mariam’s Husband, Rasheed, says:
“The women come uncovered, they talk to me directly, look at me in the eye without shame.They wear makeup and skirts that show their knees.Sometimes they even put their feet in front of me, the women do, for measurements, and their husbands stand there and watch. They allow it. […] They think they’re being modern men, intellectuals, on account of their education, I suppose.” (63)
Men in the middle to low classes, being of lesser education, may feel as though they are not able to handle women being more outgoing and approachable than themselves.Because of this insecurity, they force women to wear burqas so that they can consider themselves be dominant and are made to feel as if they control the power over something, even if it is only to clad their own wife.They need to feel in control of their home environment since they are not in control of the outside one.This excess of aggressive behavior and need for self reassurance leads many of these men to demand that their wives wear burqas in public.

In Mariam’s case, although the burqa did indeed make her submissive to her husband as it was intended; it also gave her a sense of comfort. The narrator states “And the burqa, she learned to her surprise, was also comforting.It was like a one way window.Inside it, she was an observer, buffered from the scrutinizing eyes of strangers. She no longer worried that people knew, with a single glance, all the shameful secrets of her past” (66).The burqa saves Mariam from the harshness of reality.It is a veil on her past, a protecting fortress, so she does not feel like people can tell who she is and how she came to be; a harami, or child born out of wedlock, her father a rich and prominent figure in society, and her mother a lowly maid in his household. Under her veil she is able to see life like she has never seen it before.She is free of people’s unkind stares, and she no longer feels like she is the center of everyone’s gaze.Under the burqa, Mariam finds comfort and security in its folds, as well as freedom.She feels the freedom to think as she wishes and finds comfort in the fact that no one will be the wiser about it.

Rasheed’s second wife, Laila, has similar feelings about the burqas:
“For Laila, being out in the streets had become an exercise in avoiding injury.Her eyes were still adjusting to the limited, gridlike visibility of the burqa, her feet still stumbling over the hem.She walked in perpetual fear of tripping and falling, of breaking an ankle stepping into a pothole.Still, she found some comfort in the anonymity that the burqa provided. She wouldn’t be recognized this way if she ran into an old acquaintance of hers. She wouldn’t have to watch the surprise in their eyes, or the pity or glee, at how far she had fallen, at how her lofty aspirations had been dashed.” (208)
The burqa provided shelter as it humiliated and made the women wearing it submissive.For them it was both a hindrance and a blessing.While the burqas show that the women wearing them have given up their individuality because of a man, they are sheltered in its mass amounts of cloth, surrounded and comforted by the fact that they are dressed beyond recognition so that what little self esteem they have left is not stomped on by society, but rather cradled and protected.

The burqas also protect the women themselves. Many of the women had to give up their children and place them in orphanages when the droughts came because they had no way of feeding them.Laila has to give up her little girl, and since her husband refuses to go with her to visit the child, she sneaks out.Women are not allowed out on the streets without a man to accompany them; if they are caught they were beaten and sent home.The burqas offered protection from the beatings, as the narrator states, “Soon Laila took to wearing extra layers, even in the heat, two, three sweaters beneath the burqa, for padding against the beatings”(286). While the burqas singled them out to the Taliban in the streets, they offered shelter also, providing a way to soften the blows dealt to them by society.

Tripping is another symbol that goes along with the burqa.Both women tripped over the hem while they were getting accustomed to the feel of wearing a burqa.This is significant because in both instances, this event occurs after or around the same time that they are trying to convince themselves that wearing a burqa is not such a bad thing.Tripping on the hem brings them back to reality.It is almost like a tease of freedom.As they are walking their feet have freedom to move, yet as soon as their foot catches the hem, it takes that freedom away and they falter a moment before regaining their balance.This trip, stumble, recover, and carry-on is symbolic of women’s repression by society and of the tease of freedom brought about by the concealing veil of the burqa, “[It is used]as a reminder of how women like us suffer […] How quietly we endure all that falls upon us” (82).

When the Taliban took over, all women are forced to wear burqas in public, even the doctors.Female doctors, though they have the luxury of being allowed to continue working, are forced to wear burqas even during surgery.Mariam explains this give and take scenario saying, “Here was a woman who had understood that she was lucky to even be working, [yet] there was always something, something else, that they could take away” (260).This simple rule, as well as the fact that all of the doctors’ burqas are grungy and old, shows how little women are valued in this society.They are treated like dirt, and the only solace that they can find for their drop in status is to shrink into the burqas that they wear and embrace what little freedom and comfort it gives them. Some of the women doctors are strong enough to stand up to this unfair ruling.In secret, they would remove the burqa during surgery as it was difficult and constricting to work in. The removal of the burqa, and with the help of a person standing guard to make sure no one would catch them, shows that the removal of this piece of cloth gives women just as much control and dominance over their own lives as it gave the men who forced the women wear them.

This one piece of cloth is able to dominate and control so many women that (as the title of the book suggests),“One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,/ Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.” (347) One cannot possibly count the number of men who placed themselves as dominant, or the thousand bright women that were hidden behind the cloak of their burqas. Yet with the removal of the Taliban, the splendidness of freedom was shown to all people, as the mandatory burqa wearing was taken away and the restoration of the balance between men and women began. There was to be no more hiding behind burqas as the social plight of women was on its way to being righted. By the end of the novel, society is being rebuilt and women are gaining more power.The suffocation of society has been removed and renovation has begun, starting at home and slowly echoing throughout the whole of society. Similar to the way in which everything was eventually righted in the end of “Handmaid’s Tale”; the ending of “A Thousand Splendid Suns” conveys a sense of growing momentum of women’s rights and leaves the reader with a hope for equality and acceptance between men and women.


The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini:
The Effect of One Event over the Course of a Lifetime

[(Essay dated 15 June 2009) In this literary criticism of The Kite Runner, M.T. discusses how a single event can shape the rest of a lifetime. This theme will be analyzed through the story of Amir’s life and the event in his childhood that impacts his future actions as he reaches maturity.]

“Baba sighed. ‘It may be unfair, but what happens in a few days, sometimes even a single day, can change the course of a whole lifetime, Amir,’ he said”(142).

In all cultures, pivotal events in one’s life can alter the course of one’s existence. This theme is illustrated throughout The Kite Runner as Amir is unable to escape his tumultuous past. At the start of the novel, Amir states “I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975 … Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years” (1), showing how a certain event in his childhood has affected him and stayed with him for his entire life.

Amir and his father, Baba, lived a privileged life in Afghani culture, with a beautiful home and servants Ali and his son Hassan. Amir and Hassan were best friends; however, the relationship was not reciprocal. Hassan would do anything for Amir and looked up to him immensely. He stood up to others that threatened Amir out of pure commitment to their friendship. With this, Amir never gave anything in return. He would offer Hassan only the old toys that he did not want, and mock his illiteracy. Amir realized their class differences, he was a Pashtun and Hassan was a Hazara, and therefore only added to the friendship things that would benefit him. While Hassan remained firmly devoted to their friendship throughout the novel, Amir shows his inability to be a true friend. Amir’s treatment of Hassan profoundly changes his future as the novel progresses.

The pivotal moment that changes the course of Amir’s lifetime occurs on the day of his victory in the kite fight, a monumental event in Afghani culture. The triumphant win leads to Amir’s extreme elation, especially since he anticipates praise and acceptance from his father. Once Amir cuts the last kite, Hassan dedicates himself to running the kite for him, promising his friend “‘For you a thousand times over!’” (67). This quote is a motif throughout the novel, constantly reminding the reader, as well as Amir, of Hassan’s eternal commitment to their friendship.

As Amir frantically searches for Hassan to see if he has secured the final kite, he finds him with the kite as promised. Amir sees Hassan being harassed by the town bully Assef, refusing to go back on his unbreakable vow and surrender the kite. The events, as witnessed by Amir, produce never-ending images of the horror and pain Hassan undergoes.
“I had one last chance to make a decision. One final opportunity to decide who I was going to be. I could step into that alley, stand up for Hassan—the way he he’d stood up for me all those times in the past—and accept whatever would happen to me. Or I could run.
In the end, I ran” (77).
As told by Amir, Hassan is raped in the alley, stripped of his innocence and childhood. The fact that Amir remains idle as the events unfold illustrates his selfishness and cowardice, while highlighting Hassan’s endless sacrifices throughout their friendship. His decision to run and abandon Hassan produces unbelievable consequences in his future.

After the rape of Hassan, the friendship between them eventually crumbles. Amir avoids Hassan out of guilt; he is not able to talk to him or apologize for his actions. Even after Amir’s severe betrayal, Hassan makes efforts to rebuild the friendship they have lost. He never confronts Amir about the rape or blames him for not standing up for him. Amir cannot deal with his acts and needs redemption for them but Hassan makes this impossible. One day, they are by a pomegranate tree and Amir begins throwing pomegranates at Hassan yelling at him to throw one at him. Instead, Hassan smashes one against his head. This shows that Amir needs punishment for what he has done but cannot get any from Hassan. Because of Amir’s overwhelming shame concerning Hassan, the bond between them slowly fades. When Ali and Hassan leave shortly after that, Amir cannot bring himself to say he is sorry. “If this were one of the Hindi movies Hassan and I used to watch, this was the part where I’d run outside, my bare feet splashing rainwater … I’d pull Hassan out of the backseat and tell him I was sorry, so sorry, my tears mixing with rainwater … But this was no Hindi movie” (108-109). With this final departure of Hassan and his father, Amir would never see Hassan again.

Throughout the time of Amir growing up and maturing, he is constantly plagued by thoughts of this event and Hassan. While traveling to Pakistan with his father, he thinks of Hassan and immediately throws up. This shows how Amir views his past actions as sickening and unforgiveable. Images from that fateful day revisit him on a daily basis, such as Hassan’s blood stained pants in the deserted alley. The profound sense of regret that Amir experiences places a heavy burden upon him.

In addition to dealing with these negative thoughts, Amir is flooded with happy memories from his friendship with Hassan. A memory of the two of them flying a kite is described as “Something good. Something happy” (122) for Amir. When he returns to Kabul later in the novel, he sees Baba’s house and instantly thinks of a joyous moment shared between them when Amir and Hassan find a turtle and enjoy each other’s company. He visits the pomegranate tree and thinks of how they used to climb it and play underneath it. Even with his knowledge of betraying Hassan, he cannot help yearning for the restoration of their relationship. Amir later realizes that the tree no longer grows fruit and sees that their carving stating “Amir and Hassan, The Sultans of Kabul” is faded. This symbolizes the definite end of their friendship and childhood as a result of his shameful actions.

Amir’s life is marked by his guilt and trying to fill the emptiness he feels from his childhood. This emptiness is not resolved until Rahim Kahn, Baba’s old friend and a man Amir admired as a boy, calls Amir and asks him to come to Pakistan. Rahim is dying and it is his wish to speak with Amir before he dies. He ends the phone call by telling Amir there was a way to be good again, revealing he has additional intentions for Amir’s visit to Pakistan. Rahim gives him letters Hassan wrote to him, speaking of his life and how he will always be a faithful friend to him. He tells him of Hassan and his wife being murdered by the Taliban. This knowledge hits Amir hard, knowing that he can never apologize to Hassan for what he had done and redeem himself by being a better person to him. Amir also learns of Hassan’s son, Sohrab who is now an orphan. Rahim now presents Amir with a task that will possibly rid Amir of his guilt and regret; he asks him to get Sohrab and bring him back to him. He refuses to do so until he learns that Baba was Hassan’s father, thus making Sohrab his blood and responsibility.

Sohrab is like a mirror of Hassan to Amir. He sees everything that he once saw in Hassan within Sohrab.
“The resemblance was breathtaking. Disorienting … The boy had his father’s round moon face, his pointy stub of a chin, his twisted, seashell ears, and the same slight frame. It was the Chinese doll face of my childhood, the face peering above fanned-out playing cards all those winter days, the face behind the mosquito net when we slept on the roof of my father’s house in the summer”. (279).
This resemblance gives Amir a sweep of emotions as he sees the Hassan from his childhood. He immediately feels committed to Sohrab, feels it is his duty to give him the better life he deserves. The fact that Sohrab is Hassan’s son makes Amir’s devotion to him unbreakable, as Hassan’s was for him. He views Sohrab as his second chance to serve the friendship he and Hassan once had. Amir goes to great heights to get Sohrab from the Taliban. He must fight Assef, the event he had avoided his whole life which resulted in the terrible occurrence he failed to stop. This in itself is a drastic change that Amir is making. He is remembering what he did in his past versus what he should have done, and is acting on this realization. Assef badly beats Amir, and in this Amir feels healed although he is ironically being beaten terribly. “My body was broken—just how badly I wouldn’t find out until later—but I felt healed. Healed at last” (289). Amir is finally being punished and getting what he deserved for many years. This gives Amir some clarity and redemption from his guilt. The monumental happening during the fight is the end: Sohrab stands up for Amir just like his father. He hits Assef in the left eye with a slingshot, just as Hassan had threatened so many years ago when Assef harassed Amir. They run out and escape the Taliban, escaping the oppression and control they had upon Sohrab. This event shows the changes Amir is going through deep inside. He stood up for and fought for Sohrab, like he should have for Hassan.

Amir finally shows his devotion to Hassan’s legacy through his treacherous journey to rescue Sohrab. After Sohrab agrees to live with him in America, Amir must face various legal obstacles before returning. Once he promises Sohrab he would never have to go back to an orphanage, lawyers advise Amir that remaining in the orphanage is required in order to gain permission for the move to the United States. Breaking this promise is one of the hardest things Amir has to do. Once he finds out there is a way without the orphanage, it is too late. Sohrab had already attempted suicide. This is a reality that Amir cannot escape. He feels constant guilt as he is in the hospital waiting to hear news from the doctors, grasping for a strand of hope.
“My hands are stained with Hassan’s blood; I pray God doesn’t let them get stained with the blood of his boy too … I pray that my sins have not caught up with me the way I’d always feared they would” (346).
Constant guilt and responsibility for what has happened now and in the past stays with him in this moment, and it is something he cannot run away from like he did before. He prays and begs for Sohrab, hoping that he is not reliving his dark past.

Once Sohrab recovers physically and Amir safely brings him to America, there is a fear deep inside him that Sohrab will never recover mentally or emotionally. He sees the Hassan he saw after the rape: the sunken eyes and tired face, silent, and constantly sleeping or keeping to himself. His wife Soraya gives up attempts to bring Sohrab happiness, but Amir stays dedicated to fixing what he has caused all of his life. A sense of hope is finally found for Amir one day at an Afghan gathering at a park. Amir sees a man selling kites, and immediately is back in the kite flying days of his childhood. He buys one and asks Sohrab to join him, and to his surprise Sohrab accepts the offer. Amir and Sohrab cut another kite and Amir is brought back into that day in the winter of 1975 before the rape: the triumph, victory, happiness, and glory. He is brought back to the day that changed the course of his entire life. Sohrab smiles, which means everything to Amir. He now has the choice of what to do: he can redeem himself of his previous actions or be the person he was. He decides to be the person he should have been. He runs the kite for Sohrab, telling him “For you, a thousand times over”.
“It was only a smile, nothing more. It didn’t make everything all right. It didn’t make anything all right …
But I’ll take it. With open arms. Because when spring comes, it melts the snow one flake at a time and maybe I just witnessed the first flake melting.
I ran. A grown man running with a swarm of screaming children. But I didn’t care. I ran with the wind blowing in my face and a smile as wide as the Valley of Panjsher on my lips.
I ran” (371).
This closing passage shows the progress Sohrab and Amir are making. The snow melting symbolizes the hardship for Sohrab and the wall he has put up from others. The snow is being melted by spring coming, the start of a relationship between Amir and Sohrab. Amir is running for Sohrab like Hassan ran for him. He is giving Sohrab the love he should have given Hassan. Although it does not make Amir’s sins and regrets disappear, it gives him some clarity and a feeling of redemption. He is being the person he should have been throughout his entire childhood and life.

As Amir relives the winter of 1975 and his old friendship with Hassan, he strives to improve his level of humanity. Since this event severs his childhood, he is forced to mature and rid himself of his shameful behavior. The memory of this event and the guilt surrounding it follows him throughout his life. Amir has a profound longing to fill the emptiness he feels inside and gain redemption for his previous actions. Being stuck in the deserted alley where the rape took place motivates Amir to be good again and save Sohrab, the only trace of Hassan he has left. From this, he regains some of what he has lost. The failure to escape this significant event shaped the course of his entire lifetime.

(M.T. 2009)

Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns:
The Oppression Faced by Women in Afghanistan

[(Essay dated 15 June 2009) In this essay, M.T. will analyze the oppression upon women in Afghanistan featured in A Thousand Splendid Suns. In addition, the characters Laila and Mariam will be compared and contrasted in their dealing with the supremacy of men.]

“Only one skill. And it’s this: tahamul. Endure”(17).

In Khaled Hosseini’s novel A Thousand Splendid Suns, the control men have upon women in Afghanistan is illustrated through the stories of two women: Mariam and Laila. Both women go through similar hardships and cope with their struggles in different ways.

Mariam was brought up in isolation, living in a small kolba with her mother, Nana. The only others in her life were her father, Jalil, and a few towns people that came to visit, the most special being Mullah Faizullah with whom Mariam had a special bond. Mariam was a harami or bastard, and her mother never missed a chance to remind her of this. “At the time, Mariam did not understand. She did not know what this word haramibastard—meant … Later, when she was older, Mariam did understand … that a harami was an unwanted thing; that she, Mariam, was an illegitimate person who would never have legitimate claim to the things other people had, things such as love, family, home, acceptance” (4). Because of this word, she felt worthless. Nana constantly made this statement a reality by stating “There is nothing out there for her. Nothing but rejection and heartbreak” (18) when Mullah Faizullah told Nana that Mariam wanted to go to school. Nana made Mariam believe that she would always be seen as a filthy harami and would go nowhere in life. Her fate was already decided for her in her mother’s and society’s terms. Mariam was raised with this idea—that she was of no value and would never life a normal life or find happiness—and it carried on into her future.

When it came to Mariam’s father, Nana always told her that he did not truly care about her although he showered her with gifts and brought her bliss. Behind closed doors Jalil was her father, but he had an image to uphold so their relationship never went outside of the kolba. Nana reminded Mariam constantly of Jalil’s wrongdoings and told her she was unloved and not wanted. She told Mariam how Jalil had blamed her for Mariam, that she forced herself on him. She engraved the message in her brain that “Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always”(7).

Although Mariam denied what her mother continuously told her, she would eventually realize that this statement was the truth. When she wanted to go to the movies one night with Jalil, Nana reacted furiously reminding her of her actual worth. “What a stupid girl you are! You think you matter to him, that you’re wanted in his house? … A man’s heart is a wretched, wretched thing, Mariam … It won’t bleed, it won’t stretch to make room for you. I’m the only one that loves you … when I’m gone you’ll have nothing … You are nothing!” (26). She tells Mariam she will die if she goes, but Mariam wants to badly to be loved and accepted by her father that she goes anyway. When she is denied by him and realizes Nana is right, she comes home to find her mother hanging from a rope, dead. From then on her worthlessness is confirmed in her eyes.

Laila had a drastically different upbringing than Mariam. She grew up mostly without a mother. Her mother, or Mammy, was overwhelmed with Laila’s brothers fighting in the war, and immersed herself in being in bed, waiting for them to return. She was detached from Laila’s life and did not teach her any role in society, a reason for her defying it later in the novel. Her father, Babi, did most of the parenting. He encouraged Laila to get an education and told her she was going to be great someday, something vastly unlike what Mariam was told. She was much different than girls her age, she enjoyed playing with her friend Tariq, who she would later fall in love with and cause rumors to circulate about her. Their love becomes intense and upon Tariq revealing his family is moving away, Laila engages in one of the worst things a woman can in society: premarital sex.
Although Laila and Mariam have extremely different childhoods, they are thrown into a similar situation in their future. At the young age of fifteen, Mariam is without a mother and given away for marriage by her father whom she thought loved her. She is thrown into a marriage with Rasheed, a man vastly older than her, and is exposed to the male dominance her Nana had always spoken of. From then on, she conforms to the oppressed woman’s image and endures what she must. She wears the burqa, makes the meals, and cleans the house as she is told. She is seen as a failure and disappointment to Rasheed when she cannot have a child, and constantly blames herself. She thinks the baby was an undeserved blessing due to Nana’s death. After this, everything she does is wrong to Rasheed and she must endure his abuse and anger.

Laila is brought into Rasheed and Mariam’s life through tragic circumstances. Due to the violent war taking place all around them, Laila’s house is struck by a bomb. Her parents are both death, and she is left alone with severe injuries. Mariam and Rasheed nurse Laila back to health, and Laila agrees to marry Rasheed. She does so because she believes that Tariq is dead and she happens to be bearing his child, an unforgiveable sin that she must conceal. She then undergoes the same treatment from Rasheed that Mariam had to tolerate. He forces her to stay at home and wear a burqa, and her every move is watched by Mariam. With the addition of Laila, Rasheed now has the control of two wives, and in his eyes it must remain this way.

Throughout most of Laila and Mariam’s lives, Rasheed has ultimate power over them. They truly must endure everything: his mood swings, dissatisfaction with their cooking or daily cleaning, insults, and treatment as if they are worthless in general. He treats them as objects rather than human beings. For example, at times he would compare Laila and Mariam to cars. Mariam was the old, slow car and Laila the new and exciting car. However, Laila was no longer viewed this way once she gave Rasheed a daughter rather than a son. Similar to when Mariam lost her baby, Rasheed thought nothing of Laila after that. The women just became items that he could control at all times. The worst of all of Rasheed’s treatment towards them was the abuse. Countless times the women would be slammed against the wall and beaten bloody just for doing a simple thing wrong.

Both Laila and Mariam deal with Rasheed’s behavior differently. This is due to their separate and drastically dissimilar upbringings. Since Mariam grew up believing that she was a worthless harami and would never love or be loved, she conformed to the life she was given. She did not know of anything else and was convinced that there was nothing better for her. Day to day, she goes on living a life full of oppression and a feeling of worthlessness. When Rasheed abuses her, she does not protest. If he is disgusted with her meal, she apologizes for her wrongdoing. She is treated like waste by Rasheed and gives him everything in return. She endures and lives in this lifestyle for years until she meets Laila, who will change everything for her.

Laila, being raised on the idea that could do whatever she dreamed, reacts quite differently to Rasheed’s demeanor. While Mariam simply allows Rasheed to treat her as though she is nothing, Laila constantly defies Rasheed and fights for herself, her daughter and son, and Mariam. Based on her past and childhood it is already obvious that she is not the ordinary Afghani women. One specific example of when Laila acts out against Rasheed is when he slaps her and she shockingly punches him in return.
“Laila watched the arch of her closed fist, slicing through the air, felt the crinkle of Rasheed’s stubbly, coarse skin under her knuckles … At the moment, she was too astounded to notice or care … When it did, she believed she might have smiled … It seemed worthwhile, if absurdly so, to have endured all they’d endured for this one crowning moment, for this act of defiance that would end the suffering of all indignities” (267).
This one act brings Laila joy to finally defy Rasheed for once in her life. To her, this seems worth everything they had gone through. The fact that Laila hits Rasheed back shows the different kind of women she is compared to Mariam. Laila is the representation of the woman yearning to be something more, resisting the control that is over them.

The contrast between Laila and Mariam is evident throughout the novel until the pivotal event in which Mariam stops endures and acts out against Rasheed, thus ending his life. When Rasheed finds out Tariq has been visiting Laila, he is infuriated. He blames Mariam for letting it happen and intends to hurt them both. He beats the two of them terribly and it is clear that he plans on killing both of them. He is choking Laila, and her life is slowly slipping away. It is at this moment that Mariam decides to take matters into her own hands for the first time in her life and fights back.
“And so Mariam raised the shovel high, raised it as high as she could, arching it so it touched the small of her back. She turned it so the sharp edge was vertical, and, as she did, it occurred to her that this was the first time that she was deciding the course of her own life.
And, with that, Mariam brought down the shovel. This time, she gave it everything she had” (311).
Mariam’s final act against Rasheed that results in his death indicates that she has endured far too much. She needed to defy society and the power Rasheed had over her. She was finally acting for herself and others, thus deciding what she was going to do in her life. This was something she had never done. Mariam is the representation of the women who struggle and try to conform to the roles they are given by men and society, but are lead to take matters into their own hands.

With the death of Rasheed, Laila and Mariam are free from his control. Mariam saved their lives and the bond she and Laila share through their hardships is eternally unbreakable. Laila manages to run away with Tariq and the children, however, Mariam does not want to risk them being caught and punished for Rasheed’s death. She sacrifices her life and wellbeing for Laila and the children, and faces her fate—execution at Ghazi Stadium.
“She thought of her entry into this world, the harami child of a lowly villager, an unintended thing, a pitiable, regrettable accident … And yet she was leaving the world as a woman who had loved and been loved back. She was leaving it as a friend, a companion, a guardian. A mother. A person of consequence at last … This was a legitimate end to a life of illegitimate beginnings” (329).
In Mariam’s last moments of life, she realizes that the label of harami that Nana had given her was not meant to stay with her, it had been washed away and replaced with someone would have lived life with love and friendship. She came into the world believing she meant nothing, and changed this assumption and left the world as something. She endured because she was supposed to, and once she endured too much, she acted upon this.

“One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs, or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls” (172).

The characters Laila and Mariam are two opposite yet similar examples of the struggles thousands of women were facing, are facing, and will face in the country of Afghanistan. The above quote symbolizes the women that are facing oppression. They are isolated and trapped within society, forced to be what the male gender wants them to be. Women must stay at home, thus hide behind walls, unable to shimmer like many woman are in other cultures. Women are forced to be unseen and cannot flourish by being their own person. This quote reflects sadness for how women are treated, not able to show themselves or their true beauty. Instead, they cannot be seen in public by other men and are virtually owned by their husbands. The stories of Laila and Mariam are stories of overcoming hardships, thus giving other women hope. They embody characters full of courage and emotion, and their actions against society are truly inspiring.

(M.T. 2009)

Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Sunsand the Evolution of the Modern Novel
[(Essay date 10 June 2009) In this essay, E.P. explores Khaled Hosseini’s contributions to the evolution of modern literature. The style and scope of A Thousand Splendid Suns are examined to explain both the popularity of the work as a piece of modern, contemporary literature and how Hosseini has contributed to the composition of the modern novel.]

The phrase “Information Age” refers to the capability of almost any person on earth to easily access information. At the same time, this phrase implies the ideas that accompany instant information: instant gratification, instant action, instant results. This new method of thinking has worked its way into every aspect of human life. “Why wait a whole week for your order to arrive? Upgrade to overnight shipping! Why spend the extra effort walking when there are over one hundred Starbucks Coffee stands in Manhattan? Why painfully stumble through The Scarlet Letter when Spark Notes is a click away? A new step in the evolution of society or an awkward stumble in the walk of man, we have all become dependent on instantaneous, effortless results. Unlike past centuries of mankind attempting to achieve some grasp of the reigns of nature, we now expect to let it obediently pull us along.
This of course applies to the world of literature as well. Society believes that literature should not be restricted to the erudite few who have the mental will to “bear” literary works. No longer is the reader to be burdened with the task of wrapping their mind around the ideas of the writer. Instead, the writer faces the new task of creating a work so fascinating, so luring, that this reader cannot help but continue to read. And with this comes the birth of popular literature. The formula is simple: remove the symbols, the bothersome and archaic allusions, even the ever so tiresome imagery. What we are left with is the skeleton of literature, the plot and the characters, on which authors used to place their true messages to the reader. This presents the conflict: authors can choose to either bore their information age readers into running back to the television, or present them with a “pop” novel that, by even the lowest standards will never be considered for AP literature prompts years from now.
This is where Khaled Hosseini has succeeded. His creation A Thousand Splendid Suns is incredibly important to modern literature for the basic idea that it provides the new breed of reader with exactly what they want, while at the same time Hosseini delivers exactly the underlying feelings and messages that he wishes to unleash. His style uses a youthful, more casual approach which effectively eases the audience’s fear of monotony. His allusions, historic events, and current events that outline his plot are precisely targeted to be appealing to today’s contemporary audience. Most importantly, he subtly provides the emotional and symbolic “depth” that scholars and critics demand.
Hosseini’s style is best described as “friendly.” Extended descriptions and barrages of complicated diction are abandoned to be replaced with a more flowing feeling. Much of the novel is narrated in a natural sad, yet determined tone, as if it were spoken aloud by an Afghan woman who has lived through similar experiences.
The following passage effectively displays this writing style. His tone is presented in a much less traditional method as the narrator displays both the irony of her country’s situation while at the same time expresses her fascination.

That summer, Titanic fever gripped Kabul. People smuggled pirated copies of the film from Pakistan-sometimes in their underwear. After curfew, everyone locked their doors, turned out the lights, turned down the volume, and reaped tears for Jack and Rose and the passengers of the doomed ship. If there was electrical power, Mariam, Laila, and the children watched it too. A dozen times or more, they unearthed the TV from behind the toolshed, late at night, with the lights out and quilts pinned over the windows.
At the Kabul River, vendors moved into the parched riverbed. Soon, from the river’s sunbaked hollows, it was possible to buy Titanic carpets, Titanic cloth, from bolts arranged in wheelbarrows. There was Titanic deodorant, Titanic toothpaste, Titanic perfume, Titanic pakora, even Titanic burqas. A particularly persistant beggar began calling himself “Titanic Beggar.”
“Titanic City” was born.
It’s the song, they said.
No, the sea. The luxury. The ship.
It’s the sex, they whispered.
Leo, said Aziza sheepishly. It’s all about Leo.

Another very effective method that Hosseini employs is to frequently reference history and current events of Afghanistan. What better way to hold the interest of American readers than to discuss his country’s side of a conflict that is still in the news daily? I can imagine that the effect of these images of war-torn Afghanistan from the native’s perspective must be similar to the feeling given to the first readers of The Diary of Anne Frank. It brings such a familiar and everyday theme and provides a new angle that has not yet been explored. This is one of the fundamental achievements of Hosseini’s novel. In a way he provides through fiction a view of the middle east that is more real than the constant news coverage. The news of any number of Taliban killings in Afghanistan cannot compete with the sense of emotional anguish as Mariam is tried before a misogynistic court and put to death. This feeling of loss and the novel’s ability to conjures such feelings of despise toward the wrongdoing in Afghanistan serve to compliment Hosseini’s abilities as a writer.
The summation of the techniques in A Thousand Splendid Suns figuratively “raises the bar” for modern authors. The only major flaw that other critics may find is the feeling that the book is simply too easy to read, and therefore is labeled more appropriate for younger, less mature readers. Though this is wholly a matter of opinion, it is more apparent to me that this book marks a transition into the next generation of great literary works. As mentioned before, novels serve two equally important purposes: to fulfill the needs of the reader and to fulfill the needs of the author. In this case the reader has gained insight into a dangerous, yet intriguing world; while the author has displayed the struggles of Afghanistan and injected the story of modern Afghanistan with his own thoughts, and the fulfillment of both of these needs solidifies Hosseini’s novel as an important contribution to contemporary literature.
Naturally this success and achievement has been recognized by the literary world. This novel, like its brother The Kite Runner, has found its way onto America’s bestseller list for fiction. While matters of personal taste cannot be disputed, the wide success and acceptance of Hosseini’s novel and the sheer magnitude of attention that it has received in such a short time serve to reinforce the conclusion that not only is this book of “literary merit,” but it has explored a new style of writing that will most likely appear in great amounts in the future.

(E.P. 2009)

The Kite Runner: Relating Amir’s Childhood Flaws to The Injustices of the Taliban
[(Essay date 14 June 2009) In this essay, E.P. comments on Hosseini’s characterization of Amir in The Kite Runner. Khaled Hosseini subtly includes his own feelings about the injustice that has continued to occur through the last forty years in Afghanistan. By endowing Amir with many negative traits, he allows him to personify what Hosseini believes to be the wrongdoings of Afghan teaching and customs through the Taliban.]

Many of Amir’s negative traits serve the secondary purpose of reflecting the negative aspects of Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Those that Hosseini finds the most treacherous are the imposing of customs, the creation of racism, and the fact that while they claim to liberate their country from an evil force, they only serve to create an even more miserable existence. These ideas are represented through Amir as if he has been imprinted with them. His display of these traits during his childhood shows the horrible outcomes that manifest themselves when such flaws are not helped. In Amir’s case, he loses his most precious friendship; and in the case of Afghanistan, the Taliban create a terrible existence for many who live in the country.
The Taliban’s act of imposing customs is represented as Amir reads to Hassan. He takes advantage of his inability to read along and creates his own stories. Amir remarks that this gives him a feeling of dominance over his “inferior” friend. This entire sense of superiority also serves as a reflection of Taliban-induced racism between Hazaras and Pashtuns.
One of the main facets of the plot of The Kite Runner is Amir’s failure to protect Hassan from the gang of Pashto bullies. At the time, he justifies this based on Hassan’s heritage. Amir has been conditioned to believe that Hassan is not worthy of protection. At this pivotal moment in his life, he places corrupted teachings before any form of personal compassion or will. Aside from being one of the most important plot moments in the novel, Amir’s actions symbolize Hosseini’s ultimate problem with the Taliban. They claim to bring order and justice, upholding the law of the Koran. All this time, they execute and punish without any sense of human reason or sympathy. Again Amir’s character symbolizes the entire treachery that will come to Afghanistan because of the same flaws.
It is important to note that Amir is not entirely responsible for these traits. This suggests that Hosseini chooses not to specifically place blame on any group for the degradation of his country. Instead, these flaws should be interpreted as a warning towards those who hold the power of influence in the future.
(E.P. 2009)

The Kite Runner: The Strength of Emotion

“The Kite Runner,” by Khaled Hosseini is a terrific demonstration of the strength of emotion and how it contributes to relationships and dictates people’s lives.

Emotion is our inner feelings, our inner forces that guide us in our everyday lives. These emotions are what determine the course of action that someone takes. They have incredible power and influence over our lives. Through Amir, Hosseini demonstrates the grip that emotion holds on the choices we make and how we live our lives. Some prominent emotions Amir feels in the novel are, fear, guilt, love, and desire. All of these manipulate the way in which Amir acts.
Everybody has fears. For Amir, some of the common fears that constrict his life are the fear of disappointing his father, confrontation, and Assef. Amir, not being the physical specimen his father was when he was younger, cannot live up to his father’s expectations. He fears that his love of reading and writing over sports really disappoints his father. Amir, being the more scholarly, literary type that he is, is not big on fighting either. So of course he is afraid when it comes to confrontation, afraid of getting beat up. The combination of these fears takes control of him. They control the way in which he acts, bringing out cowardice within him. Even as he watches his true, best friend getting beaten and raped by a group of guys, for him no less, he cannot bring himself to help him.
Assef knelt behind Hassan, put his hands on Hassan’s hips and lifted his bare buttocks. He kept one hand on Hassan’s back and undid his own belt buckle with his free hand…Hassan didn’t struggle. Didn’t even whimper. He moved his head slightly and I caught a glimpse of his face.
I could step into that alley, stand up for Hassan- the way he’d always stood up for me in the past- and accept whatever would happen to me. Or I could run.
In the end, I ran. (Hosseini 75-77)
The fear instilled in him is too powerful for him to overcome and therefore he cannot be brave. He cannot stand up for his friend and stop a brutal event from scarring him for the rest of his life. The power of fear is paralyzing to the boy.
Amir’s cowardly actions come back to haunt him in the form of guilt. Guilt is probably the most prominent emotion in the novel. After seeing his best friend being raped, and standing by letting it happen, he is no longer able to live the same way. Their relationship has changed forever. This inner feeling of betrayal when Hassan has been so loyal to him, just consumes Amir. It drives him to the point where he no longer wants to play with Hassan because of the shame he feels. Hassan tries to rekindle their friendship, but Amir just keeps shutting him down.
“It’s a sunny day,” Hassan said.
“I can see that.”
“Might be fun to go for a walk.”
“You go.”
“I wish you’d come along… I don’t know what I’ve done, Amir agha. I wish you’d tell me. I don’t know why we don’t play anymore.”
“You haven’t done anything, Hassan. Just go.”
“You can tell me, I’ll stop doing it.”
“I’ll tell you what I want you to stop doing,” I said, eyes pressed shut.
“I want you to stop harassing me. I want you to go away,” I snapped…when I opened the door minutes later, he wasn’t there. I fell on my bed, buried my head under the pillow, and cried. (Hosseini 88)
By the last sentence, one can infer that Amir is sensing a great deal of grief in the things his guilt is causing him to say. His friend so badly just wants things between them to go back to normal, but Amir cannot feeling that things can never be that way again. Another day, when they go up to read under the pomegranate tree, Amir hits Hassan with a pomegranate in hopes that he will hit him back. He wants Hassan to punish him for the way he betrayed him. This guilt keeps on eating at Amir making him do irrational things and destroys his relationship with Hassan. This ultimately leads him to a point where he cannot endure being around Hassan any longer and is forced to make Hassan leave. In doing this, guilt does not leave his life though. It possibly even grows. He now feels guilty because of the sorrow his father feels in seeing his old friend Ali have to leave. In the end however, Amir’s guilt, along with some love and desire, make him perform the ultimate act of redemption, finding and bringing home Sohrab.

For a long time, Amir deals with all his guilt, kind of tucks it away, somewhere way back within himself. When Rahim Khan tells him of his one shot at redemption, Amir knows he has got to take it. His desire to make things right is immense. Deep down he has always loved Hassan like a brother, though he never really showed it. It is these three feelings that drive him back toKabul, through the deadly streets, passed the hostile Taliban, and help him maintain the courage to fight Assef for Sohrab. He thought he would be killed, but these emotions raging inside him kept him from fleeing and made him stay and battle it out with Assef.
There is a way to be good again, he’d said.
A way to end the cycle.
With a little boy. An orphan. Hassan’s son. Somewhere inKabul.
I looked at the round face in the Polaroid again, the way the sun fell on it. My brother’s face. Hassan had loved me once, loved me in a way that no one ever had or ever would again. He was gone now, but a little part of him lived on. It was inKabul.
Waiting. (Hosseini 227)
Overall, this was a very powerful novel. Khaled Hosseini does a fantastic job rendering a realistic tale of a boy growing up in modernAfghanistan. The novel really displays the true strength of emotions. Hosseini shows, through Amir, the crazy types of things emotions have the power to make people do. The way in which Amir’s fear took control of him and kept him from saving his best friend is horrifying. And then to think of that cowardly character Amir was at the beginning of the novel fighting Assef at the end is unbelievable, showing how much his guilt influenced him giving him the bravery to right his long-time torturous wrong.
(R.M. 2011)
A Thousand Splendid Suns: Oppression of Women Still Exists
Khaled Hosseini, in his novel “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” vividly describes the inequality of men and women in foreign countries and shows that oppression of women still exists today in modern society. He also demonstrates the strength of women even when they are put in the most unfortunate of circumstances.

Khaled’s novel takes place from back in the 1970’s up into the 21st century. Throughout the novel women are treated very poorly with little to no respect and have no rights. Men are far superior to women in Afghan society. There are times in the novel where men have privileges that women do not and there are separate laws that only women have to follow. Despite all these hardships for women, Mariam and Laila are able to overcome these struggles and live their lives in a satisfactory, successful way.
Honor is very important inAfghanistan. Jalil, despite the fact he has an affair and a baby with her, he will not allow Nana to live in his house because it would tarnish his reputation having slept with her out of marriage. When Nana hangs herself, and Mariam has nowhere to turn to, her own father will not even let her stay with him for fear that people would start to talk. Instead, he marries his own fifteen year old daughter off to some forty-five year old man. He has no respect or value for his own daughter.
Living with Rasheed, she cannot pursue education. She is forced to stay home to cook and clean, and when he gets home, to satisfy him sexually. Rasheed forces her to wear a burqa, or a long robe with a hood and veil.
He fished a sky blue burqa from the bag. The yards of pleated cloth spilled over his knees when he lifted it. He rolled up the burqa, looked at Mariam.
“I have customers, Mariam, men, who bring their wives to my shop. The women come uncovered, they talk to me directly, look me in the eye without shame. They wear makeup and skirts that show their knees. Sometimes they even put their feet in front of me, the women do, for measurements, and their husbands stand there and watch. They allow it. They think nothing of a stranger touching their wives’ bare feet! They think they’re being modern men, intellectuals, on account of their education, I suppose. They don’t see that they’re spoiling their own nang and namoos, their honor and pride.” (Hosseini 70)
This passage just shows how set back in the times some people are in Afghanistan. It is a very traditional custom. Once, again, it is an oppression of women though. Men are allowed to walk around dressed in whatever they desire. Women though, have to where those burqas which cover their entire bodies, so that no other man can see her besides her husband. Not only is it not fair for them to be kept faceless, but it also impairs their vision and a full body outfit that would get hot in hot temperatures. While snooping around Rasheed’s room, Mariam finds an adult magazine that contradicts Rasheed’s beliefs. “Why did Rasheed insist that she cover when he thought nothing of looking at the private areas of other men’s wives and sisters?” (Hosseini 83) Because Rasheed is a man though, it does not matter how contradictory he is, he can be as unreasonable as he wants.
Not only women’s rights suppressed, but the laws are different for men and women, especially under the rule of the Taliban.
Attention women:
You will stay inside your homes at all times. It is not proper for women to wander aimlessly about the streets. If you go outside, you must by accompanied by a mahram, a male relative. If you are caught alone on the street, you will be beaten and sent home.
You will not, under any circumstances, show your face. You will cover with burqa when outside. If you do not, you will be severely beaten.
Cosmetics are forbidden.
Jewelry is forbidden.
You will not wear charming clothes.
You will not speak unless spoken to.
You will not make eye contact with men.
You will not laugh in public. If you do, you will be beaten.
You will not paint your nails. If you do, you will lose a finger.
Girls are forbidden from attending school. All schools for girls will be closed immediately.
Women are forbidden from working.
If you are found guilty of adultery, you will be stoned to death.
Listen. Listen well. Obey. Allah-u-akbar. (Hosseini 278)
Women were not allowed to do anything. Most of the laws were totally ridiculous such as not being allowed to laugh, not allowed to make eye contact with men, and not allowed to speak until spoken to. These rights were not taken from the men, just the women. These laws were put into effect to put men above women. And the fact that women could not go to school or work is unbelievable. This meant that a woman could not live without a man. Without him, she could not make money and even if she had money, she could not leave the house to get anything without being beaten. Women could not escape the beating. The Taliban would beat them whenever they did something wrong, like when Laila walked the streets alone, and their husbands were allowed to beat them without any consequence. Rasheed beat Laila and Mariam whenever they did anything wrong. These women are so completely oppressed, that they cannot do anything about it, nothing is in their favor.
However, when times are hardest Laila and Mariam combine their inner strengths and are able to defeat Rasheed. When it seems as though Rasheed is going to choke Laila to death, Mariam musters up all she has and takes a shovel to his head.
And so Mariam raised the shovel high, raised it as high as she could, arching it so it touched the small of her back. She turned it so the sharp edge was vertical, and, as she did, it occurred to her that this was the first time that she was deciding the course of her own life.
And, with that, Mariam brought down the shovel. This time, she gave it everything she had. (Hosseini 349)
This victory over Rasheed symbolizes that when struggles are at their peak, women will find the strength to stand up to the problem and defeat it. When oppression holds them back they will face it with all their might.
In this novel, Hosseini does a splendid job of providing vivid descriptions of what modern life is like for women inAfghanistanand the kinds of oppression they have fought through. He provides examples of the differences between men and women’s rights and how the laws favor men. Hosseini tells us that in these times of oppression, women will band together and use their strength to overcome their struggles.
(R.M. 2011)

How to Fly a Kite for Dummies: Literary Criticism of The Kite Runner
[(Essay date 9 June 2012) The composition of V.W.’s literary analysis of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner focuses on the elements of the novel that compare and contrast meaningful tributes, analyzes major themes of importance and reviews the display of the author’s own historical relation to the setting.]

Here is a list of what is needed for kite construction: “bamboo, glue, string and paper” (Hosseini 50). “Shav[e] the bamboo for the center and cross spars [and cut] the thin tissue paper which made for easy dipping and recovery” (50). And remember, “fighting kites . . . is like going to war” (50).

Hold up. In the long run, is this literary critic really going to explain to the reader the fundamentals of kite flying in its literal sense? One may highly doubt it. Flying a kite and building it are two totally different things. The kite used as a reoccurring motif within the novel, it may be suggested that one young man’s—Amir—experiences may be defined by the efforts involved in kite flying and fighting. Imagine a stream of time. In it, a battlefield. Amongst the carnage and wreckage is a boy, running for a kite. The boy is not Amir, however. This particular boy is brave and intelligent. Courageous and worthy. Willing and talented. And he has been the target since the day he received his name—Hassan. Khaled Hosseini, born in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1965, relates much of his own life experiences and childhood within the work in relation to the main setting, and also with the protagonist Amir (as the story is told from his point of view), who also was born in Afghanistan, 1963. Personalizing the story, Hosseini portrays the Afghani-Soviet war within the novel as a backdrop against Amir’s own inner and emotional turmoil. As the past is what makes the present tick, the rudiments of cause and effect within the novel set the pace and story for the conclusion.

Never mind that we spent entire winters flying kites, running kites. Never mind that to me, the face ofAfghanistanis that of a boy . . . Never mind any of those things. Because history isn’t easy to overcome. Neither is religion. In the end, I was a Pashtun and he was a Hazara . . . and nothing was ever going to change that. Nothing. (25)
At the start of the novel, the audience becomes introduced to Hassan and Amir, two individuals who could pass for brothers if societal influences, boundaries and circumstance of birth did not separate them. Amir, the son of a wealthy and prominent merchant, becomes secret allies with Hassan, the son of his servant Ali. Their childhood takes place in the much idolized city ofKabulin the Wazir Akbar Khan district, where Amir lives until the age of 18 before leaving in 1981. The setting grows with the characters. “Hassan and I fed from the same breasts. We took our first steps on the same lawn in the same yard. And, under the same roof, we spoke our first words” (11). Amir, though closely connected with Hassan, lacks the happiness Hassan naturally possesses due to resentment of his father, Baba, who lacks understanding and acceptance of his son. Amir’s steady wish to impress his father, moreover, is the reason for much of the pain experienced in the novel. As Hassan’s first word was ‘Amir’ and Amir’s ‘Baba,’ the significance Amir places in his father’s name and the same importance Hassan places on Amir’s represents the unfaltering loyalty among the characters:
“‘Would I ever lie to you, Amir agha?’ ‘I don’t know. Would you?’ ‘I’d sooner eat dirt,’ he said with a look of indignation. ‘You’d . . . eat dirt if I told you to,’ I said. His eyes searched my face for a long time. ‘If you asked, I would. But I wonder,’ he added. ‘Would you ever ask me to do such a thing, Amir agha?’ If I was going to toy with him and challenge his loyalty, then he’d test my integrity. ‘Don’t be stupid, Hassan. You know I wouldn’t.’ And that’s the thing about people who mean everything they say. They think everyone else does too’” (55).
Unfortunately, loyalty requires the willingness to sacrifice oneself in love for another. Sacrifice, a huge theme within the novel, is introduced from the beginning: “Looking back on it now, I think the foundation for what happened in the winter of 1975—and all that followed—was already laid in those first words” (11), meaning the boy’s first words. As it is, Hassan’s fidelity is profound and absolute—a characteristic in support of Hassan as a symbol of purity. Kind, peaceful and incapable of deception, Hassan (including the meaning of his name) is ‘good.’ Depicted as a lamb, he holds the “look of resignation” when attacked by the local bully that (76) the animal experiences on the day beginning “Eid-e-Qorban, as Afghans call it—a day to celebrate how the prophet Ibrahim almost sacrificed his own son for God” (76). As it is asserted Hassan knew Amir witnessed the attack and that he remained aloof from the situation, Hassan accepts his fate and was willing to even communicate with Amir following the incident as friends. Just as so, Hassan has always accepted his position beneath Amir in the Afghani society:
The mullah finishes the prayer. Ameen . . . Just a second before he slices the throat, I see the sheep’s eyes. It is a look that will haunt my dreams for weeks. I watch because of that look of acceptance in the animal’s eyes. I imagine the animal understands [and] sees that its imminent demise is for a higher purpose. This is the look” (76-77)
Hassan’s devotion, credulity and gullibility define his judgment. No matter what the consequences, even if they are presented beforehand, Hassan always sacrifices himself for the better of Amir’s person. The “higher purpose” is Amir gaining favor with his father. “Hassan never denied me anything. Hassan’s father, Ali, used to catch us [causing mischief] and get mad. But [Hassan] never told on me. Never told that the [mischief], like shooting walnuts at the neighbor’s dog, was always my idea” (4). Amir’s resentful behavior against Baba’s love for Hassan and his aspiration to be accepted by his father provides him with the means to commit the shameful injustice against Hassan, who has been a scapegoat for Amir since early childhood, by making the choice not to prevent sexual violation in its course. “For you a thousand times over, he’d promised. Good old Hassan. Good old reliable Hassan. He’d kept his promise and run the last kite for me” (70). In that Hassan refused to give up the only thing that would earn Amir pride in his father’s eyes—the blue victory kite in the Afghani winter game of kite fighting—he would have rather degraded himself for the benefit of Amir than let the kite, or “key to Baba’s heart” (71), fall into Assef’s hands, despite Amir’s lack of genuine allegiance to Hassan. The literal translation of Assef’s name is ‘forgiveness’—another theme of the novel. Ironic, since Assef was in “a mood to forgive” (71) Hassan for trying to protect himself and Amir during their last encounter with Assef when threatened. “‘A loyal Hazara. Loyal as a dog,’ Assef said,” (72). The encounter brings up a point of argument within the novel questioning the integrity of the human being. When everything under the sun including society, family and religion condone prejudice behavior, bias and wrongdoing, where does the human end and the monster begin?
I thought about Hassan’s dream, the one about us swimming in the lake. There is no monster, he’d said, just water. Except he’d been wrong about that. There was a monster in the lake. It had grabbed Hassan by the ankles, dragged him to the murky bottom. I was that monster. (86)
Hassan’s hope that Amir is a true friend is confronted with the reality that, although Amir may care about Hassan as if they were brothers, they are not (an idea contradicted later on). Amir allows his familial, societal and religious influences to overpower his judgment:
‘But before you sacrifice yourself for him, think about this: Would he do the same for you? Have you ever wondered why he . . . only plays with you when no one else is around? Because to him, you’re nothing but an ugly pet. Something he can play with when he’s bored, something he can kick when he’s angry. Don’t ever fool yourself and think you’re something more.’ (72)
He offers his most faithful friend to suffering for a cause that becomes short-lived anyway, in the end also dooming himself, as well.

Cause and effect, action versus consequence:
“I opened my mouth, almost said something. Almost. The rest of my life might have turned out differently if I had. But I didn’t. I just watched. Paralyzed” (73).
Another theme: deception. “‘I watched Hassan get raped,’ I said to no one. I understood the nature of my new curse: I was going to get away with it’” (86). Under the circumstances, Hassan’s behavior grows reserved with Amir’s refusal to be around him on account of his own guilt and shame. “There was something fascinating—albeit in a sick was—about teasing Hassan. Kind of like when we used to play insect torture. Except now, he was the ant and I was holding the magnifying glass” (54). Using Hassan as a scapegoat and as target practice for most of his life, Amir seeks to find a fault in Hassan to appease his own ignorance. “‘What would you do if I hit you with this?’ I said, tossing the fruit up and down. Hassan’s smile wilted. He looked older than I’d remembered” (92). Loss of innocence. “‘Hit me back!’ I spat. I wished he’d give me the punishment I craved. Maybe then things could return to how they used to be between us. But Hassan said nothing as I pelted him again and again. ‘You’re a coward!’” (92). Ironic, since it is Amir who is the coward:
Then Hassan did pick up a pomegranate. He walked toward me. He opened it and crushed it against his own forehead. ‘There,’ he croaked. ‘Are you satisfied? Do you feel better?’ I let the tears break free. ‘What am I going to do with you, Hassan?’ But . . . I knew the answer to that question. (93)
The interesting point made here is, as it seems to Amir, the only reasonable solution in this situation is to completely erase Hassan from life; either make it so that he does not exist or remove him from the picture completely. Although Hassan stays out of Amir’s way, Amir’s guilt overpowers his thoughts, causing him to hide a birthday watch and money underneath Hassan’s mattress so he and his father would be released and forced to leave. To Amir’s surprise, Baba forgives Hassan, who admits to the crime, proving once again his commitment to Amir. Still, Hassan and his father leave. Frustrated once more with Baba’s love for Hassan, despite Baba’s contradiction that “there is no act more wretched than stealing” (18), irony becomes evident within the storyline. Moreover, as the picturesque setting of the tale breaks with the Soviet war in Afghanistanand stained stale with Amir and Hassan’s inner torment, civil unrest forces Amir and Baba to leave for Americawith political asylum, similar to Hosseini’s family who immigrated to the Unites States in 1980. On a side note, the author’s ordeals and family history can be found in the written text of his novel. For example, at one point in the work, Baba “drop[s] the stack of food stamps on [Mrs. Dobbin’s] desk. ‘Thank you but I don’t want. I work always. In AfghanistanI work, in AmericaI work. Thank you very much, Mrs. Dobbins, but I don’t like it free money’” (130). Taking place in Fremont, Californiain the 1980s, Hosseini’s family relied on welfare in San Jose, Californiauntil his father was able to provide independent support. Baba makes his own sacrifices, too. In chapter ten, Baba sacrifices himself at gunpoint for “the honor of a woman he didn’t even know” (118). Later in the novel, it is discovered that Hassan is really Amir’s half-brother. Betrayal. As Amir betrayed Hassan, Baba betrayed Ali by conceiving Hassan with Ali’s wife, Sanaubar—an event that could have resulted in the sacrifice of his most precious friendship. “Sometimes, I wondered if I was really Baba’s son” (116). It is ironic that Hassan, whose noble death lies in his refusal to give up Baba’s old property once Amir and Baba have fled, is more like Baba than Amir is. Once again, as in the second situation confronting Assef, Hassan’s refusal to give up an object of importance—such as the kite—proves his courageous spirit, but also proves to be the backbone of the means to his demise. Would Amir have reacted differently had he known Hassan was his brother? The author explores reasons for human prejudice and social discrimination. Assef, who envisions a pure Aryan government, dislikes the Hazaran people simply for the variation in religion: “Pashtuns were Sunni Muslims, while Hazaras were Shi’a” (9). Likened to Adolf Hitler, Amir describes “the creature that Assef [i]s, a word for which a good Farsi equivalent does not exist: ‘sociopath’” (38). As it becomes later known, it is interesting that the cause for so much significant pain becomes the means of emotional and literal liberation for Amir and Hassan’s son Sohrab, who has been abused since his parent’s deaths and is now in the violent hands of Assef himself. Perhaps if Amir had done something, even if he did not succeed in preventing the rape, he would not be so guilty and Hassan would still be his friend. There is an epic of ancient Persian heroes called the Shahnamah—Hassan’s favorite book. His most endeared story is “Rostam and Sohrab,” the “tale of the great warrior Rostam and his fleet-footed horse, Rakhsh. Rostam mortally wounds his valiant nemesis, Sohrab, in battle, only to discover that Sohrab is his long-lost son” (29). Similarly, Sohrab, who is wounded and victim of a war controlled by the Taliban, is discovered to be Amir’s long-lost half-nephew. The past defines the present.

The events that lie in connection with the past. The defining mark—the struggle to rise upward above sin, memories and self. Step one: reason. The first encounter between Amir and Hassan against Assef and his posse that ended in Hassan with the upper hand and Assef backing down: “‘Hazara, I’m a very patient person. This doesn’t end today, believe me. This isn’t the end for you either, Amir. Someday I’ll make you face me one on one’” (43). Was this not foreshadowing? Step two: cause. Baba presents Amir with the following:
‘I think maybe you’ll win the tournament this year. What do you think?’ I didn’t know what to think. Was that what it would take? Baba was used to winning . . . at everything he set his mind to. Didn’t he have a right to expect the same from his son? I was going to win. There was no other viable option. I was going to run that last kite. Show him once and for all that his son was worthy. Then maybe my life as a ghost in this house would finally be over. (56)
Step three: quest. Thomas C. Foster once wrote in his work How to Read Literature Like a Professor, “the real reason for a quest is always self-knowledge” (Foster 3). Here begins the journey of a young man and the beginning to healing. “I had a mission now. And I wasn’t going to fail Baba. Not this time” (57). Now here’s a question of conflict: If one already makes a decision about something before it even happens, how can the other side be considered? That moment watching Assef, Wali and Kabul hold Hassan down before the raping defines Amir’s future. “I had one last decision to decide who I was going to be. I could step into that alley, stand up for Hassan—the way he’d stoop up for me all those times in the past—and accept whatever would happen to me. Or I could run. In the end, I ran” (77). The premise of the novel focusing around the rape itself, Hassan’s mere presence could have stopped Assef’s actions simply because Baba is his father. And what if it was publicly known by that point that Baba had slept with his Hazara’s wife, that Hassan was his son? What then? Why does Hassan’s religion make what was done to him right?
I ran because I was a coward. I actually aspired to cowardice, because the alternative, the real reason I was running, was that Assef was right: Nothing was free in this world. Maybe Hassan was the price I had to pay, the lamb I had to slay, to win Baba. Was it a fair price? The answer floated to my conscious mind before I could thwart it: He was just a Hazara, wasn’t he? (77)
In the conversation mentioned earlier between Baba and Amir before the tournament, Amir’s decision to get the final kite by any means necessary is already decided. And since we are on the subject of the past ascertaining the future, what about the Arabic society in which Hassan and Amir grew up in? General discrimination against the Hazara population has already been subconsciously imbedded into the minds of children at a young age. Of course, it is no surprise that Assef becomes a pedophilic Taliban official later in life. If they were living in Paris or Rome or America—would the rape have happened? Amir describes America as a “place to bury . . . memories” (129). America offers an escape for Amir. “Kabul had become a city of ghosts for me. A city of harelipped ghosts” (136), in reference to the memory of Hassan. “America was a river, roaring along, unmindful of the past. I could wade into this river, let my sins drown to the bottom. No ghosts, no memories, and no sins” (136). At this point in the novel, however, what Amir has yet to realize is that the past cannot be buried. One must face their fears—and the worst is yet to come. All there is left now is step four: the resolution. “There is a way to be good again. I though about Hassan. Thought about Baba. Ali. Kabul. I thought of the life I had lived until the winter of 1975 came along and changed everything. And made me what I am today” (2). Amir must find an end to the lifelong season of winter he has been living and discover spring, a period of renewal. He must do this by facing Assef, as predicted earlier.

A clean slate. A new beginning. White and pure rebirth. “I always felt like Baba hated me a little. And why not? I had killed his beloved wife. The least I could have done was to have had the decency to have turned out a little more like him. But I hadn’t turned out like him. Not at all” (19). Of course, this is untrue, as discovered in the last few chapters of the book. With the exposure of the life-long family secret about Hassan being Amir’s half-brother, it turns out Amir was more like Baba than he ever thought. Thence, he embarks reluctantly on a quest to rescue Sohrab, Hassan’s son, from Afghanistan in the ‘care’ of Assef, of all people. Upon the meeting, Sohrab is ridiculed and forced into women’s clothing and made to dance. Amir, now a full grown man, accepts Assef’s challenge to fight in exchange to take Sohrab away with him. Foster also wrote, “The quest consists of five things: (a) a quester, (b) a place to go, (c) a stated reason to go there, (d) challenges and trials en route, and (e) a real reason to go there” (3). We have our (a) quester: Amir. He must, (b), travel to Afghanistan. He must save his half-brother’s son, Sohrab, who is a victim of child trafficking. He (d) faces an initially unwilling companion, Farid, the dangerous Taliban and an unpredictable Assef. But what about the real reason for leaving in the first place? Of course, the child must be saved. This is a genuine concern on Amir’s part. But he also travels to the one place where he has lost his faith in his God in part of the Muslin religion of his childhood, lost his childhood friend and brother and his home to war. Afghanistan: the source of all of his fears. “‘We have some unfinished business, you and I,’ Assef said.” (286). And with this, our knight must duel. The damsel—our unlucky Sohrab—waits helplessly at the door. “I don’t know if I gave Assef a good fight. I don’t think I did. How could I have? That was the first time I’d fought anyone. I had never so much as thrown a punch in my entire life” (288). At this point, a wonderful thing happens. Instead of Assef getting his sweet revenge and satisfaction in the beating, he is irritated by Amir’s laughter:
‘WHAT’S SO FUNNY?’ Assef bellowed. Another rib snapped. What was so funny was that, for the first time since the winter of 1975, I felt at peace. I laughed because I saw that . . . I’d even been looking forward to this. My body was broken—just how badly I wouldn’t find out until later—but I felt healed. Healed at last. I laughed. (289)
In relation to the incident with Hassan and the pomegranates, this is the liberation that sets Amir free—he is finally sacrificing himself for Sohrab, which is just as close as him sacrificing himself for Hassan as he can get. And to repay the favor, history repeats itself:
Sohrab had [a] slingshot pointed to Assef’s face . . . The slingshot made a thwiiiiit sound when Sohrab released the cup. Then Assef was screaming. He put his hand where his left eye should have been just a moment ago, blood oozed between his fingers. Blood and something else, something white and gel-like. That’s called vitreous fluid, I thought with clarity. (290-291)
Note: Hosseini, a doctor, added a bit of his own intellectuality into the scene with the medical vocabulary. Flashback:
I turned and came face to face with Hassan’s slingshot. Hassan held the slingshot directly at Assef’s face. Assef smiled. ‘Maybe you didn’t notice, but there are three of us and two of you.’ Hassan shrugged. ‘Perhaps you didn’t notice . . . the slingshot. If you make a move, they’ll have to change your nickname from Assef ‘the Ear Eater’ to ‘One-Eyed-Assef,’ because I have this rock pointed at your left eye’” (42).
Cause and effect. Idea and Action. Recreancy and redemption. Completing the circle. Whatever the reader wishes to call it, this is how the story resolves. Has history repeated itself, or completed itself? Either way, Amir has overcome his fears and discovers his identity as a human being. The time of predominant suffering for all has come to an end, and healing can officially begin. The characters finally have earned the chance to really live. Amir learns, through this experience, self-forgiveness in the place where his troubles all began; where he least expected and where he was not searching. In the final scene in California, Amir is no longer building kites or allowing his mind to drift with them. His soul is soaring. He is free:
I looked down at Sohrab. One corner of his mouth had curled up just so. A smile. ‘Do you want me to run that kite for you? For you, a thousand times over,’ I heard myself say. Then I turned and ran. It was only a smile, nothing more. It didn’t make everything all right. It didn’t make anything all right. But I’ll take it. Because when spring comes, it melts the snow one flake at a time, and maybe I just witnessed the first flake melting. I ran. I ran with . . . a smile. I ran. (371)

“One flake at a time” (371), just like Amir’s affirmation of “hope [growing] in my heart, like snow collecting on a wall, one flake at a time” (64). So maybe that is what this book is all about.

(V.W. 2012)

Ask Not What You Do for Your Society, Ask What Your Society Does For You: Real Meaning Behind the Phrase, “Hey Ricky Ricardo, Why Don’t You Make Me a Sandwich?”[(Essay date 9 June 2012) This essay by V.W. endeavors to account for the contemporary and traditional societies of Afghanistan and the United States, where roles of women have been made clear and placed directly under the sun.]

Every street of Kabul is enthralling to the eye
Through the bazaars, caravans of Egypt pass
One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs
And the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls
—Saib-e-Tabrizi, 17th century

While examining the courses of Afghan and American history dating back to, say, the 50s, compared to the societies of today, the arrangements seem reversed. To avoid any further confusion, the author, Khaled Hosseini, views treatment of women in modern-day Afghanistan as less than less than satisfactory, displaying the highest respect and esteem for those strong women struggling in central Asia against what he deems to be a sexist and prejudice society faced against the backdrop of a faltering economy. Now, upon glancing at pictures of 1950s Afghanistan in juxtaposition to today, the results are baffling. Promoting education for women was a part of the modernized western culture that dominated the region. A flourishing society with a stable economy, the intrusion of the Taliban and its strict concerns, ideals and morals has turned Afghanistan into a patriarchal world adhesive to the idea of female inferiority. Compared to modern-day America, this society is likened to that of 50s Afghanistan. A modernized, enthusiastic culture with much potential, it is interesting to observe that 1950s America might have been just as lacking in cultural unity and progressiveness as the picture of Afghanistan presently.

Take a look at the United States of America in the 1950s. What is to be regarded? Game shows, black and white television, Levittowns, abstract expressionism, consumerism. Now take a closer look at the women—sexism is evident in more advertisements than can be perceived. The culture manipulates women from early stages of childhood that promiscuity and education are a big ‘no-nos’; that women are useful only in a domestic setting as a housewife, and that college is a way to find husbands. A woman of this era might argue that undeniably, this behavior was appropriate for women to imitate in that their emotions are too weak to trifle with and therefore, the sex is not strong enough to handle typically male-dominated careers/roles. It is not to be said that our society does not demean women in our advertisements, because it does. At least today, women have more opportunities to hold political office and high corporation (typically male) positions than they did more than half a century ago. So what is the problem? The women accepted their positions of the past. When told that their place was in the home to have dinner on the table for her spouse by 6 in the evening, most women said, ‘When can I start?’ Take heed: in this time period, there were women who recognized the oppressive requirements for the perfect woman of the day. Khaled Hosseini appraises two cultural deviants of Afghanistan modern day, following the lives and relationships of Afghani wives Mariam and Laila when faced with poverty and oppression.

Reasons for marriage. In contemporary American society, love is mostly the reason for marriage. There are those few who wish to marry into money or marry in lack of connections. Generally, however, the idea is to pick a companion who suits one’s personality best. The woman chooses her own spouse, as does the man. Marriages are not fixed and no one is tied and bound to any person without both parties’ consent. In 1950s America, a woman married because it was her civic duty to marriage. “‘Has this boy asked for your hand?’ ‘He’s a friend. A rafiq. It’s not like that between us. He’s like a brother to me.’ ‘That he is not.’ Mammy said flatly. ‘You will not liken that one legged carpenter’s boy to your brothers. There is no one like your brothers’” (162). Here, the young boys are idolized in replacement of Laila, whose mother is mostly indifferent to. No other position was best suited for the female but the role of a wife, where the topic of marriage is always a discussion among young females. A woman must obey her husband. “It is not proper for women to wander aimlessly about the streets” (278). Be accompanied at all times by a male. “Women are forbidden from working” (278). “If you are found guilty of adultery, you will be stoned to death” (278). “Listen. Listen well. Obey” (278). Further, dear reader, please do not be misinformed—this is not simply a description of Afghanistan alone! For it is also a list for 50s women to follow, guidelines given on how to be prepared to act, think and embody a proper, perfect woman. While on the topic of adultery, of course an American woman will not be stoned to death—in the physical sense. If her husband is unfaithful, the incident is pardoned and held in secret. The other way around, the woman’s scandalous reputation becomes one like that of a harlot, and a divorce is in order to save the suffering husband from claiming a bad name by being associated with such a person, stoned to death by gossiping friends and disappointed family members. At one point in the novel, Mariam is pressured by her father’s wives, who wish to have her married and out of the house:
‘A khastegar. A suitor. His name is Rasheed,’ Khadija went on. ‘Now he is a little older than you,’ Afsoon chimed in. ‘But I’ve seen nine-year-old girls given to men twenty years older than your suitor, Mariam. What are you, fifteen? That’s a good, solid marrying age for a girl.’ It did not escape Mariam that no mention was made of her half sisters Saideh or Naheed, both her own age, both students in the Mehri School in Heart . . . with plans to enroll in Kabul University. Fifteen, evidently, was not a good, solid marrying age for them. (46-47)
In Afghanistan, because a woman cannot leave the house unaccompanied by a male escort, a husband is essential for travel, etc. With war raging on, protection is also necessary for penniless, youthful women.

Pregnancy and domestic violence. “After she gave Rasheed the news about the baby, he had immediately hopped on his bicycle, ridden to a mosque, and prayed for a boy” (228). Women of the 50s had children because the ideal of a family unit was supported by advertising and the general morals of the time. Gender did not matter as it does in the Afghani society. Still, women are seen as caretakers and mothers. In 1950s Afghanistan and 2012 U.S.A., pregnancies are mostly planned events among married couples in want of children and a family, with the exception of teenage girls who have children out of wedlock on accident, etc. Hosseini uses pregnancy as a symbol of hope for the women trapped inside their husband’s house—pregnancy brings home of a male heir, and of children to love and dedicate time to. “And here she was now with a home of her own, a husband of her own, heading toward on final, cherished province: Motherhood. How delectable it was to think of this baby, her baby, their baby” (88-89). Domestic violence a pedophilia (sexual intercourse with minors) is illegal within the United States. In Afghanistan, this is tradition. “‘Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam’” (7). A quote introduced at the beginning of the novel, its meaning reveals early to the reader the main premise of the work—social inferiority placed on women of the day. Ironic, too, that the women are expected to worship the male population, especially their husbands, and this love is returned with abuse and neglect:
At the time, Mariam did not understand. She did not know what this word harami—bastard—meant. Nor was she old enough to appreciate the injustice, to see that it is the creators of the harami who are culpable, not the harami, whose only sin is being born. (4)
Later in the novel, Mariam is sold off to be married by her supposed ‘loving’ father, Jalil:
She turned to Jalil again. ‘Tell them. Tell them you won’t let them do this.’ ‘Actually, your father has already given Rasheed his answer,’ Afsoon said. And, with that, Marium felt the tension vanish from the room. Afsoon escorted her back to the room upstairs. When Afsoon closed the door, Mariam heard the rattling of a key as it turned in the lock. (49-50)
With such deception and betrayal, how can a woman love a man who forces marriage upon her unwillingly? “‘I used to worship you. On Thursdays, I sat for hours waiting for you. I worried myself sick that you wouldn’t show up. I didn’t know. I didn’t know that you were ashamed of me’” (55). Moreover, on the subject of domestic violence, it is a man’s ‘duty’ to enforce discipline on a disrespectful female. In chapter 36, Laila, her daughter Aziza and Mariam (both wives of Rasheed) attempt to flee their husband’s home and travel to Peshawar. Their hired male escort betrays them and upon return, Rasheed beating, secluding and nearly starving all three to death:
‘You try this again and I will find you. I swear on the Prophet’s name that I will find you. And, when I do, there isn’t a court in this godforsaken country that will hold me accountable for what I will do. To Mariam first, then to her, and you last. I’ll make you watch. You understand me? I’ll make you watch.’ (272)
Therefore, male authority is dominant within the culture. Talking back might earn a woman a beating. Lucille Ball, for example, probably would have had no reason to deny her husband breakfast because in the 50s television show “I Love Lucy,” Lucy and her husband Ricky place by Desi Arnaz loved each other dearly. If she did refuse him food, he would have done her no harm, but would have most likely viewed the situation as a fancied whim of his mischievous wife who is angry with him over a petty, silly and womanly concern in which he should pay no heed too. Breakfast would be expected the following morning, as routine instructed. If Mariam or Laila denied Rasheed breakfast, however, one may hope they enjoy receiving an occasional black eye or two. Or worse.
Finally, the media. In the United States, media has always been an overpowering force shaping the ways of our culture since the early 50s. 50s advertising played in support of women residing in the home, making sexist remarks on women’s emotional and physical weaknesses, appearances and dependability, one Drummond advertisement even claiming men to be “better than women.” The media’s portrayal of women in American society today gives the notion that a woman must be model-thin and beautiful to be happy, presenting women with little clothing on in advertisements in order to sell everything from alcohol to men socks. The 50s culture and media in Afghanistan was similar to that of America’s, simply just not as omnipotent. The Afghani culture of today, however, conceals and shields women behind burqas, long cloaks responsible for preventing promiscuity among young women:
He fished a sky blue burqa from the bag. ‘I have customers . . . men who bring their wives to my shop. The women come uncovered, they talk to me directly, look me in the eye without shame. They wear makeup and skirts that show their knees. Sometimes they even put their feet in front of me . . . for measurements, and their husbands stand there and watch. They think they’re being modern men, intellectuals, on account of their education. They don’t see that they’re spoiling their own . . . honor and pride.’ (70)
Her husband gives her this, despite secretly keeping pornographic magazines in his drawers. After all, “a woman’s face is her husband’s business” (70). In relation to The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, the protagonist Offred is placed in a similar situation as many Arabic women experience every day. Set in the dystopian Republic of Gilead, although no male escort is needed, women must wear the clothing assigned to their positions within the society. Offred, a Handmaid, wears red robes true to her position that cover and conceal her entire body. Her job is to bear children. One day on a walk in the streets, Offred and a few other Handmaids encounter Japanese tourists on the streets. She describes it as such:
A group of people is coming towards us. They’re tourists from Japan. I can’t help staring. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen skirts that short on women, the legs nearly naked in their thin stockings, the high-heeled shoes . . . attached to the feet like delicate instruments of torture. The women teeter on their spiked feet off balance; their backs arch at the waist, thrusting the buttocks out. Their hair too is exposed, in all its darkness and sexuality. That was freedom. Westernized, they used to call it. (Atwood 27-28)
Sounds a little like the modern day United States we all know and love, doesn’t it? In a similar way do Arabic women consider people of a more westernized culture—some with envy, some with incredulity, some with disgust. Here is the true question: which one does the majority hold?
In the end, the author offers sympathy to these strong young women portraying the lives of two women who fit this definition, taking place in his location of birth—Kabul, Afghanistan. Their stories offer insight into the lives of suffering and neglect the women face at the hands of their husbands. The question is not which is the better culture: American or Afghani, 1950s U.S.A. or Afghanistan over a half a century ago. The question is do women realize their own societal influences and pressures to live up to what society—and in this case, men—expect of them? Have women learned to recognize flaws within their culture? Sacrifice in exchange for freedom, Marium’s situation after confessing to the murder of Rasheed and preventing prosecution against Laila. “As she closed her eyes, it was not regret any longer but a sensation of abundant peace that washed over her” (370). Perhaps the most important question of all: will those oppressed, if ever given the chance to escape, take advantage of it? “Only one skill. And it’s this: tahamul. Endure” (18).Or will they simply abide?
(V.W. 2012)

The Kite Runner: The search for redemption

(Essay Date 17 June 2013) In this literary criticism, S.P. examines Khaled Hosseini’s novel, The Kite Runner, and explains how it is an example of a relationship between a father and a son as well as the betrayal and the struggle one faces on the path towards redemption.

This powerful, unforgettable novel tells multiple stories of love, violence, friendship and engages readers with every turn of a page. It’s a story of a beautiful friendship between two boys growing up and being raised together in the same household. However, Amir and Hassan were from different worlds.

One would assume that Amir, being the son of a wealthy father, would be happy and have the life any child dreams of. However, that is not the case. Amir struggles each and every day to prove to Baba that he is worth it. Amir feels responsible for the death of his mother, who died giving birth to him, and he struggles to redeem himself in Baba’s eyes. Baba is hard on Amir and makes it difficult for Amir to feel accepted and loved. Amir constantly feels like he is a disappointment in his father’s eyes. “Show him once and for all that his son was worthy. Then maybe my life as a ghost in this house would finally be over.” (49) This quote sums up the relationship between Baba and Amir; it is strained and distant. They are so different that Amir feels like a ghost in his own house, a feeling no child should ever have to feel. Amir’s one chance to prove to Baba that he isn’t worthless is the kite tournament. Throughout the novel the kites play an important symbol. The kites are able to fly high in the sky, but they are held back by the string, preventing their complete freedom. Amir can be compared to a kite, because as a wealthy male he has the freedom others long for, but he is held back by Baba. Baba acts as the string, by controlling what his son does. He is also the reason for the scars on Amir’s heart, just like the string of a kite is responsible for the scars on the hands of the holder.

After Amir won the tournament, the relationship between Baba and Amir seemed to be reborn. Baba would include Amir into conversations of his, he would offer to take him out to some of his favorite places, and he would allow Amir to read some of his stories to him. Amir finally had the relationship he had always dreamed of. Unfortunately, these moments could not last forever and soon “the scraping of the spoon and fork against the plate had replaced dinner table chatter and Baba had resumed retreating to his study after supper. And closing the door.” (81) The act of closing the door can be compared to how in a way, Baba closed his life to Amir. It wasn’t until they moved to California when their relationship fully developed. Baba was diagnosed with cancer and Amir never left his side. Even after everything his father put him through, after everything he had to endure growing up, he loved Baba with his whole heart. The two of them set out on flea market sales every Sunday, each of them looking forward to the time they got to spend with each other. From then on, Amir never left his father’s side until his father’s death.

The major theme of betrayal can be seen throughout the book, but is clearly witnessed in the relationship between Amir and Hassan. Hassan is Baba’s servant’s son. He lives in a tiny shack with his father in the backyard, does not go to school, was born with a harelip, and has the life no child wants. The friendship between Amir and Hassan is one of a kind. They are from two different worlds, but yet they enjoy each other’s company. Together they share their childhood and establish a bond that is inseparable.

That inseparable bond isn’t even broken when the ultimate betrayal happens. While the relationship is definitely affected, Hassan still idolizes Amir and puts what happened behind them. He will do anything for Amir, and for Amir he will do it a thousand times over (61). Amir, however, cannot live with himself. He was a coward and he realizes it. He can’t stand to be in the same room with Hassan and he can’t even hear his name without getting upset. Amir feels horrible for not standing up for Hassan and he lets this grief follow him throughout his life. He blames himself for everything and wants no part of Hassan because he feels like, he is a disgrace and cannot even bare to look him in the eyes. Amir even goes as far as asking Baba if he would ever get new servants. What happened in the alley will forever scar Amir and affect every decision he makes from that point on. Not standing up for the person who means the most to you is one of the worst betrayals to commit. Amir may not have realized it then, but Hassan was everything to him, and when he lost him forever, there was nothing he could do.

Hassan was constantly on his mind, and even Baba’s. No matter what he did, he could never remove that horrible memory lingering in the back of his mind. Every time Hassan’s name was mentioned Amir felt like a pair of steel hands closed around his windpipe (116), proving that the guilt overpowers him, causing him to feel near death at the sound of Hassan’s name. America was supposed to represent freedom for Amir. Freedom from Hassan. He was always reminded of him somehow and was never able to fully move on.

Unlike most humans who make mistakes, Amir got a second chance. He got a chance to give back and to make up for his actions. After Hassan died his son and Amir’s nephew, Sohrab, was left in an orphanage. Rahim khan’s dying wish was for Amir to bring him to a new home in a different part of Afghanistan for a better life. However things in Afghanistan never go as planned, and as it turned out, there was no home for him. Amir discusses with his wife, Soraya, and they decide to bring Sohrab back to California to live with them. This was Amir’s way of making amends with the situation, even though nothing will ever make up for what he did.

From the violence of the time period in Afghanistan to the missing relationship between father and son and finally to the ultimate betrayal, The Kite Runner, was able to capture the struggles Amir faced throughout his life. This quote sums up the way Baba saw Amir as well as the way Amir lived his life, “A boy who won’t stand up for himself becomes a man who can’t stand up to anything” (20). Throughout the novel, Amir does not stand up for himself, he recognizes later in life that the only way to redeem himself is by standing up for what he knows is right. The power of his guilt is what influenced Amir to gain the bravery and to finally give Assef what he deserved. The Amir we knew in the beginning of the novel is a completely different Amir by the conclusion. The guilt he lived with for all those years helped to transform him into a different person and allowed for him to find a way to become good again (168) on his journey towards redemption.

(S.P. 2013)

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Women in Afghanistan: The struggle through their eyes

(Essay Date 17 June 2013) In the following essay, S.P. will discuss the oppression of women in an Afghan Society. In A Thousand Splendid Suns, a novel by Khaled Hosseini’s, the control men have over women in Afghanistan is demonstrated through the lives and stories of the two main female characters: Mariam and Laila.

The most prevalent theme in A Thousand Splendid Suns is the discrimination against women. Throughout history, men have been categorized as the ultimate race. Men were favored more, were able to have a better life, and were able to basically do what ever they chose. The power a man possesses in a society can be seen throughout the novel. In an Afghan Society, men have complete power over the females, whether it be their wife or a complete stranger on the street, a women must obey, and if they don’t they can end up being murdered. The women had to suffer beatings, murder, and embarrassment. Mariam and Laila were abused and mistreated by their husband, Rasheed. The only thing that got them through the day was the thought of providing a better life for the children. Aziza and Zalmai are what give Laila and Mariam the strength to persist in a society that is against them.

Khaled Hosseini is able to attract his readers by exposing the reality of gender roles in an Afghan society. Throughout the novel there are four females who allow readers a glimpse of the struggle they had to endure each and every day. Nana, Mariam, Laila, and Aziza enable the reader to develop and understanding of the way life was for them. It was a life of chaos, hardships, and war that destroyed their normal way of life.

We are first introduced to Nana and Mariam at the start of the novel. We soon learn that Mariam is an illegitimate child, or a Harami. We also discover that her mother, Nana, has no filter when it comes to saying her feelings towards her daughter. Throughout, Nana provides life lessons that may not always be fit for a young child. For example, Nana is always explaining to Mariam the ways of society and the way it must be for a woman. “Learn this now and learn it well, my daughter. Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam,” (7) is one of the many lessons Nana left behind for Mariam. This quote provides the proof that women truly have no say in Afghanistan. Women can be blamed for anything, even if they are innocent, as long as a man is present. As a result of her gender, Nana was put on the street, wishing that her baby was dead, and was forced to endure the life of a single mother.

“Only one skill. And it’s this: tahamul. Endure.” (17)

This quote was said to Mariam by Nana, when Mariam asks if she can attend school. Nana laughs and says that the only skill women need is to be able to endure life and they don’t teach this skill in school. She goes on to say how there is no need for school and says, “It’s our lot in life, Mariam. Women like us. We endure. It’s all we have….There is nothing here for her. Nothing but rejection and heartache.” (18) Nana takes her anger out on Mariam, who is blamed for the mistakes of her life. “Of all the daughters I could have had, why did God give me an ungrateful one like you? Everything I endured for you! What a Stupid girl you are!” (26) are just some criticism’s Mariam must here on a daily basis from her own mother. Even though Nana has had a hard life filled with many struggles, it is still not an excuse to treat a child like this. Mariam realizes her mother’s life isn’t the life she wanted and she is sick of Nana blaming her for everything. She feels life Nana purposely does not want her to be happy because of everything she has put Nana through. “You don’t want a good life for me. You’re the one with the wretched heart,” (27). Mariam just wants to be loved. She wants to feel the way she does when her father Jalil comes to visit all the time and not just while he’s there. She wants a life in which she would love and be loved back, without reservation or agenda, without shame (29).

The struggle to be loved by her father was a major part of Mariam’s childhood. He was the epitome of the life she dreamed of. She looked forward to his visits and worshipped him. He was the best dad she could have asked for, until he abandons her in the most hurtful way in order to save his name. Nana hanged herself because Mariam wanted to spend time with her father. Mariam can’t help but blame herself for her mother’s actions, and when she needs love the most, Jalil sends her off to be married. He wants no part of her. .”She was being sent away because she was the walking, breathing embodiment of their shame.” (45) Mariam begs and pleads to stay but Jalil is a coward and does not say anything. Little does he know, is that sending Mariam off to marry Rasheed would probably be the worst mistake of his life. Mariam soon realizes that everything bitter Nana said towards Jalil was true. If only she had realized this sooner, then she could have saved Nana from committing suicide. Nana may not get the mother of the year award but she was all Mariam had, and after she was dead Mariam realizes how much she really did love her mother.

The struggles Mariam endures mainly occur throughout her marriage to Rasheed, a man much older than her. Throughout the marriage, Mariam is exposed to the power a male has over his wife. She now understands the dominance that Nana had always warned her of. Mariam conforms to Rasheed’s ways and to the image he wants for all Afghan women. She endures what she has too, wears the burqa Rasheed purchased for her, cleans the house, and obeys every command she is told. In Rasheed’s eyes, Mariam is seen as a sex object, but after she fails to conceive multiple times, she is seen as a failure. The disappointment from Rasheed causes Mariam to blame herself for not being able to get pregnant. From this point on in their relationship, everything Mariam does is wrong in Rasheed’s opinion and she must put up with his abuse and anger. Rasheed ignores her, does not make conversation, and gets upset at the tiniest things. If his food is not the way he likes, she is beat, if she does not do what he wants the way he wants, she is beat. “There was always something, some minor thing that would infuriate him, because no matter what she did to please him, no matter how thoroughly she submitted to his demands, it wasn’t enough. She was nothing but a burden to him” (90). Mariam was forced to struggle with his abusive ways and the feeling of being unloved. “It wasn’t easy tolerating him talking this way to her, to bear his scorn, his ridicule, his insults, his walking past her like she was nothing but a house cat. But after four years of marriage Mariam saw how much a woman could tolerate when she was afraid.” (89) The relationship between these two caused Mariam to live in fear. Rasheed oppressed her and discriminated against her. He called her names, told her to shut up, abused her, and made her stay home all day. Mariam’s life is an example of what is what like to be a woman in Afghanistan. She was a woman who had to live in fear of her husband. She learned to struggle in a household where you were nothing and where your efforts are not appreciated. Rasheed certainly does not appreciate everything Mariam does for him. He states, “Now you know what you’ve given me in this marriage. Bad food, and nothing else” (94). Mariam and other Afghan women must go through pain and suffering everyday in order to survive.

Laila and Mariam had different upbringings, but it is the time they spend together in the future that brings them together. Laila was educated and was taught by her father that all were created equal. She had a childhood and friends who cared about her. Unfortunately for a woman in Afghanistan, things don’t work out the way they want them too. Laila ended up with Rasheed and Mariam in a very heartbreaking way. After a bomb destroyed her house and her family, she was discovered by Rasheed and Mariam, who watched over her as she regained her health. Being the greedy man he is, Rasheed lies about Tariq’s death and asks for Laila’s hand in marriage. Laila says yes but soon learns that she has made a mistake. While Rasheed praises Laila for her beauty and ability to conceive, he does not treat her much differently than Mariam. Laila must stay home, wear a burqa, and must help Mariam with the chores. Now Rasheed has the control over the two women and in his opinion, this is the way it should be.

Even though it is two against one, Rasheed is the king. He has the power over them and there is nothing they can do about it. Laila soon grows accustomed to Rasheed’s moods and violent beatings that Mariam had suffered through before she arrived. Rasheed dehumanizes both of them when he compares them to cars. It is evident that Rasheed has no respect for them. When he tells Mariam he wants to marry Laila, he says “the way I see it, I deserve a medal” (193) proving he has no respect and is just worried about his reputation. Since Laila provided Rasheed with a girl, rather than a boy, she is no longer seen as his favorite. He hates her for giving birth to a girl and does not even acknowledge Aziza. Rasheed is angry because he does not have the power to control the gender of the baby and takes his anger out on Mariam and Laila. Rasheed has caused them to bleed, to lose their teeth, and he has even locked them in the shed without food all because he is upset. This is an example of the oppression the women faced. They were blamed for everything and were beaten for it.

Day to day, Mariam and Laila bear the oppression they are faced with. They feel worthless and when they do something wrong they must apologize. Mariam does not protest the beatings from Rasheed. This is all she knows and has become used to it, which is upsetting. Laila on the other hand was not used to this. She had a father who cared for her and explained how society was wrong to treat women differently. Laila isn’t afraid of Rasheed and even punches him after he hits her. Laila gives Mariam the courage and strength to fight back and to protect her self from this animal they call their husband. Laila provides the inspiration for Mariam that there is something more to life than this. She is able to once again take some control away from Rasheed.

The climax of the novel is when Rasheed dies. Rasheed learned that Tariq had been visiting Laila while he was at work, which angered him. He blames Mariam once again and beats them to the point where he is about to kill Laila. When Mariam sees the only person who truly loved her about to die, she takes control of the situation. Mariam grabs the shovel and raises it high in the air, and “it occurred to her that this was the first time that she was deciding the course of her own life.” (311) this moment was the turning point for Mariam and Laila. They would finally be able to escape Rasheed. Mariam’s action proves just how much she has had to go through. She couldn’t take it any longer and she finally had enough. She took a big step and resisted the control of society.

In the end, Mariam gives her life to protect the lives of Laila and Tariq. She allows them to regain the life they always imagined. Mariam represents so much more than just a woman living in Afghanistan. She represents hope and courage for all women dealing with the same situation. She struggled day in and day out; she conformed to Rasheed’s ways, and endured more than any woman should have to endure in a lifetime. She did not let society take everything from her and in the end she died a hero. Her actions throughout the book and especially in the end were truly moving. Laila and Mariam represent the struggles that women faced in the country of Afghanistan. The women were trapped in a forbidding society and were forced to be slaves to the male gender, without a say or an opinion towards anything.
(S.P. 2013)