It is in our human nature to comply to the strict societal rules that our world has constructed. Time and time again our vision and judgement is clouded with the thick fog of principles that must be upheld by societyr’s standards, more specifically and harshly, those of religious and ethical standards. Within the expansive realm of the Islamic religion, there are extreme principles that each and every one of its followers must abide by to prove their faith and loyalty.
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However, many take this to the extreme, especially when there are two conflicting sides involved. In Afghanistan particularly, there are profound divisions in which theological beliefs branch off into two main sects. These two groups have had major tension throughout history that has lead to feelings of superiority and dominance, not only creating huge religious splits, but ethnic ones as well. These cultural strains cause countless divides and feuds, merely due to the fact that they dont think or believe in the same way as someone else. Through the development of a friendship and a journey for redemption between two young boys of different castes, The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini, highlights the racial and class based tensions throughout Afghanistan and speaks to how irrational ethnic chasms can warp oner’s own sense of reality, ultimately leading to major strains on relationships and an internal sense of guilt.
The Kite Runner, is set against a backdrop filled with hostility and commotion. From the fall of the monarchy is Afghanistan, the Soviet Invasion, the flood of Pakistani refugees into the United States, to the rise if the taliban, the reader travels through the history of Afghanistan and is exposed to the eye opening events that took place. In the Islamic religion, there are two main sects that which most fall under, the majority of them being Sunni, which makes up 85% of this religion across the world, while the Shia only make up about 15% of the Islamic population. This vast gap in the number that comprises all of its followers marginalizes the minority group, causing many people to discriminate against those who arent the same as themselves. This harsh division is brought to light in between the two main characters in the novel, Amir and Hassan. Amir is the son of a very wealthy father, and is a Pashtun, the dominant ethnic group in Afghanistan within the Sunni sect. They have two servants, Ali and his son, Hassan, who classify as Hazaras, the minority ethnicity in the city of Kabul, which fall under the Shia sect. These two boys have grown up together in the same household, practically as brothers, however they come from different religious, economic, and ethnic worlds.
The main character in the novel, Amir is born and raised into a society filled with bigotry. He is subject to various views of the Hazaras throughout his childhood in Kabul, which greatly affects his views about ethnicity. School text books have essentially erased the Hazara ethnicity from history because they are seen as insignificant and teachers only mention them in passing or in disgust. Amirr’s teacher wrinkled his nose when he said the word Shi’a, like it was some kind of disease, demonstrating the personal prejudices that Amir is exposed to (Hosseini 10). The negative connotation that is attached to this ethnic minority is inescapable, even in his own household. Amirr’s father, Baba, a man of wealth and power, seems to put a lot of importance on their image. He puts himself above the lower classes for reasons that are not always religiously affiliated, but due to his skewed vision of the hierarchical society that he promotes. Baba never refers to Ali, his servant, as his friend even though they have practically known each other for the entirety of their lives. He fears the animosity he would receive if he placed himself as an equal of a much lower class, and for that reason he pushes his son to be the man he has made himself to be, to uphold his familyr’s image. However, Baba is constantly unimpressed with Amirr’s writing abilities and love of poetry and wishes his son was more like himself. Amir feels like he is constantly falling short of his fatherr’s approval and strives to earn his love through the one thing he is good at, the annual kite tournament. Though on this day, the pressure of societal roles that are placed upon Amir cause him to make the decision that he will later regret for the rest of his life.
Amir commits terrible sins against his lifelong friend that made him [become] what [he] is today at the age of twelve (Hosseini 1). The betrayal that he exhibits comes from his inherent cowardice of his character, and the distorted ideals about ethnicity he has been fed his whole life. On the day of the kite tournament, Amir wins the competition, only top lose his morality and bravery. He may have earned the approval from his father that he yearns for, but what he did not yet know is that he would lose his brotherhood and integrity in the process. While Hassan chases down the kite of the defeated opponent (a tradition of the sport), he is cornered by advocates by some teenagers of the Pashtun ethnicity who advocate for the suppression if the Hazaras. Assef holds horrible and unreasonable prejudices against Hassan due to his ethnicity and rapes the young boy, a humiliation meant to show Hassan his place in the order of life. (Inayatullah 333). Amir is a witness of these racial biased atrocities, but freezes, in fear that he will have to face the retribution of being associated with Hassan. This lack of advocacy that is exhibited by Amir parallels how our society allows for discrimination and heinous acts to go on without admission and without consequences. No one should be persecuted because of their race, religion, ethnicity, or beliefs, though, sadly it occurs everywhere around us.
Hassan does not deserve this kind of monstrous treatment, nonetheless, he continues his loyalty and dedication to Amir. For his whole life, Hassan has grown up under prejudices held against him for being of the Hazara decent. Olszewska states that have been victims of ethno sectarian massacres by the Taliban and are easily recognized because their “Mongolian” features distinguish them from many of their neighbors. (42). Due to features like his flat nose, he cannot escape the viscous-natured names like mice-eating or load-carrying-donkeys (Hosseini 9). Despite the marginalization he faces every day, Hassan accepts his role in society and finds joy in his less-than-desired position. All he knows in life is to serve. His daily responsibilities entail preparing meals, readying Amirr’s school books, chores and much more and as a result, he learns that it is he duty to sacrifice himself for others selflessly. Whether that be to serve and sacrifice as an attendant, friend, brother, or kite runner, he does his job and he does it well. By nature, Hassan is grateful for what he has, even if itr’s a mud-shack for a house, he still admits to Amir: You know, I like where I live. (Hosseini 62). Hassan is strong, honorable, and brave and often acts as Amirr’s bodyguard from bullies, however as time goes on and they grow older, there is a silent understanding him and his father, Ali, are seen as an embarrassment to the community. Regardless of the opinion of others, Hassan epitomizes the ideal servant, even after the horrible betrayal of Amir, he endures the pain, because of his unbroken allegiance towards him.
One can tell just by reading the title of the novel that kites play a huge role in this story. On the plot level, the huge kite tournament of 1975 is what primarily sets us up for the rest of the story to unravel. After Hassan gets sexually abused while running down the kite that fell, Amir cannot separate his own cowardice and betrayal to Hassan after he witnesses the event and does nothing to stop it. However, beyond the plot, the kites have multiple layers to symbolism to them. One of these layers involves the class difference between the two boys, which largely dictates and limits their entire relationship. Amir said it himself that history isnt easy to overcome. Neither is religion. In the end, I was Pashtun and he was a Hazara, I was Sunni and he was Shia, and nothing was ever going to change that. Nothing. (Hosseini 25). He really doesnt even see Hassan as a normal friend because of their social differences, just like his father with Ali, which is reflected in their roles in kite flying. Amir controls the kite, while Hassan feeds the string. The quote from Hassan, For you, a million times over, shows his kind and pure heart and his servant nature towards Amir ( Hosseini 67). Hassan caters to Amirr’s need in everyday life and while kite flying, however these kite-flying roles bring the boys together and symbolize the innocence of not being able to control where you come from. Another layer of this symbolism is the violent nature of kite flying. These boys are cutting themselves with glass, racing to pick up destroyed kites, and battling it out for a victory similarly to the conflicts that rage Afghanistan.
The guilt that eats aways at Amir for making this one decision will change his life forever. Initially he cant even stand to look at Hassan after what he did to him because it reminds him of his lack of bravery. This causes him to selfishly craft a tale that frames Hassan for stealing from their family, which gets Hassan and Ali fired and forces them out of their home to be never seen or reunited again. Only thinking about himself, Amir wants to rid of his guilt and believes that this is the way to recover from it, to bury it deep down and never be reminded of it. However, the past is inescapable and is hardly forgotten. After many years go by, and Amir and his father have moved to the United States, this guilt that has built up ultimately leads to good. The move from Afghanistan to the United States symbolizes the transformation of a tragic story to one of hope and resilience. Amir wants nothing more than to redeem himself but he knows there is a long journey ahead to mend the shattered brotherhood that he dearly misses. Nancy Graves states that the Hosseini brilliantly lets us feel the paralysis of fear, then the paralysis of guilt and then finally embark on the road to recovery of both relationship with others and acceptance of ourselves. (49). The journey for atonement is definitely not one something that will be easy, but it will evoke self reflection and maturity.
Regardless of the personal beliefs of each sect, both groups have immense pressure placed upon upholding the law of their religion and class. People have a tendency to act out of motivation by their own insecurities and fears, whether that be those of the Islamic faith who are terrified of failing to appear as a devoted believer of their sect or those who are preoccupied with power simply fearful of shame and a bad image. The relationship between the ethnicities is a microcosm for not only the society in Afghanistan, but our society as a whole. We have the tendency to reject those who are not the same, and often fail to speak up for the people who dont have the voices that will be heard. Rationality is warped by the strict social divisions that have bet set in our historical roots, but it is up to us to ignore the prejudices and not look at someone as an ethnicity, but as a person.
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