Everyone has at least gone through one moment in their life that really leaves a lasting impact on them. It’s what shapes an individual and their perception of the world, as well as how they view themselves and their actions. The novel The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is a historical fiction that introduces its readers to the tragedies of war and childhood regrets. The novel follows a young Afghan boy named Amir, who one day abandoned his friend and, unknown to him, his step-brother at the mercy of childhood bullies, to which they subsequently did away with. Amir would be haunted by this event for many years of his life, seeking retribution for himself that he believed he deserved. Suddenly, his perspective of the past changes when the revelation of Hassan being his brother is revealed to him. The Kite Runner has many interesting interpretations, but the one that most sticks out is how Amir copes with his past and how disturbed he is by it. It’s no doubt that the novel revolves around him, but what the reader doesn't know much about is the extent to which this revelation affects his perspective of the past and how he processes guilt. The novel progresses over the course of several decades that show the beginning of Amir’s whole ordeal to the end, where he’s finally living a happy life, enlightened and complete.
This revelation had a much bigger impact on Amir’s perception of his past than one might think, in which his state of mind completely changes from beginning to end. There are three significant moments to which Hosseini conveys this deep level of character development and change that make the revelation of Hassan being Amir’s stepbrother much more significant than us readers realize. First, the time when Amir demanded Hassan to punish him, but ultimately never got it. The second being the revelation that Hassan was his secret stepbrother. The third is when he finally faces off with Assef and rescues Hassan’s now orphaned son, Sohrab, from him. These three different moments represent the major evolutions of the stages of Amir’s overall life, and would gradually change how he dealt with his guilt and how he perceives his past as he begins to understand and experience different aspects of his life, some hidden, that slowly made his way into his knowledge.
To fully understand Amir’s mindset throughout the novel and his evolution as a character, one must know about the trigger point that began it all during his youth.
Amir had a lot of regrets as a child, but the moment that he left Hassan behind in the alley was the most significant part because it was the one memory that gave him a lifetime scar that would take him a long time to get over. Facing childhood bully Assef and his gang in an alleyway, and with Hassan in their possession, in his mind, he thought to himself, “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” (Hosseini 77). It is then that Amir is faced with a dilemma. He could either jump in and try to save Hassan and risk sharing the same fate as him, or he could run away and let it all happen. Instead, Amir decides to run and allowing Hassan to get raped. He had the opportunity to return the favor of Hassan having his back all those times by standing up for him, but he refused to take it. Understandably in the real world, one would run away in the face of overwhelming odds. However, if it involves someone like a friend or family member, then it’s a whole different story. Furthermore, having this be done on an individual that is close to oneself can be pretty traumatizing, and psychologically, it can be long-term. In Amir’s case, this moment would scar him for years to come. The lifelong guilt that he would endure would eventually lead him back to making a return trip to Afghanistan, to try and amend the sins he had committed as a child.
Despite being abandoned, however, Hassan refuses to punish Amir, which only builds on the amount of guilt and trauma Amir had accumulated from the alleyway incident. This immediate interaction Amir exchanges with Hassan would also contribute to Amir’s later perception of his past. Not only did he not receive the punishment he believes he wanted, but he also was gifted with a lifetime curse that would turn him into an insomniac, not being able to get the thought of his mistake out of his head. One moment while with Hassan at this time, he thought to himself, “I wished he would. I wished he’d give me the punishment I craved, so maybe I’d finally sleep at night. Maybe then things could return to how they used to be between us. But Hassan did nothing as I pelted him again and again” (Hosseini 92). The significance of this was that this interaction was a much bigger player in building Amir’s past because he always believed that he needed to get punished for whatever he did wrong. For example, he wished to get punished for having his mother killed while giving birth to him, even though that never came. Furthermore, it shows us this part of Amir’s character, which of course is a large part of his long-term thoughts and guilt as he lives his life in America. He wants the punishment, but can’t seem to get it for the time being. In the real world, people often have so much guilt that they do what is called “turning themselves in,” in which they hand themselves over to receive the punishment that they otherwise would have gotten had they not already received it. To add on, one aspect of human nature is that when we make a mistake, sometimes running away is the best solution, however, that always backfires. In the end, they will seek to get what they deserved. What the author of this novel wanted was to show that Amir was the kind of person to actually want a punishment that he felt he deserved, and to also set him up for the redemption arc he has a lot later in his life.
Upon meeting up with Rahim Khan at the beginning of his return trip to Afghanistan, things about his childhood finally come full circle as he realizes why everything happened the way they did.
Amir’s household had inherently been full of family problems, and it all had to do with this secret family lineage, though of course, he wouldn’t know about them. “Apparently, the estranged father-son relationship between Amir and baba led to Amir’s jealousy of Hassan, eventually betraying Hassan, who was willing to sacrifice everything for him” (Yuan-yuan 58). While Amir had loved Hassan, he couldn’t help but be jealous of their affection towards one another. He became the opposite of Hassan, who, unlike himself, was willing to sacrifice everything and defend him, no matter the cost. This would be one of the things Amir would also later regret in his life. His original mission to Afghanistan had been to face the demons of his past, but now knowing that Hassan and his wife had been killed and leaving behind a son, Amir took it upon himself to rescue his nephew as he was the only part of Hassan he had left.
To further add on, there had always been a power difference between the two boys. In the relationship, Amir is above Hassan, as Hassan acted as the family’s servant or “underling.” This is supported by the fact that Hassan identifies as a Hazara, as according to Malik, “Ali and Hassan represent Hazara minority who are the victim of racism in Afghanistan” (Malik 73). This is significant because normally when a group of people is a minority, they are often treated as inferior or insignificant. Especially if it involves children, then they will face bullying from others. In Hassan’s case, because he is from a minority ethnic group, he faces bullying from other children, most notably from Assef and his gang.
In the aftermath, Amir takes it upon himself and makes it his mission to find Hassan’s son, Sohrab, and take him back with him back to the States.
Knowing that Sohrab was once Hassan’s son, he had to rescue him. This is the moment that Amir can atone for the actions that he regrets so long ago, and was one of the reasons why he had returned to Afghanistan in the first place. “Ultimately, his attempt to atone is his journey back to Kabul to rescue Sohrab from the hands of the abusing Talib official, Assef. He knows he would not be able to leave Sohrab alone after knowing the fact that he is his half-brother Hassan’s son” (Mishra 86). Amir couldn’t bring himself to make history repeat himself. Sohrab literally had Hassan’s blood running through him, and leaving him at the mercy of Assef and the Taliban would just be the same mistake that he had made before.
While fighting Assef, however, Amir feels something unusual, something that is not normally felt when getting beat up in a fight. “Another rib snapped, this time left lower. 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, in some hidden nook in a corner of my mind, I’d even been looking forward to this. ...My body was broken...but I was healed. Healed at last. I laughed” (Hosseini 289). While rescuing Sohrab was a high priority, Amir couldn’t help himself but actually enjoy getting beat up by Assef. He was finally happy that someone was giving him the punishment he had wanted for all the things he had done wrong back during his childhood. “Amir submits willingly, even with relief, to Assef’s violence” (O’Brien 10). Amir feels as though he’s finally healed from all the guilt, something that has been keeping him up at night. Taking in Hassan’s son as his own was the least he could do to make up for his terrible actions towards Hassan. He didn’t want to be the person he was when he left Hassan in that alleyway.
The point of this argument is to assess the extent of the significance that the revelation of Hassan being Amir’s previously unknown stepbrother had more meaning than initially thought, and how it had an impact on how Amir dealt with his childhood guilt. This was done because although it was sprinkled all throughout the book with hints, it tends to be very discreet and not out in the open. It’s an interesting topic because it’s not normally covered in whole-book summaries or other interpretations of the book, and it felt necessary to take the analysis of this novel to a whole new level.