Guilt has the power to inspire a person’s motives and shape who they are at their core. In 2003 Khaled Hosseini wrote the moving and powerful novel The Kite Runner which has a major focus on guilt’s intense power. Throughout The Kite Runner characters use their guilt as the driving force of their actions as the plot progresses. The narrator of the novel, Amir, witnesses his playmate get horribly abused and does nothing about it, plaguing him with guilt for the next thirty or so years. Amir’s guilt leads him to seek redemption, causing him to travel across two countries to do so. Guilt has an extreme power many people fail to realize; it has the ability to completely undo a person and push them towards redemption, as evident in the characters of Amir, Baba, and Sanubar in Hosseini’s The Kite Runner.
In The Kite Runner the character Amir’s guilt drives nearly all of the decisions he makes throughout the novel. In the beginning of the novel Amir witnessed his playmate and closest ‘friend’ Hassan being raped. Amir realized that in that moment he had only two choices he could “step into the alley [and] stand up for Hassan” or he could run, “in the end [he] ran” (77). Amir’s guilt sprouted from the very moment that he ran away from the alley, leaving Hassan to be raped. Hassan had stood up for Amir throughout their entire lives, and the one time Hassan needed Amir most, Amir had failed him. Amir’s guilt from the situation followed him throughout his life. Soon after the event happened Amir whispered into the darkness that he watched Hassan get raped. He desperately hoped that “someone would wake up and hear, so [he] wouldn’t have to live with the lie anymore” (86). Amir felt horribly guilty after watching Hassan and desperately sought for anyone to find out, but refused to actually tell anyone the truth. Amir tried throwing pomegranates at Hassan, as an attempt to get Hassan to fight back and punish Amir for leaving Hassan to be harmfully violated.
Hassan refused to throw any pomegranates at Amir, instead smashing one into his own face. Amir wanted Hassan to fight him back so he could have “the punishment [he] craved” (92). Amir wanted Hassan to be angry, to fight him back. Amir wanted his wrongs to be righted, but it wouldn’t happen through violence. Nearly twenty years later Amir’s guilt drives him back to Afghanistan as “a way to be good again” (192). Amir’s guilt had led him to make this hefty decision to return to Afghanistan and rescue Hassan’s orphaned son, Sohrab, from the harsh conditions he was left to face in Kabul. Amir sees this as a chance to redeem himself, a chance to free him from his guilt. Nearly all of Amir’s decisions throughout The Kite Runner have circulated around his guilt of not standing up for Hassan when he needed Amir most. The character Baba from Hosseini’s The Kite Runner is not immune to the guilt afflicted on the other characters; his own guilt prompts many of the choices he made. Baba believed that “there is only one sin” (225): theft. Baba believed that when someone lied they stole “someone’s right to the truth” (225). Baba’s stark beliefs rival and almost seem hypocritical to his guilt.
Towards the end of the novel it is revealed that Baba was Hassan’s biological father. Baba had stolen the truth from the people he loved. From Amir he stole the fact that he had a brother, from “Hassan his identity” (225), and from “Ali his honor” (225). Baba had to live with the guilt of not only betraying his closest friend, lying to his legitimate son, hiding the truth from his illegitimate son, and committing what he believed what he believed was the only sin. Baba acted as if the guilt was nonexistent, instead taking it out on Amir by criticizing the way Amir acted. Baba’s guilt caused him to constantly act ashamed of Amir, when in all reality he was ashamed of himself. Baba claimed that there was always “something missing in [Amir]” (22). Baba wanted Amir to be the perfect son, so he didn’t have to feel remorse for giving Amir the lavish life over his other son Hassan. Baba’s guilt for not being able to be a father to Hassan led him to do everything he could for Hassan while still keeping up appearances as a respected man with only one son. When Hassan was accused of stealing Amir’s birthday presents, even though he committed the only sin that mattered to Baba, Baba forgave him.
Baba’s guilt for not being a father to Hassan, led for him to care deeply for Hassan and do anything and everything he could to keep Hassan in his life. Amir always believed that his father was free of guilt, the epitome of a human being, but that was not the case, not in the slightest. Even minor characters within The Kite Runner, such as Sanubar, are affected by guilt and any/all of their decisions made in the novel were based off of their guilt. Sanubar was Hassan’s mother. Shortly after giving birth to Hassan, she was lost “to a fate more Afghans consider far worse than death” (6): she ran off with a group of singers and dancers. Sanubar had completely abandoned her son, never looking back. Guilt had driven her to this decision to leave her son, as it is later revealed in the novel that Baba is actually Hassan’s father, meaning Sanubar and Baba had committed adultery. Sanubar feared the backlash if the truth ever came out, driving her away from her son. Nearly thirty years later, Sanubar showed up at Hassan’s front lawn, her old age was evident and she suffered many injuries on her face.
When she arrived she’d asked to see Hassan and begged for his forgiveness. She cried saying that “[she] wouldn’t even hold [him]” (210) and begged for Allah’s forgiveness. Sanubar’s guilt for abandoning Hassan drove her right back to him and to make an effort to be a part of his life. Sanubar’s guilt for abandoning her son and her husband impacted nearly all of the decisions she makes throughout the The Kite Runner. Hosseini’s 2003 novel The Kite Runner allows Hosseini to give his readers an important message about guilt. He uses the guilt of the narrator of the novel, Amir, to drive the plot along and show how much his guilt for betraying his best friend when he was twelve years old affected Amir for his entire life, not going away until Amir sought redemption.
Hosseini uses the character Baba to display that guilt can reside inside of a person, change who they are, and ruin their relationships, as displayed in Baba’s broken relationships with Hassan and Amir. The character Sanubar is used to show that guilt can trail a person forever, such as her guilt for abandoning her only son: Hassan. Hosseini wants his readers to realize that guilt never ends, that guilt has more power than most people ever realize. Guilt can twist and mold someone at their core; guilt will eat away at person until they finally redeem themselves for their wrongdoings and free themselves from the chains of guilt. Photo used under Creative Commons from Vassilis Onl