The Kite Runner Symbolism

Document Sample
The Kite Runner Symbolism Powered By Docstoc
					INTRODUCTION - Khaled Hosseini's novel The Kite Runner derives its name from an ancient Afghan hobby of
dueling with kites. Similar to Afghanistan's tumultuous history, Afghan kite flying involves mid-air duels between
rivals. Kite flyers attempt to down their adversary's kites analogous to the fighting between the Afghan government
and mujahidin guerrilla factions whose hands are cut and bloodied, as is the hand of the kite flyer when the ground
glass coating of the kite string sears through the hands. In most case, the kite flyer is encouraged to kite duel
aggressively at high altitudes by the ‘string giver’ who usually holds the string reel. His role is not much different
than the foreign powers that instigated all Afghan sides into battle to fight their proxy war by providing arms,
training, and intelligence. When the opponent's kite has been downed, then the real battle turns into a race, the kite
run, to see who retrieves the fallen kite. This is symbolic to the 1992 event in Afghanistan when ethno-religious
warlords looted and pillaged Kabul and other cities in a race to see who can amass the most booty. Interestingly
enough, in 1994 the emerging Taliban regime banned kite flying and an assortment of other activities offering at best
a graveyard peace to a conflict-ridden society.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND - While The Kite Runner is not a history of Afghanistan, relevant background
needs to be discussed from a historical perspective in order to better understand the context of the novel in Afghan

Before the 16th century, the Safavids ruled in western Afghanistan, the Hazara ethnic group was Sunni but as a matter
of pressure and time they converted to the Shia faith. (Adamec, 2003; Gregorian, 1969; Noelle, 1997). The Hazaras
are speculated to have descended from the contingents ('hazar' meaning thousand or regiment) left behind by the
Mongolian quests into Afghanistan (Adamec, 2003; Gregorian, 1969; Noelle, 1997).

Another Shia group in Afghanistan is the Qizilbash, remnants of the Safavid dynasty. They were believed to have
furnished the Safavid kings with a cavalier of 70,000 horsemen. The Qizilbash, literally translating into "red head",
were Azerbaijani-Turks of Shia faith who spoke Farsi. The Qizilbash became noticeable in Afghanistan when Nadir
Shah Afshar, alleged by some to have Safavid lineage, created the Kandahar and Kabul garrisons during his Indian
campaign in 1738-39. The Kabul garrison consisted of about 12,000 families (Adamec, 2003; Gregorian, 1969;
Noelle, 1997).

When the Afshari king, Nadir Shah Afshar, was assassinated, his general Ahmad Shah Durrani, a Sadozai nobleman,
became Afghanistan's first formal king in 1747. Ahmad Shah Durrani continued to hold the Qizilbash as advisors and
ghulam khana (royal personal bodyguards). Ahmad Shah Durrani's rearguard army commander known as Wali
Mohammad Khan Jawansher was given one of the settlements in Kabul, the Chindawal District. When Ahmad Shah
Durrani's son, Timur Shah, moved the capital from Kandahar to Kabul, he brought with him more Qizilbash families
to Chindawal (Adamec, 2003; Ghobar, 1967; Gregorian, 1969; Noelle, 1997). Overall, the Qizilbash continued to
serve in high administrative and army positions in successive administrations.

Not the same could be said of the Hazaras. However, practically all-immediate descendants of Ahmad Shah Durrani
left the Hazaras in relative peace with the exception of Shah Kamran's 1847 attack on Hazarajat. Then, in the mid-
1800s a distant cousin of Barakzai clan took power under Amir Dost Mohammad, born to a Qizilbash wife of Sardar
Payanda, was not sympathetic to the Shias and exploited Sunni-Shia differences. Amir Dost Mohammad aligned the
Sunnis and Qizilbash to the detriment of the Hazaras. This alliance served for his conquest of the Hazarajat after
which Amir Dost Mohammad declared himself 'Amir-al-Mumineen' (Leader of the Faithful) attempting to compare
himself to the Prophet's cousin, Caliph Ali (Adamec, 2003; Gregorian, 1969; Noelle, 1997). In recent times, the
Taliban referred to their leader, Mullah Omar, similarly evoking memories of Amir Dost Mohammad's conquest.

In 1891 Amir Dost Mohammad's grandson, Amir Abdur Rahman continued the policy of offering Sunnis and
tribesmen the title of 'ghazi' (infidel killer) for his conquest of Hazarajat. The result was the destruction of the Hazara
tribal system, annexation of Hazara personal property and land, and the enslavement Hazaras to be sold in the Kabul
bazaar. What ensued was the massive migration of Hazaras to Quetta and Mashad, currently in Pakistan and Iran,

Amir Abdur Rahman's son, Amir Habibullah (r. 1901 - 1919) had Hazara 'kaniz' (concubines) in addition to 'ghulam-
bacha' (royal slaves who were sons of influential people). Other high-ranking families also had 'kaniz' and 'ghulam'
(male slave). However, he decreed that slavery should be outlawed but those already enslaved could not break from
the economic bondage or find enforcement of the anti-slave decree. After his son, Shah Amanullah (r. 1919 - 1929)
became king he outlawed slavery, discrimination, returned seized land and property returned seized land and property
emancipating Hazaras and other Shias (Adamec, 2003; Gregorian, 1969; Noelle, 1997).

While Shah Amanullah outlawed slavery, still after his 1929 departure from Afghanistan until the early 1970s era
when The Kite Runner's young Amir grows up in Kabul, the slave-like old practices of Hazaras still continued. While
some had broken from this bondage, they were not treated much better earning low pay as servants ('nokahr' or
'muzdur') laboring as attendants, cooks, housekeepers, drivers, midwives, cloth washers, and yard workers in many
middle-class to high-ranking households.

In Afghanistan, socioeconomic status was highly correlated with ethnicity stratifying the greater Afghan society.
Income inequality was vast as most of the upper class came from the royal tribal clan, while the lower class was
comprised of the likes of Hassan's family of The Kite Runner.

Through symbolic structure, Hosseini deals with the inequalities and injustices. The book's political dimension reveals
that Hazaras and Shias could never move up the hierarchy unless they denied their identity or became wealthy. It was
not just the Shias and Hazaras but also the Kuchis, Uzbeks, Turkmen, and 'atrafiyan or deehatiyan' (rural dwellers) no
matter if they were Pashtu-speaking, Panjshiris, or Badakhshis.

It was in reaction to these injustices that many of the likes of Amir and Hassan assisted in overthrowing the feudal
regime that facilitated or carelessly observed these injustices. Afghans clunk to the ideologies of the Marxist left or
Islamic right, which based on ideology and not on wealth or race gave them the promise of equal status in a utopian

Many attribute the late 1970s coming to power of rural natives as a reaction to decades of discrimination of the center
against the peripheral Pashto-speakers. In addition, the events of the 1890s prevented the emergence of social or
political organization among the Hazaras up until 1980 when a member of the Hazara community finally became
prime minister.

SOCIOPOLITICAL THEMES - While the author, Khaled Hosseini, is aware of Dr. Akram Osman’s writings, he
professes that he has not read recent Afghan short stories or novels, published mostly in Afghanistan or by exiled
Afghan writers. While this is a particularly remorseful event because it represents a literary discontinuity in the
evolution of Afghanistan's literature; from a different perspective, Hosseini's success marks a crucial moment for
Afghan immigrants in America as he moved past a barrier for immigrant writers wanting to plant their cultural flag on
the rocky, steep American literary landscape. The Kite Runner is the first novel written in English by an Afghan in
America creating space for emerging novelists of the Afghan Diaspora wanting to contribute to American literature.
Those interested can read the book in at least one of twelve languages or wait to see the film version by the
Hollywood production company DreamWorks who has recently optioned the novel.

Written in the backdrop of 9/11 by an Afghan-born medical doctor, The Kite Runner presents a glimpse of
sociopolitical climate in Afghanistan and the Afghan community in northern California. The Kite Runner achieves
this by offering a fictional portrait of recent events manipulated by tribalism and religious conservatism and
aggravated by foreign interferences but overcome through the humanism and bravery, which is fueled by the sense of

While the novel is an easy read, the themes require plenty of attention and willingness to tackle multidimensional
problems. The book can be read as a three-part novel. In the first part, Hosseini engages in nostalgic childhood
recreation of a lost Afghanistan during the last days of the monarchy of Zahir Shah and the regime that overthrew
him. The second part explores emigration during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the tragedies of a
displaced and tired people living in cultural bubbles of the past; it describes the process of migration and character of
the expatriate community. The last part explores the Taliban's Afghanistan. It deals with the horror humans can inflict
on other humans and stresses the underlying tone of standing up to repression.
Throughout each page of this compelling novel, readers have to remind themselves that Hosseini is telling a story he
has conjured up, the outcome of his life's adventures and creative imagination. As a distinct trademark, Hosseini
weaves Farsi, Dari and Pashtu dialectical phrases along with Afghan history, cultural traditions, humor and social
criticism into his debut book. Hosseini confronts many prejudgments indoctrinated in some Afghans groups and
families. As a microcosm of Afghan society, he tells the fictional tale of people growing up under the same roof but
treated tremendously differently.

The novel is told through the character of Amir as he seeks redemption for his betrayal of his friend Hassan. The story
is about two friends who symbolize opposite ends of a sociopolitical hierarchy. Amir is Pashtun, Sunni, wealthy, and
literate; whereas his servant's son, Hassan, is Hazara, Shia, poor, and illiterate. They both have lost their mothers and
shared the same wet nurse. Following their growth to adulthood, the reader is drawn to with both characters and their
dichotomous personalities.

The deformed Hassan and his father are mocked in public, and ironically Amir wishes he could trade families for a
moment of compassion that Hassan receives from his father. Uniquely, Amir's father also wished Amir was not his
only son because in Hassan he sees all the character attributes, which he wished Amir possessed. Nonetheless, Amir
realizes that in the long run he is better off because he is Pashtun and not a Hazara in such a discriminating society.

Historically, the Hazaras were the most oppressed ethnicity in Afghanistan. Ironically, today the Pashtuns who were
historical ruling community and largest ethnic group, undergo 'reverse discrimination' and 'guilty by ethnicity' bearing
the brunt of Taliban atrocities. The Taliban were Pashtun-based but not all Pashtuns supported the Taliban ideology as
evident in The Kite Runner characters of Baba, Rahim Khan and Amir who were diametrically opposed to religious
bigots whether the Taliban or mujahidin guerrilla factions.

In addition to Pashtuns and Hazaras, Afghanistan is comprised of other ethnicities such as the Tajiks, Uzbeks, and
Turkmen. During the last decade ethnic and religious warlords dominating each ethnic group committed great
atrocities against each other like the glass coating kite string cutting other strings. This period is disdained as a bloody
proxy war, symbolically fueled by what can be described as foreign kite flyers, seared and fragmented Afghanistan
despite its many cross-ethnic ties; for example, Sunni Hazaras living near the Panjshir Valley, Pashtu-speaking Shias
in Kandahar, Dari-speaking Pashtuns in Kabul, and Pashtu-speaking Tajiks in Wardak.

Throughout the novel, the reader is exposed to many characters. Hosseini creates some heroic characters such as
Amir's father, Baba, the bear wrestling, honest, and respected Pashtun who distrusts the mullahs (clerics); while
Rahim Khan a progressive, social conscious friend of Baba dances in the streets celebrating the false hope for peace
in the Taliban takeover of Kabul ending the ethnic warfare of the mujahidin guerillas factions. However, the Taliban
regime's draconian edicts on women, education, and even kite flying force Rahim Khan to flee for Pakistan.

In addition, the antagonist Amir overcomes his fear, pride, and his father generation's hypocrisy to right the wrong,
while Hassan represents their lost innocence. Hosseini balances these characters with some demonic characters such
as Asif, a bully who evolves into an unbelievably brutal Taliban official. In hindsight, Hosseini wished he had added
more humanity to Asif because he is too terrible to be considered human at all. By the same token, Afghan history is
not that simple but a complex jigsaw of interrelated equations.

Sometimes ethnic and linguistic ties outweigh every other variable, and then at other times regional ties prove to be
stronger than ethnic ties. Among Afghans in the Western Diaspora, discussing the dilemmas of divisive norms has
become a taboo. When such topics are addressed all meaning is lost in falsified statements and words. There is also an
attempt by some to silence topic in order to prevent discussion of ideologies or groups who wittingly brought
desolation. Hence, denying the fact that there was ever such a design in Afghanistan when in fact most societies
underwent such obstacles.

In contrast, Hosseini's approach is not discreet as The Kite Runner slices through skin and flesh to expose the socio-
political and economic skeleton, which has beleaguered a nation-state formation in Afghanistan. Those acquaint with
Afghan history know group conflict has existed since Afghanistan's inauguration in 1747.

Shared By: