What Role Does Religion Play in the Lives of Baba, Amir, and Assef, and in the Novel as a Whole?
The Kite Runner is a controversial narrative novel written by Khaled Hosseini – an author of the Afghan-American heritage. The story revolves around the life of Amir and is set throughout such events like the fall of the monarchy in Afghanistan, the military intervention of the Soviet Union, mass departure of refugees to the U.S. and Pakistan, and the Taliban regime establishment. This narrative is known for its familial settings and clearly expressed father-son relationships, as well as for raising the themes of guilt, redemption and atonement. The story itself enables the reader to get a thorough insight into the daily life of the Afghani people and into their culture. Even though it is not the main theme of the novel, religion is always there, and its influence on the lives of the characters is vivid. Author approached the topic of religion from two sides – from the point of view of religious characters and from the point of view of those, who have their own understanding of religion, and, as a result, he was able to portray the process of Amir’s finding his own religion amongst these two sides.
Amir, who is as well a main protagonist, tells the entire story in The Kite Runner. The narration is set in such a ways that a reader starts to feel compassion towards Amir, but not because of his personality, but rather because of the events that he gets involved into. Therefore, one gets an insight of the importance of religion in the life of ordinary Afghani family first of all through the perception of Amir, and religion might seem to not be a major focus for him, but it is always present there. Since religion is an inalienable part of the Afghani culture, it is present in each aspect of the protagonist’s everyday life. Throughout the narrative, reader is able to see both positive and negative aspects of religion. In the story, the negative side of religion is expressed mainly through the fundamentalists who use religion beliefs as a tool to exert violence onto other people and to spread their control onto other people’s freedom (Hosseini, 2003).
The reader can also grasp the views towards religion from Baba – Amir’s father. He is a respected wealthy businessman. What is peculiar about him is that he is a freethinker, who always strives to do what is right and to think for oneself. What is more, Baba is not a supporter of the fundamentalism in the Islam religion, but he does have his own moral code that he follows throughout life and tries to raise Amir according to it. One of the first important episodes concerning religion in the lives of Amir and Baba is an occurrence when Ali, comes home from school and tells his father that he was taught that drinking alcohol is a sin. As a response, in order to teach Amir a lesson, his father pours himself a glass of whiskey (Hosseini, 2003). This scene is one of the many that contradistinguishes Baba and his views from the ones preached by mullah. Further, Baba tells his son “I see you’ve confused what you’re learning in school with actual education,” he then proceeds and calls the mullah and others like him ‘bearded idiots’, and tells Amir that it will be impossible for him to learn anything of value from them. Baba’s difference from the majority and his core attitude towards the fundamentalism in Islam is expressed in such a manner: “They do nothing but thumb their prayer beads and recite a book written in a tongue they don’t even understand,”… “God help us all if Afghanistan ever falls into their hands” (Hosseini, 2003). Afterwards, Baba tries to explain Amir that theft and all the variation that it has is the only real sin. Growing up with this kind of moral grounds, Amir gets confused and questions the existence of God. When the reader follows Amir through his childhood, it is possible for one to see that he was not a very religious child, but still he is able to develop a Muslim faith, yet with the solid moral grounds that his father had preached to him. Throughout his life, when Amir was in the need of comfort – after Baba’s CAT scan or when Sohrab tried to commit suicide – he turned to Allah, trying to find reassurance in the prayer (Hosseini, 2003).
It is impossible to detach the life of Amir’s family from the events happening in Afghanistan. Amir and his father were forced to leave the country and to immigrate to the U.S. There is no detailed description given by the narrator of the political events happening in Afghanistan, but the reader knows about the conflict that was continuing within the country after the Soviet troops left. When Amir narrates about the Taliban being in control of the country, the reader learns that the controlling group is using religion only for justifying the violence and authoritarianism (Hosseini, 2003). In the novel, there is Assef, a character who shows the reader the clear and vivid image of the Taliban. He was born into the Afghan-German family, and as the plot develops, it becomes clear that he possesses strong fundamentalist views on religion. It is obvious that Assef is the antagonist of the novel. Since childhood, he is portrayed to be a sociopath and a generally quarrelsome person. When he wanted to hurt Amir, he raped his closest friend Hassan, and he gave Amir Adolf Hitler’s biography as a birthday present. As he was growing up, his views on religion became stronger, even though they are usually contradicting with the main principles of Islam. Regardless of screening himself as a Muslim, Assef is a cruel racist, incapable of remorse, who is just using religion to justify his violent actions because he believes that the God is on his side (Hosseini, 2003).
The Kite Runner is a rather controversial literary piece that answers many questions, but rises even more. The reader follows the life of what might seem a typical Afghan family, but as the plot thickens, the things are more complicated than they seemed. Author raises many themes and religion, even though it is not clearly stated, is one of them. The reader can observe three views on religion – Baba’s free interpretation of what it really means to be a religious person; Amir’s confusion and ability to find his religion after all; and Assef’s radicalism that contrasts the religion as a whole.
Hosseini, K. (2003). The Kite Runner. Retrieved from http://www.bestlibrary.net/classics/The_Kite_Runner/
O’Rourke, M. (2005). Do I Really Have to Read The Kite Runner? Retrieved from
Wilson, C. (2005, April 19). ‘Kite Runner’ Catches the Wind. USA Today. Retrieved from
Khaled Hosseini, the author of the novel Kite Runner, shows his readers a gap between religion and morality and faith in his book. The protagonist Amir hesitates between the canon of Islam and the principles of his father Baba. This choice is a basis of his individuality and affects all his decisions. This Kite Runner essay is not only about influence of religion on a person’s life. The writer presents it as a powerful force that can change the destiny of the whole country together with its population. The essay includes strong argumentation that you may use for your own paper. Just don’t forget about citing!
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The Kite Runner is Khaled Hosseini’s first novel. Born in Kabul, Hosseini draws heavily on his own experiences to create the setting for the novel; the characters, however, are fictional. Hosseini’s plot shows historical realism, as the novel includes dates—for chronological accuracy, including the time of the changing regimes of Afghanistan. Amir’s happy childhood days fall under the peaceful and affluent era of King Zahir Shah’s reign, a time when Amir and his friend, Hassan, could themselves feel like kings of Kabul, carving their names into a tree. In 1973, Dawood Khan becomes the president of Afghanistan. This era is reflected in the novel when the local bully, Assef, harasses Amir with his brass knuckles and hopes that Hazaras will be eliminated.
The Russian invasion in 1981 turns Kabul into a war zone, forcing many residents, including Baba and Amir, to escape to Pakistan. Even after the Russians had left the country, the unrest had continued. In 1996, the Talibs had come to power. In the novel, Rahim Khan tells Amir that Talibs had banned kite fighting in 1996 and that in 1998, Hazaras had been massacred.
The novel’s complex plot consists of several conflicts that evoke sympathy for characters who are unjustly victimized. The story begins with the internal conflicts of Amir—a wealthy child—who enjoys Hassan’s friendship but is also jealous of him and ends up cheating him. An external conflict occurs between the protagonist, Amir, and the antagonist, Assef. Amir goes to Afghanistan to rescue his nephew Sohrab, as “a way to be good again,” but encounters Assef, a vindictive and cruel enemy from the past, and now a ruling Talib.
A final conflict shows the gap between the legal system and the human rights of orphans as victims of war, a gap that leads to Sohrab’s attempted suicide. Intrinsic to the conflicts in the novel is the unjust victimization of the innocent—a theme evoking the import of human rights across international boundaries.
Hosseini succeeds in striking the right balance between tragic emotion and optimism. For example, the narrator drops clues that Sohrab will talk again “almost a year” after his suicide attempt. Similarly, Sohrab’s faint smile in the novel’s last scene is a clue that he will be happy with his new guardians. Hosseini’s imagery also is powerful and layered with meaning. For example, Sohrab hitting Assef with slingshot fire is a befitting image that shows the triumph of the weak and lowly over the high and mighty—a modern David and Goliath tale.
Another successful aspect of the novel is characterization. When Amir’s character transforms, he is willing to risk his life for Sohrab. In contrast, Assef claims a religious conversion but shows no change of character. Some critics find fault with Hosseini’s one-dimensional characterization of Assef as a stereotyped Talib who is inhumane and tyrannical. However, the novel is written from a first-person narrator’s viewpoint. Amir is the narrator for twenty-four chapters, and Rahim Khan narrates the events of the past in chapter 16. Both narrators can report only their respective experiences, and both paint a tragic picture of Taliban atrocities.
Unique to Hosseini is his artistic ability to blend the literary tradition of the Western novel with the Persian literature of the Sufis. The novel includes consistent references to the Persian legend of Rostam and Sohrab, which comes from Persian poet Firdusi’s Shahnamah (c. 1010), the poetic epic of Afghanistan, Iran, and other Persian-speaking countries. These references serve to exemplify the novel’s theme, a classic one, of the quest for the father. Other parallels with the Persian epic are The Kite Runner’s ironic revelations about the past, the novel’s war-zone setting, and the novel’s tragic irony associated with the ignorance of many of its characters. Tragic irony is a vehicle for revelation, and it also serves as a rhetorical strategy to validate the narrator’s claim: “I’ve learned . . . [how] the past claws its way out.” Likewise, tragic irony becomes a rhetorical strategy for comparing and contrasting characters’ behaviors as they manipulate knowledge and claim ignorance in their relationships. For example, Amir’s childish ploys to get rid of Hassan and his father, Ali, culminate in a tragic scene, in which “Hassan knew . . . everything. . . . He knew I had betrayed him and yet he was rescuing me once again.” Hassan would not expose to Baba that Amir was actually a liar and a cheater. This marks a critical moment in Amir’s life because he realizes that he loves Hassan, “more than he had loved anyone else”; still, Amir cannot confess the truth and will never again see Hassan.
The Kite Runner is a powerful story about two boys whose friendship is threatened by deception and betrayal yet withstands the pressures of cultural barriers and legal boundaries. Their childhood memories of happy days outlast their tragic separation, and the steadfast loyalty of Hassan defines the theme of this novel as one of true friendship.