Father-Son Relationships In ”The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini
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Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner is a touching tale of an Afghani boy’s upbringing. Despite having a protagonist brought up in a culture unfamiliar to most North Americans, the book has found widespread readership. One of the many reasons for the book’s popularity is the development and believability of the father-son relationships that we are introduced to right at the story’s beginning.
The characteristics in the relationships we witness are many; they include the sad love-hate tensions between Baba and Amir, the relationship between Ali and Hassan, which seem to be more friendly than familial (explained late in the book), and the wistful, cautious affection that Baba has for Hassan.
The most important father-son relationship in The Kite Runner is that between the protagonist Amir and his father Baba, a highly successful Kabul businessman. From Amir’s descriptions of his father at the beginning of the book, it is clear that he respects him greatly: “He motioned for me to hold his hat for him and I was glad to, because everyone would see that he was my father” (16). However, just a few paragraphs later, when Amir is describing the way that Baba sees the world (“black and white”), says that “you can’t love a person who lives that way without fearing him too. Maybe even hating him a little” (16). Amir is suggesting that his feelings towards his father are more of a fearful reverence than pure admiration; from Amir’s point of view, it is a love-hate relationship.
Baba also expresses his doubts about Amir. Baba is, simply put, powerful – physically, financially, and most importantly, in terms of his personality. Baba is dominant. He expects his son to be the same, but he is clearly not. Amir prefers writing poetry and reading literature to spending time on the soccer field – or even watching sports on TV. Baba is disappointed in his son’s naturally submissive demeanor. Amir knows about this from listening to his father’s conversations with Rahim Khan, Baba’s longtime friend. Amir is desperate to please his father, but when he hears Baba say to Rahim Khan “If I hadn’t seen the doctor pull him out of my wife with his own eyes, I’d never believe he’s my son”; it angers him (25). But Amir, always wanting to satisfy his father, continues his efforts to make Baba proud.
After Amir and Hassan emerge victorious from the annual kite-fighting contest, Baba is understandably very proud of Amir: “We won! We won… then I saw Baba on our roof. He was standing on the edge, pumping both of his fists. Hollering and clapping. And that right there was the single greatest moment of my twelve years of life, seeing Baba on that roof, proud of me at last” (71). Soon after this, Baba throws Amir an enormous birthday party. Amir recognizes, however, that his father unnecessary splurging on the party is only because of the victory in the kite fighting competition. Baba wants to feel proud of his son, so any of Amir’s Baba-approved achievements must be made known to everyone. Amir sees through this, and does not appreciate his father’s dishonesty.
Baba gives Amir two highly desirable presents for this birthday, but Amir calls all the gifts he receives “blood money” because he knows he never would have received them were it not for his kite fighting victory (107). Baba earlier told Amir that there is only one sin: thievery. He says that all other sins are just different forms of stealing. Now, however, Amir is being robbed of a genuine relationship with his father, and it is Baba himself who is the thief. Amir, despite his high opinion of Baba, acknowledges that Baba cannot be perfect. The downfall of Baba in Amir’s eyes has begun.
After moving to the US, Baba begins to get old and weak, while Amir grows older, gets married, and starts a writing career. Baba is the one who is quiet in his hospital room, and people are coming to visit him in the hospital as he repeatedly thanks them – just as Amir was thanking guests at his birthday party (183-184, 101). Their roles have almost become reversed; Amir’s respect for Baba is quickly changing to pity, while Baba is proud to be the father of a young man about to get married.
Much later in the book, Amir goes back to Afghanistan and is told by Rahim Khan that Hassan was actually Baba’s child. This, Amir thinks, is the ultimate form of theft: preventing someone from knowing about their family member. Baba kept the truth from Amir for his entire life, while at the same time telling Amir not to be a thief. It was unforgivable hypocrisy. Amir can respect Baba no longer. This is the end of their relationship.
The relationship between Ali and Hassan is not discussed much in the book, possibly to highlight the fact that they are not actually father and son. In the few paragraphs from the book where Amir does talk about Ali and Hassan, it almost seems like Ali is just a trusted older friend, rather than a father. This is not noticed until the lies from Baba’s past are revealed, and the effect on the reader is therefore much greater.
After finishing the book, we can understand why Baba, and not Ali, seemed to be more fatherly towards Hassan. Hassan was Baba’s illegitimate child, but Baba had asked Ali to pose as Hassan’s father to avoid personal embarrassment. As a result, throughout the book, we see examples where Baba treats Amir and Hassan equally, as they are both his sons. When they go to buy kites for the kite fighting tournament, “if I [Amir] asked for a bigger and fancier kite, Baba would buy it for me – but then he’d buy it for Hassan too” (54). Amir’s desire to stand out in his father’s eyes is again shown here. There is a hint of desperation on Amir’s part, as if he is willing to do anything to impress and please Baba. However, nothing will place him above Hassan, at least in Baba’s book. They are both his sons, and they will be treated the same – with the exception of their positions as master and servant.
Baba’s relation to Hassan is also why he is adamant that Ali and Hassan stay, even after Hassan says that he stole Amir’s watch. Baba grew up with Ali as a playmate, and Ali agreed to hide Baba’s darkest secret for him, taking on a child that was not his own and treating him like the child was his own son. Baba has watched his illegitimate son grow up as his servant; he tried to be as fatherly as possible without actually seeming to be a parent. Having Ali and Hassan leave would mean losing his lifelong friend and a son at the same time. However, Baba acknowledges that Ali has done too much for him already. It is his turn to do something for Ali, even if it means losing his son.
It is because of his clueless state regarding the relation between Hassan and Baba that Amir cannot help but wonder why Baba doesn’t favor him over Hassan; it is only after Amir is informed of his father’s lies that he discovers the truth – surely an undesirably ironic way to learn.
In this way, studying the differences in the relationships between fathers and their sons is a good way to deepen the understanding of the book’s main characters, especially in a book that is so driven by the relationships of its major personae. Hosseini makes effective use of these relationships to emphasize the themes of this story.