The Kite Runner
How we cite our quotes:
That was when Baba stood up. It was my turn to clamp a hand on his thigh, but Baba pried it loose, snatched his leg away. When he stood, he eclipsed the moonlight. "I want you to ask this man something," Baba said. He said it to Karim, but looked directly at the Russian officer. "Ask him where his shame is."
They spoke. "He says this is war. There is no shame in war."
"Tell him he's wrong. War doesn't negate decency. It demands it, even more than in times of peace." (10.18-20)
Well, when a man eclipses the moonlight, you should listen. Notice how Amir doesn't listen, though. An Afghan woman is about to be raped and Amir tries to stop Baba from standing up to the Russian officer. Remind you of something Amir does (or doesn't do) in an earlier chapter? Baba's actions, honorable as they are, must compound Amir's guilt. His father does exactly what Amir failed to do. Amir even tries to stop his father – as if some unconscious part of him wants his father, and the others in the truck, to share his guilt instead of magnifying it.
The same day he was hired, Baba and I went to our eligibility officer in San Jose, Mrs. Dobbins. She was an overweight black woman with twinkling eyes and a dimpled smile. She'd told me once that she sang in church, and I believed her – she had a voice that made me think of warm milk and honey. Baba dropped the stack of food stamps on her desk. "Thank you but I don't want," Baba said. "I work always. In Afghanistan I work, in America I work. Thank you very much, Mrs. Dobbins, but I don't like it free money."
Mrs. Dobbins blinked. Picked up the food stamps, looked from me to Baba like we were pulling a prank, or "slipping her a trick" as Hassan used to say. "Fifteen years I been doin' this job and nobody's ever done this," she said. And that was how Baba ended those humiliating food stamp moments at the cash register and alleviated one of his greatest fears: that an Afghan would see him buying food with charity money. Baba walked out of the welfare office like a man cured of a tumor. (11.29-30)
Even in America, where Amir finally sees a more human side of Baba since they struggle to make ends meet, Baba never wavers in his principles. One of which, it seems, is to not be on welfare. This probably comes from Baba's strong sense of independence and self-sufficiency. This episode with the welfare eligibility officer makes Rahim Khan's revelation of Baba's affair with Sanaubar all the more surprising. Baba seems ready to sacrifice his comfort (here) and even his life (with the Russian soldier above) for the principle of honor (nang). So, how could Baba betray Ali? And how could Baba literally live with his betrayal (since he keeps Hassan around)?
[Soraya:] "I heard you write."
How did she know? I wondered if her father had told her, maybe she had asked him. I immediately dismissed both scenarios as absurd. Fathers and sons could talk freely about women. But no Afghan girl – no decent and mohtaram Afghan girl, at least – queried her father about a young man. And no father, especially a Pashtun with nang and namoos, would discuss a mojarad with his daughter, not unless the fellow in question was a khastegar, a suitor, who had done the honorable thing and sent his father to knock on the door. (12.40-41)
OK, so you probably need some translations here. Mohtaram means "respected." A mojarad is a single man. Nang and namoos mean "honor" and "pride," respectively. And, though you can probably figure this one out, a khastegar is a suitor.
Now we can get down to business. The Kite Runner is obsessed with the practice of one's principles. We think you can divide the book's principles into two categories: ethical principles and traditional principles. "You shouldn't betray your best friend (and half-brother)" is an ethical principle. "Afghan girls shouldn't talk with their fathers about datable single men" would be a traditional principle. We can all agree with the ethical principles in the book, but the traditional principles espoused by characters like Baba and the General sometimes seem slightly sexist or racist. Part of Amir's difficulty in the book is that he has to navigate between ethical principles and traditional principles. These two come into conflict more than you might think. Consider, for example, the complexities of ethnicity in the book. An ethical principle might be to love your half-brother. A traditional principle might be – according to Assef and the General and lots of Pashtuns – to treat Hazaras as inferiors. It's got to be quite confusing for Amir at times.