The Kite Runner
How we cite our quotes:
With me as the glaring exception, my father molded the world around him to his liking. The problem, of course, was that Baba saw the world in black and white. And he got to decide what was black and what was white. You can't love a person who lives that way without fearing him too. Maybe even hating him a little. (3.12)
A later description reads: "[...] Baba had been such an unusual Afghan father, a liberal who had lived by his own rules, a maverick who had disregarded or embraced societal customs as he had seen fit" (13.97). Is Amir even describing the same person – can someone both see the world in black and white and be a liberal maverick? At first, Baba might seem just like Amir's teacher, Mullah Fatiullah Khan, whom Baba criticizes for being self-righteous and stodgy. Don't those adjectives describe someone with a black and white approach? The difference, however, is that Baba chooses his principles. ("[A] maverick who had disregarded or embraced societal customs as he had seen fit.") Which makes the character of Baba both a freethinker and an old-fashioned moralist. It's enough to make Amir's head spin.
"Good," Baba said, but his eyes wondered. "Now, no matter what the mullah teaches, there is only one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft. Do you understand that?"
"No, Baba jan," I said, desperately wishing I did. I didn't want to disappoint him again. [...]
"When you kill a man, you steal a life," Baba said. "You steal his wife's right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone's right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness. Do you see?" [...]
"There is no act more wretched than stealing, Amir," Baba said. "A man who takes what's not his to take, be it a life or a loaf of naan...I spit on such a man. And if I ever cross paths with him, God help him. Do you understand?" (3.29-34)
As Amir tells us about his father, a portrait of an immensely likable, dominant, and moral man emerges. To Amir, Baba is both larger-than-life and principled. The combination of these two qualities magnifies Amir's shame when he abandons Hassan in the alleyway. How could you ever tell a man who supposedly wrestled a bear that you broke one of his principles? That you allowed Assef to steal Hassan's innocence and childhood? Of course, all this is complicated by the fact that Baba – before Amir was born – stole Ali's honor. With that in mind, Baba's bit of advice to Amir contains a good deal of self-loathing.
I heard the leather of Baba's seat creaking as he shifted on it. I closed my eyes, pressed my ear even harder against the door, wanting to hear, not wanting to hear. [Baba:] "Sometimes I look out this window and I see him playing on the street with the neighborhood boys. I see how they push him around, take his toys from him, give him a shove here, a whack there. And, you know, he never fights back. Never. He just...drops his head and..."
"So he's not violent," Rahim Khan said.
"That's not what I mean, Rahim, and you know it," Baba shot back. "There is something missing in that boy."
[Rahim Khan:] "Yes, a mean streak."
[Baba:] "Self-defense has nothing to do with meanness. You know what always happens when the neighborhood boys tease him? Hassan steps in and fends them off. I've seen it with my own eyes. And when they come home, I say to him, 'How did Hassan get that scrape on his face?' And he says, 'He fell down.' I'm telling you, Rahim, there is something missing in that boy."
"You just need to let him find his way," Rahim Khan said.
"And where is he headed?" Baba said. "A boy who won't stand up for himself becomes a man who can't stand up to anything." (3.60-66)
Hosseini, you and your irony. Baba complains to Rahim Khan about Amir. According to Baba, Amir never stands up for himself; he always lets Hassan defend him. And someone who can't stand up for himself can't stand up for a friend, or his principles, or anything. Amir overhears Baba's little speech and it hurts him deeply. But the irony comes into focus later when Amir watches Assef rape Hassan and doesn't intervene. So Amir secretly listens to his father criticize the betrayal he will later secretly commit. Irony and foreshadowing at the same time. It's like a party or something.