We chased the Kochi, the nomads who passed through Kabul on their way to the mountains of the north. We would hear their caravans approaching our neighborhood, the mewling of their sheep, the baaing of their goats, the jingle of bells around their camels' necks. We'd run outside to watch the caravan plod through our street, men with dusty, weather-beaten faces and women dressed in long, colorful shawls, beads, and silver bracelets around their wrists and ankles. We hurled pebbles at their goats. We squirted water on their mules. I'd make Hassan sit on the Wall of Ailing Corn and fire pebbles with his slingshot at the camels' rears. (4.7)
Is this from the movie My Girl or is it in a novel about betrayal and redemption? There's so much innocence: cute little animals, magical caravans, and playful violence without any real consequences. (Compare the violence here with the later blinding of Assef.) There is, however, an emerging violence. Soon, Baba will sacrifice a lamb (notice the livestock here) for a Muslim holy day and Amir will watch as Assef rapes Hassan. In that passage, Amir even compares Hassan's resignation to a lamb's. For now, though, everything is peachy.
Every winter, districts in Kabul held a kite-fighting tournament. And if you were a boy living in Kabul, the day of the tournament was undeniably the highlight of the cold season. I never slept the night before the tournament. I'd roll from side to side, make shadow animals on the wall, even sit on the balcony in the dark, a blanket wrapped around me. I felt like a soldier trying to sleep in the trenches the night before a major battle. And that wasn't so far off. In Kabul, fighting kites was a little like going to war. (6.7)
There's an innocence to Amir's insomnia here. Although Hosseini doesn't spend a lot of time talking about Amir's sleeplessness, he does mention it a few times. Amir starts to have trouble sleeping after he betrays Hassan – and Amir never really resolves his sleeplessness in the novel. At this point, though, Amir stays up during the night because nervous energy prevents him from falling asleep. Later guilt, anxiety, and all the darker forces of the brain will torment Amir.
Tomorrow is the tenth day of Dhul-Hijjah, the last month of the Muslim calendar, and the first of three days of Eid Al-Adha, or Eid-e-Qorban, as Afghans call it – a day to celebrate how the prophet Ibrahim almost sacrificed his own son for God. Baba has handpicked the sheep again this year, a powder white one with crooked black ears. (7.134)
Hassan certainly meets the Hebrew's requirement of the sacrificial animal: purity. Does Baba in some way play the Ibrahim role and sacrifice Hassan because Hassan is a Hazara? Or does Amir sacrifice Hassan? Do Amir and Baba play the same role – are they both Ibrahim? Does Baba – by refusing to love Amir unconditionally – end up sacrificing Amir? Who is the victim here? If this were a multiple choice test, we might choose "D. All of the above." We can't take the test for you, though.
Assef knelt behind Hassan, put his hands on Hassan's hips and lifted his bare buttocks. He kept one hand on Hassan's back and undid his own belt buckle with his free hand. He unzipped his jeans. Dropped his underwear. He positioned himself behind Hassan. Hassan didn't struggle. Didn't even whimper. He moved his head slightly and I caught a glimpse of his face. Saw the resignation in it. It was a look I had seen before. It was the look of the lamb. (7.133)
We're especially frightened by this passage because Assef is only a boy, too. Can Assef even know the repercussions of his act? Does Assef, too, despite his cruelty, retain a type of innocence? When children are cruel to each other are they still innocent even in their cruelty? Don't forget, either, about Amir who's watching the event. In fact, you might be able to say that Amir's abandonment and betrayal of Hassan affects Amir more than it affects Hassan. Hassan retains – or at least returns to – some measure of innocence. But Amir is irrevocably changed.
He had withered – there was simply no other word for it. His eyes gave me a hollow look and no recognition at all registered in them. His shoulders hunched and his cheeks sagged like they were too tired to cling to the bone beneath. His father, who'd owned a movie theater in Kabul, was telling Baba how, three months before, a stray bullet had struck his wife in the temple and killed her. Then he told Baba about Kamal. I caught only snippets of it: Should have never let him go alone...always so handsome, you know...four of them...tried to fight...God...took him...bleeding down there...his pants...doesn't talk any more...just stares... (10.62)
On their way to Pakistan, Amir and Baba discover that Kamal, one of the boys who stood by as Assef raped Hassan, was raped in wartime Kabul. Kamal's experience mirrors both Hassan's and Sohrab's. Four people are involved in the rape (Amir, Wali, Kamal as bystanders and Assef as the perpetrator). Like Sohrab, Kamal refuses to speak. And, like Hassan, Kamal appears hollow and withdrawn. On a larger scale, though, Hosseini comments on Afghanistan's loss of innocence. War brings about Kamal's tragedy and the tragic loss of Kamal's mother. Often (but not always), the events in the lives of individuals in The Kite Runner can be mapped onto the nation of Afghanistan.
The Russian soldier thrust his face into the rear of the truck. He was humming the wedding song and drumming his finger on the edge of the tailgate. Even in the dim light of the moon, I saw the glazed look in his eyes as they skipped from passenger to passenger. Despite the cold, sweat streamed from his brow. His eyes settled on the young woman wearing the black shawl. He spoke in Russian to Karim without taking his eyes off her. Karim gave a curt reply in Russian, which the soldier returned with an even curter retort. The Afghan soldier said some thing too, in a low, reasoning voice. But the Russian soldier shouted something that made the other two flinch. I could feel Baba tightening up next to me. Karim cleared his throat, dropped his head. Said the soldier wanted a half hour with the lady in the back of the truck. (10.13)
Eek. The Russian soldier sings a wedding song while he chooses a woman to rape – that's really creepy. Baba, unlike Amir, defends the possible victim and confronts the Russian soldier to prevent a horrific event. We wonder, then, if redemptive acts, like this one from Baba, can return a character to innocence. Don't forget that Baba betrayed Ali by sleeping with Sanaubar. So we wonder if Baba redeems himself, his honor, and something like innocence by standing up to the Russian soldier. Likewise, does Amir regain some measure of innocence? Or does one never regain lost innocence?
I unfolded the letter. It was written in Farsi. No dots were omitted, no crosses forgotten, no words blurred together – the handwriting was almost childlike in its neatness. (17.7)
First, it's amazing that Hassan learns how to read and write as an adult. But even more amazing is the aura of innocence still surrounding Hassan. Hassan lives through a tragic attack at a young age. His best friend, Amir, betrays him. He and his father leave their home. War comes to Afghanistan. But through all this, Hassan holds onto something like innocence.
A scrawny boy in a tweed jacket grabbed my elbow and spoke into my ear. Asked me if I wanted to buy some "sexy pictures."
"Very sexy, Agha," he said, his alert eyes darting side to side – reminding me of a girl who, a few years earlier, had tried to sell me crack in the Tenderloin district in San Francisco. The kid peeled one side of his jacket open and gave me a fleeting glance of his sexy pictures: postcards of Hindi movies showing doe-eyed sultry actresses, fully dressed, in the arms of their leading men. "So sexy," he repeated. (21.67-68)
There's some charming innocence here in the midst of poverty and oppression by a totalitarian regime. This kid is trying to sell pictures of fully-clothed actresses.
"Bia, bia, my boy," the Talib said, calling Sohrab to him. Sohrab went to him, head down, stood between his thighs. The Talib wrapped his arms around the boy. "How talented he is, nay, my Hazara boy!" he said. His hands slid down the child's back, then up, felt under his armpits. One of the guards elbowed the other and snickered. The Talib told them to leave us alone.
"Yes, Agha sahib," they said as they exited.
The Talib spun the boy around so he faced me. He locked his arms around Sohrab's belly, rested his chin on the boy's shoulder. Sohrab looked down at his feet, but kept stealing shy, furtive glances at me. The man's hand slid up and down the boy's belly. Up and down, slowly, gently. (22.57-59)
Assef is so evil. We wonder, though, how much Assef (and the guards) have affected Sohrab. Sohrab stares at his feet and shyly glances at Amir. Don't these gestures still have something innocent in them? Later, in their hotel room, Sohrab will tell Amir how "dirty" he feels, but these glances suggest that Sohrab, like Hassan, retains an essential goodness and innocence despite the evil of the world around him.
"Because – " he [Sohrab] said, gasping and hitching between sobs, "because I don't want them to see me...I'm so dirty." He sucked in his breath and let it out in a long, wheezy cry. "I'm so dirty and full of sin."
[Amir:] "You're not dirty, Sohrab," I said.
[Sohrab:] "Those men – "
[Amir:] "You're not dirty at all."
[Sohrab:] " – they did things...the bad man and the other two...they did things...did things to me."
[Amir:] "You're not dirty, and you're not full of sin." I touched his arm again and he drew away. (24.87-92)
Although Sohrab misses his father and mother (and grandmother), he admits he doesn't want to see them. Or, rather, them to see him. All the terrible things Assef and the guards did to him has made him feel "dirty" and guilty. Sohrab's father, Hassan, seems like the most lovable guy in the world. Hassan does, however, hide his tragedy from others, compounding Amir's guilt. How does Amir hide the fact that he abandoned Hassan? Does Baba hide anything? What about Soraya? Why do all these characters hide so much? Will Sohrab, like them, hide his tragic experience?