Study Guide

The Breadwinner Themes

  • Education

    In The Breadwinner, Parvana's parents value education above all else—they're both university-educated themselves—and instill this value in their children. So when the Taliban forbids all girls to go to school, it's devastating to them not only because it denies their children opportunities, but also because they know that education is the only way Afghans will rise above the poverty and oppression that surrounds them. Without education, how can they triumph?

    Questions About Education

    1. Why is the Taliban threatened by educated women?
    2. How do Parvana's parents teach her to value education?
    3. What kind of education does Parvana receive watching her parents overcome obstacles?
    4. Is education essential to the rebuilding of Afghanistan?

    Chew on This

    The Taliban keeps women uneducated so they remain submissive.

    Education equals power, so by controlling the school, the Taliban controls society.

  • Freedom and Confinement

    The Taliban restricts people's freedom in order to control them, and they use prison and violent oppression to assert their power and enforce obedience to their regime. In The Breadwinner, Parvana's family has been confined to their tiny apartment for almost a year and half with little hope in sight—and when we say confined, we mean it. Parvana and Father are the only two family members who have gone outside since they moved in. Ironically, Father's kidnapping is the turning point for the women in the family—his imprisonment forces them to break out of the apartment in order to survive.

    Questions About Freedom and Confinement

    1. How does confinement affect the younger children's development?
    2. Why does the Taliban restrict women's freedom?
    3. How does Mother deal with her lack of freedom and confinement?
    4. Why isn't Parvana affected by women's lack of freedom as much as the other women in her house? Is her disguise a sort of confinement too?

    Chew on This

    This book argues that every person in the world is born free.

    This book argues that freedom comes with consequences.

  • Gender

    Girls rule and the Taliban drools. It's kind of ironic actually—the Taliban spends so much time and energy thinking of ways to hold women down in The Breadwinner, but Parvana and the women in her family just seem to get stronger and stronger in the face of their oppression. Oops, Taliban. This book shows in no uncertain terms that ladies can do anything gents can, even outwit a whole violent regime of men if they need to. And as for men in this book, well, Father's the only decent one (although he's pretty great).

    Questions About Gender

    1. How does Parvana feel about becoming a boy?
    2. Do Parvana and Nooria fight so much because they are both girls?
    3. What does Mrs. Weera's character reveal about the power of women?
    4. How does the burqa change a women's self-esteem?

    Chew on This

    The death of Hossain and imprisonment of Father shows that women don't need men to survive, no matter what.

    While the burqa is humiliating, it also is a way for women to protect themselves.

  • Suffering

    For Parvana and her family in The Breadwinner, suffering is a part of life. The thing is, though, that even though their circumstances are pretty awful, we see that other Afghans have it much worse. Shauzia, for instance, pretty much can't stand her family and they deny her access to learning after the schools are closed. The only upside to so much suffering in a book is that for us, as readers, the way characters respond to it gives us meaningful insights into their personalities. That's what we'd call a very thin silver lining, though, Shmoopsters.

    Questions About Suffering

    1. How has Parvana's family managed to persevere in the face of so much loss and suffering?
    2. What does Parvana learn about suffering as she reads people's letters?
    3. How do men and women suffer differently?
    4. How has suffering changed Parvana? Or has it?

    Chew on This

    The mental and emotional anguish Parvana's family suffers is much worse than any physical pain they could endure.

    While Father appears to be the bravest, he is the member of Parvana's family who has suffered the most.

  • Warfare

    Violence comes in all forms in Kabul—bombs, beatings, apartment raids, amputations—no one is safe, and there seems to be no end in sight. In The Breadwinner, the landscape has been shaped by warfare—Parvana's family lives in a bombed-out apartment after losing their home to, yup, a bomb—and so have people's bodies. Father lost his leg to a bomb, and Hossain lost his life to a land mine. Nothing—and nobody—is safe when it comes to warfare in this book.

    Questions About Warfare

    1. Parvana's brother was killed by a land mine. How has this affected the family?
    2. Was Parvana's family wrong when they sent her out as Kaseem to make money and buy food? How could they subject her to Kabul's violence?
    3. During this time of war in Kabul, are there any signs of peace?
    4. Are there any times in the book in which you forget Parvana's family is living during a war? If so, how are these scenes written?

    Chew on This

    The only way for the Afghans to fight the Taliban is with violence.

    When the Taliban first arrived, Parvana's family should have left—what's happened after was their own fault.

  • Courage

    What exactly is courage anyway? Is it fighting through fear, or is it not having fear at all? In The Breadwinner, Parvana doesn't want to be courageous, but she is anyway. And though courage is forced upon her, she wears it well, and makes good on her duty to support her family no matter how frightened she might be at times. But the thing is, though, that we think pretty much everyone shows courage at some point in this book, since just being alive under Taliban rule requires courage on a daily basis.

    Questions About Courage

    1. What makes a person courageous?
    2. Is it more courageous to run, or to stay and fight? Parvana's family does both.
    3. Which character shows the most courage and why?
    4. Why is it a priority of Father's to teach his daughters to be courageous?

    Chew on This

    Shauzia is a selfish coward when she leaves her family to escape the Taliban's control.

    Mother appears to act courageously when she goes to find her husband, but actually she is being quite stupid.

  • Family

    Family is always pretty complicated, and when you're confined to one cramped room with yours for a year and half like Parvana and her family members are in The Breadwinner, you're pretty much stuck with each other. But Parvana's family doesn't stop at blood relatives, and we'd be willing to argue that Mrs. Weera becomes a pretty important member of their clan too. Is Shauzia like another sister to Parvana? Does Homa become like family? With the Taliban doing everything it can to isolate people, coming together is pretty powerful in this book.

    Questions About Family

    1. Why does Shauzia view family obligations differently than Parvana?
    2. How are family roles assigned in Parvana's family?
    3. Why is Nooria so eager to marry out of her family?
    4. How does Mrs. Weera deal with the loss of her family?

    Chew on This

    Parvana's family illustrates that the father is the most important figure.

    Mrs. Weera and Shauzia are a part of Parvana's family.

  • Hope

    Emily Dickinson said, "Hope is a thing with feathers," but what does that even mean? For Parvana and her people in The Breadwinner, hope is how they get through the day. It could come in the form of a mountain, a friend, or a marriage proposal, but whatever it is, hope gives them reason to believe that tomorrow will be better than today. And in this way, hope transports them through their days—kind of like wings… which have feathers. Boo ya.

    Questions About Hope

    1. Is hope a naive or useless emotion in the midst of war, oppression, and poverty?
    2. How does Parvana's family find hope?
    3. What role do the little children play in staying hopeful?
    4. How does Mrs. Weera keep such a positive, hopeful attitude?

    Chew on This

    If Father didn't have hope he would have died in prison.

    Mother would have lost all hope without Mrs. Weera, which would have been extremely dangerous for her children.