Friendships. The foundation of human interaction. The fusion of two individuals who share with each other secrets, desires, and passions. The term is loosely defined at best, and can never be given a particular set of attributes or requirements in order to qualify as a bona fide friendship. The variations are numerous, and can range from surface conversation to deep neuro-connections and, ultimately, love. In the case of Amir and Hassan in Khalid Hosseni’s novel The Kite Runner, the connection between a Pashtun and Hazara is described from both sides, and shows how the perception of a friendship varies from each pole. Hosseni hides and reveals information to the reader until the very end, when we learn that Amir and Hassan connect on a much deeper level than initially implied, as the two boys were born from the same father, and were half-brothers. Many conditions limited how far the “socially legitimate half”, as stated by Amir upon his realization of his connection to Hassan in reference to himself, could take this relationship, and the death grip of social division prevented Amir, a Pashtun, from even referring to Hassan, a Hazara, as a friend.
“In the end, I was a Pashtun and he was a Hazara. I was Sunni and he was Shi’a, and nothing was ever going to change that. Nothing.” A fact stated by Amir at the start of the Novel. Despite the fact that Amir and Hassan played together, ate together, and even experienced family events, social prejudiced once again demonstrated that it had the power to influence even the most intimate decisions – even if the effected is a young Afghani child. However, Amir does demonstrate some courage in the face of intense racial diversity as he continued: “But we were kids, who had learned to crawl together. And no history, ethnicity, society, or religion was going to change that either.”. Amir knew that he was socially superior to his servant, but he also recognized his presence as a faithful companion – a release for interaction – normal that he could count on. However, racial separation is racial separation, Amir could never refer to a Hazara as a ‘friend’. He would always be a servant to his family – a social inferior. Association to a Hazara could be compared to the adversity a Hispanic would face interacting with an African American in the 1960s.
Hassan’s view is written by a different author, however. One who faces direct racial discrimination and has nothing to lose. Hassan’s only friend in the world is Amir. The only one who he can talk to consistently and sees on a regular basis. This dependence leads Hassan’s interpretation of the friendship in another direction. He demonstrates his faithfulness to Amir on several occasions – the first example being verbal and only one page into the novel. When asked “What if I told you to eat dirt?” by Amir, Hassan’s face hardens and he responds resolutely: “For you, a thousand times over”. This quote develops into a recurring theme utilized as an illustration of Hassan’s commitment to the friendship. Later in the novel, we are told by Baba: “I see them. When I look out the window I see them taking Amir’s toys. He just takes it. Then Hassan will come and fight them off for him”. Not only does this reveal something about Hassan in that he is a very good friend to Amir, but it also foreshadows the true relationship between Amir and Hassan, as Baba shows concern for his two boys, and his fear that the “socially legitimate half” will develop into a coward.
The turning point in the novel shows the convergence of 3 fronts: Amir’s need to impress his father, Hassan’s need to fulfill his responsibility to Amir as friend and servant, and Baba’s need to see his “socially legitimate” child succeed. This event is the kite flying tournament. As Amir states as narrator: “He does not appreciate the world of literature, and I can’t appreciate the world of soccer, therefore it was very difficult for us to find common ground”. The annual kite flying tournament among the boys of the neighborhood was an opportunity for Amir to make his father finally proud of him. Tens of children would gather in the streets and fly their kites, hoping to sever the strings of their competition and bask in the attention of their friends and families. This was Amir’s best chance at winning something for his father, and he would not let anything get in the way of that attention, not even the potential of losing his closest companion.
After several hours and most of the day went by, Amir and Hassan’s kite was in the final two remaining competitors. The other was a fierce blue kite, who had already claimed more than 10 victims to this point in the competition. Ultimately Amir succeeded, slicing the opposition, and sending the kite whirling into the sky. Hassan immediately fled to run down the kite, so Amir could take the head of his game home to Baba. The eerie melody of “for you, a thousand times over” seems to reverberate off the pages of the book, as Hassan’s loyalty in comparison to Amir’s is shown in stark contrast as the sun began to descend in the Afghani sky, and Hassan had yet to return with the kite. Amir finally leaves to hunt down his companion.
Amir finds Hassan cornered in an alley, the same alley he had reflected on at the beginning of the book with his father’s friend Rahim Kahn on the phone: “I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.” Surrounding Hassan were two thugs and the feared Assef and his two companions. Assef was infamous among the boys in the city for his brutality with his set of brass knuckles, as well as his unbending racial discrimination against Hazaras. Earlier in the book Amir and Hassan were confronted by Assef, who was planning on beating Amir senseless for even socializing with a “Hazara Babalu” as stated by Assef. Quick to action, Hassan siezed his slingshot and aimed it at Assef’s eye saying “If you don’t leave us alone, they will know you for a new title: one eyed Assef”. Assef and his thugs backed down, vowing that they would get their revenge in one fashion or another. Now, here in this alley, was the fulfillment of that unholy prophecy.
Hassan stood resolutely between Assef and the blue kite he had just ran down for Amir. Assef casually offered a proposition: “Today is your lucky day, babalu, because all it’s going to take for you to get out of here without a scratch is that blue kite”. In an ordinary relationship or friendship, I’m sure most people would sacrifice the kite and returned to the safety of home. Unfortunately for Hassan, he was not in a normal friendship. Amir was Hassan’s only friend in the world, and that blue kite acted as a physical representation of his commitment to the friendship. If he gave up the kite, in Hassan’s eyes, he was giving up his only friendship.
So instead of submitting to Assef and his cronies, he acted as the sacrificial lamb necessary to tightening the bond between his half-brother and his father. Assef used tactics even more sinister and unholy than his traditional style of beating the hell out of whomever he was intimidating – he anally raped Hassan. And Amir ran away. He turned his back on his closest companion – his half brother – and, whether, he wanted to admit it or not – his friend. After all of the times Hassan had stood up for Amir in the past, all they had been through, Amir could not stand up in the face of injustice and at the very least suffer with his friend. The scars engraved on this day would not recover.
Skipping ahead in the book, we find Amir a college graduate in America, where he had fled to after the invasion of Afghanistan had made the country too dangerous to inhabit. Hassan and he had not talked more than two sentences at a time, and Amir had staged the theft of some of his birthday presents, to make it appear that Hassan had stole them. Amir was incapable of looking Hassan in the eye any longer, and had to push him away. Although Baba responded to this incident with forgiveness: “Hassan, I forgive you”, Ali and Hassan recognized that they could no longer live under that roof. Baba had to watch his son leave. Walk out the door and never return. As Amir stated: “Then I saw Baba do something I had never seen him do in his life: he cried”. Amir had, intentionally or not, caused a division between a father and his son. His half-brother and his father. This was a bond that would not be repaired after being severed.
Amir and Baba were living in a shoddy apartment in San Francisco in an area where many Afghans had fled. Baba would shortly contract cancer and die, seeing that his son married a beautiful and faithful woman just before leaving. His wife Soraya and he were finally able to settle down, and Amir was able to begin his career as a professional writer. The pieces were all coming together when the phone rang, and Rahim Kahn’s voice came through the receiver. This is where we started the book. Rahim Kahn was dying, and wanted to see Amir before he left. As Rahim Kahn was one of the closest people to Amir, he made that trip to his old country, convinced that “There is a way to be good again.”.
Rahim Kahn instructed Amir upon his arrival that he needs to find a small Hazara child, who was Hassan’s son, and save him from the violence which now enveloped Afghanistan. He proceeded to explain how the child, Sohrab, was the son of Hassan, and how Hassan was in fact Amir’s half-brother. Amir’s search eventually leads him to a soccer game.
At the soccer game, a man in white comes out during halftime to stone a couple to death for committing adultery. This is apparently the man who was currently in custody of Sohrab. Hassan and Amir’s friendship was now engrained so deep, that Amir was no longer able to forget the past and move on. He had to rescue the living embodiment of Hassan, and in doing so recover his tainted past.
The two meet, and the man in white immediately recognizes Amir, who in turn realizes that the man in white, a leader of the Taliban, was his old childhood enemy Assef. The realization set in as soon as Assef referred to Hassan’s child as a “Slant-eyed babalu”. Sohrab is presented to them in vibrant clothing, and is made to dance. The reader can infer that terrible things had happened to this boy during his stay with Assef, whether that be rape, or blunt physical attack ,or psychological trauma, or all of these. Amir manages to secure the child, but only after getting beat to a pulp by Assef. In fact, the only way he made it out alive was via Sohrab’s crafty use of his slingshot, as he put out Assef’s eye with a brass ball. Life would be difficult for Sohrab, Amir, and Soraya, but ultimately Amir was able to put to rest his horrible past, and “make things good again” among Baba, Hassan, and himself. Friendship always manages to shine through, regardless of how long it may take.