How does Hosseini use symbolism in ‘The Kite Runner’ to present key relationships? You should consider different reader responses and the extent to which your critical approach assists your interpretation. In Khaled Hosseini’s novel, ‘The Kite Runner’, it is often thought that symbols and metaphors are used as visual representations to reinforce and put emphasis on important stages in the novel. In can be seen that symbols are used in the novel to highlight particular moments in key relationships.
For example Kites, the Pomegranate tree, Scars and the Slingshot are each used to put emphasis on specific moments in the relationships between Amir and Hassan and Amir and Baba. Through using symbolism and metaphor to present these key relationships, Hosseini is able to show the reader these relationships through ‘a matter of the extraordinary rather than ordinary language’ giving the novel depth and diversity. Firstly, in the relationship between Amir and Hassan, Kites are a central and, arguably, the most important symbol.
Kites are thought to represent the freedom and bonding of the two boys, both at the beginning and the end of the novel. When the boys were children, kite flying is seen to be fun and pleasurable; something that the two boys enjoyed very much, whereas when the Taliban took over Afghanistan, kite flying was banned. This could represent the more unpleasant times when the relationship between Amir and Hassan was destroyed and when there was little freedom in Kabul. Kites also symbolise the brotherhood and friendship between the two of them, particularly when they are building their kites together- ‘We saved our weekly allowance in the fall’.
It makes it easy for the reader to see and understand the innocence and love between the two of them. The use of kite flying and kite running is also used to show the class distinction between Amir and Hassan. Amir is Pashtun whereas Hassan is ethnic Hazara. In kite flying, one role is thought to be more ’grand’ than the other. Amir, at the beginning of the novel is ‘the kite flyer’, the grander of the two roles, and Hassan is ‘the kite runner’. At the end of the novel, the roles are swapped. Amir acts as the kite runner, whereas Sorhab (Hassan’s son who represents Hassan at this point) is the kite flyer.
This could be symbolic of Amir completing his journey of redemption and him re establishing his relationship with Hassan. In particular, I feel that in chapter 7, the Blue Kite is used as a symbol of Hassan’s loyalty towards Amir. Hassan will not give up the blue kite which he ran for Amir after winning the kite tournament, even when he is faced with rape as he is afraid that giving up the kite will jeopardize his friendship with Amir. This could be seen as symbolic of the protection and dedication which Hassan shows towards Amir.
The blue kite is an object which is in between Hassan and Assef in chapter seven, in the same way that in chapter five, Amir is in between Hassan and Assef. Hassan won’t let the blue kite get torn or damaged by Assef in the same way that he wouldn’t let Assef hurt Amir in chapter 5, in my opinion the blue kite is clearly a symbol of Hassan’s dedication and devotion towards Amir; he would rather endure rape than disappoint him. Secondly the Pomegranate tree can be seen as a symbol of Amir and Hassan friendship, childhood innocence and shelter.
The tree is presented to the reader in two different states. When the tree appears in the first part of the story, in chapter 4, the tree is shown as being fruitful and blooming with ‘blood red’ pomegranates. This to me connotes happiness and contentment. The blooming tree parallels the two boy’s lives at this point, which are lively and full of hope. Amir carves ’Amir and Hassan, the sultans of Kabul’ into the tree. This could be seen as being symbolic of their friendship at this point, being permanent and inerasable; it is physically engraved into the tree.
At the beginning of the novel the tree is a place where the caste system that applies in their home (and in most homes in Afghanistan at this time) doesn’t apply to them. Ironically, in chapter 8, Hassan sacrifices himself by squashing pomegranates on his own head, proving that even at the tree, the caste system applies. Later in the novel in chapter 21 Amir revisits the tree as an adult and the tree is presented to the reader as being burnt and has ceased to blossom, this is reflective of Amir and Hassan’s friendship at this point. ‘Hassan had said in his letter that the pomegranate tree hadn’t borne fruit in years.
Looking at the wilted, leafless tree, I doubted it ever would again. ’- This can be seen as Amir giving up on the reconciliation of their friendship. Thirdly the Slingshot can be seen as a symbol of allegiance and protection. The slingshot is reoccurring throughout the novel and is used not as a toy but as a weapon, which is used to protect against evil and threat. An example of this is in chapter 5 when we see Hassan protecting Amir from Assef in an encounter where he threatens to beat him. At this point Hassan aims the slingshot at Assef’s eye, and says ‘they’ll have to change your name from Assef ‘the ear eater’ to ‘one eyed Assef’.
Here he is being courageous and brave. The slingshot can be seen as a symbol of Hassan’s loyalty towards Amir. Much later in the novel, in chapter 22, the symbol reoccurs when Amir returns to Kabul and is faced with Assef’s violence once again. At this point it is Sohrab who is protecting Amir through the use of the slingshot. Here he shows great courage for such a young boy, in the same way that in chapter 5, Hassan showed the same courage at such a young age. Kites also act as a symbol in Amir and Babas relationship, but in a different way to that in Amir and Hassan’s relationship.
Hosseini presents their relationship and being strained and inconsistent, but without a mother, Amir only has Baba to look up to and be his role model. Despite their corrupt relationship, as a child Amir is always trying to gain recognition from his father, but his father is always expecting too much from him. In their relationship, kites seem to symbolise a way a connecting and bonding with Baba. An example of this is during the kite tournament in chapter 7. Amir is able to beat Baba’s record of the number of kites he cut, thus gaining his father’s respect and recognition, which is ultimately what Amir is wanting.
In my opinion the winning of this kite tournament symbolises a change for the better in their relationship. Kites could also be seen as being symbolic of Baba’s equal love for Amir and Hassan. In chapter 6 Baba takes the two boys to ‘Saifos’ to buy their kites, Hossieni tells the reader that the boys each get three identical kites. Amir says he ‘Wished he’s let me be the favourite’. At this point the reader sees that Baba likes to treat Hassan the same as Amir, even though at this point we haven’t been told that Baba is also Hassan’s father.
Amir doesn’t like this and is jealous of Hassan as he wants his father to himself. We see this again in chapter 3 when Baba takes Amir to ‘Ghargha Lake’, Baba wants to take Hassan too, but Amir lies and tells him he’s ill, saying ‘I wanted Baba all to myself’. Here we see the selfish side to Amir. It can also be seen that Scars take on additional significance throughout the novel, especially with reference to Baba and Amir’s relationship. Scars are mentioned many times and it could be seen that they are symbolic of actions of bravery.
At the very beginning of the novel in chapter 3 we are told of Baba’s bear fighting scars – ‘a jagged path down his back’. This immediately gives the reader the impression that Amir looks up to his father greatly as he believes that he would really be capable of fighting a bear. Hassan also has a scar from his hare lip. Later in the novel we find out that Baba is actually Hassan’s father too, and it could be that scars have played a role of connecting Hassan and Baba throughout the novel as they both have them, whereas Amir doesn’t, making him appear more distant.
It can be seen that scars are symbolic of being mature and brave, as both Baba and Hassan are presented by Hoseinni as being ‘brave’. During Amir’s fight with Assef in chapter 22, Amir develops a scar above his lip, similar to that of Hassan’s. This could be seen as being symbolic of Amir becoming more like Baba and Hassan as he has been brave and courageous for possibly the first time. In light of the question, I feel that certain objects in the novel, including kites, the pomegranate tree, the Slingshot and Scars, take on additional significance and become symbolic of certain factors within the novel.
I feel that through Hosseini using these symbols he was able to reinforce and explain the relationships he was trying to portray, I feel that his use of symbolism make this successful and the reader is able to see in depth the different relationships, and the status of the relationships at particular points on the novel without actually being told by Hoseinni, for example the state of the Pomegranate Tree. In my opinion this makes the novel interesting and intriguing to read as a whole.