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The Kite Runner
Transcript of The Kite Runner
Examining the plot of the opening chapters
by examining the characters.
Time to split into small groups where each group will explore what we learn about the characters' moral code?
Symbolism, irony, and motif
“the face of Afghanistan is that of a boy with a thin-boned frame, a shaved head, and low-set ears, a boy with a Chinese doll face perpetually lit by a harelipped smile” (25).
This quote is not only part of a larger motif, it is also symbolic. Afghanistan is a child, young, naïve, but a disfigured child. This disfigured child, represented by Hassan, is physically scarred (like the landscape of Afghanistan has been by war) but morally strong. The Afghan people are strong-willed, strong in their beliefs.
When Hassan questions the end of the story Amir has written, Amir reflects, “It appeared that on the same night I had learned about one of writing’s objectives, irony, I would also be introduced to one of its pitfalls: The Plot Hole. Taught by Hassan, of all people. Hassan who could’t read and had never written a single work in his entire life” (34). How ironic that the illiterate taught the story writer something about writing.
“Sometimes up in those trees, I talked Hassan into firing walnuts with his slingshot at the neighbor’s one-eyed German shepherd” (4). Amir goads Hassan into tormenting a disfigured animal, something that is less than him, something that cannot fight back. In a sense, this tormenting of something that has a lesser status is just like Amir’s taunts of Hassan.
“But polio had left Ali with a twisted, atrophied right leg that was a sallow skin over bone with little in between except a paper-thin layer of muscle” (8). Ali’s status as less than (Hazara) is also represented through his physical disfigurement. He is portrayed as less than physically; however, his character is of strong morals, perhaps representing a character that is physically weak but morally strong – a contrast for Amir.
Hassan’s mom, Sanaubar, abandons Hassan because of the cleft lip (10). Like Ali, this physical wound seems to show a contrast between what can be seen versus the character’s moral and ethical traits
Baba has scars on his back because of fighting the bear (12). The scars show that he is willing to go out of his way to do right, to defend good. What follows this scene is a description of Baba building an orphanage. So again we see the wound as a physical blemish on a character with strong morals and convictions.
“…the face of Afghanistan is that of a boy with a thin-boned frame, a shaved head, and low-set ears, a boy with a Chinese doll face perpetually lit by a harelipped smile” (25). This quote is not only part of the larger motif, it is also symbolic.
The wounds, scars, and disfigurement hint at a larger theme.
The scars and disfigurement a person carries on the outside is not an indication of a flawed internal world.
Instead, such physical disfigurement often forces a person to adapt, to become a stronger individual.
"There is a way to be good again."
Unfortunately, becoming "good again" can leave scars.
“When we were children, Hassan and I used to climb the poplar trees in the driveway of my father’s house and annoy our neighbors by reflecting sunlight into their homes with a shard of mirror” (3). Using the mirror as a prank, a weapon. The glass reflects on others but not on himself.
“[Ali] would take the mirror and tell us what his mother had told him, that the devil shone mirrors too, shone them to distract Muslims during prayer. ‘And he laughs while he does it,’ he always added, scowling at his son” (4). The boys are being devilish here. They are distracting other Muslims who might be trying to pray in their homes. A few sentences later, Amir tells us, “[Hassan] never told on me. Never told that the mirror , like shooting walnuts at the neighbor’s dog, was always my idea” (4). Amir is the devil, not Hassan. This is perhaps foreshadowing what is to come.
What other motifs can we identify?
Let's add to the grid in our packet.
“There was a pomegranate tree near the entrance to the cemetery. One summer day, I used one of Ali’s kitchen knives to carve our names on it: ‘Amir and Hassan, the sultan of Kabul’” (27).
Historical criticism helps readers understand the allusion to the pomegranate tree. In Christianity, the pomegranate can be seen as a symbol of resurrection and life everlasting in Christian art, the pomegranate is often found in devotional statues and paintings of the Virgin and Child.
The pomegranate also figures into Islamic stories. The heavenly paradise of the Koran describes four gardens with shade, springs, and fruits—including the pomegranate. Legend holds that each pomegranate contains one seed that has come down from paradise.5 Pomegranates have had a special role as a fertility symbol in weddings among the Bedouins of the Middle East.14 A prized pomegranate is selected and split open by the groom as he and his bride open the flap of their tent or enter the door of their house. Abundant seeds ensure that the couple who eat it will have many children.
"According to the Quran, the gardens of paradise include pomegranates. It is important, tradition says, to eat every seed of a pomegranate because one can't be sure which aril came from paradise." And pomegranates protect the eater from envy and hatred.
Having this background helps us better understand why the pomegranate tree might be also an important symbol.
A Marxist critique, like the Historical critique, requires some outside research.
Using various approaches to aid in our interpretation
“In it, I read that my people, the Pashtuns, had persecuted and oppressed the Hazaras. It said the Hazaras had tried to rise against the Pashtuns in the nineteenth century, but the Pashtuns had ‘quelled them with unspeakable violence.’ The book said that my people had killed the Hazaras, driven them from their lands, burned their homes, and sold their women. The book said part of the reason Pashtuns had oppressed the Hazaras was that Pashtuns were Sunni Muslims, while Hazaras were Shi’a. The book said a lot of things I didn’t know, things my teachers hadn’t mentioned” (9).
As a part of the story's exposition, reader learn a bit about the differences between the two groups - the Pashtuns and the Hazaras. However, to truly understand the complicated relationship of these groups, readers need to do some outside research. Our Historical wiki page has some of that research to aid in our interpretation.
Understanding some of the history of these two groups, their differences, their shared history, helps readers better understand the power differences between Amir (Pashtun) and Hassan (Hazara). Without this historical background, Western readers may struggle to understand why Amir treats Hasan as he does, why he struggles with their friendship and differing status. This is particularly evident in chapter 4 when Amir gets pleasure from exposing Hassan’s ignorance (28).
The outside research that both Marxist and Historical criticism involve help to broaden the reader's perspective, hopefully bringing the reader closer to the author's intentions.
“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” (15)
“Of course, marrying a poet was one thing, but fathering a son who preferred burying his face in poetry book to hunting…well, that wasn’t how Baba had envisioned it, I suppose. Real men didn’t read poetry –and God forbid they should ever write it!” (20).
“A boy who won’t stand up for himself becomes a man who can’t stand up to anything” (22).
The story of Rostam and Sohrab, where the father accidentally kills his son. “Personally, I couldn’t see the tragedy in Rostam’s fate. After all, didn’t all fathers in their secret hearts harbor a desire to kill their sons?
When Baba does not ask to read Amir’s first story, Amir is crushed. “I worshiped Baba with an intensity approaching the religious. But right then, I wished I could open my veins and drain his cursed blood from my body” (32).
Later, “…I sat on my bed and wished Rahim Khan had been my father…I was overcome with such sudden guilt that I bolted to the bathroom and vomited in the sink” (32).
The father/son relationship:
The Oedipal Conflict
The father/son relationship is strained. Baba seems to have high expectations for Amir, so high that he does not acknowledge Amir’s individuality. It almost seems as if Baba does not “see” Amir. A psychoanalytic interpretation might help us see Baba’s actions as a way of repressing something (a fear or a guilt) concerning his son. Perhaps this is foreshadowing .
On the opposite side, Amir seems to secretly wish that Baba was not his father. This is a classic example of the Oedipal complex. Freud’s theory of the Oedipal complex was the idea that young boys harbor a secret rivalry with their father. That rivalry is usually for the mother’s affection. However, for Amir, with his mother not present, Amir seeks acceptance from where ever he can find it (Rahim). Many psychologist believe that it is impossible for a boy to become a man without going through this Oedipal crisis, without resolving their secret rivalry with their father.
A parent's expectations for a child, especially
when the child does not fully understand
those expectations, can sometimes do more
harm than good.