The Kite Runner: Motifs

A Presentation by: Kathleen Gonzales, Jessica Satin, Allison Janos, and Jesse Young

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| The Kite Runner: Motifs | "T////he Pomegranate Tree" | "The Kite" | | "Slingshot" | | “For You a Thousand Times Over.” | "Bear Anecdote" | "Rape" | The Harelip Scar | The Lamb

"The Pomegranate Tree"

  • This tree, which was seen in both the beginning and end of the novel, is symbolic of the relationship that Amir and Hassan shared.
    • Early in Amir and Hassan's friendship, they are often seen spending their time visiting a pomegranate tree at the top of a hill in their home town, where they carved the words:
"Amir and Hassan, Sultans of Kabul...Those words made it formal: the tree was ours."
  • This was done while their friendship was young and carefree, and in terms of the pomegranate tree, it was also fruitful. (Not in the pregnancy way, Assef already failed at that..)
  • After Hassan's incident in the alley, their relationship took a turn for the worst.
  • The two half brothers barely spoke, and from Amir's side, it was a forced relationship: Hassan was very good at being a good friend.
  • Later on, as they were once again relaxing by the tree, Amir dared Hassan to hit him with a pomegranate.
  • Hassan being the loyal friend and Hazara, subtly declined.
  • This triggered the guilt inside of Amir for watching Hassan get raped, so he lashed out trying to arise the same anger in Hassan.
  • Amir continued to throw pomegranates at Hassan until finally, when Amir had exhausted himself, Hassan took the fruit and smashed it on his own head.
    • This shows how Hassan, in any given situation, always puts Amir before himself.
    • This was a turning point in their friendship in that after this moment, this tree was only symbolic of Amir's bitterness and guilt.
  • When Amir returns back to Kabul on his search for Sohrab, he revisits the tree only to find it shriveled and dying.
    • This resembles the relationship between Amir and Hassan, after learning that Hassan is dead.
    • The loss of childhood is evident in this tree because at the beginning, the tree was full of life. Now that Hassan is gone and Amir is left with this undying guilt, he finds the tree shriveled and decaying.

"The Kite"

  • This motif is present throughout the course of this novel and can be applied to more than one symbol in this novel.
  • The first would be freedom.
    • As the kite soars through the sky, the flyer often experiences a feeling of complete serenity, as if they were connected to the kite flying high above them.
"That was the thing about kite flying: Your mind drifted with the kite." 63
  • The kite also becomes the tool in which Amir and Hassan's roles switch.
    • In the beginning of the novel, Hassan in Amir's kite runner, meaning he chases after the kite after it has fallen from the sky.
    • In the very last scene of this novel, the roles switch to Amir becoming the kite runner.
      • This shows how, over the course of his life, Amir strives for redemption after betraying his best friend/brother.
      • Kite fighting in the beginning of the novel brought joy and happiness to the two boys, so its safe to say that Amir wanted to redeem himself in order to get back that serenity that he lost years ago.
  • Also, the beauty yet roughness of kite fighting depicts the basis of this novel as well.
    • Kite fighting from far away does indeed look peaceful and fun, but up close, one sees that the glass wire cuts and wounds the person in charge of the kite.
    • It has been seen as "violent, glass-sheathed strings attached to something light, something free".
    • The same goes with Amir. He held on to his guilt and misery in order to experience redemption and freedom.
    • You have to deal with the negative in order to see the beauty of things.


-external image 188494_10150122144892717_703647716_6567645_1356698_n.jpgThe slingshot first appeared in chapter 5 when Hassan and Amir were being bullied while playing in their pomegranate tree.
· In order to save Amir from being hurt, Hassan took out his slingshot as a weapon:
"I turned and came face to face with Hassan's slingshot. Hassan had pulled the wide elastic band all the way back. In the cup was a rock the size of a walnut. Hassan held the slingshot pointed directly at Assef's face. His hand trembled with the strain of the pulled elastic band and beads of sweat had erupted on his brow." (42)
· This defense not only represents how Amir is saved, but also the strength it symbolizes.
· Hassan is able to stand up for he believes is right, even though he is fearful of the consequences.
o It shows his bravery and loyalty to Amir.
· The slingshot also is something Amir did not have: the ability to fend for himself.
· Hassan saved Amir from any trouble they have ever gotten into: breaking the neighbor’s window or even stealing money.
o Hassan always stood by his brother; Amir never possessed the same loyalty.
· The slingshot also reappears when Amir is trying to save Sohrab, Hassan’s son, from Assef.
· Assef is beating Amir to the point where it seems like Amir is going to die till little Sohrab enters the scene.
"His hand was cocked above his shoulder, holding the cup of the slingshot at the end of the elastic band which was pulled all the way back...Sohrab had the slingshot pointed to Assef's face."
· This weapon reappears and saves Amir’s life again.
· It represents the bravery that Hassan and Sohrab embodies and shows the potency that Amir lacks.

“For You a Thousand Times Over.”

· external image 196289_10150122145152717_703647716_6567655_647335_n.jpgThis saying was said first after the Kite Fighting Tournament when the two Afghani boys, Amir and Hassan, had just won the entire event.
· Hassan wanted to “run down” the kite that Amir had cut down because it was the “ultimate prize.”
o Amir wanted the kite so badly to show Baba his victory and finally win his approval.
· Hassan went out to get that blue kite for Amir because he felt Amir deserved the prestige and honor that came with the kite.
· Hassan says this reoccurring saying to express his loyalty to Amir.
· He is willing to do whatever action to please Amir.
· The exaggerated “thousand” shows the length Hassan is willing to go for to make his friend happy.
· However, the feeling is not mutual.
· Amir just wants the approval of his father that he is willing to sacrifice his best friend, Hassan, for that paternal praise.
· This phrase illustrates the compassion and love Hassan has for Amir.
· This saying is also repeated again at the end of the novel when Amir is flying kites with Sohrab.
· After cutting their first kite down, Amir runs after the kite they cut down.
· While running after the kite thinks to himself, “For you a thousand times over,” to show the love and compassion he wants and will give to Sohrab.
"I ran. A grown man running with a swarm of screaming children. But I didn't care. I ran with the wind blowing in my face and a smile as wide as the Valley of Panjsher on my lips. I ran." (371)
· By the end of the novel, Amir realizes that he must be able to sacrifice for this child, just like the way Hassan would sacrifice for him.
· It brings this novel to a full circle because Amir is finally getting redemption.
o In order for Amir to receive full forgiveness for his sins, he must take care of Sohrab as best as possible.
· Amir is going to get that absolution too because he finally ready to be selfless and take care of someone else, which is why he says to himself:

"For you, a thousand times over"

"Bear Anecdote"

Baba wrestled bears his whole life. Losing his young wife. Raising a son by himself. Leaving his beloved homeland, his watan. Poverty. Indignity. In the end, a bear had come that he couldn’t best. But even then, he had lost on his own terms” (174)
Much the same way that Eliza Bishop’s “Fish” is not just a fish, John Donne’s “Flea” is far more than a blood-sucking parasite, and George Hebert’s “stately house” represents more to “The World” than a collection of inanimate plywood and plaster, Khaled Hosseini’s “bear” metaphor woven skillfully throughout The Kite Runner is rife with symbolic value central to the plot and wider meaning of the novel. To understand the symbolic significance of the various bear anecdotes, readers must have a thorough understanding of many of the novel’s wider themes, including the taxing nature of unrepented sins, the tension between father and son, and the quest for redemption. For this reason, the “Bear anecdote” motif is definitely a good one to familiarize yourself with for the AP exam.
All in all, the bear anecdote is told three times throughout the novel, each time in a slightly different context and therefore with slightly different symbolic value. Each occurrence is described below:
  1. First Occurrence: A Description of Baba

  • The first time readers encounter the bear anecdote is on the very first page of third chapter, when Amir uses it to characterize his father, Baba:
  • Lore has it my father once wrestled a black bear in Baluchistan with his bare hands,” the tale begins. After commenting on the Afghani tradition of laaf, or great exaggeration, Amir continues: “But no one ever doubted the veracity of any story about Baba…I have imagined Baba’s wrestling match countless times, even dreamed about it. And in those dreams, I can never tell Baba from the bear (12)
  • In this instance, the tale of Baba wrestling an intimidating black bear serves a very specific function: By coupling the story with the assertions that many Afghans have a tendency to exaggerate, yet the validity of Baba’s violent encounter is never doubted, Amir’s recount of the black bear anecdote serves to portray Baba as a larger than life, intimidating figure upon whom Amir looks with more a sense of detached reverence and intimidation than familial love.
  • The anecdote is therefore a powerful representation not only of Baba’s strength and notable reputation throughout the neighborhood, but also of the nature of his relationship with Amir at this point in the novel: the relationship is impersonal, fueled more by fear than by love.
  • Amir does not admire his father or appreciate his father’s strength, but rather, is in awe of it, a fearful, speechless awe that forges the two apart and makes it near impossible to foster a meaningful relationship.
  • The fear and awe with which Amir looks upon Baba is evident by the final and perhaps most important line of the anecdote: “I can never tell Baba from the Bear
  • At this point in the novel, we could assume that this merging of Baba and Beast is youthful Amir’s way of expressing the fear he feels for his father. Baba is very clearly a behemoth of a man, in terms of his esteemed reputation in the community, is impressive posture, his moral fortitude, and the coldness and unwaveringness with which he disciplines Amir.
  • As the novel progresses, however, and readers learn more about Baba’s personal life and struggles, the image of Baba wrestling the bear takes on new symbolic significance
  • As we recall, Amir learns later in the novel that there was depth and a reasonable explanation to Baba’s morose, cold, calculating personality: like Amir, Baba’ was “wrestling” with his own sins.
  • Much to Amir’s chagrin, it is discovered that Baba actually sired Hassan, making Amir and Hassan half brothers.
  • With this being said, Baba was perpetually burdened by the guilt of a negligent father: though he wanted to embrace Hassan as his son and publicly proclaim his love for both his children, society’s string unwritten law prevented him from doing so.
  • Hazara blood flowed through Hassan’s veins, rendering him and his immediate family socially inferior to Pashtuns Amir and Baba.
  • To publicly embrace Hassan, therefore, would bring ignominy to the esteemed family name. This was Baba’s internal struggle; neglect of Hassan was his unrepented sin.
  • When viewed through this frame of reference, the anecdote of Baba wrestling the bear takes on new symbolic significance: physical act of wrestling a bear is analogous to the metaphorical act of Baba “wrestling” his sins.
  • The act of Baba merging with the bear, therefore, implies that one “merges” with their sins: that one is inseparable from their sins, and sins comprise an integral part of one’s identity.

2. Second Occurrence: Baba's Deathbed

  • The second time we meet the symbolic bear is on Baba’s death bed, as Amir gazes upon his deceased father and reflects on Baba’s emotional rollercoaster of a life.
  • At this time, Amir remembers the anecdote, and thinks:
Baba wrestled bears his whole life. Losing his young wife. Raising a son by himself. Leaving his beloved homeland, his watan. Poverty. Indignity. In the end, a bear had come that he couldn’t best. But even then, he had lost on his own terms” (174)
    • Most notable here is a dramatic shift in the effect produced by the bear anecdote:
      • Whereas the first occurrence created a sense of reverence and distance between Amir and Baba, this time, the bear anecdote is conveyed with a sense of intimate admiration; of the father-son respect and love one would expect between Amir and Baba.
      • The bear is a testament to Baba’s strength as a man, not to his intimidating growl as a distant father figure.
      • The phrase “even then, he had lost on his own terms” adds to the sense of admiration and respect established with this anecdote.

3. Third Occurrence : Amir's Hallucination

  • Finally, the third and final time we meet the bear is in Amir’s injury-induced hallucination, immediately following Amir’s brawl with Assef:
They roll over a patch of green grass, man and beast, Baba’s curly brown hair fluing. The bear roars, or maybe it’s Baba. Spittle and blood fly; claw and hand swipe. They fall to the ground with a loud thud and Baba is sitting on the bear’s chest, his fingers digging in its snout. He looks up at me and I see He’s me. I am wrestling the bear. (295)
    • In this final encounter, the anecdote could possibly serve a number of purposes:
    • Firstly, it is important to note that though it was always Baba who was wrestling the bear, this anecdote replaces the image of Baba with the image of Amir himself.
    • Studied in isolation, (Assuming that the clawed, furry beast is indeed a bear and not Baba, ignoring the fact that Amir states that they are indistinguishable) the fact that Baba has actually morphed into Amir is indicative of one thing: Amir is growing up. He is becoming his father.
    • The theme of maturation and the journey into adulthood is aptly demonstrated by the transformation of Baba into Amir: whereas Baba was once someone Amir admired (or feared) from afar, sensing nothing but distance or respect for the most respectable man, now Amir sees himself as that man. He has literally grown into the adult he once so passionately admired.
    • The cause of this maturation could be any number of things: Amir has realized his dreams of publishing novels, has been married and felt “the tenderness of a woman,” and perhaps most importantly, at this point Amir feels that he has repented for his sins by retrieving Sohrab.
    • This leads us to another possible explanation of Amir’s presence in the bear brawl: That Amir has taken on his father’s unrepented sins.
    • Keep in mind, in its first occurrence, the bear represented the sins that Baba grappled with, namely his negligence as a father.
    • Now, in a way, Amir has become a father: he has taken in Sohrab, his half-brother’s son.
    • It could be said, therefore, that Amir has “adopted” his father’s sins: The sins never went away, since Baba died and never forgave himself. The transgression, therefore, is now Amir’s to grapple: he must prove his worth and repent by proving to be a caring father to Sohrab.
    • A third possible interpretation of the anecdote is that the clawed being is actually Baba (Amir does state or maybe it’s Baba). As to why Amir would be wrestling his father, I’m not quite sure. Perhaps Baba cannot die in peace…because his transgression went unforgiven? So he must literally wrestle forgiveness from his son ,so that he may rest in peace? I really don’t know, but tell me what you think!


“My body was broken—just how badly I wouldn’t find out until later—but I felt healed. Healed at last. I laughed.” (p.
If readers were asked to pinpoint the single most important scene/event of the novel The Kite Runner, it is almost inevitable that most individuals would choose
Assef’s rape of Hassan in the abandoned alley in Kabul. This scene, and the significant impact it has on protagonist Amir, is felt strongly throughout the remainder of the novel, for it is Amir’s guilt and shame that propels him to action, and that perpetually haunts his dreams.

  • Just to refresh everyone’s memory, the rape scene occurred after the big, city-wide kite fighting tournament that Amir and Hassan won together. As Hassan was running the second place kite for Amir, he encountered Assef and company in the streets, and was subsequently backed into an abandoned alley.
  • At this point, just as Assef and and his friends are beginning to harass and badger Hassan, asking him to give up the kite or face the consequences, Amir discovers the scene, but remains hidden behind a mud-cracked wall.
  • From behind the safety of this wall, Amir watches Assef and his friends pin down and rape Hassan. For standing idly while his best friend and brother was raped, Amir feels immense guilt for the remainder of the novel.
  • Thus, we could say that rape plays a very important role in the novel: it is Assef’s rape of Hassan that engenders such immense feelings of guilt in Amir, and thus that sends Amir on his quest for redemption.
  • Through Amir’s adult life, guilt and the need to repent for transgression of his childhood weigh heavily upon Amir: he cannot blissfully enjoy a single moment with full clarity of mind, for he is perpetually burdened by guilt. Indeed, when Soraya tells Amir about her troubled past, Amir cannot help but think of Hassan:
“But I think a big part of the reason I didn’t care about Soraya’s past was that I had one of my own. I knew all about regret” (180)
    • So, at the end of the day, how does this relate back to rape? Rape is the source of Amir’s guilt. By extrapolation, we can therefore state that rape is also the cause of Amir’s burden, his quest for redemption, difficulties in his marriage, and his decision to travel back to Kabul.
    • Interestingly enough, the second major instance of rape—that being Assef’s implied rape of Sohrab—brings the story full circle: while rape of Hassan sends Amir back to Kabul, liberating Sohrab from a life of similar abuse serves as Amir’s atonement. Though he gets beat up in the process, Amir is finally able to breathe a sigh of relief that has been pent up for more than 20 years:
“My body was broken—just how badly I wouldn’t find out until later—but I felt healed. Healed at last. I laughed.” (p. 289)

The Harelip Scar

  • Hassan's left lip was always one of his most prominent features. Having it symbolized the poverty of the Hazara because they were too poor to fix it. However, Baba pays for him to have it fixed, a secret and symbolic act of Baba's fatherly love for Hassan.

" I wish I too had some kind of scar that would beget Baba's sympathy. It wasn't fair. Hassan hadn't done anything to earn Baba's affections; he'd just been born with that stupid lip. (p. 46)

  • This reference to Hassan having done nothing to earn Baba's affections foreshadows that maybe there really is a reason Baba feels this way for Hassan.
  • Later in the book, when Amir is facing Assef for the first time in decades, he gets into a fist fight with him over Sohrab, Hassan's son. Assef splits open Amir's lip, just like Hassan's harelip, and ends up with a scar that looks just like the one Hassan had. Facing Assef after all these years, he has finally learned to stand up for himself and those he cares about, just as Hassan did for him. In this way, his identity merges with Hassan's. He ends up with a scar just like Hassan's and becomes a father figure to Sohrab. Amir finally has some closure and redeems himself for not helping Hassan by standing up for Sohrab.

The Lamb

  • At first, the lamb is introduced as a symbol of innocence:
" 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...(p. 26)

  • This is the beginning of the book where Hassan and Amir are children and are playing innocent child games. The lamb, though not a major point here, is among the innocent livestock. This is when Amir and Hassan still have that innocence within them. Everything that shapes who they become later (war, rape, death) has not yet come to pass
  • Later, however, the lamb becomes a huge symbol:

" 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 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." (75)
  • Hassan's "look of the lamb" here symbolized innocence pair with sacrifice. The lamb is the traditional sacrificial animal. Amir comes up with the comparison of the lamb because he remembers an instance where he saw that look before:

" He picks up the kitchen knife with the long blade. The custom is to not let the sheep see the knife. Ali feeds the animal a cube of sugar--another custom, to make death sweeter. The sheep kicks, but not much. The mullah grabs it under its jaw and places the blade on its neck. Just a second before he slices the throat in one expert motion, I see the sheep's eyes. It is a look that will haunt my dreams for weeks. I don't know why I watch this yearly ritual in our backyard; my nightmares persist long after the bloodstains on the grass have faded. But I always watch. I watch because of that look of acceptance in the animal's eyes. Absurdly, I imagine the animal understands. I imagine the animal sees that its imminent demise is for a higher purpose. This is the look..."

  • The look of acceptance in the lamb's eyes is described as if it were in both sets of eyes; Hassan's and the lamb. Amir sees that Hassan is doing this for the kite, for him, just as the lamb knows that this is the fate it must face.