Kite Runner and Principles
by Khaled Hosseini
Warning - Contains a lot of spoilers for Kite Runner
Anger. I don’t think I’ve ever disliked the protagonist of any story as much as my distaste in Amir of Kite Runner. To celebrate Amir is the same as celebrating the Germans under Hitler or the Spanish under José Antonio.
As humans, we have a relative scale of right and wrong. Our system of beliefs and principles is molded through our environment and experiences where at the center of us we have an non-ambiguous line of right and wrong. True danger to human society is not in those who have warped sense of right and wrong where something morally wrong to most people is seen as right to them. Rather, true danger is in those who fail to uphold their principles and erase their internal line between right and wrong.
Amir is someone who fails to uphold his beliefs.
A major plot point in the story is the rape of Hassan. There are five characters in this incident, Amir, Hassan, Assef and two of Assef’s lackeys. Hassan is beaten then held down by Assef’s lackeys. Putting aside Hassan and Assef, we find that Assef’s own lackeys voice their opinion that what they are doing is wrong. However, Amir, as a friend of Hassan, fails to intervene and simply shrinks away in fear. It’s hard to believe that Assef’s own lackeys would have higher morals than Amir. But I don’t believe that this is damning evidence against Amir. This was a wrong choice made in an morally ambiguous environment. However, we see the danger in failing to uphold’s one’s principles 100% of the time in Amir’s tumble down a sinister path shortly afterwards.
Amir justifies his actions during Hassan’s rape through his want for fatherly love from his father and the culture around his upbringing. Yet, afterwards, he ignores, beats, and even accuses Hassan of theft. We learn that the justification for these actions is the shame that Amir feels when he sees Hassan. The book views this in purely Amir’s terms. Is he happy, is he justified? Not once does it explore the impact on Hassan. Briefly, the book mentions that Hassan no longer smiles like he once did. For a book that’s meant to explore culture and class differences, I find it overly attuned to those with power and utterly lacking for those of “lower class”. But beyond the book’s failing, Amir’s failure to uphold his base principle leads to further degradation of his principles until at certain levels, he’s even more impactful than Assef in the harm he causes Hassan.
The problem with Amir is not that he runs from his friend’s troubles, it’s that he steadily progresses towards evil through blaming his failures on those that cannot hurt him. What’s the difference between the German citizen that watched his Jewish neighbors get taken away and Amir’s beating of Hassan? Or, what’s the difference from the guard at a concentration camp and Amir’s planting an act of theft on Hassan? What if Hassan didn’t leave, is there any evidence that Amir would have stopped? I believe the answer here is no, Amir would most likely have found more cruel methods of abusing Hassan in the name of Amir’s shame and guilt.
Amir was born in an environment with rather distinct rights and wrongs. His father is shown to be this respected figure that acts even in the face of danger. Amir grows up in a position of power, far from the trappings of working life. A lot of physical elements are in Amir’s favor to succeed. Despite all this, he still becomes corrupted and fails to perform the right deeds. Later in life, Amir falls in love with a woman who previously had shameful experiences. . Personally, I find it hard to believe that this act of love is spontaneous when it occurs at roughly the same time that Amir’s father falls ill and later, when Amir’s father is near his death, Amir finally decides on marriage. Beyond that, before marriage, the woman tells Amir of her sins in hopes of mutual trust yet Amir decides to hold back from speaking of his own sins.
It’s not until much farther in the story when Amir finally begins his arc of redemption. Called to Pakistan by an former mentor, he is shamed into action in saving Hassan’s child, Sohrab. And although it seems that the obstacles in Amir’s journey to find Shorab came up unexpectedly and not because Amir had consciously made the hard choice, Amir does finally act and choose what we would believe is the right choice. While I believe in Amir’s redemption, I still find it hard to cheer for Amir in these situations simply because it feels that he’s a tourist viewing the righteous side rather than firmly planting down a line between right and wrong. But maybe that’s all of us, we simply visit ideas of right and wrong rather than live in them. And I hope that when the time comes, we find more of us like Baba than Amir.
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