The Relationship Between Father and Son in "The Kite Runner"
A bond so cherished and sought after, may not always be one of love, but one filled with pain and longing. The relationship between a father and a son helps prepare a boy to understand right from wrong. In The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini uses the complex emotional bond between fathers and sons to demonstrate the necessity of an empathetic fatherly figure. The relationships that clearly demonstrate this need for a fatherly figure are between Baba and Amir, Hassan and Sohrab, and Amir and Sohrab.
To begin, the strained relationship between Amir, the protagonist, and Baba, his father, as well as the events influenced by this relationship, demonstrates the necessity of a fatherly figure in one’s life. “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” is a well-known expression that holds true for many father and son relationships; however, this is not the case for Amir and Baba. In terms of father-son relationships, the father is a very important role model for his son, and every boy needs a fatherly figure. Baba is not there for Amir because he doesn’t understand why Amir isn’t exactly like him. Baba speaks to Rahim Khan, his best friend and business partner, about his confusion with Amir, and doesn’t understand why his son’s interests aren’t similar to his own.
“He’s always buried in those books or shuffling around the house like he’s lost in some dream…I wasn’t like that.’ Baba sounded frustrated, almost angry” (23). Baba is actually angry that his son is not a reflection of himself because he wants a son to carry on his name, his machismo, and his business, but he won’t even take the time to develop a bond with his son. Baba is very emotionally distant from his son because he feels that there is no real connection between the two of them other than Amir coming “out of” Baba’s wife: “If I hadn’t seen the doctor pull him out of my wife with my own eyes, I’d never believe he’s my son” (25).
Baba has little emotional attachment to his son, other than lineage. He doesn’t put forth much effort towards forming a bond with Amir during his childhood, because the emotional detachment prevents him from providing the fatherly figure Amir needed in his life. Amir’s early years are very tough on him because he lost his mother during his own birth, blames himself for his mother’s death, and lacks a relationship with his father. Baba is a smart and good man at heart; he’s just unable to come to terms with his son’s interests, and ultimately neglects him because there is a lack of a connection. Baba does have a few fatherly moments though, where he speaks honestly to his son, teaching Amir about his own views on life.
"For you, a thousand times over"
“There is only one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft… When you kill a man, you steal a life,’ Baba said. ‘You steal his wife’s right to her husband, his children’s right to a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness… There is no act more wretched than stealing!” (19-20)
Baba holds this rule above all; however, it’s ironic because he himself is a thief. He steals away Amir’s right to having a father by neglecting to be the father Amir needed. This neglect and lack of fatherly interest created the problem prevalent throughout the entire story. All Amir ever wanted was his father’s approval; however, nothing he ever did could win his father over. The awful events that occur in the story are sparked by Amir’s pursuit of his father’s approval, which is maintained by spark notes: “Baba sums up one of Amir’s major character flaws—his cowardice—and Baba shows how much value he places in standing up for what is right. Baba is reluctant to praise Amir, largely because he feels Amir lacks the courage to even stand up for himself, leaving Amir constantly craving Baba’s approval” (SparkNotes Editors). He’s not empathetic towards Amir’s feelings, so he doesn’t understand how much Amir craves, and needs his approval. Baba wants his son to be just like him, but when Amir doesn’t turn out exactly the way Baba wants, he rejects and neglects his son, turning him into exactly what Baba doesn’t want his son to be. Baba tries to raise a boy who isn’t a coward, but through Baba’s failure to be empathetic as a father, he crafts Amir into a coward and a boy full of jealousy. Just as in the work Oedipus Rex, Baba creates a self-fulfilling prophecy when raising Amir. In Oedipus Rex, Oedipus took actions to avoid his fate, which inevitably led to the fulfillment of the fate he was attempting to avoid. In
He’s not empathetic towards Amir’s feelings, so he doesn’t understand how much Amir craves, and needs his approval. Baba wants his son to be just like him, but when Amir doesn’t turn out exactly the way Baba wants, he rejects and neglects his son, turning him into exactly what Baba doesn’t want his son to be. Baba tries to raise a boy who isn’t a coward, but through Baba’s failure to be empathetic as a father, he crafts Amir into a coward and a boy full of jealousy. Just as in the work Oedipus Rex, Baba creates a self-fulfilling prophecy when raising Amir. In Oedipus Rex, Oedipus took actions to avoid his fate, which inevitably led to the fulfillment of the fate he was attempting to avoid. In
Oedipus took actions to avoid his fate, which inevitably led to the fulfillment of the fate he was attempting to avoid. In Kite Runner, Baba doesn’t want Amir to be a coward, but he neglects Amir and doesn’t appreciate him, causing Amir to become the petty, jealous coward that Baba had been trying to avoid. He neglects his son’s interest in writing, doesn’t fully return the love his son tries to give, and refrains from almost ever showing pride in his boy. This ultimately creates the sense of jealousy and cowardice within Amir that ends up stopping him from saving Hassan from being raped. At the kite fighting tournament, Amir cuts down the second place kite and Hassan, his best friend and servant, runs it for him. Hassan finds the kite but gets trapped in an alley with a sadistic bully. Amir finds them in the alley but he wants the kite so bad that he doesn’t step in to save Hassan and instead, he watches his best friend get raped.
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The kite represents Amir’s longing for his father’s approval. He was deprived of his father’s approval all his life, and he believes the blue kite is the key to his father’s heart. It’s very ironic that Baba wants Amir to stand up for what’s right and not be a coward, but he chooses to take the cowardly route because of his unresolved issues. In reality, Baba is the source of Amir’s guilt, and he causes Amir to let down Hassan. Spark notes also agrees about Baba being the source of Amir’s guilt: “Amir’s desire to win Baba’s love consequently motivates him not to stop Hassan’s rape” (SparkNotes Editors). Ultimately, Baba is responsible for Amir’s cowardice and jealousy that led to the awful events that took place in his childhood. Baba created Amir as a jealous coward; therefore Baba is to blame for the actions Amir took in jealousy and as a coward. Where the blame lies can be shown when one considers another work, Frankenstein. In Frankenstein, the doctor creates a monster, but fails to give him a conscience. The monster commits murder; however, he was “created” without a conscience and the actions taken occurred because of the way he was created. Frankenstein cannot be held accountable for the horrific actions he took because that was just how he was created. The creator is the one to be blamed. A toaster cannot stream movies just as a TV cannot cook dinner. They can only do what they were created to do. Amir was created by Baba to be a jealous, petty coward, therefore Amir cannot be held accountable for the actions he took as a child. This means Baba is ultimately responsible for the choice Amir made that fateful day, and Baba is the cause of Amir’s betrayal of his best friend. To conclude, The Kite Runner illustrates the necessity of having an empathetic fatherly figure, by showing how a child struggles for a father-son bond, and the consequences that can arise due to the actions taken to achieve this relationship.
The relationship between Hassan and his son Sohrab, demonstrates the necessity of an empathetic father, because it shows life where a relationship between father and son can develop. The relationship between Hassan and his son Sohrab is completely juxtaposed to Amir’s relationship with Baba, and their family acts as a foil to Amir’s, promoting the theme of the necessity of an empathetic father. Hassan listens to his son, plays with him, enjoys spending time with him, and really understands him. He takes his son’s feelings into account. Sohrab has a connection with his father and enjoys his early years spent with Hassan, whereas Amir’s early years are spent trying to get his father’s attention and make his father proud of him. Amir dedicates his childhood to futile attempts of creating a bond with his father, while Sohrab’s bond is nurtured by his father as well as Sohrab himself. Sohrab has his father’s love, so he continues in life as a good boy, who believes in what is right, whereas Amir constantly strives without success for his father’s love, which leads him to carrying out very malicious actions with enormous consequences. In specific relation to these two father-son relationships, Hassan is a foil to Baba while Sohrab is a foil to Amir. Hassan and Baba are both proud, strong men who stand up for what is good and right in the world. Baba puts his own life in danger to save a woman from being raped by a soldier when they are attempting to escape Kabul: “Tell him I’ll take a thousand of his bullets before I let this indecency take place” (122).
Hassan also puts his own life in danger to get a kite for Amir, because he knows how much he wants it. Hassan runs the losing kite for Amir, finds it in an alley where he gets jumped by Assef and his goons and then makes the choice to put his Amir above himself: “Today, it’s only going to cost you that blue kite. A fair deal, boys, isn’t it?’ I could see the fear creeping into Hassan’s eyes, but he shook his head… ‘This is his kite’… ‘I’ve changed my mind,’ Assef said. ‘I’m letting you keep this kite…so it will always remind you of what I’m about to do” (77-78). Both Baba and Hassan sacrifice themselves for what they think is right, demonstrating that they are both well-intentioned people; however, Baba doesn’t have the same compassion and understanding towards his son that Hassan has. He just doesn’t accept Amir for who he is because he’s not as sensitive to his son’s feelings as Hassan is. Hassan accepts his son Sohrab from the second he is born, because he is his father, and he creates their relationship from that. Baba waits for Amir to enjoy something that Baba enjoys because he doesn’t think that he can have a relationship with his son unless there’s some common interest, even though Baba himself never tries to meet Amir halfway, or even put forth much effort into starting a real relationship. Basically, Hassan understands that his son needs a fatherly figure in his life and Hassan is more than willing to take the first step towards nurturing the relationship. Baba believes that his son is a lost cause, because he doesn’t enjoy sports, and instead loves to read and write. Baba doesn’t attempt to start a relationship with Amir during his childhood because there were no common interests; however, the point of being an understanding fatherly figure is encouraging and helping your son, despite the differences between you. To put matters in a simpler way, Hassan creates a relationship between him and his son, allowing his son to grow as a better person; while Baba neglects his son, causing him to go to great lengths to capture his father’s love. Amir ends up betraying his best friend to achieve this goal which sparks the guilt that afflicts him for the rest of his life. Baba neglecting Amir was the spark that ignited Amir’s actions towards the betrayal of Hassan, and ultimately the beginning of his journey back to Kabul to save Sohrab. In summary, Hassan and Sohrab’s relationship demonstrates the necessity of an empathetic fatherly figure in one’s life because they highlight the flaws in Baba and Amir’s relationship, showing how to be a compassionate father, and how nurturing can benefit a child more than depriving can.
Most significantly, the relationship between Amir and Sohrab demonstrates the necessity of an empathetic fatherly figure in one’s life, because it shows Amir alternating between Hassan’s and his own father’s parenting styles. When Sohrab is ten years old, his mother and father are killed and he is sent to live in an orphanage. After living in the orphanage for a few months he is taken in by Assef, the man who raped Sohrab’s father Hassan, and begins to do the same to him. Because of this past, Sohrab fears nothing worse than orphanages and the horrors they represent. Eventually Amir saves Sohrab and takes him away with him, to a hotel. Amir tries to connect with Sohrab and “fill in” as his dad; however, Sohrab is attempting to recover from the loss of his parents, as well as the abuse he suffered from Assef. The difficult time he’s going through means just isn’t ready to call someone else his father yet. Amir continues to try to be this substitute Hassan for Sohrab but it just isn’t working and he isn’t connecting to Sohrab the way he wants to. During this time he is also trying to secure a passport and adoption papers for Sohrab but there are some technicalities. After hearing what an adoption agent has to say, Amir makes a quick and rash decision to tell Sohrab that he may have to go back to an orphanage in order to be adopted, and Sohrab completely rejects the idea: “You mean an orphanage?’ It would only be for a little while.’ ‘No,’ he said. ‘No please.’… ‘You promised you’d never put me in one of those places, Amir Agha’… [Sohrab’s] voice was breaking, tears pooling in his eyes” (358). Sohrab hates orphanages because they represent everything he blames them for the turmoil he’s had to put up with in his life. Amir knows how much he hates orphanages but he chooses to adopt his father’s parenting style and not be sensitive to Sohrab’s feelings. He even reassures himself that what he is doing is right with something he once heard his father say: “I waited, rocked him until his breathing slowed and his body slackened. I remember something… That’s how children deal with terror. They fall asleep” (359). Amir changes from Hassan’s parenting style to Baba’s parenting style; from this caring father to one who believes the child should have to learn on their own. Amir puts Hassan to sleep right after breaking his heart and then Amir himself, proceeds to go to sleep. He wakes up to a phone call a few hours later and finds Sohrab in the bathtub, with his wrists slit. Sohrab had been opening up to Amir when he was treating him the same way Hassan had, but as soon as he neglected Sohrab, just as Amir himself had been neglected by Baba, awful things happened, just like they did with Amir.
However, Amir isn’t an awful parent; he still tries to connect with Sohrab because he does love and care for him. At the end of the novel, Amir takes Hassan to Lake Elizabeth Park in Fremont and buys a kite which he flies with Sohrab. Amir gets into a kite-fight with another person and cuts down their kite, helping Sohrab relive the relationship he had with his father, and giving hope to Amir and Sohrab’s relationship. Sohrab has been silent since his suicide attempt, an emotionless husk; however, on that day he began to open up again, after Amir took interest in Sohrab’s own interests: “the green kite was spinning and wheeling out of control… I looked down at Sohrab. One corner of his mouth had curled up so. A smile. Lopsided. Hardly there. But there” (391). Sohrab begins to open up again after all of Amir’s attempts as a father, because he never gave up on Sohrab after the incident with the orphanage. He treated him like a son, took interest in him, and finally got Sohrab to open up, leaving the book off with a sense of hope for a better tomorrow because Amir has finally learned the true meaning of being a father. To summarize, the relationship between Amir and Sohrab demonstrates the necessity of an empathetic fatherly figure because it was parallel to the relationship between Baba and Amir, reinforcing the notion that awful things happen to children when their “fatherly figure” doesn’t understand them, as demonstrated by Amir’s betrayal of Hassan and Sohrab’s attempt to take his own life. The relationship also mirrored Hassan and Sohrab’s relationship when Amir finally gets Sohrab to start opening up when they go kite-fighting, ending the book with hope because Amir has learned the meaning of being a true, empathetic fatherly figure. Never giving up hope.
In conclusion, Khaled Hosseini uses the love, tension and hardships between fathers and sons to demonstrate the necessity of an empathetic fatherly figure in one’s life. He demonstrates this through the far from perfect relationship between Baba and Amir in contrast to the foil relationship between Hassan and his son Sohrab. These relationships show how neglect and disregard for one’s feelings can lead a person to make the wrong decisions for a father’s love, as well as demonstrate how a functioning father-son relationship should be like. Most importantly, the relationship between Amir and Sohrab greatly reinforce the lesson that a father’s neglect can cause bad decisions as well as show how a son’s happiness requires a father’s help. Truly, an empathetic fatherly figure is necessary in properly raising a son.