When looking at war, one must not only look at the battles waged on the battlefield, but also those that take place at home, namely the toll war has on the relationships of the people left behind. In The Kite Runner, war is an ever-present figure, and Hosseini effectively brings out how war affects the relationships of his characters mostly through shifting narratives, climactic plot and figurative expressions.
Starting with how war impacts negatively on friendships, we come across Husseini’s protagonist, Amir telling us about his childhood best friend, Hassan, whereupon he sadly exposes the existence of class distinctions between them. There is no doubt that Amir is superior to Hassan purely because of the differing ethnic groups they belong to: Amir is a Pashtun (the upper class), and Hassan a Hazara (the lower class). Hosseini uses flashback whereupon while perusing Baba’s study, Amir finds a book detailing the oppression of the Hazaras by the Pashtuns, who ‘“quelled them with unspeakable violence”’. Verb quelled suggests an oppressive action and adjective unspeakable leaves it to the reader’s imagination. The reader gets the feeling that even though the fighting took place in the 19th century, the conflict which then bred prejudice against the Hazaras has a tangible effect on Amir and Hassan’s friendship.
By shifting the narrative from the present turmoil in Afghanistan to the 19th century defeat of the Hazaras, Husseini manages to demonstrate to the reader what has led to Hassan becoming inferior to Amir even though the boys have grown up together and been intimate friends since birth- this shown by the fact that Hassan’s first word was “Amir”. The reader gets the impression that due to their ethnic differences, Amir is not able to return Hassan’s love or loyalty, this being well conveyed by Amir’s thought, “But he’s not my friend!…He’s my servant!”. The striking contrast between the terms “friend” and “servant” together with the exclamation marks emphasize Amir’s understanding of his superiority and Hassan’s inferiority, based on their differing ethnic identities and because of this, he cannot regard Hassan as his friend, at least not publicly. A Marxist reading would show us that this is one of the evils of capitalism – even though the two boys are relatively of the same age, due to a class based society, the boys must fit
within a certain class.
Much as war has been blamed for weakening of friendships and disruption of family life, Hosseini makes it aptly clear that war may also have a positive effect on the relationship between people living in a neighbourhood. This positive effect can be seen in the relationship between Amir and Soraya. The writer recounts to the reader how, as a child, Amir had no mother figure to guide him, his mother having died while giving birth to him. With Baba being the principled and hard-to-please man that he is, the only adult Amir could rely on was Rahim Khan who “always…rescued him”, the choice of verb ‘rescued’ metaphorically suggesting what a relief it was for Amir to have Rahim Khan by his side whenever he felt his father’s disapproving eyes angrily peering at him. But due to the 1983 invasion by the Soviets, Amir and Baba are forced to leave Afghanistan and seek refuge in America. To this effect, war can be blamed for disrupting the relationship between Amir and Rahim Khan.
The above notwithstanding, it is worth pointing out that it is due to Amir’s migration to America that he meets Soraya Taheri whom he falls deeply in love with. A psychoanalytical reader would relate Amir’s love for Soraya to the Oedipus complex, to the extent that it seems Amir finds the mother he never had in Soraya due to the traits they share. Both are beauties, belonging to families with a high social standing (Amir’s mother had royal blood; in Kabul, General Taheri was an important military man), and both are lovers of literature, Amir’s late mother having been a teacher of “Fasi Literature”. More to that, the level of trust Amir reposes on Soraya (by telling her of his betrayal of Hassan – a story he tells no one else), speaks volumes for the fact that she is the only person he can confide in. Had the Russians not invaded Afghanistan, Amir and Baba would have probably remained in Kabul and Amir’s union with Soraya would never have happened. In retrospect, it could be argued that war brings together Amir and Soraya, a situation that culminates in the adoption of Sohrab by the two.
On the flipside, war’s negative effect on the formation of effective relationships is embodied by Sohrab’s inability to relate well with Amir after his horrifying rape ordeal in the hands of Assef. Hosseini shows us how, on his return to Kabul, Amir learns of the fate that met Hassan and his wife as a result of the Taliban takeover of Kabul. As aforementioned, due the ethnic differences that existed, Hazaras were seen as inferior in society and as such, because Hassan was a Hazara, the Taliban killed him and his wife (they believed Hassan was a liar and thief due to his refusal to let the Taliban live in Baba’s house), and left Hassan’s son Sohrab an orphan.
However, after Amir rescues Sohrab, we see from his behaviour how maladjusted he is – he refuses to let Amir touch him because of his distrust for people. He also withdraws into himself and avoids human company because he believes he is “dirty and full of sin”, the metaphor ‘dirty’ in this case suggesting Sohrab’s feeling of ritual uncleanliness and the abstract noun ‘sin’ drawing attention to the boy’s feeling of unworthiness before God. That anyone could rape a boy of no more than eleven years and throw him into a miasma of confusion and paranoia simply because war made it possible for them to do so and get away with it, is a serious indictment on war and a proof of how inimical war is to the development of effective human relationships.
It can therefore be seen that war bears strongly not only on the battlefield, but also on the lives of the people left at home. In The Kite Runner, therefore, we see how some of the relationships the characters share are shaped by war while others are destroyed by it. This makes war some sort of a mixed blessing given its capacity to deepen some relationships and disrupt others at the same time. No wonder some war scholars have concluded that indeed war is a necessary and inevitable part of being human.