The Kite Runner

Summary and Analysis of Chapters 4-6

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Summary

Chapter Four

Chapter four opens with the story of how Ali became a part of Baba's family. In 1933, the same year Baba was born, two intoxicated young drivers struck and killed a Hazara couple. Only their five-year-old son, Ali, survived. Baba's father was asked to decide the young men's punishment. After sending the young men to serve in the army, he took Ali into his household. Baba and Ali grew up as quasi-brothers, just like Amir and Hassan a generation later. But despite their closeness, Baba never considered Ali his friend just as Amir never considered Hassan his. According to Amir, their ethnic and religious differences kept them from being true friends or family. At the same time, all these years later, Amir says Hassan is "the face of Afghanistan" to him. The boys played and got into mischief together like any other two boys, except that Hassan made Amir's breakfast, cleaned his room, and did all his other household chores. While Amir went to school, Hassan stayed home to do housework with Ali. After school, Amir would read to Hassan, who loved books despite his illiteracy.

One day, Amir pretended to read to Hassan from a book but made up his own story to trick Hassan. When Amir finished, Hassan clapped and told him it was the best story he had ever read him. Amir was so happy that he kissed Hassan on the cheek, and that night he wrote his first short story. It was about a man who had a cup that turned his tears into pearls. The man grew greedy and tried to find ways to make himself cry as much as possible. It ended with him sitting on top of a mountain of pearls, holding his wife's slain body. Amir took the story to Baba, but he refused to read it. Rahim Khan read the story and gave Amir a piece of paper on which he had written "Bravo." The rest of his note explained that Amir had achieved irony in his story, which is something many writers never manage to master. He encouraged Amir to put his talent to use. In the letter, he called Amir his friend, and for a moment Amir wished that Rahim Khan was his father instead of Baba. He was so overcome with guilt that he vomited.

Amir rushed down to where Hassan was sleeping on a mattress with Ali and woke up his friend. After hearing the story, Hassan proclaimed that Amir would be world-famous someday. However, he also pointed out a plot hole in the story. He asked why the protagonist did not just smell an onion to make himself cry instead of killing his wife. Amir was speechless.

Chapter Five

Before Amir could respond to Hassan's criticism of his story, gunfire erupted outside. The boys huddled together with Ali until Baba came home. For the first time, Amir saw fear on his father's face. He was even glad for the violence for a moment, because Baba held him and Hassan close. The events of that night, July 17, 1973, were a precursor to the end of life as Afghanis knew it. What would follow was the Communist coup d'etat of 1978, followed by the Russian occupation beginning in December of 1979. On that July night, the king's brother, Daoud Khan, had seized Zahir Shah's kingdom while he was away. Afghanistan had gone overnight from a monarchy to a republic. Tired of listening to the radio news, Amir and Hassan went to climb their favorite tree. On the way, a young "sociopath" named Assef and his friends confronted them. He taunted Hassan for being a Hazara; Assef also had a habit of taunting Ali, whom he called Babalu. He praised Hitler and then said that he wanted to finish what Hitler started and rid Afghanistan of Hazaras. He called Amir and Baba "a disgrace to Afghanistan" for taking in Hazaras. Just as Assef threatened to punch Amir with his brass knuckles, Hassan pointed his slingshot at the bully and threatened to take out his eye. Assef and his friends retreated, but promised to come back for Amir and Hassan later.

On Hassan's birthday, Baba summoned him to the house as usual to collect his present. To Hassan, Amir, and Ali's shock, Baba had hired a plastic surgeon to correct Hassan's harelip. Amir was jealous that Baba was giving Hassan such special attention. The surgery went well and Hassan could finally smile an unbroken smile. Ironically, Amir explains, it was soon after that Hassan stopped smiling for good.

Chapter Six

Chapter six opens in winter. Amir loved the icy season because the school was shut down for its duration. But he loved winter even more because then he flew kites with Baba, the only activity that consistently brought them closer. The pinnacle of winter for every boy in Kabul was the yearly kite-fighting tournament. Every year, Amir and Hassan saved their allowances to buy materials to make their kites, but they were not very good craftsmen. When Baba realized this, he started taking them to Saifo's to buy their kites, always buying the boys equally good kites. In the tournament, contestants used their kites' glass strings to cut others' kite strings until only one triumphant kite remained in the sky. Hassan was Amir's assistant. When kites fell out of the sky, especially the last kite to fall, those not flying their own kites would chase them and try to catch them-they were called "kite runners." Hassan was an exceptionally good kite runner. Once, Hassan convinced Amir to run the opposite way that a fallen kite was floating and sit under a tree with him to wait. While they sat, Amir taunted Hassan a little. Amir was unsettled to see Hassan's face change the way it sometimes did, as though there was an unfamiliar, sinister, hidden face behind his usual expression. After that uncomfortable moment, however, Hassan's face changed back to normal and the coveted kite came floating into his open arms.

In the winter of 1975, Amir watched Hassan run his last kite. That year, there was to be the biggest kite tournament the boys had ever seen. Boys from several neighborhoods would be competing in Amir and Hassan's neighborhood, Wazir Akhbar Khan. One evening, Baba suggested that Amir would win the tournament this year. After that, Amir became determined to win so that he could finally prove to Baba that he was a winner and a worthy son. The night before the tournament, Hassan and Amir huddled under blankets playing cards while Baba, Rahim Khan, and Assef's father met in the next room. Upon hearing that Afghanistan might get television under president Daoud Khan, Amir promised to buy Hassan a television set one day. Hassan responded that he would put it on the table in his and Ali's hut. Amir was dismayed than Hassan had accepted his fate of always living in the hut and being a servant. As though he read Amir's mind, Hassan told him, "I like where I live."

Analysis

Chapter Four brings attention to the theme of tragedy and violence that pervades the novel. We already know about Amir's violent birth, in which his mother hemorrhaged to death. Now we learn that tragedy was the reason Baba's father brought Ali into their family; he was orphaned by a terrible car accident. Hassan and Ali's physical problems were not caused by violence. Still, Hassan's harelip and Ali's stunted leg and lazy mouth make them targets for ridicule and violence. The fact that they bear physical signs of suffering while Baba and Amir do not reflects that they are people whose lives are defined by violence and hardship. The source of Amir's guilt is not so much the violence inflicted on Hassan, but his own exemption from violence. Indeed, it is only when Assef beats him almost to death that he feels "healed" of this guilt. Amir says, "...History isn't easy to overcome. Neither is religion. In the end, I was a Pasthun and he was a Hazara, I was Sunni and he was Shi'a, and nothing was ever going to change that. Nothing." In truth, it is not religion but suffering that separates the boys. True, Amir is a Shi'a all his life and Hassan is a Sunni. Yet when Amir has a split lip and suffering to match Hassan's, he can begin to reconcile their troubled history.

In Chapter Five, war and political turmoil enter the story. Even as a child, Assef is the bastion of this theme because he is a violent person who has no regard for others' emotions or suffering. He reveres Hitler and thinks that Hazaras do not deserve to live, facts that influence his decision as an adult to join the Taliban and joyfully slaughter Hazaras in Mazar-i-Sharif. From the beginning of the novel, Amir understands that things beyond his control have great influence over his life. When war enters the story, this fact becomes clearer than ever. Suddenly, no one is safe, no matter what privileges they have or what they believe; anyone can be killed by a stray landmine, bomb, or bullet. The riots in 1973 were a comparatively gentle precursor to the devastation that would follow under the Russian occupation and then the Taliban.

Chapters Five and Six introduce kite fighting and kite running, activities that bring Amir and Hassan closer together but eventually cause a permanent rift between them. In kite fighting, as in any activity, the difference between Amir and Hassan is obvious. Even though Baba makes a point of buying the boys equally nice kites, Hassan relegates himself to holding the string and running the kites for Amir. Just as he is Amir's household servant, he is his kite-fighting servant. His loyalty to Hassan extends so far that he puts himself in grave danger with Assef instead of running away. As we know, he ends up suffering rape because he is so intent on being a good servant and friend and retrieving the winning kite for Amir. At the same time, kite fighting is an activity that allows Hassan to show how special he is. We got a taste of Hassan's almost eerie perceptiveness when he criticized Amir's short story; though an illiterate boy, he was able to point out a major flaw in Amir's writing. Just as Hassan did not need to see the words on the page to know that Amir's story was flawed, he does not need to look at a kite or its shadow to know where it is going to land.

Kite fighting brings Amir closer not only to Hassan but to Baba. It is the only sport at which he is proficient, which matters greatly to strong, athletic Baba. Amir admits, "Baba and I lived in the same house, but in different spheres of existence. Kites were the one paper-thin slice of intersection between those spheres." Amir feels so neglected by Baba that his longing for Baba's love and respect lead him to betray Hassan not once, but twice. Amir's victory brings him closer to Baba than ever before, a fact that Hassan's rape would have overshadowed; because of this, Amir does not stand up for Hassan or tell anyone about the rape. Later on, when his guilt becomes unbearable, Amir prefers to drive Hassan and Ali out of the house rather than admit to what happened and risk losing Baba's affection. The kite fighting incident underscores the sense in the novel that every action has a consequence or a price. In exchange for his newfound closeness with Baba, Amir must give up his closeness with Hassan.

Kite fighting occurs only twice in the novel, yet the title is devoted to it and it becomes synonymous with the themes of betrayal and retribution. After twenty-six years, Amir still remembers Hassan as "The Kite Runner" because the activity represents both the happiness he and Hassan once felt together and the incident that parted them forever. Amir feels "healed" when Assef beats him nearly to death and he pays retribution for his sin when he adopts Sohrab, but things are still grim because Sohrab will not speak or interact with anyone. It is when Amir runs a kite for Sohrab that things truly come full circle. Amir saves Sohrab from physical harm, but only very reluctantly; Rahim Khan has to trick him into bringing Sohrab to America. Amir is selfish in his charity, not wanting to have another person's blood on his hands. Yet when he runs the kite for Sohrab, he shows true loyalty and selflessness because he is no longer trying to allay his guilt; he is trying to truly save Sohrab by restoring his faith in life.