Parvana is the novel's protagonist. At eleven years old, her body is not recognizably a woman's, which allows her to disguise herself as a boy named Kaseem. By doing so, she is able to leave the home to make money and buy groceries. Parvana is often frustrated by the amount of responsibility she must take on as the family breadwinner. She longs to return to a normal, boring life in which she would be in school.
Parvana's father works reading letters for illiterate people at the Kabul market. Early in the novel, he is imprisoned by the Taliban for having a foreign education. Father walks with a limp, requiring Parvana's help getting up and down stairs. Before his arrest, he encourages his daughters to be courageous and proud despite the oppression under which they live.
Parvana's mother is a college graduate who used to work as a journalist before the Taliban forbade women to work and confined her to the house. Mother enters a depression following her husband's arrest. However, Mrs. Weera, a member of a women's resistance group, gets her involved in an underground school, continuing to teach young girls who are forbidden to go to school. The two also start an Afghan women's magazine.
Mrs. Weera is an old friend of Parvana's family who moves in with them following Parvana's father's arrest. She has a no-nonsense, resilient attitude. She used to coach sports teams; she applies the same motivational spirit to helping Parvana's family overcome their burdens and oppression.
Nooria is Parvana's seventeen-year-old sister, with whom Parvana often has friction. While Nooria finds Parvana annoying, Parvana finds her sister shallow, bossy and obnoxious. Before the Taliban took over, Nooria planned on attending college after graduation, specializing in education with the intention of becoming a teacher. At the end of the novel, Nooria leaves Kabul to marry a man whose family used to live next door.
Shauzia is Parvana's old classmate who also disguises herself as a boy in order to work at the market. Shauzia is bold and feisty, with little regard for consequences. Feeling little attachment to the family she must support, Shauzia saves money in order to escape to Paris.
Maryam is Parvana's younger sister. Having not left the home in months, Maryam's body is weak and tired. Parvana teaches her how to help gather buckets of water from the community tap; over time, the task helps Maryam rebuild her strength and stamina.
Homa is a young woman whose family is shot in the street when the Taliban takes over Mazar. Parvana discovers Homa in a bombed-out building in Kabul after Homa escapes her home city. With no family left, Homa decides to leave Afghanistan and travel to Pakistan with Mrs. Weera.
Ali is Parvana's little brother. As a baby, Ali freely expresses the restlessness Parvana's family feels in their cramped apartment, often fussing around and refusing to sleep.
Hossain is Parvana's older brother, who died from a landmine at fourteen. Their mother keeps his old clothes in a cupboard until Parvana wears them to disguise herself as a boy.
The Breadwinner Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Breadwinner is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Parvana and Shauzia had gone to the soccer stadium to sell things but discover the stadium had been turned into a Taliban punishment zone. Thieves are getting their hands chopped off. Mother's reaction is to question what century they are in...