The Breadwinner

The Breadwinner Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What literary function does Shauzia play in The Breadwinner?

    Shauzia exists in the novel as a foil character against which Parvana's experience is contrasted. The girls are similar in that they must dress as boys to perform the breadwinner role in families where fathers are absent, and this key similarity provides a sense of camaraderie that keeps the girls motivated to make more money. The key difference is that Shauzia has contempt for the family she supports while Parvana continues to hold out hope that her family unit will be restored. Parvana feels invested in her family's survival while Shauzia knows she is being exploited. Shauzia's goal is to make enough money for herself to escape Kabul and her family on her own, leading her to engage in behavior more reckless than Parvana feels comfortable with. Shauzia's all-or-nothing, fatalistic attitude is possible because she feels she has nothing to lose. Through her exposure to Shauzia, Parvana can better understand herself, and she is able to affirm her stake in her family's continued existence because of the sense of cooperative wholeness they provide her.

  2. 2

    Compare and contrast Mother and Mrs. Weera. What do their responses to the hardships they suffer under the Taliban regime reveal about their characters?

    Mother and Mrs. Weera are both courageous, determined, and stubborn women who refuse to be browbeaten or broken by the regime. They share a belief in women's rights and covertly retaliate against the Taliban regime by participating in a women's resistance group and starting an Afghan women's magazine. However, their differences are revealed in the way they respond to tragic losses. Mother dwells in her grief, mourning her son long after his death. When Father goes to prison, the loss sends her into a depression, and she finds it almost impossible to carry on. And while Mrs. Weera suffers similar losses in her own life, having lost so many family members that she is left with no one except her grandchild, she maintains a tough but optimistic demeanor. While it may seem she is avoiding the hard, tragic truth of her life, Mrs. Weera's spirit of cooperation shows a way forward for Parvana's family following Father's arrest. In the midst of the oppression she faces, Mrs. Weera retains her faith in the Afghan people's ability to persevere.

  3. 3

    What is the significance of The Breadwinner's title?

    "Breadwinner" is the name of a person who earns money to support a family. In patriarchal societies, the breadwinner is often a male. In Taliban-ruled Kabul, extreme, misogynistic rules decree that women are not allowed to leave the home, attend school, or have jobs, enshrining patriarchy in law. Despite creating such a situation of women being dependent on men, the Taliban arrest Parvana’s father, leaving only women in the home. In a desperate situation, Parvana has no choice but to disguise herself as a boy and become the family breadwinner. Parvana's success proves how arbitrary, harsh, and inhumane the Taliban's laws are. In this way, the meaning of "winning" applies not just to the food Parvana provides her family but to how her courage, resilience, and cunning allow her to beat the Taliban at their own game.

  4. 4

    Parvana pays particular attention to her father's shalwar kameez. What is the garment's significance and how does that significance change over the course of the novel?

    Parvana's father owns a formal shalwar kameez, which Parvana admires for its beautiful, unsullied white fabric. Father wears the outfit at home, as it returns to him some of the private dignity the Taliban has taken from people in public. Unfortunately, he is wearing the clean white outfit when the Taliban invades his home to arrest him; the fabric quickly becomes stained and dirtied as they beat him. After his release from prison, Father is still wearing the garment. Although it's tattered and gray, the fabric remains intact, just as he has. In this way, Father's formal shalwar kameez symbolizes his perseverance: while the Taliban may try to take his dignity from him, he remains intact.

  5. 5

    Explain the significance of the Taliban in The Breadwinner.

    The Taliban is a fundamentalist Muslim militia movement. At the height of their power, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan's capital Kabul in 1996, as well as ninety percent of the country, leaving the remaining ten percent to be governed by the Northern Alliance, who were the official government. As a girl in Kabul, Parvana's life is upended by the Taliban regime, who decree that women cease going to work or school and not leave the home except when fully covered in a burqa and accompanied by a male. Parvana often longs to return to the boring life she led before the Taliban, when her biggest concerns had to do with school and fighting with her older sister. The continued dominance of the Taliban at the end of the novel reflects a bittersweet reality for Parvana: while she has learned to adapt to the circumstances of her life in ways that make her proud, her future is uncertain. She only has small victories of spirit against the oppressive regime.