The Breadwinner

The Breadwinner Quotes and Analysis

"The lesson here, my daughters," he looked from one to the other, "is that Afghanistan has always been the home of the bravest women in the world. You are all brave women. You are all inheritors of the courage of Malali."

Father, p. 26

In this passage, Father tells his daughters the story of Malali, a young girl who rallied the Afghan army to victory against the British imperial army even when outnumbered. Malali is emblematic of the courage of Afghan women, who must now remain brave in the face of Taliban rule. Parvana will carry this story with her after her father is arrested, reminding herself that her father would want her to be brave just like Malali.

"Parvana couldn't sleep. She could hear her mother and Nooria tossing and turning as well. She imagined every single noise to be either Father or the Taliban coming back."

Narrator, p. 30

On the night of her father's kidnapping, Parvana and her family toss and turn, unable to sleep. This passage exhibits the sense of paranoia the Taliban propagate, traumatizing people into believing they could burst through the door at any moment and upend their lives.

Nooria looked terrified. If Parvana didn't obey her, she would have to go for food herself. Now I've got her, Parvana thought. I can make her as miserable as she makes me. But she was surprised to find that this thought gave her no pleasure.

Narrator, p. 45

While Parvana used to enjoy tormenting her older sister, the serious need to support their mother and siblings causes Parvana to recognize the imperative to band together. This passage exhibits Parvana's loss of innocence as she comes to terms with her responsibility to support her family. In the face of extreme adversity, Parvana puts aside her old sibling grudge in favor of cooperation.

“We have to remember this,” Parvana said. “When things get better and we grow up, we have to remember that there was a day when we were kids when we stood in a graveyard and dug up bones to sell so that our families could eat.”

Parvana, p. 94

When Parvana and Shauzia find themselves digging up bones to make money to support their families, Parvana's reflects on how they must share their experience so that people know of the extreme, impoverished circumstances the Taliban regime has precipitated. This passage simultaneously conveys hope for the future; she is confident a time will come when she will be on the other side of her hardship.

"They don't stay there forever," Mrs. Weera said. "They get up again, and they fight back."

Mrs. Weera, p. 129

Parvana lies on a toshak (mattress) for two days when she learns that the Taliban has occupied Mazar, following the example her mother set in the early chapters of the book. Parvana insists this is what women in their family do to deal with grief, while Mrs. Weera reminds her that her mother recovered from her grief and soon began teaching and writing again. This passage touches on the themes of resilience and courage, both of which are qualities necessary for women living under the Taliban to fight against their oppressors.

"Land mines are as common as rocks and can blow you up without warning. Remember your brother."

Father, p. 136

In this passage, Parvana's father warns her of the imminent danger of landmines strewn throughout Kabul. Using a simile, he likens the ubiquity of landmines to rocks, which Parvana could step on at any moment and lose her life, just as her brother Hossain did.

When they first took over the capital city of Kabul and forbade girls to go to school, Parvana wasn’t terribly unhappy. She had a test coming up in arithmetic that she hadn’t prepared for, and she was in trouble for talking in class again. The teacher was going to send a note to her mother, but the Taliban took over first.

Narrator, p. 11

Early in the book, the narrator comments on how Parvana naively welcomed the Taliban's takeover of Kabul when it first happened because it meant she didn't have to worry about school. The passage is significant because it speaks to the profound difference between Parvana's current perspective and how she felt before the Taliban took over, when the authority figures she most feared were teachers and parents.

She grabbed hold of the bone that was sticking out of the ground and pulled. It came out of the dirt as if it were a carrot being pulled up from a garden.

Narrator, p. 90

When Parvana and Shauzia begin collecting bones at the graveyard, the first bone pulls out of the soil like a carrot. In this simile, Ellis makes a bizarre experience most readers would never have encountered seem familiar by likening the process to withdrawing a carrot from soil.

“What the bombs didn’t get, the bandits did. Makes it easier to move, though, doesn’t it?”

Mrs. Weera, p. 72

This passage is taken from a scene in which Parvana helps Mrs. Weera pack her few possessions before moving in with Parvana's family. After Mrs. Weera explains that she has lost her family and belongings in war, she jokes that it makes it easier to move. This turn to humor speaks to Mrs. Weera's resilient attitude in the face of adversity. She focuses resolutely on the future, refusing to dwell on her sorrows and grief.

Parvana settled back in the truck beside her father. She popped a dried apricot into her mouth and rolled its sweetness around on her tongue. Through the dusty front windshield she could see Mount Parvana, the snow on its peak sparkling in the sun.

Narrator, p. 141

The last lines of the novel end on a note of hope amidst the uncertainty Parvana faces. "Mount Parvana" is not the mountain's official name but rather the name her father, at the beginning of the book, bestowed upon it. By referring back to the reference, the book ends by suggesting that the world is what one makes of it; despite what more powerful people may wish to impose on her, Parvana's destiny is in her hands.