The Breadwinner

The Breadwinner Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7 – 9


In chapter seven, Mother sends Parvana to the market with her father’s blanket and writing things and a few items to sell to try to earn money. Parvana likes the idea of earning money, thinking it would mean she would be made to do fewer chores. She chooses the same spot she went to with her father. She wonders if anyone will pay her to read, as she’s only eleven. She spreads the blanket and waits. Men slow down and keep going. With dread she imagines people discovering she is a girl.

A Talib with a rifle slung across his chest asks if she’s a letter reader. She confirms she can read and write in Pashto and Dari. He commands her to read a very old and creased letter from Germany addressed to the soldier’s wife. Dear Niece, it begins, and goes on to address the woman on her wedding day. A tear falls from the man’s eye into his beard as he takes the letter back in his pocket. He says his wife is dead; he wanted to know what the letter said. She offers to write a reply, but he shakes his head and gives her some money. She takes a deep breath as he walks away. She has only known the Taliban as men who beat women and arrest her father. She is surprised to learn they also have feelings of sorrow like other human beings.

Her only other customer is a man who wants her shalwar kameez, a garment. She haggles with the man, pointing out the delicate embroidery her aunt had done on the fabric. The feeling of stuffing the money in her pocket helps her feel almost no regret as she watches the red cloth flutter in the breeze as the man carries it into the crowded market. Tidying up to go home, she thinks painfully of her father and asks in her head that he come home. How can the sun be shining while he’s in jail? she thinks. A flicker of movement catches her eye. She thinks it comes from behind a blacked-out window, but wonder how it could. She decides she is imagining things. Feeling the money in her pocket, she runs home proud.

In chapter eight, Mrs. Weera says she’s moving in with them. She and Mother will be starting a magazine, Nooria will look after the little ones, and Parvana will work. After lunch, Parvana accompanies Mrs. Weera to help get her things to move in with them. Mrs. Weera says she could outrun most of the Taliban soldiers. Parvana says she saw one cry, but Mrs. Weera doesn’t hear. In her room, which is even smaller, they collect her possessions. Mrs. Weera says she and her grandchild are the last of the Weeras—the rest were taken out by bombs, war, or pneumonia. She says she lost most of her possessions in bombs or bandit raids; she jokes that it makes it easier to move. One thing they didn’t get is a gleaming gold medal Mrs. Weera won for an athletics competition: she was the fastest woman runner in Afghanistan.

After Mrs. Weera is moved in, Maryam wants to accompany Parvana to the water tap. Mother confirms Maryam knows to call Parvana Kaseem outside. Maryam hasn’t been outside in over a year, so her plastic sandals don’t fit. Her muscles don’t work well, meaning Parvana has to help her on the steps, as she helped Father and Mother. Parvana teaches her to collect the tap. She only imagines one trip that day, but after Parvana buys her new sandals, Maryam accompanies her every day to collect water. Gradually, Maryam grows stronger.

A pattern emerges in the Parvana’s days: selling at the market in the morning, home for lunch, back to the market in the afternoon. Parvana realizes she could act as an escort to Mother and Nooria. Every day after lunch they go out for an hour, walking around until their legs get tired. When no one is around, Nooria lifts her burqa and feels the sun on her skin. Over time the various members of the family regain their energy. Parvana likes it when her mother comes with her to the market, having her all to herself, even though they only talk about how much oil or soap they can afford. Parvana still misses her father, but she gets used to him being gone. One day at the market she sees him and runs to embrace him. The stranger asks who she is. She admits her mistake and he tells her not to give up hope of her father’s release.

One afternoon she finds a small square of embroidered cloth on her selling blanket. The little blacked-out window across from her is open. Parvana sees a woman’s face smiling before she pulls the window shut. A few days later some tea boys are running when one trips. Parvana helps him up and gathers the cups that rolled away. Parvana lets out a gasp when she sees the boy’s face: the tea boy is Shauzia, a girl from her class.

Chapter nine begins with Parvana whispering Shauzia’s name; she says to call her Shafiq. Shauzia says she’s doing the same thing as Parvana. Parvana sits stunned as she watches her friend blend into the crowd of tea boys. At the end of the day, Shauzia returns and they decide to walk and talk as they leave the market. Shauzia says her father died and her brother went to Iran to find work. Shauzia has been working for six months. Shauzia says most arrested people are never heard from again, but Parvana says her father is different. The conversation is awkward, so they discuss business instead. Shauzia wants to sell things on a tray to make better money. Parvana invites Shauzia in; everyone embraces her like an old friend. Mrs. Weera asks if Shauzia is keeping up with studies. She says her father’s parents don’t believe in education for girls. Mrs. Weera says she’s starting up a secret school and that Shauzia must attend.

Over supper Mrs. Weera says she wants to visit Shauzia’s mother to get her story for the magazine. Parvana asks how they’ll publish it. Mrs. Weera says they’ll smuggle the stories to Pakistan, print it, and smuggle the publications back. Nooria wants to contribute to the secret school, as she had been training to be a teacher before the Taliban took control. Parvana doesn’t like the idea of learning from her sister. Shauzia and Parvana continue to meet at the market as the days pass. One day Shauzia says she heard of a way to make lots of money, but warns Parvana she won’t like it. Parvana’s mouth drops open when she hears what it is. Shauzia was right: she doesn’t like it.


In chapter seven, Parvana begins her new life as the family’s breadwinner, setting up her father’s blanket at the same spot in the market. Where she only last week had to remain silent and conceal her face behind a chador, now Parvana is shouting to customers to drum up business.

In a tense but illuminating exchange, her first customer is an illiterate Talib; the rifle strung across his chest is an overt symbolic reminder of the violence he could inflict upon her if she fails to uphold her disguise. But in an instance of situational irony, Parvana sees the Talib sob. It is a discordant image. She had only ever known the Taliban to be ruthless, terrorizing oppressors. The fact that the man cannot contain his emotion over his dead wife suggests to Parvana that the soldiers are capable of feeling sorrow, exhibiting human emotions she herself recognizes; they too have trauma.

Parvana’s next customer is a man with whom she haggles in order to get a good price for her treasured red shalwar kameez. Her willingness to let go of the outfit symbolizes Parvana maturing into her role as breadwinner; as much as she was attached to the formal clothes from her former life, the feel of the cash she receives for the clothes satisfies her enough to let go. At the end of the chapter, Ellis introduces the subplot of the woman behind the black-painted window. The flicker Parvana sees foreshadows the voiceless relationship she later develops with the woman, who is privately abused in the home in which she is confined.

The eighth chapter sees Ellis develop the theme of cooperation when it is revealed that Mrs. Weera is moving in with Parvana’s family. Having both lost or been separated from members of their families, Mrs. Weera and Parvana’s mother create a new family structure based on cooperation and the mutual dependence single women need to survive the Taliban regime. Parvana learns that the woman has lost nearly all of her possessions and family members, yet she retains a matter-of-fact and somewhat lighthearted attitude to her plight, joking ironically that her lack of possessions makes it easier to move.

As time passes, Parvana and her family exhibit their resilience, going outside more and more and steadily rebuilding their health, strength, and courage. Maryam’s disused legs slowly regain their former power—a symbol for the development the entire family experiences out of necessity. In chapter nine, an instance of situational irony occurs: in meeting Shauzia, disguised as Shafiq, Parvana learns she is not the only girl pretending to be a boy in order to support her family.

Shauzia functions as a foil character in the narrative—a secondary character whose similarities and differences help reveal more about the protagonist, Parvana. While Parvana believes in the importance of family, Shauzia is eager to escape her own family, who she believes are exploiting her labor. Shauzia is also bolder than Parvana. In her desire to flee Afghanistan for France, Shauzia is willing to take greater ethical risks to make money, introducing, at the end of the chapter, a money-making scheme she knows will shock Parvana’s gentler nature.