The Kite Runner

what do we learn about the protagonist amir in the opening chapter of the novel

Chapter 1: December 2001

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The Kite Runner begins with our thus-far nameless protagonist explaining that the past cannot be forgotten. A single moment in time defined him and has been affecting him for the last twenty-six years. This moment was in 1975 when he was twelve years old and hid near a crumbling alleyway in his hometown of Kabul, Afghanistan. When the protagonist's friend, Rahim Khan, calls him out of the blue, he knows that his past sins are coming back to haunt him even in the new life he has built in San Francisco. He remembers Hassan, whom he calls "the harelipped kite runner," saying "For you, a thousand times over." Rahim's words also echo in his head, "There is a way to be good again." These two phrases will become focal points for the rest of the novel and our protagonist's story.

Though brief, Chapter One of The Kite Runner sets the tone for the entire novel. Before we know anything about the protagonist, including his name, we learn that one moment in his past has defined his entire life. We do not learn exactly what the moment is until Chapter Seven. This tells us that the event has significance beyond its detail; it is not so much specifically the rape, but more generally the betrayal, that makes that moment in time so central to Amir's life. We also discover in the short first chapter that Amir has been trying to forget his secret for the last twenty-six years. His betrayal of Hassan haunts him continually throughout his life, but it is not until he is 'caught' that it spurs him to action-and then, very reluctantly. When Amir thinks he is alone with his secret, he can pretend it does not exist. Once he finds out that Rahim Khan knows what he did, he cannot hide from it anymore. Khaled Hosseini makes extensive use of foreshadowing in The Kite Runner, including Baba's statement, "God help us all if Afghanistan ever falls into [the religious fundamentalists'] hands," which anticipates the Taliban's takeover decades later. Hosseini's use of foreshadowing connects him to the genre of magical realism. Even though there are no supernatural events in the novel, there is an underlying sense that every action has significance and must come full circle.

From the foreshadowing in Chapter One, we can surmise that Amir's guilt has something to do with Hassan. That an event involving Hassan has defined Amir's entire life indicates Hassan's monumental importance as a character. Amir feels powerless as a child, so he takes out his frustrations on his unsuspecting best friend. He lords his privileges and his education over Hassan, but in reality it is Hassan who has power over him. We can tell this even from the title, which refers to Hassan (though also to Amir at the story's end). The most obvious indicator of Hassan's importance is the fact that Amir does not mention his own name until he reveals that it was Hassan's first word. It is as though Amir as we know him does not exist without Hassan, as though Hassan's voice-representing his influence-made Amir come into being.