‘In the Kite Runner the politician and personal are always intertwined’. To what extent do you agree with this statement?
The Kite Runner is the story of one Afghan man as he recounts events and experiences and the problems he has had to face, both personal and political. I believe this statement is true – politics have a significant effect on our lives, whether we are consciously aware of it or not.
The novel is presented in a bildungsroman format, showing us the progression of Amir through different stages in his life. It is told in a first person narrative with Amir reflecting on his childhood, and whilst he is describing certain events he makes a particular point to also describe what was happening politically in Afghanistan. He mentions the ‘bloodless coup’ and puts in into his own timeline at the point where the friendship between the two boys starts to crack, showing the impact these events had on his own life.
Significantly, the book was written after the events of 9/11 in a response to the perception of Afghanistan and its people. Reacting to the attack, America retaliated and changed the public’s perception of Afghanistan. This stigma still exists today and is applicable to Muslims and people from the Middle East. With this novel, Hosseini is showing that Afghanistan is more than this stereotype – it has its negative aspects like any society, but is rich in culture and history. It highlights how political tensions can be manipulated to a personal level, and the effect of this in the long term.
There are moment in the novel where the political situation directly influences how the characters behave. When the Russians invade, the only option for Baba and Amir is to flee the country and move to America. This invasion is a message from the Soviets to America that Afghanistan belongs to them and America blindly accepts this; knowing what is going on but doing nothing about it. In doing so, it invites us to question how moral our governments are and how manipulative they can be in shifting blame. The power plays of the ruling classes can be disastrous for the civilians caught between these struggles for domination.
It could be said that politics govern the behaviour of people. It is the government who maintain the rigid class system by keeping Hazaras out of education and therefore it is the politics of the country that oppress them. This is maintained on a large scale as well as in domestic settings – Amir thinks of Hassan as ‘just a Hazara’ and Baba himself ‘never referred to Ali as his friend’. It is the politicians that are causing this divide, showing that what they do and how they act causes others to behave in the same way.
Gender politics is an important part of the book. The plot unfolds through the honest eyes of Amir and it is surprising to see the severe lack of women in society, both in Afghanistan and in America; although considered as having equal rights for men and women, Amir encounters very few women in California. The women are expected to remain silent and when they have any personality, they are considered imperfect. After Soraya’s mistake she is seen as impure and shunned from the Afghan society. When Amir shows any interest in her at all, her mother is said to have ‘barely concealed hope in her eyes’ – Amir as a man wields so much power over the future of this woman and this family purely because of his gender. The absence of women and power of men show how these societies are set up to favour men and this can be terrible for the women that rebel.
Assef has a certain significance both on a personal and a political level. To Amir he provides an antagonist that threatens his presence in Kabul. He is cruel and, unlike Amir, has no regrets about what he does, as demonstrated when he ‘stands in roomful of targets and lets the bullets fly, free of guilt and remorse’. As a character, he displays the negative elements of his society – the racism, the abuse and the hunger for power. Hosseini presents him as a despicable character whom Afghans themselves loathe. Assef continually takes on the ugly aspects of politics, showing how they are connected to us and how devastating the effects can be.
The political nightmare surrounding Afghanistan is reflected in the organisations. These experience a total breakdown in terms of the service they should be providing, suggesting how easy it is for people in positions of power to be corrupt. When Amir returns to Afghanistan, he is confronted by a dying boy on the street, as well as a policeman who bluntly states ‘Just another dead Afghan kid’. Instead of being a guardian member and resolving to help people, he chooses to ignore the fundamental problems and if anything, contributes to the failure of society. Similarly, it is soldiers that threaten the Afghans – the people who were sworn to protect are now being used as a means to terrorise the country. Even the orphanage, a place of safety, has become a place where it is possible to buy these vulnerable children, neglecting their fundamental reason for being an orphanage at all.
The clearest moment when the political aspects and the personal aspects are combined is when Sohrab attempts to take his life. On a personal level, this scene is shocking as we are witness to the ‘bloody bathwater’ and Amir’s own shock of this. However there is also a political element to it – in this moment, Sohrab is a symbol for Afghanistan – as an innocent victim, he epitomises the abuse of the Taliban as well as the lack of any Western aid to combat this problem. Even when help comes, it is often too late and the events were so traumatic that they have a much longer term effect. This tortured country is not able to hold itself together, and needs significant support in order to heal.
In conclusion, there is clearly a link between the politician and the personal, whether this has direct impact or whether it subconsciously influences the characters to behave in a certain way. Hosseini is making an obvious point that we must be mindful of politics and not let them govern us completely.