The Kite Runner: Summary, Characters & Themes

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  • 0:02 Why You Should Read This Book
  • 0:24 The Characters
  • 1:33 The Plot Summary
  • 6:41 Main Themes
  • 8:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Lineberger

Jason has 20 years of education experience including 14 years of teaching college literature.

The Kite Runner is a contemporary novel set in Afghanistan that has drawn equal amounts of praise and controversy. In this lesson, you'll learn about the main characters, the main ideas, and get a summary of the crucial events.

Why You Should Read This Book

High school and college students across the country are being given Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner as assigned reading. On the surface, it's a book about two boys who grow up together in Afghanistan, a war-torn and landlocked country in central Asia. While the country comes undone, the book tells a touching story of friendship, betrayal, and redemption.

The Characters

At its heart, The Kite Runner is a story of love and betrayal, fathers and sons, good and evil, and the gray area in between. Here are the major players:

  • Amir is our main character. We see him grow up, form friendships, make mistakes, and fix those mistakes. He's the novel's narrator, Baba's son, and Hassan's bestie.
  • Hassan grows up as a servant in Amir's house, and the two are like brothers. Spoiler alert! Amir discovers much later that they are brothers! Well, half-brothers. Hassan is sweet and forgiving and sporty and loyal. He's also Hazara, a persecuted ethnic minority.
  • Baba is Amir's father and a larger-than-life figure. His nickname is Mr. Hurricane, and he looks like he could wrestle a bear, which, in fact, he did.
  • Assef is an evil, racist, sociopath, rapist, murderer. This guy is twisted.

The Plot Summary

Hosseini divides his book into three sections to tell Amir's story. We get his boyhood years in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Then he tells the story of his emigration to America as a young adult, and the novel ends with a return to his home country.

Part One

Amir grew up in a swank house in Kabul. His family is well off enough to have live-in servants: a father and son pair of Ali and Hassan. Amir's mama died giving birth to Amir, and since Hassan was also an infant, they shared the same wet nurse; a woman hired to breastfeed the babies. They grew up to be bosom companions. See what I did there?

The only hitch - Amir was born a Pashtun, and Hassan was born a Hazara. These are two ethnic groups in Afghanistan, but they're not equal. The Pashtun are much larger and more empowered, and Hazara get treated like second-class citizens.

Even though Amir had all the advantages growing up, he never got really close to his father, Baba, a local legend. Baba seems to prefer the servant's son, Hassan, over his own son. Hmm. Hassan - sporty, super nice, loyal. Amir - wimpy, into poetry, kind of a jerk. Doesn't seem to be that hard of a choice…

Amir comes up with a plan to win his father's affection. He enters the local kite fighting competition, which is just like it sounds: kite-on-kite fighting action. See, kites in Afghanistan aren't just pretty squares of paper that get stuck in trees. They coat the strings in tar and broken glass and simulate combat with them. Winners get to keep any kites they down.

A kite runner is the guy who chases down and collects the fallen kites for the winner. Hassan agrees to be the kite runner for Amir, who amazingly wins the tournament! And there's your title for the book.

As Hassan chases down a kite, he runs into Assef and his crew. These brutal bullies have caught a Hazara kid alone in an alley, and they decide to vent their racist aggression by raping him. Amir shows up while Hassan is being raped by Assef, but he's too scared to stand up for his buddy.

Here is Amir narrating that moment in the novel: 'I had one last chance to make a decision. One final opportunity to decide who I was going to be. I could step into that alley, stand up for Hassan - the way he'd stood up for me all those times in the past - and accept whatever would happen to me. Or I could run. In the end, I ran.'

Hassan, the angelic kid that he is, finds a way to get past the incident, but Amir absolutely can't live with his guilt. Every time Amir sees Hassan, he gets stabbed through the heart with guilt. So, does he confess to his friend and beg forgiveness? Heck, no! Instead, he hides a stack of cash under Hassan's mattress and frames him for stealing.

Hassan knows immediately who the real thief is, but even when faced with these terrible accusations, he remains pure and true. He knows Baba would hate Amir for framing someone, so Hassan admits to stealing - all to save his buddy, the guy who witnessed his rape and never said a word.

Part Two

With war threatening to tear apart their country, Amir and Baba flee to America. Amir adapts well, but Baba has trouble. He's not the living legend he was in Kabul. They barely make ends meet, but on the bright side, Amir falls in love and gets married.

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