Updated: Aug 8, 2021
In this paper, Amrita Das discusses the factors that contribute to Amir's silence in Khaled Hosseini's acclaimed book, The Kite Runner. She attempts to gauge not only the possible "silencing" triggers but also the ways Amir deals with them.
“A part of me was hoping someone would wake up and hear, so I wouldn’t have to live with this lie anymore. But no one woke up and in the silence that followed, I understood the nature of my new curse…” (Hosseini 75)
Amir whispered to himself one night. He was silent when he shouldn’t be. He wished someone woke up and heard him so he was spared from living with the secret. This wish explains that Amir was not willingly silent. He needed help to speak out. This paper aims to understand why was Amir silent and what his silence meant. Silence can be understood as one’s choice. At times, it also operates as an inherent part of one’s personality. In this paper, I explore quietness through the quiet child of The Kite Runner, Amir.
Amir, the narrator, gives an account of his life in Kabul, his birth, the Russian invasion and everything that followed. Looking at Amir’s childhood, the events and relationships, one can study his development into a quiet child. Studying Amir through the lens of Ariesian perception of a child, one deduces, despite being a child, he didn’t really have a childhood. According to the Ariesian theory, the child was not recognised as human but as someone under the process of becoming a human. Hence, the child came to be looked upon as a separate category that was vulnerable compared to the adults and entailed to be looked after. In Varieties of Childhood, Qvortrup observes: “Children in modern society basically belong to the private family, which is portrayed as a ‘haven in a heartless world’ or a retreat from the openness of public society.” (Qvortrup 2) Judging the society of Kabul, as it has been depicted, the children were not guarded from “the openness” of society. Once when Amir was with Hassan, both were exposed to racial remarks thrown at Hassan: ““You! The Hazara! Look at me when I’m talking to you!” the soldier barked.” (Hosseini 6) Amir was protected because of his Pashtun identity, but we do not see adults exercising their protective nature towards the children, as in, not letting them roam the streets alone, in this particular context.
Erikson, in Childhood and Society, mentions the importance of how trust develops within individuals through parental care from infancy. He explains how it is important for parents to make children feel there is meaning to what they are doing. Being motherless, his father was all he had. However, Amir felt his father wasn’t fond of him: “I always felt like Baba hated me a little. And why not? After all, I had killed his beloved wife, his beautiful princess, hadn’t I? The least I could have done was to have had the decency to have turned out a little more like him.” (Hosseini 17) His father’s behaviour towards him, leads Amir to this interpretation. For children, showcase of parental affection is significant. Its absence can make them question themselves or their parents resulting in a strained relationship between them. Amir’s silence was evoked by his father’s reproach towards him which, he thought, resulted primarily, from killing his mother and secondly, by not turning out to be more like his father.
To look deeper into Amir’s silence, I quote a particular incident :
“I didn’t know who Henry Kissinger was, and I might have asked. But at the moment, I watched with horror as one of the chapandaz fell off his saddle and was trampled under a score of hooves… I began to cry. I cried all the way back home. I remember how Baba’s hands clenched around the steering wheel… I will never forget Baba’s valiant efforts to conceal the disgusted look on his face as he drove in silence.” (Hosseini 18–19)
A still from the movie, The Kite Runner. Source: imdb.com
Here, Amir’s silence results from fear. Violence scares him. This scene is significant because of his observation of disgust in his father which leaves a lasting impact, primarily because of the disapproval Amir faces for being himself. Erikson’s observation regarding the importance of parental support, is what I observe lacking in Amir’s life. Amir’s father searched for his reflection in Amir and his failure leads to his disappointment. Amir seeks an escape from the guilt and fear of his father’s reproach in books. He discovers his love for reading which was stirred up by his longing to escape: “That was how I escaped my father’s aloofness, in my dead mother’s books.” (Hosseini 17) His father disapproved of Amir’s habit of reading: “…But he’s always buried in those books or shuffling around the house like he’s lost in some dream… I wasn’t like that.” (Hosseini19) I observe here a lack of trust, communication and acceptance between a father and his son which distances them. His father’s disapprobation of his difference, pushes Amir away and compels him to resort to escapist means. Another defining moment in their relationship was when Amir wrote a story:
“His glare made my throat dry. I cleared it and told him I had written a story.
Baba nodded and gave a thin smile that convened a little more than feigned interest. “Well, that’s very good, isn’t it?” he said. Then nothing more. He just looked at me through the cloud of smoke.
I probably just stood there for under a minute… Baba went on staring me down and didn’t offer to read.” (Hosseini 27)
His father’s lack of interest was insulting for him. This lack of encouragement and acceptance plays a crucial role in Amir’s life.
The above instances recognise how his relationship with his father lacked affection and proximity. For an infant, to experience the formation of a bond of trust and affection with his parents is important. This shapes the infant’s personality. Erikson states:
“… let it be said here that the amount of trust derived from earliest infantile experience does not seem to depend on absolute quantities of food or demonstrations of love, but rather on the quality of the maternal relationship… This forms the basis in the child for a sense of identity which will later combine a sense of being 'all right', of being oneself, and of becoming what other people trust one will become” (Erikson 223–224)
Amir’s infantile experience lacked the presence of parental care. Following which he grows up only to discover his father loathed him. This ripped him off his trust in himself. He was never able to face his father. Similarly, he also could never stand up to his bullies. His lack of trust in himself stems from the absence of a reliable relationship while growing up and his father’s absence during his infancy. For a growing child, a sense of doubt poses to be a threat for the individual. Erikson observes, it arises from his initial loss of trust. In this kind of a situation, the child develops “precocious conscience” and “learns to repossess the environment and to gain power by stubborn and minute control…” (Erikson 226) Amir develops a “precocious conscience” as well and tries to control his vulnerability by doing everything in his power. This reflects in his friendship with Hassan.
Besides social and religious difference, Hassan was a servant in Amir’s house. He polished shoes, waited the table, while Amir went to school. Amir’s perception of Hassan not being his equal was influenced by how society treated him. Children grow up witnessing a certain social structure. Some try to reason with the existing structure using their rationality which helps in cognitive development. Some internalise the society as it is. Amir was the latter. Both the children played together, annoyed their neighbours, but they failed to be friends due to their respective identities. Hassan mostly obeyed Amir and went against his will because Amir “really” asked him to, for example, firing walnuts with his slingshot at the neighbour’s one-eyed German shepherd. Hassan was not a quiet boy. When Amir gets bullied, Hassan rescues him. Hassan’s silence was imposed upon him by his social status. In his friendship with Hassan, Amir’s silence was fostered by his “precocious conscience”. For instance, when Assef questions Amir about how he could befriend a Hazara, Amir confesses that he almost blurted out that Hassan was his servant. Another time, Amir reads out a story to Hassan that he had written and with his permission, when Hassan asks a question, a voice whispered to Amir, “What does he know, that illiterate Hazara? He’ll never be anything but a cook. How dare he criticize you?” (Hosseini 30) Amir doesn’t utter these words out loud. I think his silence here was prompted by his pretence to keep his integrity intact. He was in denial of his unconscious prejudice against Hassan:
“But he’s not my friend!... He’s my servant! Had I really thought that? Of course, I hadn’t… I treated Hassan well, just like a friend, better even, more like a brother. But if so, why, when Baba’s friends came to visit with their kids, didn’t I ever include Hassan in our games? Why did I play with Hassan only when no one else was around? (Hosseini 36)
Another complication arises between them: jealousy. Amir’s father’s fondness towards Hassan didn’t please Amir, who was trying to win his father. Thus, Hassan posed as his rival. This triggered an insecurity in Amir. Amir gets caught in a pretence. His silence, here, is induced by trying to sustain his integrity which was resulting in shame and guilt. Amir tried concealing his prejudice, but he felt Hassan saw the truth. This sensation of being looked at, Erikson observes, develops shame in an individual. Erikson mentions, “Visual shame precedes auditory guilt, which is a sense of badness to be had all by oneself when nobody watches and when everything is quiet - except the voice of the super-ego.” (Erikson 227) Amir, initially, hears the voice of his id. When he turns his back on Hassan while Assef rapes him, we see Amir yield to this voice: “The answer floated to my conscious mind before I could thwart it: He was just a Hazara, wasn’t he?” (Hosseini 68) Amir was silenced by his prejudice and fear. He wasn’t willing to stand up to Assef, conquering his fear, for a Hazara.
Amir falls into the abyss of guilt following that incident. Visuals of Hassan’s sacrifice haunt him. He remains silent by pretending to be ignorant when Ali questions him. Firstly, Amir is silent because he feels he will lose his father’s affection, once again. Secondly, everyone will know him for being a terrible person. Children often choose silence and hide the truth to defend themselves. Here silence operates as a defence mechanism. From here, Amir hears the voice of his super-ego. His guilt results in silence that drifts him away from Hassan. He desperately wished Hassan confronted him since he lacks the ability to speak for himself. His silence protected his image but it came with a price. Amir understood the escape route from this guilt and shame was getting rid of Hassan from his life altogether. He frames him for theft. When Hassan accepts the allegation and leaves, Amir feels overwhelmed but remains silent. He couldn’t risk losing his father and simultaneously, he was also glad: “I was the snake in the grass, the monster in the lake. I wasn’t worthy of this sacrifice; I was a liar, a cheat, and a thief. And I would have told, except that a part of me was glad.” (Hosseini 92)
Amir carried this guilt with him later in his life until he chooses redemption. Erikson mentioned a phenomenon of becoming “obsessed by his own repetitiveness” (Erikson 226), which I see in Amir. Erikson observes that one might be able to bring situations within his power, but “Such hollow victory is the infantile model for a compulsion neurosis.” (Erikson 227) Amir shows how the bonds of trust and affection during one’s infancy is significant in forming their identity. Its absence had silenced Amir primarily. Later it contributes in his personality where we see him doubting himself for most of the time. His inability to stand up for himself prevents him to stand up for anyone else and somehow, he tries to get control of the situation and attains a “hollow victory” which mostly causes heartbreaks. Amir is symbolic of the children, who, deprived of parental care grow up in silence.
Erikson, Erik H. Childhood and Society. London: Paladin Grafton Books A Division of the Collins Publishing Group. 1977
Hosseini, Khaled. The Kite Runner. London: Bloomsbury. 2011.
Qvortrup, Jens. “Varieties of Childhood.” Studies in Modern Childhood. Ed. Qvortrup.
Amrita sees herself as a bookworm who is exceptionally fond of Agatha Christie and Enid Blyton. When she is not binge watching Harry Potter, she can be found reading Satyajit Ray or doodling moments from her life which she forgot to capture. Besides this, she's a post graduate from The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad whose interests lie in childhood studies and children's literature.