What Role Does Religion Play in the Lives of Baba, Amir, and Assef, and in the Novel as a Whole?
The Kite Runner is a controversial narrative novel written by Khaled Hosseini – an author of the Afghan-American heritage. The story revolves around the life of Amir and is set throughout such events like the fall of the monarchy in Afghanistan, the military intervention of the Soviet Union, mass departure of refugees to the U.S. and Pakistan, and the Taliban regime establishment. This narrative is known for its familial settings and clearly expressed father-son relationships, as well as for raising the themes of guilt, redemption and atonement. The story itself enables the reader to get a thorough insight into the daily life of the Afghani people and into their culture.
Even though it is not the main theme of the novel, religion is always there, and its influence on the lives of the characters is vivid. Author approached the topic of religion from two sides – from the point of view of religious characters and from the point of view of those, who have their own understanding of religion, and, as a result, he was able to portray the process of Amir’s finding his own religion amongst these two sides.
Amir, who is as well a main protagonist, tells the entire story in The Kite Runner. The narration is set in such a ways that a reader starts to feel compassion towards Amir, but not because of his personality, but rather because of the events that he gets involved into. Therefore, one gets an insight of the importance of religion in the life of ordinary Afghani family first of all through the perception of Amir, and religion might seem to not be a major focus for him, but it is always present there. Since religion is an inalienable part of the Afghani culture, it is present in each aspect of the protagonist’s everyday life. Throughout the narrative, reader is able to see both positive and negative aspects of religion. In the story, the negative side of religion is expressed mainly through the fundamentalists who use religion beliefs as a tool to exert violence onto other people and to spread their control onto other people’s freedom (Hosseini).
The reader can also grasp the views towards religion from Baba – Amir’s father. He is a respected wealthy businessman. What is peculiar about him is that he is a freethinker, who always strives to do what is right and to think for oneself. What is more, Baba is not a supporter of the fundamentalism in the Islam religion, but he does have his own moral code that he follows throughout life and tries to raise Amir according to it. One of the first important episodes concerning religion in the lives of Amir and Baba is an occurrence when Ali, comes home from school and tells his father that he was taught that drinking alcohol is a sin. As a response, in order to teach Amir a lesson, his father pours himself a glass of whiskey (Hosseini). This scene is one of the many that contradistinguishes Baba and his views from the ones preached by mullah. Further, Baba tells his son “I see you’ve confused what you’re learning in school with actual education,” he then proceeds and calls the mullah and others like him ‘bearded idiots’, and tells Amir that it will be impossible for him to learn anything of value from them. Baba’s difference from the majority and his core attitude towards the fundamentalism in Islam is expressed in such a manner: “They do nothing but thumb their prayer beads and recite a book written in a tongue they don’t even understand,”… “God help us all if Afghanistan ever falls into their hands” (Hosseini). Afterwards, Baba tries to explain Amir that theft and all the variation that it has is the only real sin. Growing up with this kind of moral grounds, Amir gets confused and questions the existence of God. When the reader follows Amir through his childhood, it is possible for one to see that he was not a very religious child, but still he is able to develop a Muslim faith, yet with the solid moral grounds that his father had preached to him. Throughout his life, when Amir was in the need of comfort – after Baba’s CAT scan or when Sohrab tried to commit suicide – he turned to Allah, trying to find reassurance in the prayer (Hosseini).
It is impossible to detach the life of Amir’s family from the events happening in Afghanistan. Amir and his father were forced to leave the country and to immigrate to the U.S. There is no detailed description given by the narrator of the political events happening in Afghanistan, but the reader knows about the conflict that was continuing within the country after the Soviet troops left. When Amir narrates about the Taliban being in control of the country, the reader learns that the controlling group is using religion only for justifying the violence and authoritarianism (Hosseini). In the novel, there is Assef, a character who shows the reader the clear and vivid image of the Taliban. He was born into the Afghan-German family, and as the plot develops, it becomes clear that he possesses strong fundamentalist views on religion. It is obvious that Assef is the antagonist of the novel. Since childhood, he is portrayed to be a sociopath and a generally quarrelsome person. When he wanted to hurt Amir, he raped his closest friend Hassan, and he gave Amir Adolf Hitler’s biography as a birthday present. As he was growing up, his views on religion became stronger, even though they are usually contradicting with the main principles of Islam. Regardless of screening himself as a Muslim, Assef is a cruel racist, incapable of remorse, who is just using religion to justify his violent actions because he believes that the God is on his side (Hosseini).
The Kite Runner is a rather controversial literary piece that answers many questions, but rises even more. The reader follows the life of what might seem a typical Afghan family, but as the plot thickens, the things are more complicated than they seemed. Author raises many themes and religion, even though it is not clearly stated, is one of them. The reader can observe three views on religion – Baba’s free interpretation of what it really means to be a religious person; Amir’s confusion and ability to find his religion after all; and Assef’s radicalism that contrasts the religion as a whole.
Hosseini, Khaled. The Kite Runner. Bloomsbury, 2004.
O’Rourke, Meghan. “Do I Really Have to Read The Kite Runner?” Slate Magazine, Slate, 25 July 2005, www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/the_highbrow/2005/07/the_kite_runner.html.
Wilson, Craig. (2005, April 19). “Kite Runner Catches the Wind.” USA Today, 18 Apr. 2005, www.usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/books/news/2005-04-18-kite-runner_x.htm.
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