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As psychologist Rollo May once said: “The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it’s conformity.” Throughout Khaled Hosseini’s novel, The Kite Runner, the reader is exposed to the dueling themes of conformity versus nonconformity, and the effects of either of those actions on those around them. But can this battle of to conform or to not really help to change someone’s life? Hosseini presents the reader with the characters of Hassan and Baba, both who seem to project that actions of conformity and nonconformity really do decide the course of another’s life. Khaled Hosseini’s character of Baba shows the reader that if one conforms to societal expectations during times of crisis then he/she will see tragedy befall those around him/her, while his character of Hassan demonstrates that if one acts against societal norms during times of crisis then he/she will save those around him/her and be able to cause substantial change in his/her society. This theme is paralleled in Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto, where Marx shows that substantial societal change can only be achieved through the nonconformity of the lower classes.
The character of Hassan fails to conform to societal expectations in seeking to protect those he loves, and henceforth saves and even changes the course of others lives in doing so. To understand Hassan’s nonconformity, one must first understand Hassan’s role in Afghan society. Hassan, as a Hazara, is expected to be submissive, to obey, and to follow the supposedly superior class of Pashtuns, and to not go or act against what they say or do. The Minority Rights Group explains that “The persecution of the Hazaras … has existed for centuries where the Hazaras were driven out of their lands, sold as slaves and had a lack of access to services available to majority of the population” Yet, Hassan does not bow to the stereotypes of his Pashtun superiors. For example, he defends Amir (the Pashtun protagonist and Hassan’s friend) from Assef (the Pashtun antagonist, Hassan and Amir’s enemy). Assef confronts Amir, blatantly threatening to harm him, but Hassan steps in to defend Amir, “[holding his] slingshot pointed directly at Assef’s face. (Hosseini, 43)” By doing this, Hassan intentionally and knowingly defies his place as a submissive member of society. He knows the risk accompanying him in doing this but still chooses to do so to save Amir. Next, Hassan passes his rebellious ways onto his son, Sohrab, who once more fails to conform to society’s expectations and again saves Amir from Assef. Several year later, Amir once again confronts Assef, but this time he does not have Hassan to protect him, but this time Sohrab “had the slingshot point[ing] directly at Assef’s face. (291)” Sohrab does this not knowing who Amir is but still protects him as he fails to conform to his supposed place as Assef’s subordinate, who should not go against Assef’s wishes. The protective actions Hassan takes have primarily positive effects on himself and those he loves. As an effect of Hassan’s stepping in against Assef, Hassan protects both Amir’s and his own well being. After Hassan’s threats, “Assef retreated a step. His disciples followed. (44)” By defying common principle, Hassan rescues Amir as well as himself from a physical assault from Assef and his cronies. Had he not defied the racial directives of Afghan society, both he and Amir would face severe physical trauma. Hassan’s son, Sohrab, also steps in against the societal restrictions and disobeys his superiors to aid Amir. After Sohrab follows Hassan’s footsteps and again threatens Assef, he saves both himself and Amir from Assef, and they escape Assef’s compound, “[Amir] stumbl[ing] down the hallway, Sohrab’s little hand on [his]. (291)” By defying his place as Assef’s subordinate, Sohrab, like his father before him, saves Amir’s life as well as reinforcing his future (potential) well being by attacking Assef with his slingshot. However, Hassan’s well-intended actions equally have terrible repercussions. The damaging effects of acting against society can be seen specifically when Hassan fails to conform to his supposed place as a subordinate in society and fails to obey the Taliban. This can be seen when older Hassan is tasked with taking care of Amir’s house while he is in the United States, and the Taliban come to see why a Hazara is living in such a nice house alone. The Taliban tells Hassan that “they would be moving in to supposedly keep [the house] safe. (219)” However, “Hassan protested again. (219)”. In doing this, Hassan seeks to protect his family, who are residing in the house, by keeping the Taliban far away. Hassan so forth fails to obey those whom he is expected to, and pays dearly for it. Following Hassan’s refusal to meet Taliban demands of letting the Taliban into and around the house, the Taliban dragged Hassan out into the street, “and shot him in the back of the head. (219)” Therefore, Hassan’s response of defiance resulted in not only his own death, but the death of his family too. Had Hassan graciously welcomed the Taliban into the house, they would have likely spared him, but they would also likely have raped his wife and sent his child to fight and die. So, in Hassan’s attempt to save his family and himself, he, along with his wife and child, ended up dead.
The character of Baba does conform to societal expectations and henceforth brings suffering upon those around him. First, Baba only accepts a son who matches his own masculinity. He claims that “there is something missing in that boy. (22)” By saying this, Baba is conforming to expectations by requiring his son to me masculine and only do manly things, things he himself would have done. He refuses to accept his son when he shows anything less than brute masculinity, and therefore follows what society wants him to do. Secondly, Baba acts along what he believes a Afghan and specifically Pashtun male should be like in being strong and refusing medical treatment when he believes he does not need it. He decides “That’s a clear answer for me… No chemo-medication. (156)” In doing this he conforms to the image of a strong Afghan (that he believes in) that does not need any medication. He refuses to accept advanced medical treatment as he believes it is a sign of weakness, especially when he does not believe he needs it. However, if one does abide by what they believe is expected of them, they may see their conformity pay off. This can be seen specifically when Baba refused to let his Russian superiors take sexual advantage of the Afghan people. He tells a Russian soldier that “[he will] take a thousand of [the Russian’s] bullets before [he] let[s] this indecency take place. (116)” In doing this, Baba does conform to the Afghan male’s role of protecting the female, and in doing so, saves the Afghan woman from being raped. Baba’s strict adherence to common principles tend to have devastating effects on those around, but turn out well on occasion. First, Amir feel unloved and alone, in desperate need of the ability to prove his worth. He believes he needs to “show [Baba] once and for all that his son was worthy. (56)” due to Baba’s near abandonment of Amir takes a deep toll on Amir in the he is increasingly hostile and cruel towards others in desperation to prove his worth to Baba. Secondly, Baba’s death comes more rapidly. Shortly after Baba’s refusal of chemotherapy, Amir puts him to bed and “Baba never woke up. (173)” Thus, Baba’s refusal to accept medicine and therefore caused emotional and mental pain on his family due to his death. The damages of Baba’s death are evident on Amir as he references Baba and his mortality throughout the rest of the novel. However, Baba’s conformity has some positive impacts, specifically Baba saves the afghan woman threatened with rape. The woman’s husband shows his great gratitude when he “did something [Amir had] seen many others do before him: He kissed Baba’s hand. (117)” Baba’s conformity to the defense of women not only saved her but also saved her husband from great distress. He was able to protect her without defying established principles, and his accordance with said principles resulted, however surprisingly, positively.
One can see similar themes of one’s rising up against their established place resulting their own social and economic betterment in Karl Marx’s the Communist Manifesto. Marx argues that if the lower class desires change in their society, they must be the ones who catalyze that change, which can be seen in his assertive statements in his work. First, Marx begins by stating that the lower class is the one to control the tide of change. Specifically, Marx states that the “proletariat, historically, [have] played a most revolutionary part.” He states that the proletariat, the lower class in society, who typically subordinate to the upper class, are the ones with the capacity to create change, and can only do so through nonconformity to the roles to which the upper class wants them to play. Second, Marx claims that the proletariat have the ability to rend societies natural order through its own nonconformity, specifically that it “has pitilessly torn asunder [the ties] that bound a man to his ‘Natural Superiors.'” Marx claims that the proletariat are the ones to take the reins through nonconformity to their ‘Natural Superiors’. He believes that the achievement of societal betterment has historically been though the lower class seizing control from the upper class, and that it must happen again for society to benefit. Marx believes that conforming not to the upper classes’ desires, but to the lower classes aspirations is the way for one to benefit. Finally, Marx claims that the lower class carries societies future on its back. He claims it “cannot raise itself up without the whole superincumbent start of society being sprung into the air.” Therefore, he claims the proletariat are the class that must not conform if they desire change, as they are the ones who control the changing tides in their standing social and political territory. The results of Marx’s claims can be seen in the effects of the Communist revolution and the subsequent results of it. First, Marx tells us that upon the upheaval caused by the nonconformity, the upper classes will fall, and “into their place stepped, free of competition, the economic and political sway of the proletarian class,” and indeed, this occurred when the proletariat took societal control during the communist revolution. In their upheaval, the proletariat will gain power as the upper classes will be thrown from their throne and the proletariat will be able to seek to benefit all of the populous. Second, Marx argues that “[the bourgeoisie’s] fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable,” and his argument rang true as the bourgeoisie’s fall was immediately followed by the rise of the proletariat. He states that it is only a matter of time until the revolutionary and nonconformity of the lower class seizes the reins of power from the upper class. He believes that the nonconformity of the proletariat will cause the fall of the upper class, and therefore the social and economic betterment of the lower classes. Finally, Marx states that the instatement of the proletariat in power will “deprive [of the upper class] the power to subjugate the labor to others,” and the physical appearance of this can be seen in the mutually beneficial and willing labor of the communist revolution. In saying this, Marx believes that the nonconformity of those who did have labor appropriated on them will be more reluctant to do the same oppressive techniques on others, and therefore benefit all those who were previously oppressed both socially and economically.
Hosseini, Khaled. The Kite Runner. London: Bloomsbury, 2014.
Marx, Karl, Friedrich Engels, and Samuel Moore. The Communist Manifesto. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967. Print.
“A Quote by Rollo May.” Goodreads. Goodreads, n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2017.
“Hazaras.” Minority Rights Group. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 June 2017.
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