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The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini, centers around the interplay between guilt, redemption, and sacrifice. Hosseini refers to the concept of religious sacrifice through which individuals cleanse themselves of sin and free their consciences. Betrayal leads to guilt, which requires healing. The healing, in The Kite Runner’s case of generations of guilt and betrayal, is done through emblematic sacrifice. The character Hassan often serves as a bridge between two characters, allowing for reconciliation with one another. In the novel, Hosseini employs Hassan as a symbolic, sacrificial lamb, who acts as a means of redemption for those who have sinned.
From the start of the novel, Hassan was used by others as a means of redemption and reconciliation with other characters. Beginning at his birth, Hassan lived with and was taken care of by Baba so that Baba could redeem himself for sleeping with Ali’s (Hassan’s father’s) wife. Although he was not necessarily sacrificed, considering his living conditions were far better than those of the other Hazzaras in Kabul, this situation foreshadowed Hassan’s future as a vector for redemption. Hassan’s first major manipulation as a sacrifice occurred when he was twelve years old, where he mediated the reconciliation between Amir and Baba. Throughout Amir’s entire life, he felt unworthy and unloved by his father. He believed that he killed his mother in childbirth and that his father resented him for it. He was nothing like Baba and believed himself to be a constant disappointment to him. At age twelve, Amir found that he could gain his father’s approval by winning a kite flying tournament. He believed that if he won the tournament, it would “[S]how him [Baba] once and for all that his son was worthy. Then maybe my life as a ghost in this house would finally be over… And maybe, just maybe, I would finally be pardoned for killing my mother” (Hosseini 56). As Amir’s “kite runner,” Hassan ran to catch the second-place kite so that Amir could present it to Baba as a prize and a final plank on the bridge between the two’s relationship.
While retrieving the kite, Hassan was raped by the psychopath Assef because he refused to give up the kite and let Amir, his best friend, down. It is in this scene, Hosseini made a major reference to the sacrifice of a lamb. He said “… I had seen it before. It was the look of the lamb” (76). Here, Hassan’s rape forced Amir into a flashback to a moment when he watched a lamb’s sacrifice. He said ” I watch because of that look of acceptance in the animal’s eyes… I imagine the animal sees that its imminent demise is for a higher purpose. This is the look…” (76,77). When Amir spoke about “that/the look,” he was referring to the look on Hassan’s face as Amir watched the selfless sacrifice in the same way that he watched the lamb’s slaughter. Instead of stopping it, Amir stood watching the entire time. He consciously allowed the sacrifice of his best friend to occur before his eyes because “… Hassan was the price I had to pay, the lamb I had to slay, to win Baba” (77). The sacrifice was successful in mending the relationship between Baba and Amir (however only temporarily because the real problem was Baba’s deep-rooted guilt), but destroyed the relationship between Amir and Hassan. Hassan’s selfless sacrifice for Amir became the subject of Amir’s unfaltering guilt, leading to Hassan’s second sacrifice for Amir.
Amir’s guilt over his selfish acts is the focus of the rest of the novel. Amir not only felt guilt, but contempt for himself after experiencing Hassan’s God-like and forgiving nature. This sent him into a downward spiral of cruel attacks on Hassan in an attempt to force the same angry reaction out of Hassan. When these attempts failed and Amir still could not forgive himself, he was forced to manipulate his father into making Hassan leave the house so that he would not have to see Hassan again and be reminded of his mistake. Amir framed Hassan for stealing one of his possessions and Hassan, knowing Baba would take his truthful word over Amir’s, sacrificed himself for Amir and wrongly confessed to the theft. Again, Hassan acts as a lamb, sacrificed for the benefit of Amir and the relationship between him and his father. This is clearly a second sacrifice, as Amir says “[T]his was Hassan’s final sacrifice for me… He knew I had betrayed him and yet he was rescuing me once again… I wasn’t worthy of his sacrifice” (105). Then, after being surprisingly forgiven by Baba, Hassan and Ali left the household only to enter into poverty, carrying out somewhat of a third sacrifice to Amir. This sacrifice could have been done to save Amir from the guilt of facing Hassan, or simply because Hassan and his father were so hurt by Amir’s act. As a result, Amir and Baba’s relationship was saved a second time through Hassan’s selfless sacrifice, reinforcing his role as a sacrificial lamb.
From teenage years into adulthood, Amir was haunted with the guilt of allowing his perfect, pure, and God-like friend to be raped, as well as pushing Hassan and Ali into poverty and blackening their names. After more than twenty years, Hassan’s final sacrifice was administered through his son, Sohrab, to save Amir from his sins and from himself. Hassan, who eventually lived on Baba’s property after he was gone, refused to give up the property to the Taliban and was murdered on the street. This sacrifice unintentionally allowed for Amir’s redemption through a piece of Hassan: his orphaned son, Sohrab. Sohrab, like Hassan, was raped by Assef, a member of the Taliban. In an attempt to rescue Sohrab, Amir unknowingly redeemed himself from his mistake-laden past. Again, a reference was made to the biblical sacrificial lamb during Sohrab’s rape when Amir said “Sohrab’s eyes flicked to me. They were slaughter eyes” (285). While Sohrab was not directly being sacrificed for Amir’s benefit, he was carrying on his father’s role as a path to reconciliation between a Amir and Hassan and Amir and himself. After adopting Sohrab into his family, Amir was finally able to obtain a pure and guilt-free conscience. By the end of the novel, Amir was cleansed of the sin of betrayal, which was shown when he was finally able to fly a kite again with a part of Hassan (Sohrab) by his side.
Throughout the novel, Hassan is representative of a symbolic, sacrificial lamb who acts as a means of redemption for characters who have sinned against other characters. Because of Hassan’s God-like qualities and morals, his sacrifice could be compared to the biblical sacrifice of Jesus, sometimes called “The Lamb.” In biblical context, God’s sacrifice through his son, Jesus, provides a way for sinners to reach heaven. Similarly, Hassan’s sacrifice is a passage to redemption, good relationships, and adulthood. After Amir used Hassan as a sacrifice for the first and second times, he passed from childhood into adulthood. In the same way, Hassan’s death and unintentional sacrifice of his son, Sohrab, allowed Amir to pass from his life dominated by a guilty conscience to a life free of shame, where he is able to finally forgive himself.
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