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Khaled Hussainis The Kite Runner English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2934 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Khaled hussainis The kite runner is a novel whose narration is fraught with contradictions. The narration becomes unreliable because of these contradictions and invites the reader to closely scrutinize the account of events as presented by the narrator. The horrific description of the brutal regime of Taliban sharply contrasts with how the narrator and his befriended kid manage to come out of that area alive. Too many chances and coincidents have been employed to propel the narrative ahead. The evolution of the narrative unreliability from both to the present theoreticians has also been taken into consideration while analyzing the novel’s narrative. Since the narrator and the focalizer are the same, the chances of unreliability increase. The focalizer of the first is the seven years old child who has later grown up and his dependence on an elusive memory is too much. The narrator leaving the states and an happy life and traversing the perilous areas of Taliban controlled Afghanistan just to satisfy his conscience seems unlikely.


The “Kite-runner” is a very famous novel published in 2002 by a medical practitioner and man of letters Khaled Hussaini who has worked a great deal for the welfare of Afghan citizens and runs the Hussaini foundation. a movie version of the novel is available as well. The novel became an instant hit for its touching and poignant human stories as well as for its scathing and bitterly sarcastic portrayal of the Taliban regime. One reason of its popularity was its publication at a time when the U.s attacks had toppled the Talibs and there was a large interest in knowing about Afghanistan. This paper is meant to explore the element of unreliable narration in the novel both in terms of its cognitive and rhetorical models. Narrative unreliability has assumed a very critical place in current narratology and its implications have gone far beyond the discrepancy between the actual and the implied as pointed out by Dhoker’s and Martens: “Indeed, from a passing reference in the discussion of fictional irony, unreliability has become a theoretical touchstone for the distinction between story and discourse”

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In any typology of narrators, their reliability/unreliability occupies a crucial place for determining the authenticity of narration, the tone of the writer and his real attitude towards the given issues. Ever since Vain C. Booth coined the term, it has not only been extensively conceptualized and reconceptualized but also put to widely differing modes of practical usage. Booth’s own definition -[Booth 158] “I have called a narrator reliable when he speaks for or acts in accordance with the norms of the work (which is to say the implied author’s norms) , unreliable when he does not.”[Booth 158] has become a benchmark for all succeeding theoreticians and practitioners. A reliable narrator is one whose account of the events of the story as well as his description and commentary is considered true and accurate by the reader. The assumed truthfulness and accuracy of the narrator is grounded in his conformity with the norms of the text as well as those of the implied author. Unreliable narration designates such a description and rendering of the story as can be reasonably subjected to suspicion or summarily rejected by the reader depending on the degree of unreliability. David Hermon invests the term with a more acutely reader-oriented sense and unreliability is assumed to belong to the reader rather than any (implied)author: “A mode of narration in which the teller of a story cannot be taken at his or her word, compelling the audience to “read between the lines” – in other words, to scan the text for clues about how the storyworld really is, as opposed to how the narrator says it is”. [194]

“The Kite Runner” is a well-known novel written by Khaled Hussaini who is a U.S citizen currently living and working there. The novel recounts the tale of an affluent family of Kabul and their servants. It covers the period from the time when monarchy of zahir shah in Afghanistan was breathing its last to the Taliban era. from thereon, the setting of the story shifts to the States. Amir’s father, known as Tufan Agha for his valour has Hazara servants Ali and Hasan who have been serving him .Amir’s father has a very complex relation with his servants and their son. Amir is the legitimate son of Baba whereas Hasan is the son of Ali’s wife Sanauber not actuallly fathered by Ali but by Baba himself. the whole story revolves around the lives of these and their extended families. Amir is haunted by the sins and persecutions they committed on the Hazaras and all his life he keeps on trying to heal those wounds. “The Kite Runner” is a first-person narration in which the narrator is a participant in the story: thus becoming a homodiegetic narrator and since there is no narrative voice existent in the narrative that can be said to be above him or superior to him, he is also an extradiegetic narrator: thus an extra-homodiegetic narrator. This typological subsumption does not end here though. As genette points out, homodiegetic narrators have varying degree of participation in the story: some being the protagonists-narrators while others having a subsidiary role to play. Amir, accordingly is the central character as well as the major narrator of his own story. Genette calls Such narrators ‘autodiegetic’ for they tell their own tale. It is generally observed that a narrator’s unreliability is directly proportional to his involvement or participation in the story. Thus Amir’s narratorial authority can justifiably be questioned as he is the protagonist/autodiegetic narrator of the tale. The idea of unreliability does not incubate in a vacuum. sources of of it have been identified by various critics. Shlomath-Kenon, for example, points out that “The main sources of unreliability are the narrator’s limited knowledge, his personal involvement, and his problematic value-scheme”. As we will see, all three of these elements in the narrator of the novel provide the reader with sufficient clues to explore this aspect of narration. [103]

Although the narrator of the first part is the Adult Amir Agha, yet all the events are focalized by a child who is sensitive and perceptive. Even if the adult Amir-the narrator-is to be relied upon, the focalizer is surely too immature to be given the status of the authentic representative. This issue is significant far beyond itself: “what is at stake is not whether unreliable focalization or fallible filtration ‘exists’ but what we gain when we conceive of focalizers as fallible or unreliable”(Nunning). We do not come across any ripe and insightful commentary on the actual political scenario of Afghanistan especially in the first part of the novel.

beneath the overtly humanistic story of a few guiltridden families constantly seeking to atone for their past misdeeds and search for better lives, the novel seems to have an implicitly political and propagandist design: it is a tale written from the view point of the western invaders if not directly from that of Isaf. The narrator is putting these words about the emerging Taliban force and their regime in the mouth of a professor-reduced-to beggar: “They drive around looking. Looking and hoping that someone will provoke them. Sooner or later, someone always obliges. Then the dogs feast and the day’s boredom is broken at last and everyone says ‘Allah-u-Akbar!’ And on those days when no one offends, well, there is always random violence, isn’t there?”.[219] Setting aside the question of the real or imagined brutality of Talibs, the general scheme and recurrent ideas of the novel must have been perfectly suited to the prevailing sensibility around the phenomenon of terrorism and its agents. The naive and simplistic narrator who is bent upon replenishing a one sided account of the Afghan saga, perhaps stands as an ironic testimony to the hysteria and paranoia about the Talibs generated by the international forces and their media.

From the personal and human standpoint, the narrator tells the tale of tussle between good and evil, of divine retribution and poetic justice where the innately bad are cursed and the repentant sinners are absolved. But the very structure and events of the tale posit such inherent contradictions and insuperable deadlocks( out of which the writer gets out only by randomly interpolating and arbitrarily fabricating the events of the tale in order to achieve his objectives) that very often the tone seems ironic and the implied author’s norms and value-schemes widely differ from that of the narrator.

The persecution of hazaras is embodied in the character of Hassan. Hassan is a boy with many abilities: a good kite-runner, having bull’s eyes in using slingshot and an infinite storehouse of patience etc. on the other hand, he is portrayed as utterly resigned, passive, nonresistant: his loyalty amounts to stoicism. His character portrayal lack depth and intensity and it is mutually inconsistent. The narrator has ascribed to Hassan all qualities he deemed to fit in the general fabric of the tale. In response to Baba’s query about stealing the watch: “Hassan’s reply was a single word, delivered in a thin, raspy voice: “Yes.” [89]… Then I understood: This was Hassan’s final sacrifice for me”. He accepts the allegation of theft so readily despite his awareness of Amir’s fault that such a devotion from a child for his peer seems psychologically unconvincing. This over-altruistic behavior and unconditional love enhances the skepticism surrounding the narrator’s reliability. Hassan’s character seems a mere puppet: a device to fill in the missing links of the story. Then suddenly there is a rapid turn of events. The devoted, the loyal, the dedicated Hassan who used to say “for you thousands times Amir agha” [212] decides to forsake their masters along with Ali. All this-because it was necessary for the unfolding of next turn of events of the impending Russian invasion and the Baba’s family’s exodus to Pakistan. The narrator leaves many questions unanswered. Why did Baba let the servants depart when he could viably claim that Hassan was his son. He doesn’t even bother about locating the illegitimate son. Baba who is so sympathetic, so considerate as to build orphanage for the needy, to distribute alms generously suddenly becomes so hard-hearted. he could have asked Rahim Khan to trace Hassan and his family or assist them in some other way. But the courageous bear-fighting Baba, one who was prepared to take on the armed Russian soldier for the honor of an unknown lady, treats his own family so indifferently leaving all the redeeming and conciliatory gestures to be accomplished for Amir is not graspable by any stretch of imagination. This gross inconsistency must be a flaw of portrayal or a naivety on the part of the narrator.

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During Amir’s second coming to Afghanistan for rescuing Sohrab from the Taliban and his adoption, he receives many a wound. One of these wounds is a cut on his upper lip. Dr. Faruqi had said: ”The impact had cut your upper lip in two, he had said, clean down the middle. Clean down the middle. Like a harelip” [259].This effort of the narrator of identifying himself with Hassan, the harelip, is pathetic: he is trying to establish a close kinship between the two of them. still this scar and its description seems to be a contrivance, an artificial mechanic to make the reader slide along with the flow of the story that may or may not come to fruition. the chain of events is presented as a conclusive absolving and redeeming act: all the guilt and remorse that Amir’s conscience had been going through, is over. He has metamorphosed into a Hassan at least from the exterior if not the interior. The very notion of Amir’s sense of guilt is exaggerated and amplified for his passivity and inaction in the case of helping Hassan against his molesters belongs to the time of his childhood. a child of twelve cannot retain so much remorse and guilty conscience for that long.

The conditions under the Taliban regime are not presented in a neutral coloring either. The regime was no doubt hostile to freedom and open-mindedness and those considered impediments in their way of life were done away with instantly. Yet the narrator might as well have maintained a neutral standpoint on it. but a very scathing diatribe of the Talibs has been hatched as if to justify the U.S lead invasion of Afghanistan. They are portrayed some cannibal-like beasts who have no concern for humanity at all: ruthless callous and always infuriated. They proudly stage public executions. Flogging and stoning is shown as an everyday phenomenon. A description of an adulterer’s stoning is given like this: “The Talib… hurled the stone at the blindfolded man in the hole. It struck the side of his head. The crowd made a startled “OH!” sound. …The man in the hole was now a mangled mess of blood and shredded rags. His head slumped forward, chin on chest” Hussaini[239]. Here, the focalization of incidents is explicitly Americanized through a series of figures and personalities evoked to describe the performance. The stoner talib is “like a baseball pitcher on the mound” and he is in “john Lennon sunglasses”.

Ups and downs of life are not predictable and princes are sometimes reduced to paupers but one could reasonably ask why did not Dr. Rasul who was a renowned professor of Persian poetry as he says: “I taught Hãfez, Khayyám, Rumi, Beydel, Jami, Saadi. Once, I was even a guest lecturer in Tehran, 1971 that was. I gave a lecture on the mystic Beydel. I remember how they all stood and clapped”, Hussaini[220] leave Afghanistan in search of better life. Why did he content himself to begging in the streets when he would have followed a scholarly career abroad? Perhaps all that partakes of “that Afghan tendency to exaggerate-sadly, almost a national affliction”. Hussaini[12]. Cultural barriers and socioeconomic differences play a crucial part in reading or misreading of texts. In order to accommodate a wide range of audience, many deviant forms of narration are employed and unreliability is one such mode. It is employed by the recipient of the text “as a way of naturalizing textual inconsistencies by giving them a function in some larger pattern supplied by accepted cultural models”. Nunning [53]

Another highly melodramatic and fabricated scene is that of the duel between Amir and Asif and all that follows. Throughout the novel, the writer has attempted to get entangled in the past events by incorporating repetitious scenes in the narrative. Perhaps the narrator is narrating in a semi-magico-realist tone. first, Amir manages to get out of Asif’s house along with sohrab despite all the horrific and beastly picture he has painted of The Taliban: those in whose mouth the narrator has put the following words about the alleged Hazara massacre in Mazar-e-Sharif, “Door-to-door. We only rested for food and prayer, . He said it fondly, like a man telling of a great party he’d attended. “We left the bodies in the streets, and if their families tried to sneak out to drag them back into their homes, we’d shoot them too. We left them in the streets for days. We left them for the dogs. Dog meat for dogs.” Hussaini[243] Amir’s survival was essential to the development of the narrative, so he like a Bollywood hero comes out successful miraculously in his adventure. the presence of sohrab with the slingshot at Asif’s house is another contrived and highly unlikely occurrence although the narrator does attempt to furnish a solid background to this coincidence. these well-fabricated yet naive constructions cast the entire narrative into substantial doubt and the reader instantly begins to trace the ironic patterns and inverted norms of the novel.

In their introduction to “a handbook of narrative unreliability”, D’hokr and Martens have enumerated the following functions of narrative unreliability: “as a vehicle of satire, psychological analysis, ethical questioning, or a skeptical world-view”.[8] what function does the unreliability serve in this particular novel? one major point must be kept in mind. the unreliability of the narrator should not be confused with that of the real or implied author of the text: else all the validity of the fictional work would crumble down at once and it might not remain reading worth at all. Unreliability is a conscious ascription of the author or (very often now by the reader) to the narrator for various purposes. the contradictions in description, narrations of unlikely and chance events hint at the disturbing possibility that a straightforward and neutral account of such a complex society as Afghanistan is impossible to construct. The reader is jolted into questioning the globalized popular hipe about Afghanistan, to scratch beneath the surface and discover his/her own truths.


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