The Kite Runner

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The Cleft Lip Symbol Icon
Hassan’s cleft lip is one of his most defining physical features, and a symbol of the economic and social disparity between Hassan and Amir, as Ali doesn’t have money to pay for the surgery to fix the lip. It is Baba who ends up paying for the surgery, where the cleft lip then becomes a symbol of Baba’s secret parental love for Hassan. At the novel’s climax, Assef splits Amir’s lip in two with his brass knuckles, giving Amir a deformity much like Hassan’s. This symbolizes that Amir has become something like Hassan at last – brave and willing to stand up for someone else – and so Amir can find some redemption in the injury.

The Cleft Lip Quotes in The Kite Runner

The The Kite Runner quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Cleft Lip. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Betrayal Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Riverhead Books edition of The Kite Runner published in 2013.
Chapter 4 Quotes

The curious thing was, I never thought of Hassan and me as friends either… Never mind that we spent entire winters flying kites, running kites. Never mind that to me, the face of Afghanistan is that of a boy with a thin-boned frame… a boy with Chinese doll face perpetually lit by a harelipped smile. Never mind any of these things. Because history isn’t easy to overcome. Neither is religion. In the end, I was a Pashtun and he was a Hazara, I was Sunni and he was Shi’a, and nothing was ever going to change that.

Related Characters: Amir (speaker), Hassan
Related Symbols: Kites, The Cleft Lip
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Amir reflects on his relationship with Hassan, who was like a brother to him, but whom he never really thought of as a friend because of their ethnic, cultural, religious, and economic differences. Amir is a Pashtun (an Afghan ethnic group) and a Sunni Muslim, while Hassan is a Hazara (a persecuted minority) and a Shi'a Muslim. Furthermore, Hassan and his father work for Amir and his father—they are all very close, but Hassan and Ali are also clearly the subordinates of Baba and Amir. These political and social differences then ultimately affect the actual relationship between Amir and Hassan, although otherwise the two would be best friends. Testament to this is the fact that when the adult Amir remembers Afghanistan, he thinks of Hassan's face and of the two boys' time together. His present vision of the country is primarily an image of a lost past.

Here Amir also mentions the symbols of kites and Hassan's cleft lip. In this particular memory, kites represent Amir's idyllic past in an Afghanistan that was at peace, while the cleft lip is one of Hassan's distinguishing features—and particularly distinguishing for the Hassan who existed before Baba had his lip fixed, and before Amir betrayed him.

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Chapter 11 Quotes

Long before the Roussi army marched into Afghanistan, long before villages were burned and schools destroyed… Kabul had become a city of ghosts for me. A city of harelipped ghosts.
America was different. America was a river, roaring along, unmindful of the past. I could wade into this river, let my sins drown to the bottom, let the waters carry me someplace far. Someplace with no ghosts, no memories, and no sins.

Related Characters: Amir (speaker), Hassan
Related Symbols: The Cleft Lip
Page Number: 136
Explanation and Analysis:

Amir and Baba have now left Afghanistan and moved to America, driven away from their home by violence and Soviet rule. While Baba is distraught at having to leave his beloved home, Amir feels almost relieved to be away from the place where reminders of his past betrayals (abandoning Hassan to be raped, and then framing Hassan for theft) are everywhere. Once again Hassan is associated with his cleft lip (harelip), which at this point is a symbol of a lost, happier past. Amir is still consumed by guilt and self-hatred for his betrayals, and so he is eager to forget the past and try to lose himself in the strange, overwhelming new world of America and its fast-paced society.

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The Cleft Lip Symbol Timeline in The Kite Runner

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Cleft Lip appears in The Kite Runner. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Betrayal Theme Icon
Redemption Theme Icon
Memory and the Past Theme Icon
...his past in Afghanistan, and especially a boy named Hassan, a “kite runner” with a cleft lip . (full context)
Chapter 2
Betrayal Theme Icon
Fathers and Children Theme Icon
Memory and the Past Theme Icon
Politics and Society Theme Icon
...with anger against his tormentors. Amir says that Hassan was born smiling, and had a cleft lip . Sanaubar saw her son, mocked him, and then ran away with a group of... (full context)
Chapter 5
Fathers and Children Theme Icon
Politics and Society Theme Icon
...his birthday present this year – Baba will pay for the surgery to fix Hassan’s cleft lip . Amir is jealous that Baba would do so much for Hassan. The surgery is... (full context)
Chapter 18
Betrayal Theme Icon
Fathers and Children Theme Icon
Memory and the Past Theme Icon
Politics and Society Theme Icon
...now he can recognize the many signs – Baba always buying Hassan presents, fixing his cleft lip , becoming enraged when Amir suggested they get new servants, weeping when Ali and Hassan... (full context)
Chapter 23
Redemption Theme Icon
Memory and the Past Theme Icon
...with him is the lip injury – it is split down the middle like Hassan’s cleft lip . (full context)