The Kite Runner

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Themes and Colors
Betrayal Theme Icon
Redemption Theme Icon
Fathers and Children Theme Icon
Violence and Rape Theme Icon
Memory and the Past Theme Icon
Politics and Society Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Kite Runner, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Memory and the Past Theme Icon

Throughout The Kite Runner, many characters are haunted by memories of the past. Amir is constantly troubled by his memory of Hassan’s rape and his own cowardice, and it is this memory that leads Amir to his final quest for redemption. Baba is also haunted by his past sins of adultery with Ali’s wife Sanaubar, and his memories cause him to be both strict with Amir and charitable and selfless with his work and money. Sohrab then becomes another character tortured by past traumas – his abuse at Assef’s hands – as he flinches when Amir tries to touch him, and attempts suicide when he thinks Amir is going to abandon him.

There is also another kind of memory in the novel, which is nostalgia for good things. Amir remembers his good times with Hassan as a child, and the old, beautiful Kabul before it was destroyed by war. These good memories bring sadness for what was lost, but also hope for what could be.

Memory and the Past ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Memory and the Past appears in each chapter of The Kite Runner. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Memory and the Past Quotes in The Kite Runner

Below you will find the important quotes in The Kite Runner related to the theme of Memory and the Past.
Chapter 1 Quotes

That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.

Related Characters: Amir (speaker)
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote comes from the opening lines of the book, which Hosseini introduces by immediately looking back into the past and examining how the past has affected the present. Amir offers no explanation of the "alley" he is thinking about yet, but later on in the book we will learn that he is haunted by the alley where he watched Hassan being raped by Assef—the place of his first great betrayal, Amir feels. None of this is clear yet, except for the idea that things we try to forget never really go away. The past is always there, lingering just under the surface of the present—one of Hosseini's most important themes in the novel.


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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.

Chapter 7 Quotes

He stopped, turned. He cupped his hands around his mouth. “For you a thousand times over!” he said. Then he smiled his Hassan smile and disappeared around the corner. The next time I saw him smile unabashedly like that was twenty-six years later, in a faded Polaroid photograph.

Related Characters: Amir (speaker), Hassan (speaker)
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the moment just before the central tragedy and betrayal of the book. Amir has just cut down the last remaining kite in the tournament, and Hassan, the "kite runner," runs off to find the fallen kite and bring it back to Amir. This scene is then immediately juxtaposed with the adult Amir's later memories and experiences. Thus this is both a scene in Hosseini's narrative and a "flashback" into a happier past that Amir is remembering. After this moment, in which Hassan seems to declare his total devotion to Amir, Amir will go on to abandon Hassan as he is raped by Assef, changing both boys' lives forever.

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.

Chapter 12 Quotes

I envied her. Her secret was out. Spoken. Dealt with. I opened my mouth and almost told her how I’d betrayed Hassan, lied, driven him out, and destroyed a forty-year relationship between Baba and Ali. But I didn’t.

Related Characters: Amir (speaker), Baba, Hassan, Ali, Soraya
Page Number: 165
Explanation and Analysis:

Amir has just asked Soraya to marry him, and she has agreed, but she said she had something to confess to first. Soraya then tells Amir about how she ran away with a man when she was a young woman, and how her father had to forcibly bring her back. Amir feels somewhat shaken by this revelation, but realizes that it pales in comparison to his own secret betrayals. Amir then has this opportunity to confess, and to start working towards redemption—but he finds that he can't bring himself to tell Soraya the truth. Both Amir and Soraya have pasts that haunt them, but Soraya now at least doesn't have to bear the burden of secrecy along with the burdens of memory and guilt.

Chapter 13 Quotes

As I drove, I wondered why I was different. Maybe it was because I had been raised by men; I hadn’t grown up around women and had never been exposed firsthand to the double standard with which Afghan society sometimes treated them… But I think a big part of the reason I didn’t care about Soraya’s past was that I had one of my own. I knew all about regret.

Related Characters: Amir (speaker), Soraya
Page Number: 180
Explanation and Analysis:

Soraya has expressed her gratitude for the fact that Amir did not judge her or leave after she confessed her past relationship to him. She says he's "different from every Afghan guy" she's met, and now Amir wonders why this is the case. Part of this involves Amir acknowledging his own male privilege, as Afghan society is in many ways divided along gender lines. This is Hosseini's critique of the "double standard" he sees for men and for women, in which women are treated as inferior to men, and are punished for doing the same things men do with impunity. Since Amir is a man and was raised by a single father (Baba) with male friends and servants, he apparently has had less of an opportunity to be "trained" by society to look down on women (although this reasoning could just as easily go the opposite way too).

On another level, this passage again brings up the themes of betrayal, regret, and memory. Amir is still haunted by his past betrayals of Hassan, and though this is a burden that constantly weighs on him, he still hasn't found the strength or courage to confess his secret—not even to Soraya, who seemingly gave Amir an opportunity in confessing her own shameful past.

Chapter 14 Quotes

My suspicions had been right all those years. He knew about Assef, the kite, the money, the watch with the lightning bolt hands. He had always known.

Come. There is a way to be good again, Rahim Khan had said on the phone just before hanging up.

Related Characters: Amir (speaker), Hassan, Assef, Rahim Khan
Related Symbols: Kites
Page Number: 192
Explanation and Analysis:

Rahim Khan is dying, and he has just called Amir to ask him to come to Pakistan and see him. Amir has been building a new, happy life in America with Soraya, but with this phone call it's as if his past catches up with him once more. Rahim Khan's phrase "there is a way to be good again" then becomes a kind of mantra for the second half of the novel, as Amir tries to redeem himself for his past betrayals through taking action of his own. This moment is also important because Amir realizes that his past has not been as secret as he thought—Rahim Khan knew all along what Amir did to Hassan. This is crucial because it shows that Rahim Khan never gave up on Amir despite his sins, and even now feels that Amir has the opportunity to create something good out of his past mistakes.

Chapter 17 Quotes

“You know, Rahim Khan said, “one time, when you weren’t around, your father and I were talking… I remember he said to me, ‘Rahim, a boy who won’t stand up for himself becomes a man who can’t stand up to anything.’ I wonder, is that what you’ve become?”

Related Characters: Rahim Khan (speaker), Amir, Baba
Page Number: 221
Explanation and Analysis:

Rahim Khan is trying to convince Amir to go to Kabul and rescue Sohrab, Hassan's son, as a way of redeeming himself for his past betrayals of Hassan (who is now dead). Amir is afraid and reluctant, and tries to make excuses. Rahim Khan then references a past conversation he had with Baba—which we as readers know that Amir actually overheard, and which led him to feel even more insecure about his relationship with his father. The repetition of this quote about standing up for oneself then cements its importance in the novel, and also helps bring things full circle. The past is still very much alive, and as a man Amir has a chance to redeem himself for the mistakes he made as a boy.

Chapter 18 Quotes

As it turned out, Baba and I were more alike than I’d ever known. We had both betrayed the people who would have given their lives for us. And with that came this realization: that Rahim Khan had summoned me here to atone not just for my sins but for Baba’s too.

Related Characters: Amir (speaker), Amir, Baba, Hassan, Rahim Khan
Page Number: 226
Explanation and Analysis:

Amir has just learned that Hassan was actually his half-brother—Baba was Hassan's father. This is a huge revelation for Amir, as he realizes that the loyal friend he scorned and betrayed was actually a brother, and he also realizes that Baba committed a great sin and betrayal in sleeping with his best friend's (Ali's) wife. This adds a new layer of complexity to the father-son relationships in the book: Baba and Amir (who were both more alike than either thought), Baba and Hassan (who didn't know Baba was his real father), and Ali and Hassan. It's also suggested that all of Baba's philanthropy and charity work was partly inspired by a desire to redeem himself for his betrayal of Ali. Amir now has his own chance at redemption, in going to save Sohrab, and so it is especially moving that he now recognizes the true parallels between his own life and his father's. Once again time seems almost cyclical in the events of the novel, as the past is always returning to the present, and the present seems to echo the past.

Chapter 21 Quotes

“How much more do you need to see? Let me save you the trouble: Nothing that you remember has survived. Best to forget.”
“I don’t want to forget anymore,” I said.

Related Characters: Amir (speaker), Farid (speaker)
Page Number: 263
Explanation and Analysis:

Farid has taken Amir to see Baba's old house, which is now occupied by members of the corrupt Taliban (who seized it from Hassan, because he was a powerless Hazara). Amir is fascinated and saddened by how much has changed, but Farid advises him to just forget the past—everything in Afghanistan has changed for the worst. Farid's advice clearly comes from lots of experiences of tragedy, but he doesn't know that Amir has returned to Afghanistan precisely to confront the past. Amir has been trying to forget his old betrayals all his life, but now he is finally working to redeem them—and part of this involves facing just how much tragedy and change Afghanistan itself has endured since he saw it last.

Chapter 22 Quotes

What was the old saying about the bad penny? My past was like that, always turning up. His name rose from the deep and I didn’t want to say it, as if uttering it might conjure him. But he was already here, in the flesh, sitting less than ten feet from me, after all these years. His name escaped my lips: “Assef.”

Related Characters: Amir (speaker), Assef
Page Number: 281
Explanation and Analysis:

Amir is now facing a violent, pedophilic Taliban leader, and is hoping to rescue Sohrab, Hassan's son. Earlier this same day Amir watched the Taliban leader preside over an execution, and now the leader reveals his identity—it's Assef, the brutal, privileged boy who threatened Amir and raped Hassan when they were all younger. This immediately brings up memories of Assef's sadistic tendencies, and shows that his role with the Taliban has given him free reign to commit whatever violent atrocities he wants to without facing any consequences. It also connects to the novel's idea of the past and memory as constantly recurring in the present. Amir has lived in America for decades, and has built a life for himself entirely separate from his past, but now it's as if he's facing an echo of the same situation he faced as a boy—being threatened by Assef, and trying to defend (and now, redeem himself to) Hassan, or in this case Sohrab, Hassan's son. Time seems almost cyclical in the Kite Runner, and nothing ever really goes away or is forgotten.

Another rib snapped, this time lower. What was so funny was that, for the first time since the winter of 1975, I felt at peace. I laughed because I saw that, in some hidden nook in the corner of my mind, I’d even been looking forward to this… My body was broken – just how badly I wouldn’t find out until later – but I felt healed.

Related Characters: Amir (speaker)
Page Number: 289
Explanation and Analysis:

Amir has refused to leave without Sohrab, and now Assef is attacking Amir. Assef has his brass knuckles on, and Amir is unarmed, so it's hardly a fair fight (also Amir has been living comfortably in America while Assef has been fighting and murdering in Afghanistan). This scene is so significant because it is essentially the conclusion of two scenes from decades earlier—both of Amir and Hassan's encounters with Assef, the first being when Hassan frightened Assef away with his slingshot, and the second being when Amir watched Assef rape Hassan and did nothing. For Amir, this beating feels like relief, and like redemption—as if he's finally experiencing what would have happened had he intervened to save Hassan from Assef so many years before. The past is ever-recurring in the present, and this just feels like a logical continuation of Amir's experiences with Assef. The brutal beating doesn't erase Amir's past sins, but it is at least a cleansing kind of suffering, as Amir feels he is finally being punished for the sins he's "gotten away with" for years.

Chapter 23 Quotes

I loved him because he was my friend, but also because he was a good man, maybe even a great man. And this is what I want you to understand, that good, real good, was born out of your father’s remorse. Sometimes, I think everything he did, feeding the poor on the streets, building the orphanage, giving money to friends in need, it was all his way of redeeming himself. And that, I believe, is what true redemption is, Amir jan, when guilt leads to good.

Related Characters: Rahim Khan (speaker), Baba
Page Number: 302
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote comes from a letter Rahim Khan left for Amir before Rahim Khan's death. Rahim Khan talks more about Baba and his past betrayal of Ali, and tries to clarify things for Amir. Here Rahim Khan also delivers one of the most important messages of the book—that redemption is always possible, and good can come even out of evil. Rahim Khan suggests that Baba was partly "redeeming" himself when he went on to live such a charitable and philanthropic life, and Amir likewise feels that he is finally working towards redemption in rescuing Sohrab from Assef—redeeming not just himself for betraying Hassan, but also redeeming Baba for never claiming Hassan as his son.

As with many of Hosseini's themes in the novel, this idea works on a personal level and also on a larger, more political one. Afghanistan has experienced terrible violence and tragedy, but here Hosseini suggests that redemption is still possible for the country—peace can come out of war, and Afghanistan can be "good again." Past mistakes can never be undone, but they can lead to "real good" in the present, and this is what true redemption means.

Your father, like you, was a tortured soul, Rahim Khan had written. Maybe so. We had both sinned and betrayed. But Baba had found a way to create good out of his remorse. What had I done, other than take my guilt out on the very same people I had betrayed, and then try to forget it all?

Related Characters: Amir (speaker), Baba, Rahim Khan
Page Number: 303
Explanation and Analysis:

Rahim Khan continues to draw parallels between Baba and Amir, but Amir, as usual, still feels inadequate when he's compared to his father. Even if Baba committed a great betrayal of his best friend, just like Amir did, Baba's acts of redemption still seem larger-than-life and far superior to Amir's own (in Amir's eyes, at least). Amir has rescued Sohrab from Assef, but even this feels like too little and too late when compared with Baba's life of philanthropy and generosity. Amir continues to dwell on ideas of betrayal (his own betrayal of Hassan and Ali, and Baba's betrayal of Hassan and Ali) while also questioning whether redemption is possible for past sins.

Chapter 25 Quotes

“Sohrab, I can’t give you your old life back, I wish to God I could. But I can take you with me. That was what I was coming in the bathroom to tell you. You have a visa to go to America, to live with me and my wife. It’s true. I promise.”

Related Characters: Amir (speaker), Sohrab
Page Number: 355
Explanation and Analysis:

Amir has rescued Sohrab and offered to adopt him and take him back to America, but then Amir faced a major setback and told Sohrab this might be impossible. Sohrab then tried to kill himself, and Amir found him in a bloody bathtub. Sohrab survived, and is now healing up, but he seems to have lost whatever spark of hope he had in him, and soon he stops speaking altogether. Here Amir reaffirms his promise that he will take Sohrab with him to America—even if Sohrab himself seems to have no opinion on the matter. Amir has come to see Sohrab as a son-figure, and also as a way for him to somehow redeem himself or bring good out of his past sins and betrayals. He did not help Hassan when he was raped, but now Amir can help Hassan's son, and he works with a passion that would not have been there had not Amir felt so guilty and driven to redeem himself.

If someone were to ask me today whether the story of Hassan, Sohrab, and me ends with happiness, I wouldn’t know what to say.

Does anybody’s?

Related Characters: Amir (speaker), Hassan, Sohrab
Page Number: 357
Explanation and Analysis:

Hosseini starts drawing the book to a close, and Amir, who has been looking back and reflecting on his past, now catches up to his present in the narrative—he is back in the U.S., and Sohrab is living with him and Soraya. There is no neat conclusion here, and Amir's and Sohrab's future is uncertain. Sohrab still won't speak, and seems traumatized beyond repair, but as Amir has learned, there is always a possibility of redemption and turning bad into good. Hassan's part in the narrative has ended, as he was killed by the Taliban, but he seems to live on in his son, and Amir continues to live out his own relationship with Hassan and cycle of betrayal/redemption through taking care of Sohrab.

I looked at Hassan, showing those two missing teeth, sunlight slanting on his face. Baba’s other half. The unentitled, unprivileged half. The half who had inherited what had been pure and noble in Baba. The half that, maybe, in the most secret recesses of his heart, Baba had thought of as his true son… Then I realized something: That last thought had brought no sting with it… I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded, not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.

Related Characters: Amir (speaker), Baba, Hassan
Page Number: 359
Explanation and Analysis:

In this beautifully-written passage, Amir learns one of the main "lessons" of the book—that forgiveness and redemption often do not involve concrete acts or dramatically-satisfying conclusions, but rather consist of slow, unnoticeable changes to messy, complicated situations. In this case, Amir realizes that he has finally reached some closure in his relationship with Baba, but he also sees that there was no defining moment that the closure arrived. All his life Amir has been struggling both against his father and to earn his father's love and respect, and now Amir acknowledges that perhaps Hassan was more truly Baba's son than Amir himself—something the young, jealous Amir would never have dared consider. Once again Hosseini shows how the past is always present, but here he also shows how past pain doesn't have to be painful forever—even memories can be redeemed.

“Do you want me to run that kite for you?”
His Adam’s apple rose and fell as he swallowed… I thought I saw him nod.
“For you, a thousand times over,” I heard myself say.
Then I turned and ran.
It was only a smile, nothing more… A tiny thing… But I’ll take it. With open arms. Because when spring comes, it melts the snow one flake at a time, and maybe I just witnessed the first flake melting.

Related Characters: Amir (speaker), Sohrab
Related Symbols: Kites
Page Number: 371
Explanation and Analysis:

This poignant passage closes the book on a note of uncertainty, but also of hope. Kites return as the novel's most important symbol, here representing Amir's happy past and old friendship with Hassan, and also the potential of future happiness with Sohrab, Hassan's son. Sohrab is still traumatized and won't speak, but here he shows the first signs of healing—a small smile as he flies a kite with Amir, his new father-figure.

This passage also has a dramatic symmetry to it, as Amir repeats the words Hassan spoke to him years before, just before the rape that changed both their lives: "For you, a thousand times over." Hassan had been the "kite runner" of the novel's title, but now Amir is the one saying these words and running a kite—not for Hassan, but for Hassan's son. This suggests that Amir has finally found a kind of redemption through his actions, and he can relive his past and memories without the pain and guilt he once felt. It's also implied that in becoming the new "kite runner," Amir more fully assumes the good qualities that once existed in Hassan, and thus Amir becomes closer to his lost half-brother. The past is always repeating itself in the present, but now that his past pain has been partially healed, Amir no longer has to flee his memories of flying kites with Hassan—he can embrace them, while also looking forward to the potential of a better future with Sohrab.