The Breadwinner

by

Deborah Ellis

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The Breadwinner: Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Mother rushes to Parvana as soon as Parvana gets home. She’s very concerned. Suddenly, Parvana feels overwhelmed by her day. She throws her arms around Mother’s neck and sobs. When she’s calm, she looks down and admits she dug up graves. She tells them everything. Mother is disgusted that Afghanistan has come to this point, but Mrs. Weera notes that she’s heard of people using bones for chicken feed, soap, buttons, and cooking oil. Nooria asks if it was worth it and Parvana lays out all her money. Mrs. Weera is amazed, but Mother insists that they don’t need money badly enough to justify digging up bones. Parvana tells Mother she’s going to keep digging so that she and Shauzia can purchase trays and things to sell.
Mother’s pride shines through again here. While it’s perfectly reasonable for her to object to Parvana digging up bones on moral grounds, the fact remains that the family needs the money. When Parvana stand up to Mother and insist that she’s not going to quit, Parvana attempts to recreate her sense of agency that she has out in the world at home. She essentially asks Mother to treat her like an adult capable of making decisions on her own, something that Mother understandably finds difficult.
Themes
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Surprisingly, Nooria backs Parvana up. She points out that they can afford nan, rice, and tea, but they can’t pay rent or buy fuel for the lamps. Mother snaps that she’s glad Father isn’t here to witness this disrespect, but Mrs. Weera points out that Father isn’t here—and people have to do “unusual things” to get by right now. Mother finally relents and sends Parvana off with a packet of nan for lunch. Parvana can’t bring herself to eat in the graveyards, so she always gives it to a beggar. After two weeks, she and Shauzia have enough money for trays and they decide to buy cigarettes, matches, and gum. Shauzia is elated to not have to work as a tea boy; Parvana is just glad to be done digging up bones.
When Nooria backs Parvana up, it reveals that, as the situation has gotten worse, Nooria and Parvana have formed an unlikely alliance. Nooria is far more willing to look for different ways to rebel and get by, so she feels she has little reason to object to Parvana’s unconventional and questionably moral choices. And in the end, survival wins out and Mother relents.
Themes
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
Parvana spends her first morning back in the market writing letters. The Window Woman drops a red wooden bead. As Parvana rolls it between her fingers, she thinks of Nooria. Nooria hasn’t been nasty to Parvana in a while. Parvana wonders if she’s changed or if Nooria has. In any case, arguing with Nooria no longer makes sense. In the afternoon, Parvana meets up with Shauzia to wander the market. Selling off of the trays isn’t as lucrative as digging up bones, but they make more than they did in their previous jobs.
Parvana’s ability to reflect on her potential changes speaks to how much she’s matured in the last few months. She now has the self-knowledge and insight to examine her own behavior and reactions to the circumstances, and she’s able to see Nooria as more than just an obnoxious and bossy older sister. It’s likely true that both girls are growing and maturing.
Themes
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
One Friday afternoon, Shauzia points to a crowd of people entering a sports stadium. Parvana is elated; they can make a fortune selling to people who will want to smoke and chew gum while they watch a soccer game. They run to the entrance, dodge the Taliban guards at the door, and slip inside. The girls are intimidated by the full stands, so they stick together as they head up into the stands. Shauzia and Parvana note that nobody is cheering and nobody seems happy. It doesn’t seem right. Frightened, the girls watch Taliban soldiers walk onto the field. They decide to leave once the game starts as to not draw attention to themselves, but then, men in handcuffs walk onto the field. Two soldiers carry on a heavy table. This looks nothing like a soccer game.
This incident betrays the girls’ youth and their naïveté. There’s no indication that soccer or sports of any kind are still on under the Taliban, and this should read as a red flag to the girls. However, once they’re in the stadium and begin to see that this clearly isn’t a sporting event, the girls realize they’re stuck. Surrounded by the Taliban, it would be an especially horrible time for someone to see through their disguises. In this instance, their agency and ability to move freely through Kabul hasn’t prepared them to witness some of the darker aspects of the city.
Themes
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
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The girls are confused, especially when a soldier unties one of the prisoners and bends him over the table. Others hold him down. A soldier raises a sword and cuts off the prisoner’s arm. Shauzia and the prisoner both scream. Parvana puts a hand over Shauzia’s mouth and drags her to the floor. A kind voice above them murmurs to Shauzia and Parvana to keep their heads down; they’re too young to see this. Other men around them help gather the scattered gum and cigarettes, and the girls huddle on the floor as the Taliban cuts off six more arms. The soldiers call out that the prisoners are thieves. Finally, the kind man tells the girls it’s over. He and a few other men escort them out of the stadium. As she leaves, Parvana sees a young soldier proudly holding a rope with four severed hands tied to it.
As horrifying as this experience is, it’s important to pay attention to the kind men who protect Shauzia and Parvana, comfort them, and get them safely out of the stadium. Clearly, there are more friends in Kabul than the girls are aware of—and there are lots of people who don’t agree with what the Taliban is doing. This suggests that if the girls and their families were perhaps more willing to trust their neighbors, they may find that their community is much bigger than they thought—and that the community cares deeply about preserving the innocence of youth in any way possible.
Themes
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon