The Breadwinner

by

Deborah Ellis

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The Breadwinner: Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
For the next few days, Parvana stays home from the market. She takes Nooria and the little ones outside, but she tells Mother that she doesn’t want to see anything ugly for a while. Mother and Mrs. Weera already know about what goes on at the stadium on Fridays from other people in their women’s group. Mother asks what century they’re living in. Parvana wants to ask if Father will end up in the stadium, but she stays quiet. Instead, she fills her time helping Maryam learn to count, listening to Mrs. Weera’s stories, and trying to learn how to mend from Nooria. When the bread runs out, nobody says anything. Parvana gets up and goes to work anyway. She knows she must.
Mother and Mrs. Weera’s willingness to let Parvana stay home shows that they’re both learning to trust Parvana and respect her independence. They also understand that Parvana, as a child, never should’ve seen what she did—and so she needs time to process her trauma and recover from that ordeal. However, Parvana knows that she still has to care for her family and go back to work, even if she doesn’t feel like it anymore.
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Shauzia is happy to see Parvana again and wishes she could get a few quiet days for herself—her grandparents don’t like her mother, and her mother hates living with the grandparents, so everyone is grumpy at her house. Shauzia leads Parvana to a low wall to share a secret: she’s saving money so she can escape. She explains that she’ll stay until next spring, and she insists that she wants to still be a boy then—if she goes back to being a girl, she’ll be stuck at home. She wants to go to France and says brightly that in all the pictures of France, there’s sun and flowers. Bad days must not be so bad there. She’ll get there by traveling to Pakistan with nomads and then getting on a boat when she reaches the Arabian Sea.
Shauzia’s plan to get to France is extremely simplistic and betrays just how young and innocent Shauzia is despite being so responsible and independent. It’s also important to note that for Shauzia, she thrives on the freedom she has as a boy. For her, being a girl no longer seems interesting or worthwhile, given how limited of a life she’d have to leave. It’s her sex itself, she sees, that’s holding her back.
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Parvana can’t imagine going on a journey like this alone, but Shauzia insists that no one will pay attention to a little orphan boy. Her only concern is that she hasn’t waited too long. Her body is already starting to change, and if she starts to look too much like a girl before she leaves, she’ll be stuck here forever. Thinking hard, Parvana remembers how Nooria’s body changed and says that she thinks Shauzia has time. She asks how Shauzia’s family will eat without her. Shauzia is clearly upset, but she insists she has to escape—leaving might make her a bad person, but she’ll die if she stays. Parvana remembers how her parents used to fight. Mother wanted to leave Afghanistan. Parvana wonders why Mother didn’t just go, but then answers the question herself: Mother couldn’t leave her four children.
It’s telling that Shauzia insists she’s a bad person for wanting to leave. This drives home just how important it is in this community for children to care for their families. But Shauzia, being so independent, cannot abide by living her life as a girl when, in her experience, this means that she has no agency or say in her life. For Parvana, it’s another major moment of growth when she realizes why Mother never chose to leave. While Parvana respects her friend’s independence, Parvana also knows that for her—and for Mother—family comes first.
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Parvana laments that they can’t be normal kids anymore. She wants to go to school and not have to work for her own food. Shauzia insists she could never go back and asks if Parvana wants to come with. Parvana declines—she doesn’t think she can leave her family—but she tells Shauzia about the Window Woman and her gifts. Shauzia wonders if the woman is a princess and Parvana briefly imagines herself saving the princess and riding away with her to safety.
It’s likely that Shauzia is a little further ahead of Parvana in her development, given that she has no interest in going back to being a child whom others care for. Parvana, however, also has guardians who care for her in a more respectful way than Shauzia’s relatives seem to, so reverting to being a dependent student might not seem quite as stifling to her as it does to Shauzia.
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As summer arrives, Parvana spends her days running through the market with Shauzia, selling dried fruit and nuts alongside her cigarettes. The girls are shy, so they prefer for their customers to notice them and don’t like to get in people’s way. Parvana is exhausted and wants to be a bored student again. The marketplace no longer seems interesting or funny, and everyone she sees is hungry and sick. Flowers bloom just like they used to, but Parvana’s small apartment gets hot and stuffy. On days when Parvana makes a little extra, she purchases fruit from the fertile valleys that the Taliban hasn’t bombed. As tribal people flood Kabul with goods to sell, some stop to purchase cigarettes or to have Parvana read or write a letter. She always asks them about their homes and tells their stories to her family when she gets home.
It’s hard for Parvana to find meaning and purpose now that she’s seen so many awful things—and since nothing seems to change much. Because of this, she fixates on how good she had it when she was still in school and had competent, respected adults to care for her. This again reveals her immaturity. However, she still finds ways to look for beauty in her day-to-day life. She does this by asking for the tribal people’s stories. As she does this, she also learns more about her country and what’s going on far away from Kabul, which is important for her to learn as she figures out what it means to be an Afghan woman.
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Mother and Mrs. Weera start their school and are very careful to avoid the Taliban. Nooria teaches five girls about Maryam’s age, never in the same place or at the same time. However, Nooria can only do so much with her students with so little time and such limited supplies. Every few weeks, another gift from the Window Woman lands on Parvana’s blanket. It’s like she’s telling Parvana that she’s there in the only way she can. One afternoon, though, Parvana hears an angry man shouting and a woman screaming inside. When she hears thuds, she stands up but can’t see through the painted window. A man behind Parvana holds out a letter and tells her to forget about what goes on in other people’s homes. Though Parvana plans to tell her family about it that night, Mother announces that Nooria is getting married.
Hearing the Window Woman’s husband beat her impresses upon Parvana that while she, Shauzia, and Nooria might have a degree of power in their homes for various reasons, not all women enjoy that kind of power. Many are at the mercy of their husbands, some of whom seem to support the Taliban’s increased restrictions on women. The man who tells Parvana to not worry about the abuse happening inside essentially tells her that it’s inappropriate to blend public and private life. It’s not acceptable to take issue with what happens behind closed doors—even if what happens is dangerous or cruel.
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