The Breadwinner

by

Deborah Ellis

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The Breadwinner: Chapter 13 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next afternoon, while Parvana and Nooria are out on a walk, Parvana points out that Nooria has never met the groom. Nooria reminds Parvana that the groom used to be their neighbor—and marrying will allow her to go back to school. She’ll live in Mazar-e-Sharif, where the Taliban don’t have control, and the groom’s parents will even send her to university. The letter detailing all of this was passed from woman to woman through Mother and Mrs. Weera’s women’s group, but Parvana is still skeptical. Nooria notes that she hates living under the Taliban and doesn’t feel like she can make a difference in Kabul. In Mazar, she can finish school, get a job, and go out without a burqa. This is what she wants.
For Nooria, marriage doesn’t represent the same kind of oppression or violence as it does for the Window Woman, for instance. For Nooria, marriage will allow her to become more independent, not less. This illustrates how Nooria has to come up with different ways to leverage her femininity to make a better life for herself, just as Parvana has to transform herself into a boy to find any sense of agency. Marriage, for Nooria, is its own form of rebellion, just as Parvana’s identity as Kaseem is for her.
Themes
Gender Relations Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Over the next few days while Parvana is out, the adults make plans. Parvana is indignant when Mother announces that they’ll all go to Mazar for the wedding and then will return to Kabul in October, leaving Nooria with her husband. Parvana insists that they have to be home for Father, but Mrs. Weera assures Parvana that she’ll stay and look after Father if he comes home. Unconvinced, Parvana stamps her feet and refuses to go. Mother says that Parvana must come since she’s a child. When Parvana stamps her feet again, Mrs. Weera sends her to get water. After three days of glowering, Mother tells Parvana that they’re leaving her behind. They can’t trust everyone to keep Parvana’s secret in Mazar—and though Parvana is getting her way, Mother reiterates that a child has no right to refuse to do as she’s told.
Again, Parvana has now spent several months making her own decisions and dictating her own schedule. Therefore, it’s offensive to her when Mother insists that Parvana needs to give up this freedom to accompany the rest of the family to Mazar. However, it’s worth noting that Parvana doesn’t want to stay just for her own gain. She wants to stay for Father, which reiterates that she’s very focused on caring for her family by becoming more independent.
Themes
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
Parvana’s glad to stay, but she also sulks that she doesn’t get to go. The next day, she tells Shauzia that nothing makes her happy anymore. Shauzia says that she feels the same way. She used to think that having the tray would fix her problems, but her family still goes hungry. Shauzia suggests that someone should bomb Afghanistan so they can all start over, but Parvana points out that they’ve already done that. It didn’t work.
In this conversation, Shauzia and Parvana essentially come to the bleak conclusion that they can’t win. Right now, Afghanistan isn’t a place where they can easily feed their families and get ahead, no matter what they do to try and get there—but they also understand, on some level, that they have to work with what they have.
Themes
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
A woman and her husband from Mother’s women’s group will escort Mother, Nooria, and the younger children to Mazar. Nooria is nervous, but she happily tells Parvana that she’s going to tear up her burqa as soon as she’s out of Taliban territory. The next day, Parvana buys food for her family’s journey and buys a fancy pen as a gift for Nooria. Mrs. Weera soothes Mother and assures her that she and Parvana will be fine in Kabul—and by the time Mother returns, the magazine will be ready to distribute. Early the next morning, Mother, Nooria, and the little ones settle in the bed of a pickup. With tears in their eyes, Nooria and Parvana say goodbye. Parvana assures Nooria they’ll see each other soon—Nooria’s new husband will send her back once he realizes how bossy she is.
With the rest of Parvana’s family leaving, Mrs. Weera now takes on the role of Parvana’s sole guardian. In this moment, then, the novel shows clearly that friends can be just as important and meaningful as blood family—they can step in to help out where family can’t manage on their own. The tearful goodbye between Parvana and Nooria speaks to how much their relationship has grown over the course of the novel. However, it’s still a sibling relationship, filled with quips and insults, which is a reminder that the girls are still children no matter how grown-up they seem.
Themes
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
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With most of the family gone, there are fewer chores and more free time. Parvana begins taking Father’s secret books out so she can read. Mrs. Weera believes it’s important to trust Parvana and give her agency. She points out that in some parts of Afghanistan, girls are already married and having babies at age 11. She tells Parvana to keep some pocket money, so Parvana treats Shauzia to lunch some days. They guard each other while they use the bathroom and work through the day. Parvana prefers it that way. Near the end of August, Parvana gets caught in a rainstorm at the market. She races into a bombed-out building to keep her cigarettes dry. Not long after she finds a dry spot to sit, Parvana falls asleep. She wakes up much later and hears a woman crying.
Mrs. Weera recognizes that at Parvana’s age, she’s ready to take on responsibility and think for herself. Mrs. Weera makes sure to give Parvana the tools she needs—a home, pocket money, emotional support—in order to be more independent. It’s telling, too, that Parvana uses her pocket money to buy Shauzia lunch. With this, Parvana demonstrates that even as she becomes more independent, her friends will remain an important part of her life.
Themes
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon