The Breadwinner

by

Deborah Ellis

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Breadwinner can help.

The Breadwinner: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Parvana and Mother get home late. Parvana is exhausted and in excruciating pain. When she takes off her sandals, she sees that her feet are bloody and covered in blisters. Mother’s feet are worse; she hasn’t been out since the Taliban took over a year and a half ago. She could’ve gone out—Father would’ve taken her any time—but Mother refused. She insisted that the Afghan people would kick the Taliban out in no time and she’d stay in until then. She also snapped that if they’d left Afghanistan when they had the chance, she could still be working. She and Father had this fight often, and Father always said they had a responsibility to stay and rebuild their country.
The fight that Parvana remembers her parents having suggests that Father feels more of a duty to his country than Mother does. For Father, it’s essential to stay so that he’s around to rebuild and advocate for the kind of Afghanistan he wants to live in. He understands that if they leave, they’ll have no say in the country’s direction if the Taliban is overthrown. Mother, however, chafes too much under the Taliban’s rules and under Father’s refusal to leave to be willing to find other ways to perform her work.
Themes
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Gender Relations Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Mother refuses Nooria’s help as she tears off her burqa and collapses onto a toshak. She sobs and allows Nooria to wash her dusty face and feet. Eventually, Mother falls asleep. Maryam turns to Parvana and does the same thing, wiping Parvana’s face and soaking her feet. Nooria prepares supper and Parvana shares that the guards wouldn’t tell them anything about Father. Before Parvana has a chance to eat, she falls asleep. She wakes in the morning and can’t bring herself to move. All night, she dreamed about soldiers hitting her and yelling her. She also watched the soldiers beating Mother in her dream. Parvana jerks upright but relaxes when she sees that Mother is still here.
In difficult times, Parvana’s siblings are capable of putting aside their differences to care for each other. Maryam and Nooria help Mother and Parvana transition to being home again among people who love them, which is important as Parvana works through what happened. Parvana’s bad dreams highlight just how terrifying her experience at the prison was. No child should have to see their mother beaten in front of them, and it’s understandably difficult for Parvana to process this.
Themes
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
Nooria offers to help Parvana to the washroom. Parvana accepts when she discovers how much her feet hurt. Parvana comments that in their family, everyone leans on someone, but Nooria snaps that she has no one to lean on. This is normal Nooria behavior, which makes Parvana feel better. As Parvana washes and eats, Nooria offers Mother food. Mother refuses and spends the next two days lying down, only sitting up to drink tea or getting up to go to the washroom. Ali is distraught. Nooria and Parvana distract the younger kids as best they can. Parvana and Maryam reconstruct the photo of Father and decide to tape it back together once they have tape.
At this point, it’s still disconcerting to have so much familial support. Parvana is so used to fighting with Nooria that it feels very wrong when Nooria helps her so much. However, it’s worth considering Nooria’s words more closely. Remember that Nooria is only 17, and yet she’s taking on lots of responsibility at home. She may feel overwhelmed and out of her depth because she takes on so much and is treated like an adult.
Themes
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
On the third day, Parvana considers doing housework, but she doesn’t want to disturb Mother. She and Nooria discuss that Mother has to get up soon, but nothing changes. Parvana wants to read Father’s secret books but is afraid that the Taliban will return. She also notices Ali growing quiet and withdrawn. Nooria says he misses Mother. The room begins to smell when Nooria decides to skip laundry to conserve water. Ali’s diapers pile up. On the fourth day, they run out of food. Parvana gently shakes Mother, but Mother refuses to get up. Nooria snaps that Mother is depressed, but Parvana points out that they’re all depressed—and hungry. The next day, Nooria insists that Parvana go out and buy food. Nooria looks terrified; she’ll have to go if Parvana won’t. Strangely, having this power over Nooria doesn’t make Parvana happy, so she accepts Nooria’s money.
Parvana’s family is in a difficult place because everyone who’s old enough to go outside and function in society is female. It’s illegal and dangerous for them to go out, and for a long time, it feels safer to stay home and try to conserver resources than to go out and try to find more. However, when Mother continues to be unable to care for her children, both Nooria and Parvana must grow up almost instantly. And as they do this, it doesn’t make sense to fight or one-up each other, especially when the stakes are so high. In this moment, Parvana realizes that it’s more important to care for her family, even if it’s scary, than it is to engage in petty fights with Nooria.
Themes
Gender Relations Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Get the entire The Breadwinner LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Breadwinner PDF