The Breadwinner

by

Deborah Ellis

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The Breadwinner: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It’s odd to be in the market without Father. Men are supposed to do all the shopping, but if women shop, they’re supposed to stand outside and yell for what they need. Parvana isn’t sure if she’s considered a woman or not. If she stands outside, she might get in trouble for not wearing a burqa; if she goes in, she might get in trouble for not acting like a woman. She decides to buy her 10 loaves of nan first, since the baker’s stall opens onto the street. After, she heads for the produce stand. Suddenly, she hears a voice shouting and turns to see a Taliban soldier. He asks where Parvana’s father or husband is and hits her with a stick. She shouts for the man to stop hitting her, which surprises him enough that she’s able to run away.
The confusion about whether Parvana is considered a woman or not speaks to where she is in her physical development. In many ways, she still looks like an androgynous child—but it’s impossible to confuse her for a boy since she dresses like a girl and covers her hair. The scolding from the Taliban soldier suggests that Parvana may have gotten by with Father because she was with a man; out alone, she’s far more vulnerable. However, because she’s a quick child, she’s able to successfully make her escape.
Themes
Gender Relations Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
Parvana holds the nan to her chest and runs as fast as she can. She runs straight into a woman carrying a child. The woman catches her arm and asks if she’s Parvana. The voice is familiar; Parvana realizes it’s Mrs. Weera. Mrs. Weera grouses that she keeps forgetting that her face is covered and then asks why Parvana is running. Through tears, Parvana says that a soldier was chasing her. Mrs. Weera praises Parvana for running and says she’d like to come visit Mother—she’s starting a magazine and she needs Mother’s help. She ignores Parvana’s insistence that Mother doesn’t want company. Parvana obediently leads the way home and outside the apartment, she warns Mrs. Weera that Mother isn’t well.
Mrs. Weera is clearly succeeding where Mother isn’t. Though she wears the burqa like all other women, it obscures the fact that she’s still coming up with meaningful ways to resist, like starting a magazine. Her appearance also offers hope that Parvana’s family will now be able to draw on a friend for support, since their family is unable to survive by itself with Father gone.
Themes
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Gender Relations Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Nooria takes the nan and asks why Parvana didn’t buy anything else, but Mrs. Weera throws off her burqa and tells Nooria that the Taliban chased Parvana out of the market. Nooria looks relieved to see Mrs. Weera, an adult to take on some responsibility. Mrs. Weera puts her granddaughter down, looks around, and asks what’s going on and why there are so many dirty diapers. Nooria explains that they’re afraid to go out and get water. Mrs. Weera insists that Parvana isn’t afraid and tells Parvana to “do [her] bit for the team” and fetch water, sounding like the physical education teacher she was before the Taliban made her quit. Parvana motions to where Mother is and Nooria explains that she’s been there for four days, since Father was arrested.
Again, it’s telling that Nooria is so relieved to see Mrs. Weera. It drives home that Nooria may look like an adult to Parvana, but she’s really a child who’s out of her depth. On another note, it’s telling that Mrs. Weera focuses on working for the team. For her, it’s essential to pitch in and help out wherever she’s needed. All Afghans are on her proverbial team, and if she doesn’t help, the entire team is never going to get anywhere.
Themes
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Mrs. Weera takes the first two buckets and washes Mother. Parvana ignores her bleeding, blistered feet, thinking that she has to help her family. She believes things will get better with Mother up and Mrs. Weera around. Mrs. Weera stops Parvana after the seventh bucket. Thirsty and exhausted, Parvana lifts a cup of unboiled water to her lips. Nooria snaps that Parvana is stupid and snatches the cup away—unboiled water is dangerous. Mrs. Weera reprimands Nooria for her behavior but tells Nooria to bathe the little ones in cold water and boil water for drinking first. Parvana sits next to Mother, who looks better but tired. When Mrs. Weera offers Parvana a cup of hot water, Parvana drinks it as fast as she can. Mrs. Weera and her granddaughter stay the night. The adults and Nooria stay up late talking.
Mrs. Weera gives Parvana hope that not all is lost. She reminds Parvana that the family does have friends in the world, if only they’re willing to look for them. And further, Mrs. Weera seems very in tune with how to manage the tense relationship between Parvana and Nooria. She understands that it’s essential to thank Parvana for her hard work by getting her water as soon as possible—and Nooria’s mean scolding isn’t going to help morale at home. Rather, if the family intends to get through this, they’ll need to find healthier and kinder ways to communicate with each other.
Themes
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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