The Breadwinner

by

Deborah Ellis

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The Breadwinner: Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
When Parvana gets home, Mrs. Weera is there and announces that she’s moving in this afternoon. Parvana wants to return to the market, but she’s happy to help Mrs. Weera move. Mother announces that she and Mrs. Weera are going to start a magazine and praises Parvana for her earnings. Nooria quips that Father would’ve made more but seems to immediately regret saying this. Parvana is too happy to care. After lunch, she follows Mrs. Weera through the city. Mrs. Weera still walks like a gym teacher, as though she’s going to gather up stray students. She comments that the Taliban don’t usually bother women alone with children, but she’s not concerned if the Taliban do stop them—she can outrun and outfight them, and she’ll lecture them if need be. Parvana mentions that she saw a Talib cry earlier, but Mrs. Weera doesn’t hear her.
Father couldn’t convince Mother to continue her writing, but Mrs. Weera is clearly making headway. This speaks to friendship’s power to bring about positive change in people—sometimes, friends can have more of an effect than even close, loving family members. It’s telling that Parvana notes Mrs. Weera’s confident gait and attitude. By noticing Mrs. Weera’s fearlessness, Parvana begins to see that there are more ways to resist the Taliban’s rule—at least for Mrs. Weera, one of them is simply to act unafraid and as though nothing is different. The magazine, too, is a form of resistance.
Themes
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
In her basement apartment, Mrs. Weera explains that she and her granddaughter are the last of the Weeras. Everyone else died from bombs, war, or pneumonia. Parvana helps Mrs. Weera load her few items onto a loaned cart. Mrs. Weera shows Parvana a medal she managed to save. She proudly explains that she won the medal for being the fastest woman runner in Afghanistan. They finish the move quickly. Parvana, still energetic, offers to fetch water and take Maryam with her. Maryam is thrilled and Mrs. Weera insists that it’s safe now that Parvana is a boy. Unfortunately, Maryam’s sandals are too small, since she hasn’t worn them in over a year. Since the sandals are plastic, Mrs. Weera decides they’ll save them for Ali. She wraps Maryam’s feet in cloth for today; tomorrow, Parvana will buy new sandals.
Like Parvana’s family, Mrs. Weera is mourning an Afghanistan that doesn’t exist anymore. In that old Afghanistan, women were celebrated for their physical achievements in addition to their intellectual ones—but now, under the Taliban’s rule, women are valued for neither. Parvana is so energetic and willing to take Maryam to fetch water in part because she feels like she now has purpose. Helping Father was also purposeful, but that help didn’t give her the opportunity to move around independently like she gets to today.
Themes
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Gender Relations Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
Mrs. Weera warns Parvana to be careful, since Maryam’s feet will be tender. Before Mother can object, Maryam and Parvana hurry outside. Fetching water takes a long time. Maryam wants to look at everything, but she has little muscle after a year inside. Parvana helps her down the stairs and shows Maryam the tap. Maryam giggles as she washes her face and then follows Parvana back to the apartment. The next day, Parvana buys Maryam sandals and Maryam begins accompanying Parvana to the tap every afternoon. Though Parvana comes home at midday, she wishes there was a latrine in the market so she could stay out all day.
Maryam’s obvious shock and awe at the world outside illuminates another consequence of the conflicts in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s rule in particular: young children like Maryam and Ali don’t even know what Afghanistan is really like, since they’re stuck inside. Because they don’t have this information, it’s harder for them to develop a sense of who they are and where they fit into the world. This also has potentially dire consequences for later, too: having never been outside, Maryam would never be able to do what Parvana is doing—going to the market, fetching water, and feeding the family—if the necessity for that were to arise.
Themes
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
A week after she begins working, Parvana suggests that she could escort Mother and Nooria so they can get fresh air, too. Mrs. Weera insists this is a grand idea, but Nooria snaps that she doesn’t want Parvana to escort her. Mother cuts Nooria off and says that Ali needs to get out and Parvana can’t manage both children at the same time. Mother ignores Mrs. Weera’s insistence that she needs to get out too. So after this, every day after lunch, Parvana takes Nooria, Ali, and Maryam outside for an hour. Ali was only a few months old when the Taliban came, so he’s never been outside. Nooria suns her face when there’s no one around, and sometimes Nooria and Mrs. Weera wash the younger children in the tap.
Mother’s pride and unwillingness to accept what’s happening in her country means that she’s still depriving herself the opportunity to get out. Though the novel never condemns Mother for her choice to stay inside, it is possible to read Mother’s choice as giving in to the Taliban’s demands. However, one must also balance this interpretation with the fact that she’s still working on the magazine and turned Parvana into a boy, so it’s possible to see that resistance can take many different forms.
Themes
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
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Parvana makes less money than Father did, but she’s able to feed the family. The younger children seem happier and livelier, but Nooria complains that they’re harder to look after now that they’ve experienced the outdoors. Parvana hands over her earnings every day after work, and sometimes Mother accompanies Parvana to the market to shop. Parvana loves the time with Mother and she loves being in the market. She misses Father, but she gets used to his absence. One afternoon, however, she sees Father in the market. She races after him, shouting, and throws her arms around him—but looks up into a strange face. The man comforts Parvana as she cries and tells her not to give up hope.
Even though Parvana has a great deal of independence and agency in the market, her willingness to hand over all her earnings to Mother at the end of every day speaks to how young and dependent she still is on her mother for guidance. Mother’s choice to go out with Parvana suggests that she’s beginning to accept her new normal and figure out ways to work within this system. The heartbreaking brush with the man who looks like Father reinforces that though Parvana is growing, she’s still a child who needs and wants her parents to care for her.
Themes
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
Another afternoon, Parvana stands up to pack up and notices a small square of embroidered wool. She looks up to the black window above and wonders if it came from that apartment. Parvana decides the wind carried it to her blanket but a few days later, she discovers a beaded bracelet on her blanket. She looks up and sees that the window is open. Stepping closer, Parvana catches sight of the woman inside. The Window Woman smiles and shuts her window. A few days later, Parvana laughs as a tea boy almost collides with a donkey. Another tea boy trips and spills empty cups all over her blanket. As Parvana helps pick up the cups, she sees the boy’s face and gasps. He’s not a boy; he’s a girl from Parvana’s class.
The Window Woman’s offering helps Parvana see that friendship and camaraderie can take many different forms; it doesn’t have to look like Mrs. Weera stampeding into Parvana’s life to fix things. Rather, friendship can also be acts of quiet support and the recognition that another person is there. When Parvana runs into an old school friend, this shows her that she’s not alone in having to shoulder so much responsibility.
Themes
Family and Friendship Theme Icon