The Breadwinner


Deborah Ellis

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Malali Symbol Analysis

Malali Symbol Icon

The historical figure Malali symbolizes Parvana’s vision of how she’d like to be seen as an Afghan woman: strong, courageous, and capable of creating change in her country. Malali was a 19th-century young woman who inspired Afghan troops and led them to victory during the war with the British, and Father tells Malali’s story often to inspire his daughters to be brave and take on challenges. For Parvana, thinking of Malali connects her to her father, the supportive person in her life who encourages her to bravely face everything that comes her way. Malali’s story also reminds Parvana that it’s possible to resist oppression and hopelessness and in the future, make Afghanistan a place that once again celebrates women like Malali—and possibly, women like Parvana as well.

Malali Quotes in The Breadwinner

The The Breadwinner quotes below all refer to the symbol of Malali. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Oxford University Press edition of The Breadwinner published in 2014.
Chapter 2 Quotes

“How can we be brave?” Nooria asked. “We can’t even go outside. How can we lead men into battle? I’ve seen enough war. I don’t want to see any more.”

“There are many types of battles,” Father said quietly.

Related Characters: Nooria (speaker), Father (speaker), Parvana
Related Symbols: Malali
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:
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Malali Symbol Timeline in The Breadwinner

The timeline below shows where the symbol Malali appears in The Breadwinner. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Gender Relations Theme Icon
...and with a freshly combed beard, looks rested and handsome. He tells the story of Malali. In 1880, the British invaded Afghanistan. During one terrible battle, the British were winning, and... (full context)
Chapter 3
Gender Relations Theme Icon
...walk, Mother and Parvana reach Pul-i-Charkhi Prison. It’s a scary place. Parvana reminds herself that Malali wouldn’t be afraid and notes that Mother at least looks unafraid. Mother marches up to... (full context)
Chapter 14
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon’s dark, Parvana leads the woman out onto the street. She tells herself that she’s Malali, though it’s hard to feel the part with her tray of cigarettes. Parvana almost tells... (full context)
Chapter 15
Gender Relations Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
...whether she chooses to travel as a boy or a girl, she’s still his “little Malali.” Mrs. Weera shows Parvana Mother’s magazine and asks Parvana to tell Mother that copies are... (full context)