The Breadwinner


Deborah Ellis

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Themes and Colors
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Gender Relations Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Breadwinner, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Afghanistan, History, and Pride

The Breadwinner takes place in Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan, around the year 2000. It follows 11-year-old Parvana and her family as they attempt to survive in a city that has, for the last 20 years, been gripped by conflict that hasn’t changed life for the better: the Soviets invaded in 1979, left a decade later, and the country then fell into civil war. In the novel’s present, the Taliban controls the country—and Kabul…

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Gender Relations

The Breadwinner takes place when the Taliban controls Afghanistan, meaning that the country operates under Sharia law (religious laws that govern all aspects of one’s life). Especially as Parvana and her mostly female family members see and experience it, this is disastrous: the Taliban, to supposedly protect women, mandates that they cannot leave the house except with a male family member as an escort and cannot attend school or work. This poses a number of…

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Family and Friendship

At its heart, The Breadwinner is a testament to the power of family and friendship. Parvana’s family is close-knit, and her family members do everything they can to support one another, even with the presence of normal bickering between siblings. Friendship is an important source of support too—when Parvana is traversing Kabul disguised as the boy Kaseem, it’s her rediscovered friendship with an old school friend, Shauzia, that keeps her going and helps…

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Agency, Maturity, and Childhood

The novel’s protagonist, Parvana, is on the brink of puberty at 11 years old. In this state between child and adult, she has both more freedom and more responsibility than the female adults or near-adults in her life—the Taliban isn’t as interested in policing the activities of prepubescent girls as they are adult women, so she can usually get away with being out in the city. However, this also means that many tasks that…

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