Winter is the best time of year for the children of Kabul, as school is closed because of snow and everyone spends their time flying kites. Amir finds the icy city beautiful, and flying kites together is when he and Baba are closest. Baba takes Amir and Hassan to a blind old man who makes the best kites. He always buys the same kites for Amir and Hassan, but Amir wishes Baba would buy a nicer kite for him than for Hassan.
The themes Hosseini has already introduced begin to come to a head as Amir introduces the kite tournament, and the novel’s title shows that this event will be important. Once again Amir is desperate for Baba’s approval, jealous whenever Hassan is treated as an equal rather than an inferior.
The highlight of the winter is the annual kite-fighting tournament, where boys go to war with their kites by covering the kite strings in broken glass and trying to cut their competitors’ kites. When a string is cut and a kite drifts away, boys called “kite runners” chase the kite around the city trying to catch it when it falls. The last fallen kite of the tournament is a trophy.
Amir first introduces the concept of “kite running,” which gives the novel its title. Her kites begin to symbolize Amir’s idyllic childhood, his relationship with Baba (as they are closest when they fly kites together), and his friendship with Hassan.
Amir says that Hassan is the best kite runner in Kabul – he always seems to know exactly where a kite will fall and just waits there as the other boys scramble around the city. One days Hassan makes Amir wait under a tree for a kite, though Amir thinks they are wasting time and will lose the kite.
The young Hassan is essentially a flat, saintlike character, a foil to Amir’s selfishness and inner turmoil, a loyal friend despite Amir’s betrayals. Hassan seems to have an innate, almost mystical feeling for the kites.
While they wait Amir tests Hassan’s loyalty by asking him if he would eat dirt for Amir, but as he asks he feels he is being cruel. Hassan says that if Amir really wanted him to eat dirt, he would, and Amir is ashamed. Amir pretends it was just a joke, and at that moment the kite falls into Hassan’s arms.
Amir again tries to show his superiority over Hassan. He always feels guilty after situations like these, but the older Amir recognizes that they are, at their root, similar to the event that will later haunt his memory.
One night soon before the big kite tournament of 1975 Baba and Amir are sitting by the fire, talking, when Baba casually says that he thinks Amir will win the tournament this year. The words feel like an omen to Amir, and he becomes determined to win the tournament and win Baba’s love and approval – when he was young, Baba himself won the kite tournament. Amir thinks that if he wins, Baba will finally forgive him for “killing” his mother in childbirth.
Amir’s desire for Baba’s love and approval – and his quest to “redeem” himself to Baba for “killing” his mother – come to a head and focus on this one event. Winning the kite tournament and running the losing kite become tangible things that Amir can reach for and hope that they will bring him and Baba together.
The night before the tournament Hassan and Amir are playing panjpar, a card game. In the other room the radio is on, with someone talking about foreign investments and getting television in Kabul. Amir promises to buy Hassan a color TV someday. Amir can’t help pitying Hassan for his shack and servant status, but Hassan seems to read his mind and affirms that he likes where he lives.
There is still hope for modernization and progress in Afghanistan at this point in its political history. Hassan seems to see through Amir’s selfish thoughts, and again acts as his foil – Hassan is sure of his place in the world, and of his moral principles, while Amir is constantly in turmoil.