Summary and Analysis
In flashback, Chapter 2 starts identifying characters and telling the story of the narrator and his relationships to the names mentioned in the previous chapter. The narrator identifies Hassan as a childhood playmate and emphasizes, quite pointedly, Hassan's cleft lip. As they grow up together, Hassan, who is skilled with a slingshot, denies the narrator nothing, even when the narrator has asked potentially unethical requests. And Hassan takes the blame for their childhood pranks, never revealing to Ali, Hassan's father, that the narrator was the instigator.
Baba is the narrator's father. Baba and the narrator live in Kabul, the city that is clearly identified as the setting. As he grows up, the narrator is frustrated with his father's lack of attention. Rahim Khan is identified as Baba's best friend and business partner. The narrator mentions a picture of Baba, Rahim, and himself as a baby — a baby whose fingers curled around Khan's pinky and not his father's.
Baba's servants, Ali and Hassan, live in a little hut near the main house. An important similarity exists between the narrator and Hassan: the narrator's mother dies during childbirth, and Hassan loses his mother a week after his birth (she leaves her son and husband). Hassan is born a year after the narrator, and Baba arranges for the same nurse who fed his son nurse Hassan.
The narrator describes the physical features of the characters and recounts some particular events growing up. One specific event occurs when the narrator and Hassan are taking a forbidden shortcut through the military barracks. A soldier insults Hassan because of his ethnicity. Hassan begins to cry in the darkened movie theater, and the narrator puts his arm around Hassan.
The difference between Shi'a Muslim and Sunni Muslims is explained through narrative examples and direct exposition. The Shi'a Muslims are the Hazaras, the lower class, the servants. Ali and Hassan are Shi'a Muslims. Ali suffers from paralysis of his lower facial muscles, and polio left him with a twisted right leg. When the narrator was eight years old, Ali caught him making fun of him, but Ali never said anything about it.
The Pashtuns, the people of the narrator and his father, had persecuted and oppressed the Hazaras. The narrator's teacher characterizes the Shi'a as projecting themselves as martyrs. At the end of the chapter, the narrator reveals that his name is Amir — which is the first word spoken by Hassan.
This chapter is set up episodically instead of chronologically, and the different narrative examples exist not only to forward the plot but also to enhance both character and thematic development. The use of the word "Hazara" for the first time is the beginning of an exploration of the cultural differences that separate both Afghanis and Muslims from one another. The social hierarchy in Afghanistan is different from what we are used to in the United States and serves as an interesting contrast later in the novel. The differences between the sexes are also addressed, but in a more subtle way: Very few female characters exist or are developed, which mirrors the role of second-class citizens that females have in Afghanistan.
When Amir provides comfort to Hassan in the theater, it is important to recognize that a darkened theater is not the same as a lighted, public place. Privately, Amir is able to treat Hassan with the compassion and dignity Hassan deserves as a human being and as a friend. Yet, Hassan's station in life is below Amir's, and publicly, Amir is less likely, willing, or able to treat Hassan as anything other than a servant. An important part of The Kite Runner is Amir's struggle in dealing with a personal set of beliefs that runs counter to the dominant culture of his society and how he responds when his core beliefs are challenged. The motif of public versus private is developed throughout the text.
Another significant aspect of The Kite Runner is the nature of the changing relationship between Baba and his son, as well as Amir's lifelong desire to gain his father's approval. The photograph of Baba, Amir, and Rahim Khan is an important physical representation of the nature of these relationships. In many aspects, Rahim Khan is more of a father to Amir than Baba is; he at least seems to serve as a more positive role model and father figure to Amir than Baba does.
The cultural differences between social classes are the beginning of the religious conflicts, persecutions, and blame game that exists in Afghanistan and is developed throughout The Kite Runner. Although in this text they relate specifically and directly to different types of Muslims, the ideas are universal and exist among different Christian religions, nonreligious affiliations, and mixed religious groups as well.
Near the end of the chapter, Ali sings and then reminds Hassan and Amir that "there was a brotherhood between people who had fed from the same breast." Ali's singing voice, which the boys enjoy hearing, demonstrates the inner beauty of something that is externally ugly. And the line about brotherhood serves as both foreshadowing and a statement of a thematic topic.
The chapter ends with another mention of the event that took place in the winter of 1975 "and all that followed," but this time as the suspense continues to be built, more information — such as the information about Amir's and Hassan's first words and the fact that other things followed from that winter day — adds to the complexity of the event. Hassan, who is "incapable of hurting anyone," is contrasted with Amir: From the onset of his life, Amir is focused on Baba, and from the onset of his life, Hassan is focused on Amir.