For boys in Kabul, winter is the best time of year. The schools close for the icy season, and boys spend this time flying kites. Baba takes Amir and Hassan to buy kites from an old blind man who makes the best in the city. The highlight of the winter is the annual kite-fighting tournament, when boys battle kites by covering the strings in broken glass. When a string is cut, the losing kite flies loose, and boys called kite runners chase the kite across the city until it falls. The last fallen kite of the tournament is a trophy of honor. Hassan is the best kite runner in Kabul, and seems to know exactly where a kite will land before it comes down.
In the winter of that year, 1975, the tournament is held in Amir’s neighborhood. Usually each neighborhood has its own competition, but the nearby districts will compete together this time. A few days before the tournament, Baba casually tells Amir he may win. An overwhelming desire to win seizes Amir as Amir thinks this will earn him Baba’s approval. The day of the competition comes. The tournament lasts all day, and Amir is doing well. He can see Baba sitting on a rooftop, watching. Eventually all that remain are Amir’s kite and one other, a blue kite. They battle and Amir wins, sending the blue kite flying loose. Amir and Hassan cheer and hug, but Amir sees Baba motioning for them to separate. Hassan vows to bring the kite back for Amir and sets off.
Amir reels in his kite and accepts everyone’s congratulations, then goes looking for Hassan, asking neighbors if they saw him. One old merchant asks Amir what he is doing looking for a Hazara. Amir replies that the Hazara is the son of his father’s servant. The old man looks at him distrustfully, but finally tells Amir he saw the Hazara going south. He adds that the boys chasing him have probably caught him by now. Amir searches the neighborhood until he comes to an alleyway. Hassan has the blue kite, and he is surrounded by Assef and the two other boys that are always with him, Kamal and Wali. Amir watches from around the corner. Assef tells Hassan they will let him go only if he hands over the kite. Hassan refuses. He ran the kite fairly, and it belongs to Amir. Assef says Amir would not be as loyal to him, an ugly pet Hazara. Hassan is not shaken. He says he and Amir are friends. Assef and the other boys charge Hassan. Amir almost says something, but ultimately he only watches.
Amir remembers something. He and Hassan fed from the same breast, that of a Hazara woman named Sakina. He recalls going to a fortune teller with Hassan. They each give the fortune teller money. The man looks at Hassan. After a moment he puts the money back in Hassan’s hand. Then Amir thinks of a dream: he is lost in a snowstorm until a familiar shape appears before him. Suddenly the snow is gone. The sky is blue and filled with kites. Amir looks down the alley where Assef and the others have Hassan pinned to the ground without his pants. Wali says his father believes what they are considering doing to Hassan is sinful, but Assef says he is only a Hazara. The boys refuse, but agree to hold Hassan down. Assef raises Hassan’s bare rear end into the air and takes down his own pants. Amir debates doing something, but instead runs away. Fifteen minutes later Amir sees Hassan coming toward him. He pretends he was looking for Hassan, who is crying and bleeding. He hands Amir the kite and neither boy speaks about what happened. When they arrive home, Baba hugs Amir, who presses his face into Baba’s chest and weeps.
Many of the tensions that have been building till now, such as the treatment of Hazaras by Pashtuns, Amir’s desperation to please his father, and the question of whether he can stand up for what is right, come together in the events of this section. The central event is Hassan’s rape, and it will be the catalyst that propels the rest of the novel forward. This event is the source of the guilt Amir feels as an adult, and it is why the image of the alleyway, the place where Hassan was raped while he stood by and watched, stays with him. Hassan, we are led to infer, is the kite runner of the book’s title, and Amir tells us the story both as a confession and an act of penance. He wants to atone for his sins, and in fact, atonement will become a major theme. Two other important themes also converge in the single image of Amir struggling with the decision to intervene while Assef, a rich Pashtun boy with a powerful father, rapes Hassan, a poor Hazara. This image conveys the challenge and importance of doing what is right, and the rape of Afghanistan’s powerless by those who have power.
In terms of Amir’s character growth, his desperation to please his father, which we have witnessed throughout the story, plays a significant part in causing the events of the section. Although Amir feels paralyzed by fear when he sees what is happening, he admits that his main reason for not intervening is selfish. When Baba was a boy, he won the kite-fighting tournament. Though Amir had always done well in the competition, even making it to the final three once, he had never won. To finally please Baba, Amir feels he must show Baba he is like him by winning the tournament and bringing home the kite of his final opponent. Only then will Baba forgive Amir for killing the woman who was Baba’s wife and Amir’s mother. Amir does not stop Assef from raping Hassan first and foremost because he wants the kite to bring to Baba, and Hassan is the price he has to pay.
Amir describes Hassan, as Hassan is about to be raped, as having a look that he recognized. It is the way the lamb looks as it is about to be sacrificed for the Muslim holiday Eid Al-Adha, or Eid-e-Qorban, as Afghans call it (in English it is called The Feast of the Sacrifice). The sacrifice of the lamb is meant to celebrate the faith of the prophet Ibrahim, or Abraham as he is called in the West, who was willing to kill his son for God, but who was stopped at the last minute. Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all, in fact, share the symbol of the sacrificial lamb. In Christianity, for instance, Jesus, whom Christians believe died as a sacrifice in order to secure humankind’s redemption, is sometimes referred to as the lamb. In this situation, Hassan becomes the lamb and Amir holds the knife.
A terrible irony exists in the fact that Amir allows his friend to be raped in exchange for a prize that he believes will earn him Baba’s love. Baba’s greatest concern regarding Amir is that he will grow up to be a man who can’t stand up for what is right, evident in what he said to Rahim Khan earlier in the novel. If Amir had stood up for Hassan but lost the kite in the process, he still could have proved that he has the courage to do the right thing even when it is frightening or dangerous to do so. Perhaps more than he could have by any other action, he would have shown Baba that he is like him. Instead, he runs away because he wants the kite to please Baba, inadvertently doing exactly the opposite of what Baba would want. As the adult Amir narrates his story, he seems to be aware of the irony of his own history, and he even hints at it earlier in the novel, when he describes Rahim Khan telling him that his understanding of irony is clear from his story about the man who cries pearls.