Rape recurs throughout the novel. The most significant instances of rape are Assef’s rape of Hassan and his later rape of Sohrab. Hassan’s rape is the source of Amir’s guilt, which motivates his search for redemption, while stopping Sohrab’s rape becomes Amir’s way of redeeming himself. In each case, rape is a critical element in the novel’s plot. Other instances of rape include Baba stopping the rape of the woman in the truck with them as they flee Kabul, and the rape of Kamal that Kamal’s father implies. As a motif, rape is important for multiple reasons. It is not just physically violent, but it is also an attack on the victim’s emotions and dignity. Rape in this sense represents complete physical and mental domination of those who don’t have power by those who do, and the victims of rape that we see in the novel, most notably Hassan and Sohrab, always suffer lasting emotional trauma.
The adult Amir clearly recognizes the ironies in his own story. He even describes how Rahim Khan tells him when is still a child that he has grasped irony in his writing. The novel’s greatest irony, and its most tragic, centers on Amir’s choice not to stop Hassan’s rape. Amir doesn’t intervene because he wants Baba’s approval, which he knows he can earn by bringing home the kite and proving that he, like Baba, is a winner. But by not stopping Assef and the others, Amir becomes exactly the sort of coward Baba worried Amir would become, and unwittingly allows Baba’s son—and his own brother—to be raped, as he does not yet know that Baba is Hassan’s father. Amir ultimately wants to be happy, but instead he earns himself an overwhelming sense of guilt. There is a further irony in the fact that Amir only realizes how much he resembles Baba when he discovers that Baba conceived Hassan with Sanaubar, Ali’s wife. Amir wants to share the best of Baba’s traits, but instead what they share is the betrayal of their best friends. Another significant irony is the fact that Assef, who raped Hassan and caused Amir’s guilt, becomes the way for Amir to atone. Amir is emotionally healed by taking the beating Assef gives him. In each instance, the irony stems from Amir recognizing the unintended consequences of his actions or desires.
Regressing in Time
Amir does not exactly have flashbacks, which would suddenly put him back in the midst of an earlier event. Instead he repeatedly moves the story back in time to give a history of what he is talking about. The novel begins with him living in San Francisco, for instance, then immediately jumps back to his childhood in Kabul. Shortly after that, he jumps back yet again, this time to Baba’s and Ali’s childhood. When he meets Rahim Khan in Pakistan, Rahim Khan starts his own story by going back in time and telling Amir what Hassan’s life has been like. Amir tells his story to a reader who has no knowledge of any of this beforehand, and his choice to regress in time and give the back story of each character does two things: it provides critical information about the character’s history, and it also reinforces the thematic idea that the past defines the present.