Loyalty and Coming of Age in the Kite Runner

Kite Runner Lord

Loyalty and Coming of Age in the Kite Runner and Lord of the Flies

Coming of age is as difficult a challenge as one will ever face. The challenges of growing up and of taking on the responsibilities incumbent upon an adult are considerable. This is even more so when one grows up before a backdrop of violence, chaos or disorder. In such a context, honor, integrity and loyalty are either forged or bypassed. This is the reality at the center of both Khaled Hosseini’s massively successful The Kite Runner (2003) and William Golding’s groundbreaking Cold War parable, Lord of the Flies (1959). In both texts, young boys find themselves faced with matters of life and death; civility and violence; friendship and hatred. And in both texts, young boys are forced to make the kinds of decisions typically reserved for men. In particular, the struggles of Hosseini’s Amir and of Golding’s Ralph demonstrate the implications of loyalty as it relates to the difficult process of becoming a man.

For neither character is the demonstration of loyalty a simple task, but to be certain, one of the protagonists rises to the challenge while the other does not. In either event, they suffer for their decisions. In Ralph, the reader is given a model of leadership and loyalty in all of its nobility and self-doubt. When a group of boys is stranded on an island by an apparent plane crash, their ambitions for self-governance, survival and rescue quickly descend into a penchant for savagery. And the responsibility of maintaining some semblance of order falls largely upon the democratically elected Ralph. In his unenviable task, Ralph faces constant challenges to his authority and finds that the reciprocation of loyalty between he and a select few of the boys serves as the ever-diminishing line between order and utter savagery. We find that Ralph’s power to retain civility depends on this loyalty. The symbol of the conch underscores this dynamic as in the scene where Ralph declares “we can’t have everybody talking at once. We’ll have to have “Hands up” like at school.’ He held the conch before his face and glanced round the mouth.” (Golding, p. 33)

Just as Ralph finds himself in a position of authority constantly under challenge, Amir’s high birth status creates certain social dynamics that he must live up to. As with Ralph, he finds this particularly difficult to do in a context where adult issues invade children’s games. Though Kabul is a somewhat idyllic place before the Russian invasion of 1979, it remains a context where ethnic status and bloodlines are highly determinant of one’s fortunes. In Amir’s friendship with the servant-class Hassan, the boy unwittingly transgresses these lines of ethnic demarcation and finds his loyalty tested by the disturbing behavior of Assef. Contrary to Ralph, who channels his courage in order to demonstrate loyalty to the boys for whom he has assumed leadership, Amir fails the test of courage. When Hassan bravely resists Assef’s demand that he turn over Amir’s kite, Assef beats and violates the loyal friend. Out of fear, Amir can only remain in the shadows to watch in horror. Amir remembers, ” I opened my mouth, almost said something. Almost. The rest of my life might have turned out differently if I had. But I didn’t. I just watched. Paralyzed.” (Hosseini, p. 73)

This inaction would come to define Amir’s life thereafter and would define his relationship with Hassan. From this point forward, he would be too humiliated to consort with his loyal friend. And this humiliating is only intensified by the knowledge of his friend’s great boldness. On his behalf, Hassan had acted with the courage and the loyalty to protect his friend. In their first tense encounter, Hassan emerges victorious over Assef. As Hosseini observes, “someone had challenged their god. Humiliated him. And worst of all, that someone was a skinny Hazara. Assef looked from the rock to Hassan. He searched Hassan’s face intently. What he found in it must have convinced him of the seriousness of Hassan’s intentions, because he lowered his fist.” (Hosseini, p. 42)

Here, the relationship between Amir and Hassan has its closest parallel in the relationship between Ralph and Piggy. Though Piggy’s sniveling qualities suggest a pitiable character at first, he proves one of the most steadfast figures in the Golding text. His unshakeable loyalty to Ralph is truly one of the forces that imbues Ralph with the courage to act. And indeed, even as the island descends into pandemonium, it is Piggy who courageously calls upon his leader for action. As the group of boys has splintered irreparably, Piggy demands of Ralph, “awful things has been done on this island. I voted for you for chief. He’s the only one who ever got anything done. So now you speak, Ralph, and tell us what.” (Golding, p. 170)

No such confrontation is ever made possible between Amir and Hassan. Indeed, Hassan’s nature is simply too gentle and Amir’s shame is too great for any such event to occur. Not only will Amir never accept the challenge of reciprocated loyalty as Ralph does on Piggy’s behalf, but Amir’s shamefulness will find yet greater proportions still when he allows Hassan to take the blame for Baba’s stolen watch. Amir remembers that when Hassan confessed falsely to the crime, “I flinched, like I’d been slapped. My heart sank and I almost blurted out the truth. Then I understood: This was Hassan’s final sacrifice for me.” (Hosseini, p. 105) And quite truly it would be, as Hassan and his father would leave Baba’s home following these events. When Amir learns that Hassan was ultimately executed by the Taliban, his guilt is truly complete. The boy who he learns to have been his half brother is now deceased and even in the resolution where Amir adopts Hassan’s son, he must forever live with the guilty of his failed loyalty.

Sadly, even for Ralph’s loyalty, his loss would be equal to Amir’s. In spite of their solidarity, Piggy and Ralph cannot prevent the other boys on the island from falling under Jack Merridew’s malevolent command. Piggy is killed in their last attempt at reclaiming command and even as the boys are finally rescued, Ralph knows that he has lost something extraordinarily rare. Golding tells compellingly that “Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.” (Golding, 202)

But there is a remarkable difference in the resolutions possible as the two protagonists come of age. For Ralph, there is a sense of catharsis even as he mourns his loss. The loyalty reciprocated between the boys might be solace enough for Ralph as he gains some distance from the traumatic events on the island. But for Amir, the trauma must be ongoing, even to the extent that the emotional fragility of his newly adopted son is a perpetuating symbol of his shameful disloyalty. So even as loss marks the resolution for both boys, only Ralph is entitled to a sense of personal reconciliation.

In both narratives, we find an interesting parallel that bears acknowledgement here in resolution. In both, the backdrop is an adult world marked by war, chaos and disloyalty. That young boys are even faced with dilemmas of such a magnitude at their age must surely be seen as a reflection of that broader world. To behave honorably in such a broader world is truly a challenge, especially as the pressures to descend into savagery are so omnipresent. For Ralph and Amir alike, the pressures of growing up are far greater than should be brought upon boys so young. But for better and worse respectively, these protagonists would be forced to learn what it means to be a man well before their time.

Works Cited:

Golding, W. (1959). Lord of the Flies. Perigree Books; Reissue Edition.

Hosseini, K. (2003). The Kite Runner. Riverhead Books.

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