The central character of the story as well as its narrator, Amir has a privileged upbringing. His father, Baba, is rich by Afghan standards, and as a result, Amir grows up accustomed to having what he wants. The only thing he feels deprived of is a deep emotional connection with Baba, which he blames on himself. He thinks Baba wishes Amir were more like him, and that Baba holds him responsible for killing his mother, who died during his birth. Amir, consequently, behaves jealously toward anyone receiving Baba’s affection. His relationship with Hassan only exacerbates this. Though Hassan is Amir’s best friend, Amir feels that Hassan, a Hazara servant, is beneath him. When Hassan receives Baba’s attention, Amir tries to assert himself by passive-aggressively attacking Hassan. He mocks Hassan’s ignorance, for instance, or plays tricks on him. At the same time, Amir never learns to assert himself against anyone else because Hassan always defends him. All of these factors play into his cowardice in sacrificing Hassan, his only competition for Baba’s love, in order to get the blue kite, which he thinks will bring him Baba’s approval.
The change in Amir’s character we see in the novel centers on his growth from a selfish child to a selfless adult. After allowing Hassan to be raped, Amir is not any happier. On the contrary, his guilt is relentless, and he recognizes his selfishness cost him his happiness rather than increasing it. Once Amir has married and established a career, only two things prevent his complete happiness: his guilt and his inability to have a child with Soraya. Sohrab, who acts as a substitute for Hassan to Amir, actually becomes a solution to both problems. Amir describes Sohrab as looking like a sacrificial lamb during his confrontation with Assef, but it is actually himself that Amir courageously sacrifices. In doing this, as Hassan once did for him, Amir redeems himself, which is why he feels relief even as Assef beats him. Amir also comes to see Sohrab as a substitute for the child he and Soraya cannot have, and as a self-sacrificing father figure to Sohrab, Amir assumes the roles of Baba and Hassan.
If Amir’s character arc is about growth, Hassan’s arc is about not changing at all. From the start and through his death, Hassan remains the same: loyal, forgiving, and good-natured. As a servant to Baba and Amir, Hassan grows up with a very particular role in life. While Amir prepares for school in the morning, Hassan readies Amir’s books and his breakfast. While Amir is at school getting an education, Hassan helps Ali with the chores and grocery shopping. As a result, Hassan learns that it is his duty to sacrifice himself for others. Furthermore, by nature he is not prone to envy, and he even tells Amir he is happy with what he has, though he sees all the time how much more Amir has. Hassan comes across as the personification of innocence as a result, and this innocence is crucial in creating the drama and symbolism of his rape by Assef. First, Hassan’s innocence gives Amir no justifiable reason to betray Hassan. Amir’s behavior cannot be rationalized, making it consummately selfish and reprehensible. Second, Hassan’s rape becomes the sacrifice of an innocent, a recurring motif in Islam, Christianity, and Judaism that carries a great deal of symbolic meaning.
In his words and actions, Baba sets the moral bar in the novel. When Amir is a boy, Baba’s major concern about him is that he doesn’t have the courage to stand up for himself, demonstrating that Baba places great value on doing what is right. If Amir cannot take of himself as a boy, he worries, he will not have the strength to behave morally as an adult. Baba follows through on these beliefs in his own behavior. When he and Amir flee Kabul, he is willing to sacrifice his life to keep the Russian guard from raping the woman with them, and in doing so he sets the example that Amir will follow later when he must choose between saving himself or doing what he knows to be right.
What the reader sees of Baba from Amir’s narrative is not the full story, however. As Amir describes him, he is proud, independent, determined, but sometimes emotionally distant and impatient. We learn from a note Rahim Khan writes to Amir toward the end of the book that Baba was a man torn between two halves, specifically between Amir and Hassan. Amir never sees Baba’s inner conflict because Baba has very much separated his outward appearance from his internal emotions. For instance, Baba builds an orphanage, which appears to be a simple act of charity. But as Rahim Khan explains, Baba built the orphanage to make up for the guilt he felt for not being able to acknowledge Hassan as his son. Baba’s hesitation to reveal his emotions causes Amir to feel that he never knows Baba completely, alienating Amir from Baba while Amir is growing up.
The move to America is very difficult for Baba, who is used to being wealthy and well-respected in his community. He goes from having wealth and a position of power to working a low-paying job at a gas station and living modestly. Yet his relationship with Amir improves. Baba, as Rahim Khan explains in his note, felt guilty over his rich, privileged life because Hassan was not able to share in it. When he no longer has his wealth, his guilt diminishes, and with Hassan not around, he is not straining uncomfortably to act one way with Amir and another with Hassan. As a result, he is able to open up more with Amir, and the two grow much closer in Baba’s final years. Despite the fact that he lost everything he had as a refugee, he dies genuinely happy, feeling proud of Amir and perhaps happy that he was able to build the relationship he always wanted with at least one of his sons.