1. “That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.”
At the outset of Chapter 1, just as the book begins, Amir writes these words. With them, he hints at the central drama of the story and the reason he is telling it. To the reader, the quotation functions as a teaser. It piques the reader’s interest without revealing exactly what Amir is talking about, and from the time period Amir mentions, twenty-six years, the reader gets an idea of just how important this moment was. As the story unfolds, we realize that the deserted alley Amir refers to is where Hassan was raped, and that this event has largely defined the course of Amir’s life since. This is what Amir means when he says that the past continues to claw its way out. Try as he might to bury it, he was unable to because his feelings of guilt kept arising. As a result, he figuratively continues peeking into the alley where Assef raped Hassan, literally meaning that he keeps going over the event in his mind.
2. “A boy who won’t stand up for himself becomes a man who can’t stand up to anything.”
Baba says these words to Rahim Khan while he is talking about Amir at the end of Chapter 3, and the quotation reveals important traits in both Amir and Baba. With these words, Baba sums up one of Amir’s major character flaws—his cowardice—and Baba shows how much value he places in standing up for what is right. Baba is reluctant to praise Amir, largely because he feels Amir lacks the courage to even stand up for himself, leaving Amir constantly craving Baba’s approval. Amir’s desire for this approval as well as his cowardice later cause him to let Assef rape Hassan. The quotation also foreshadows the major test of Amir’s character that occurs when he must decide whether to return to Kabul to save Sohrab. As Amir searches for redemption, the question he struggles with is precisely what concerned Baba: does he have the courage and strength to stand up for what is right?
3. “Huddled together in the dining room and waiting for the sun to rise, none of us had any notion that a way of life had ended.” (p. 36)
This quotation occurs at the beginning of Chapter 5, as Ali, Hassan, and Amir hide inside from the gunfire they hear in the street that signals the coup by Daoud Khan, which ended Afghanistan’s monarchy. Though the effects of this coup were not immediately apparent, the coup ushered in an era of political instability that would essentially ruin Afghanistan. The way of life Amir refers to is the lifestyle that he, Baba, Ali, and Hassan knew before the coup, when Kabul was still safe and stable. For Amir in particular this meant a relatively idyllic life spent going to school, flying kites, and playing with Hassan, made possible because Baba was wealthy. But in the years after the night Amir describes when the coup occurred, violence and murder plagued the city, forcing Baba and Amir to leave Afghanistan and with it everything they owned. As a result, almost overnight everything Amir knew growing up in Kabul changed.
4. “I actually aspired to cowardice, because the alternative, the real reason I was running, was that Assef was right: Nothing was free in this world. Maybe Hassan was the price I had to pay, the lamb I had to slay, to win Baba.”
When Amir says this, toward the end of Chapter 7, he has just watched Assef rape Hassan,and rather than intervene, he ran away. Amir says he aspired to cowardice because, in his estimation, what he did was worse than cowardice. If fear of being hurt by Assef were the main reason he ran, Amir suggests that at least would have been more justified. Instead, he allowed the rape to happen because he wanted the blue kite, which he thought would prove to Baba that he was a winner like him, earning him Baba’s love and approval. The price of the kite, as Amir says, was Hassan, and this is why Amir calls Hassan the lamb he had to slay. He draws a comparison between Hassan and the lamb sacrificed during the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Adha to commemorate Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son to God. In this context, Hassan was the sacrifice Amir had to make to get the kite and ultimately to gain Baba’s affection.
5. “My body was broken—just how badly I wouldn’t find out until later—but I felt healed. Healed at last. I laughed.” (p. 289)
This quotation occurs during Amir’s meeting with Assef as he tries to find Sohrab in Chapter 22. Assef beats Amir with brass knuckles, snapping Amir’s ribs, splitting his lip and busting his jaw, and breaking the bone beneath his left eye, but because Amir feels he deserves this, he feels relief. He thinks he should have accepted the beating from Assef years ago, when he was given the choice of saving Hassan—and likely getting physically hurt—or letting Assef rape Hassan. Since that time, Amir has struggled with his guilt, which was only made worse by the fact that he was never punished for his actions. He had even gone looking for punishment in the past, as when he tried to get Hassan to hit him with the pomegranates, because he felt then there would at least be some justice for the way he treated Hassan. But Amir’s guilt lingered until his confrontation with Assef, which despite the physical pain, made him feel psychologically healed. Thus, while Assef beat him, he began to laugh.