I looked up at those twin kites. I thought about Hassan. Thought about Baba. Ali. Kabul. I thought of the life I had lived until the winter of 1975 came along and changed everything. And made me what I am today.

The kites flying high above San Francisco remind Amir of his childhood in Afghanistan and the people he knew there. They symbolize his early life, his desire and the desperate efforts he’d make to feel his father’s love and acceptance, his relationship with Hassan—including his betrayal of Hassan—and the change that, he says, “made me what I am today.”

I was going to win, and I was going to run that last kite. Then I’d bring it home and show it to Baba. Show him once and for all that his son was worthy.

After Baba tells Amir that he thinks Amir may win the kite tournament, Amir begins to believe in such a possibility, too. Amir believes his father blames him for his mother’s death during childbirth and, as a result, feels disappointed with and possibly resentful toward him. Amir thinks that winning the tournament and bringing Baba the last kite would win his father’s approval and affection. He thinks that running “that last kite” would prove that he has value, he is lovable, and he is worthy of the love and respect his father has yet to share. Here, the kite symbolizes Amir’s intense desire to connect with his father.

For at least a few months after the kite tournament, Baba and I immersed ourselves in a sweet illusion, saw each other in a way that we never had before. We’d actually deceived ourselves into thinking that a toy made of tissue paper, glue, and bamboo could somehow close the chasm between us.

Amir believed that winning the kite-flying contest and bringing the blue kite home would finally win him Baba’s approval and affection. And for a few months, it appeared that this was so. But now the kite no longer symbolizes a connection between Amir and his father; now the kite is merely a toy. Now, the kite symbolizes all the empty space between Baba and Amir, similar to the empty space between Amir and the kite itself as it once soared in the sky. The differences between Amir and Baba are too great.

“Think of something good,” Baba said in my ear. “Something happy.” Something good. Something happy. I let my mind wander. I let it come: Friday afternoon in Paghman. An open field of grass speckled with mulberry trees in blossom. Hassan and I stand ankle-deep in untamed grass, I am tugging on the line, the spool spinning in Hassan’s calloused hands, our eyes turned up to the kite in the sky.

Here, Baba and Amir ride inside a dark tanker as they are smuggled into Pakistan, and to allay Amir’s fear, Baba tells him to think of something good and happy. Amir begins to recall a day long ago when he and Hassan were flying a kite, before Hassan’s rape and the rift between Hassan and Amir. At this point in the story, the kite symbolizes happiness and a warm, pleasant, “simpler” past for Amir.

“Do you want me to run that kite for you?” His Adam’s apple rose and fell as he swallowed. The wind lifted his hair. I thought I saw him nod. “For you, a thousand times over,” I heard myself say. Then I turned and ran.

Amir has cut the last kite in the contest and thinks that he has brought a smile, however slight, to Sohrab’s face. When he asks Sohrab if he should run and get the kite for him, Sohrab appears to nod, signaling that he is possibly coming out of his withdrawn state. Once more, kite flying and running bring happiness to Amir. However, in this moment, Amir assumes Hassan’s role of kite runner, and he even speaks Hassan’s words, “For you, a thousand times over,” to Sohrab, symbolizing that he now will play the role of loyal, loving, and protective friend to Sohrab, just as Hassan always did for him.