All I saw was the blue kite. All I smelled was victory. Salvation. Redemption.

In Amir’s neighborhood, there is an annual kite-fighting tournament during the icy season when schools close. Kite strings are strung with broken glass, which cut competing kites loose, thus cutting them from the competition. “Kite runners” chase the loose kites, until the last fallen kite is declared the winner. Until this moment, Amir has never won. Finally, during this tournament, Amir wins, sending a blue kite into the sky. Amir believes that in this moment, he has won salvation and redemption, for his father’s respect and his mother’s death he believes he caused.

I had one last chance to make a decision. One final opportunity to decide who I was going to be. I could step into that alley, stand up for Hassan—the way he’d stood up for me all those times in the past—and accept whatever would happen to me. Or I could run. In the end, I ran.

At this pivotal moment in the book, the central theme of betrayal and redemption emerges. Amir knows that Hassan is being brutally assaulted by Assef, a cruel and racist neighborhood boy, but chooses not to intervene. This crucial decision reveals Amir’s inability to do what is right and drives the plot forward. Amir’s decision not to act also underscores the ethnic tensions between the Pashtuns and Hazaras, as Assef remarks coldly, “it’s only a Hazara.”

I thought about Hassan’s dream, the one about us swimming in the lake. There is no monster, he’d said, just water. Except he’d been wrong about that. There was a monster in the lake. It had grabbed Hassan by the ankles, dragged him to the murky bottom. I was that monster.

At this point in the novel, Amir is beginning to become consumed by guilt over what he did to Hassan. He recalls Hassan’s dream about a lake and reimagines himself as the monster in the dream, dragging Hassan down to his death. Amir once believed that winning the kite tournament would relieve him of his guilt over his mother’s death and make him worthy in his father’s eyes, but his betrayal of Hassan has made that impossible. He is now constantly miserable, carrying the weight of this betrayal.

Baba and I were more alike than I’d ever known. We had both betrayed the people who would have given their lives for us. And with that came this realization: that Rahim Khan had summoned me here to atone not just for my sins but for Baba’s too.

Amir has just learned that Baba had betrayed Ali, Baba’s servant and friend, by fathering Hassan. This fact means that he and Hassan are actually brothers, and Hassan’s son Sohrab is actually his nephew. At this moment, Amir realizes that he is not just atoning for his sins, but his father’s too. Rahim Khan’s summoning of Amir to Kabul was a test of his manhood and honor, and in this moment, Amir is convinced that he must act. This is his chance to now become a man.

There is a way to be good again, he’d said. A way to end the cycle. With a little boy. An orphan. Hassan’s son. Somewhere in Kabul.

These words, first spoken by Rahim Khan to Amir over the phone, echo in Amir’s mind. Amir never wanted to return to Kabul, since he has a safe and quiet life in America with a wife, secure job, and a home. By traveling to Kabul, he is putting his life in danger. Amir ultimately realizes, though, that he must return to Kabul. Returning to Kabul to rescue Hassan’s son Sohrab, who is now an orphan, is the only way to end the cycle of betrayal both he and his father put into motion.