Emerson concepts in ‘Kite Runner’ and ‘Giovanni’s Room’

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Emerson concepts in ‘Kite Runner’ and ‘Giovanni’s Room’

“Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. ” (Emerson. 2) Thus we live in a world, where in order to fit we must ‘conform’ but Emerson believes that “whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist,” (2) and that “nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. ” (2) Self reliance and independence of thought, which are fundamental to Emerson’s perspective, are integral to the understanding and analysis of the characters in ‘The Kite Runner’ (Hosseini, 2003) and ‘Giovanni’s Room’ (Baldwin, 1956).

‘The Kite Runner,’ is a tale of two boys in 1970’s Kabul; growing up amidst discrimination, bigotry and class structure in society – in this case Afghan society – Hassan, a Hazara – a minority group of Afghanis who follow Islamic beliefs called Shi’a – although a friend and half-brother, is a lower-class servant to Amir. Amir, a Pushtun – the majority, who believe they are a better class than the Hazara and who follow the Sunn sect of Islam – although raised in the same household and sharing the same wet nurse as Hassan, lives in a different sphere of existence.

Amir is the legitimate son of Baba, a prominent and wealthy man, whereas Hassan is the illegitimate one and raised by Baba’s servant. Both lost their mothers – Amir at birth and Hassan a week after birth, when she ran “off with a clan of singers and dancers. ” (Hosseini 4) “For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure,” (Emerson 4) and thus Baba, rather than be subjected to the displeasures of his society, opts to conform to its rules and customs that “loves not realities and creators, but names and customs,” (Emerson 2) and not reveal that Hassan is his son by a Hazara woman.

His justice, or what Emerson characterizes as ‘compensation’ (The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy) is the loss of Hassan and his love. This same class difference between Amir and Hassan, largely dictates and limits their relationship. “It is easy enough for a firm man who knows the world to brook the rage of the cultivated classes,” (Emerson 4) and Hassan, the victim of such discrimination and class structure, remains completely devoted and loyal to Amir, both as his servant and as his friend.

He shows his loyalty when he and Amir are terrorized by Assef, “ a word for the creature that Assef was …’sociopath’ (Hosseini 25-26) who admires Hitler for eliminating the Jews and with whom he aims to emulate by destroying the Hazaras. Hassan stands up to Assef and his friends. Although frightened, he holds “the slingshot pointed directly at Assef’s face” (Hosseini 28) and shouts “if you move, they’ll have to change your nickname from Assef the ‘Ear Eater’ to ‘One-Eyed Assef. ” (Hosseini 29) Assef, never forgetting a slight, plots revenge.

Just as Hassan makes Amir’s breakfast, folds his clothes, and cleans his room, so does he cater to Amir in kite tournaments. Even though Hassan shares in the excitement of kite fighting, he does not actually have control over the kite. Hassan may help the kite “lift-and-dive,” but Amir is the one who claims a victory. Hassan may catch a cherished rival kite and hold it in his arms, but always to bring it back to Amir, to whom it then belongs. His joy is explicit, special, and secondary just like his experience of wealth and privilege while living in Baba’s household.

So it is that Hassan is subjected to rape because of his nonconformity to his position as a Hazara and he relies on himself to “go alone; to refuse the good models. ” (Emerson 5) Assef and his friends attack Hassan after he runs for the ‘blue kite’ but although terrified of what is going to happen to him he claims “Amir agha won the tournament and I ran this kite for him. I ran it fairly, this is his kite. ” “Amir agha and I are friends. ” (Hosseini 50) Hassan is brutely raped by Assef but never gives up the kite and brings it back for Amir.

Later, when the Taliban came to “investigate and interrogated Hassan” (Hosseini 149) and ordered him to leave the house – Amir’s father’s house – he again shows his loyalty to Amir by protesting. The Taliban “ordered him to kneel … and shot him in the back of the head. ” (Hosseini 150) Hassan dies because he “accepted the divine place that providence had” found for him; (Emerson 1) he had violated the social expectations of conformity by favouring “self reliance … its aversion” (Emerson 2) by standing up to his aggressors in loyalty to Amir.

Amir, contrary to Hassan, lacks self trust and conforms totally to society, and although enjoying time spent with Hassan, never really calls him his friend. When confronted with Assef the first time he shows his cowardice by wanting to tell Assef that Hassan is “not my friend,” “he’s my servant. ” (Hosseini 28) It is ironic that when Hassan stands up for Amir against Assef, and calls him ‘Agha,’ Amir “wondered briefly what it might be like to live with such an ingrained sense of one’s place in a hierarchy.

” (Hosseini 28) Yet he himself lives in such a way as to lose himself – his self worth and reliance by conforming to society and its customs. For many years, Amir feels as though he and Hassan are adversaries for Baba’s love and he is envious of this, together with Hassan’s abilities: “Hassan made his stone skip eight times. The most I managed was five… Baba …patted Hassan on the back. Even put his arm around his shoulder. ” (Hosseini 8-9) Amir greatly desires his father’s acceptance and approval and very seldom receives it.

He overhears his father say that “there’s something missing in that boy” and that he believes “a boy who won’t stand up for himself becomes a man who can’t stand up to anything. ” (Hosseini 15) Amir decides “there was no other viable option” than to “win that winter’s tournament,” and ‘run that last kite. ” (Hosseini 38) He believes that his “life as a ghost in this house would finally be over” and that he would show Baba “once and for all that his son was worthy. ” (Hosseini 38) On winning the race, he experiences the “greatest moment of [his] twelve years of life, seeing Baba on that roof, proud of [him] at last.

” (Hosseini 45) Following Hassan, who has gone running for the kite, Amir wants “to make a grand entrance, a hero, prized trophy in [his] bloodied hands. ”(Hosseini 46) He finds Hassan “standing at the end of a blind alley” (Hosseini 49) blocked by Assef and his two friends. But rather than help Hassan, even after seeing the “look of the lamb” (Hosseini 53) on Hassan’s face Amir runs, telling himself that “I was a coward” “afraid of Assef and what he would do” “afraid of getting hurt” (Hosseini 53) but in reality it is “the price [he] had to pay, the lamb [he] had to slay, to win Baba.

His reasoning “He was just a Hazara, wasn’t he? ” (Hosseini 54) After the rape, Hassan’s very existence infuriates and irritates Amir because it reminds him of his cowardice – his guilt. He tries to forget what he has done to Hassan and treats him like a servant instead of a friend; he lies about him being ill “he’s got a cold or something,” (Hosseini 56) he hits him with ripe pomegranates, he asks his father “have you ever thought about getting new servants? ’ (Hosseini 61) Finally he frames Hassan for theft and Hassan again takes the blame rather than reveal Amir for what he is.

Nothing works however, because he cannot discard his guilt as easily as he can discard Hassan himself. Even after later leaving Afghanistan for America with his father, he is never really able to forget and later he realizes you can bury the past but that it “claws its way out. ” He realizes that he has been “peeking into that deserted alley” where Hassan was raped “for the last twenty six years. ” (Hosseini 2) After returning to Afghanistan and learning of Hassan’s death and his orphaned son Sohrab, Amir endeavours to right his wrongs – “there is a way to be good again” (Hosseini 2) by locating Sohrab, who is in fact his nephew.

He finds Sohrab in the hands of Assef, now a Talib, and being used as a sexual plaything. This illustration of man’s inhumanity to man, gives evidence to Emerson’s belief, that “the differences among the members of a race are greater than the differences between races. ” (The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy) Amir must fight and defeat Assef if he is to redeem himself and his past; thus Amir finds his strength of character, the inner strength that he had all along, but believed was somehow missing – Emerson’s ‘self reliance’ and ‘trust in himself.

’ Ironically however, it is Sohrab who saves Amir in just the same way as his father Hassan had saved him before – with his slingshot. Amir’s lack of self-acceptance, his desire to win his father’s heart and his envy of Hassan causes him to live his life conforming to an unjust and class conscious society. He places blame on Hassan for the lack of his father’s love and blame on himself for his conformity and the terrible injustice he has caused on Hassan.

According to Emerson, one must be able to find a “blameless living” if they are to be a “whole man,” (The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy) and Amir clearly illustrates his lack of living blamelessly. Just as Hassan was socially alienated, so to is David, in ‘Giovanni’s Room,’ wherein he is faced with a choice between his American fiancee (value set) and his European boyfriend, so ultimately he must grapple with being alienated by the culture that produced him. In other words, does he conform or does he not? Does he be honest with his true self and be reliant on himself? David, unlike Hassan, takes the easy way out and marries Hella.

David has been running from himself since his first sexual encounter as a teenager, with Joey, and although he has a profound connection with Joey, he deserts him and spurns his friendship afterwards. In other words, like Amir he conforms rather than live with “the integrity of his own mind. ” (Emerson 2). He becomes what Emerson terms as an ‘imitator’ and lives a life of deceit and denial. Although mixing with the gay crowd, he proclaims his heterosexuality. Later he meets Giovanni and they fall in love. Afraid to commit to Giovanni he has a one night stand with Sue, another American lost in Paris.

As with Joey, David deserts Giovanni, whereupon Giovanni goes into a downward spiral and because of lies, false promises, abuse and humiliation he eventually kills and is sentence to death by the guillotine. Giovanni dies because of the people around him; they are envious of his beauty, openness and inward freedom; they pretend to be what they are not ‘imitators’. David remains forever trapped in his own ‘room’, closet, or hell of his irreconcilable identity. (Zaborowska, M. J. 1) He fails in his journey of self-discovery within a society where gender, race and sexuality impacts on national identity.

David remains loyal to America, the land of the free but never finds happiness, becoming emotionally dead and hollow, unable to love others, but mostly himself. In summary, we can recognize the lack of Emerson’s concept of self-reliance in the pivotal characters of Amir and Baba in ‘The Kite Runner’ and David in “Giovanni’s Room,” while at the same time we see evidence of nonconformity to social standards by Hassan and Giovanni. “High be his heart, faithful his will, clear his sight, that he may in good earnest be doctrine, society, law, to himself. ” (Emerson 10)


Baldwin, J. Giovanni’s Room. Dell Publishing, NY. 1956 Emerson, R. W. Essay II Self Reliance 1841 As published on http://www. emersoncentral. com/selfreliance. htm Hosseini, Khaled The Kite Runner courtesy of Shahid Riaz, 2003 http://esnips. com/UserProfileAction. ns? id+ebdaae62-b650-4f30-99a4-376c0a084226 The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy Ralhp Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) http://www. iep. utm. edu/e/emerson. htm December 6, 2008 Zaborowska, Magdalena J. University of Michigan. 2003 http://www. litencyc. com/php/sworks. php? rec=true&UID=4964


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