The worst sin is the refusal to confront one’s inner demons. Redemption lies in accepting those demons and learning to grapple with them. This is the fundamental theme of Khaled Hosseini’s celebrated novel, The Kite Runner.
“... a boy who won’t stand up for himself becomes a man who won’t stand up to anything.” Rahim Khan, one of the characters, tells Amir the protagonist. Rahim was actually quoting the words of Amir’s father who had assessed his son when the latter was a boy.
Amir never stood up for himself because there was always Hassan, his childhood friend, to stand up for him. Hassan had no inner demons shelved away neatly in any inner recess of his consciousness. He confronted life as it presented itself to him. When it was necessary to fight bullies, he did so bravely. He did the fighting on behalf of Amir too. But Amir betrayed him. Amir surrendered to the demon of cowardice. Every surrender to the inner demons leaves one with guilt.
Amir’s father too had a suppressed inner demon. He kept that demon pacified with works of charity. Good deeds can keep the demon pacified. They can also give you as well as others the feeling that you are a good person. They will help you leave good marks in other people’s lives. They will earn you a good epitaph in the end. But somewhere there is bound to be someone, or many people, who is the victim of that suppressed demon. Every suppressed demon is a personal secret. Every suppressed demon is a pang of guilt.
It is only after his father’s death that Amir understands the motives behind the latter’s certain deeds. That understanding comes with the need for atonement. For redemption. Because Amir’s inner demons are linked with his father’s demons.
The novel is about sin and redemption. Religion is incapable of giving that redemption. The only religion we see in the novel is that of the Taliban in Afghanistan. “They (the Taliban) don’t let you be human,” says Rahim Khan. Under their spiritual reign, Afghanistan became a wasteland, a heap of ruins. The Taliban made Afghanistan a heartless place. They made rules in the name of God, but their actual motive was to enslave people. The Taliban comes across in the novel as a bunch of criminals who raped and plundered, killed or assaulted just to please themselves. They fill the spiritual aridity in their criminal souls by indulging in crime after crime, calling every one of their nefarious deeds an act of jihad, and “when the day’s boredom is broken” with murders, rapes and plunders, “everyone says Allah-u-Akbar.”
That’s religion. An enormous demon.
Real redemption is “when guilt leads to good,” says Rahim Khan. The good is not a final goal, however. The good is a constant pursuit. You have to keep struggling with the new inner demons day after day. That struggle is the only redemption. Only. Not prayers. Not rituals. Not sermons. It is standing up to the inner demons.
PS. This is not a review of the novel. I just took a personal view of the dominant theme.