Novels by McEawn and Hosseini explore the themes of crime, guilt and attempts to atone. The main protagonists of these novels committed their crimes in the childhood and only lately in their adult lives understood the heinous nature of their actions and tried to fix the past and regain inner peace. In this essay, I will try to compare and contrast the key personages, their victims, their actions, a sense of guilt, and a pursuit of forgiveness.
The main protagonists
Briony of Atonement and Amir of The Kite Runner are children in transition to adult life (13 and 12 years old respectively). Even though their birthplace and ethnic background differ, their upbringing and social and economic status reveal a lot of similarities. Both grew up in wealthy and influential families representing the upper class of their countries. Some characteristics of these protagonists and their relations to their victims can be attributed to the fact they were born with a silver spoon in their mouth. Therefore, social and economic background played a significant role in their development.
Briony is a little girl with a vivid imagination and inclined to story-writing. She seeks to obtain recognition of adults with her literary opus. Amir also finds himself to be talented in story-telling and tries to win his father’s love with his poems and stories. However, if Briony’s efforts are encouraged by her family and praised, Amir’s father does not take his stories seriously and considers them unworthy of a boy who wants to be a respectful man. Therefore, the relations of family members to the protagonists are different and are significant factors in the novels.
Moral portraits of Amir and Briony also reveal some similarities. Both are quite infantile and spoiled: Briony shows bad temper when the production of her play does not go well, Amir frequently abuses servants verbally. Besides, their ideas about love are immature. For Briony, love does not go beyond princesses rescued by princes; for Amir, his father’s favors to Hassan are perceived with jealousy. At the same time, their characters show some differences. Amir is a coward, as he himself admits. He is consciously cruel to Hasan and compares it to the times, “he tortured insects”. On the other hand, Briony has an uncompromising nature when it comes to order at home or self-discipline.
The characteristic traits of the protagonists help analyze and explain their decisions as they committed their crimes.
Relations with victims
For both Amir and Briony, the victims were sacrificial lambs, means to their ends. Such an attitude was influenced by the fact that as Robbie, so Hassan were of a lower class and status, than Briony and Hassan. Robbie was a well-educated, but a son of the gardener, and Hassan – a son of a servant, ethnically inferior Hazara. Briony’s words were so easily believed partially because she accused Robbie, no one would have believed her had she accused Marshall. Amir could easily frame Hassan as a thief for the same reason; after all, Hassan was a poor servant. Both Amir and Briony used their victims to achieve their goals: Briony, to have her words be heard by adults and gain recognition; Amir, to ensure that his father would love only him.
Other motives that could have pushed Briony and Amir to commit their crimes, were personal relations with victims. Little Briony may have been in love with Robbie, as once she jumped into a pool to see if he would rescue her. So, she may have viewed their relations as ones of a princess and her hero, while Robbies feelings and attention to Cecilia may have been perceived as a betrayal. Accusing him of Lola’s rape, she simply took revenge. As for Amir, he was jealous of Hassan, of his physical strength, of his kindness and bravery – the qualities Amis himself did not possess.
Both Briony and Amir are haunted by guilt during all their lives. As Briony, so Amir, had their second chances to fix their mistakes. During the Robbie’s trial, when she realized her err, Briony had an opportunity to abjure her words that had such “awful powers”. But she felt she had to be consistent in her constructed narrative, she had an obligation before society and her family. Amir could have repented in his crime of cowardice when he witnessed Hassan’s rape and ran away. Instead, he frames Hassan as a thief to get rid of him, because he thought that once Hassan is far away, his conscience will be eased.
The sense of guilt is aggravated by the fact the victims of their crimes has died: Robbie and Cecilia during the Second World War, Hasan and his wife during the Taliban’s regime in Afghanistan. Indirectly, Briony and Amir are guilty of these deaths, they pushed them to their end.
Attempts to atone
As a matter of fact, both protagonists cannot atone their crimes and be free of guilt completely. To achieve this, they should be forgiven by their victims, but it is impossible, as their victims are dead. They cannot ask forgiveness from God, as none of them is religious. This is why all they can do is easing the burden of their guilt. Briony achieves it by changing the real facts in her book. In the novel she writes during all her life. She alters the gruesome reality by reuniting Cecilia and Robbie. In her novel, they do not die in the Second World War, instead, they live on happily ever after. In this aspect, Briony compares herself to God. The author is like a deity that can change the past, fix mistakes, create happy-end. For Amir, the way of atonement is different and more risky. He leaves his comfortable life in the States and returns to Afghanistan in order to rescue Hassan’s son from an orphanage and life of continuous sexual abuse by Assef, the same man, who raped Hassan. For the first time in his life, Amir acted like a man: he stood up for another person, overcame his cowardice, rescued Hassan’s son and fathered him. Probably, for him it was the only way to repent, to seek atonement, to make a positive change in the life of the abused, broken boy. Only in this way could Amir forgive himself for wrongdoings and for lack of bravery of Amir-child and find redemption.
These two novels invite the reader to explore lives and fates of people who made mistakes with serious consequences. This adventure into the intricacies of crime, the realization of crime, guilt, and redemption was a wonderful chance to enjoy an interesting plot, vivid language, controversies of human character and learn from them.
In my opinion, Atonement and The Kite Runner are a must-read for every book lover who seeks to understand human nature and make wonderful discoveries in human psychology.
Hosseini, Khaled. “The Kite Runner” . New York: Riverhead books. 2003. Print
McEwan, Ian. “Atonement”. New York: Anchor Books. 2003. Print
Ellam, Julie. Ian McEwan’s Atonement. London: Continuum. 2009. Print
Bloom’s Guides: The Kite Runner. New York: Infobase Publishing. 2009. Printt
Mishra, Ananya. The “Eternal Loop” of Guilt and the Attempt to Atone in McEwan’s Atonement and Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. The Oswald Review: An International Journal of Undergraduate Research and Criticism in the Discipline of English: 13(1), (2011). Web. 29 Apr. 2016