Both The Kite Runner and Atonement explore redemption in different ways; the aim of this personal investigation is to compare the ways in which Ian McEwan and Khaled Hosseini explore the concept in their novels. Redemption can be defined as ‘the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil’ and usually is the result of feeling guilty for the sin or error and trying to put what you’ve done right. I aim to critically assess how the language, structure and form in both books explore redemption whilst using my subsidiary texts; Spies by Michael Frayn and The Go-Between by L.P Hartley to emphasize my critique. All the novels are retrospective (looking back at events) and therefore a meditative tone is shared between the novels due to the re-thinking and re-evaluating of past events, I will look at the author’s use of this technique and explore how the power of hindsight affects the theme of redemption whilst investigating their reliability as narrators of their own stories. Being ‘Bildungsroman’ novels they are about the coming of age, loss of innocence, false expectations and ignorance to sex and the “responsibilities of the grown-up world.”
In Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement he uses a shifting third person perspective in parts 1,2 and 3. This allows the reader inside the heads and hearts of, at first, Briony, and then Emily, Cecilia, Lola and Robbie. Therefore, we perceive that the ‘truth’ is a subjective concept; all the character’s views of reality are flawed so they are never able to present the whole truth by themselves; they either misinterpret events or motives or simply aren’t aware of all the facts. This layering of narrative perspective drives the idea that ‘truth’ itself is elusive – slippery and subjective. The epilogue shifts completely into first person and the identity of the narrator is revealed as Briony herself, an old women. This section reveals the ‘truth’ that the reunion of the two lovers was a romantic fiction fuelled by Briony’s need for atonement. Briony expresses her novel is an attempt to atone for the damage she has caused, which she has always known is an impossible task. Nevertheless, she also expresses that was exactly the point but the attempt will be enough to satisfy her. This suggests that there is some point behind choosing to write the novel as well. The purpose was not just to give an account of what happened, but also create a story “There was a crime. But there were also the lovers. Lovers and their happy ends have been on my mind all night long. As into the sunset we sail. An unhappy inversion.” here Briony implies that she not only wanted to give an account of what happened but she also had an agenda to atone for the damage she caused by creating a love story. She cannot see purpose in trying to persuade her readers into believing that Robbie turner dies “… of septicaemia at Bray Dunes 1 June 1940, or that Cecilia was killed in September of the same year by the bomb that destroyed Belham Underground station.” She wants to create a love story from the groundwork of something tragic; due to her desire to give a final act of kindness towards the people she betrayed when she was young. She has essentially created a plot that has a particular effect, which is to make amends and redeem for the damage she caused. In the end Briony mentions that even though the story was altered in order for her sister Cecilia and Robbie to reunite once again, she never attempted to make them forgive her, because she knows that would be impossible, as they are now dead. This final reflection on the novel underlines the reason Briony wrote it and shows that she has tried to redeem for her wrong doings as a young girl.
Similarly to Atonement, The Kite Runner is a first person narrative retrospective novel. The narrator is Amir who looks back across his life. The story unfolds through the first person narrative mode, and is structured through the memory lane of the protagonist Amir whose sense of remorse and guilt over his sin make him commit acts of redemption similar to Briony in Atonement. Every memory Amir tells, even the happy ones, are tainted with guilt from his childhood and using retrospective narration gives the power of hindsight and maturity, and offers insight and judgement on his earlier experiences and mistakes. Rahim Khan, who recounts what happened in Afghanistan while Baba and Amir were living in America, narrates one chapter, chapter 16. By using a different narrator to Amir, Hosseini allows Amir to gain further insight into Baba’s character. This insight comes from knowledge that Rahim Khan has about the past and Amir’s father. To build up dramatic tension Hosseini maintains Amir’s limited point of view to guide the reader’s interpretation of the events that take place. The introduction of Rahim Khan’s voice allows us to understand some of the events and ambiguities that Amir felt were present in his relationship with his father. In the opening chapter of The Kite Runner we are told how Amir’s ‘unatoned sins’ have plagued his conscience and caused him to feel guilt and shame ever since he cowardly left his friend Hassan to be raped, “That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty six years.” Amir seeks atonement for this as he hopes it will bring some relief and peace after such a long time ‘twenty six years’, this highlights the importance of the event to the reader because of the long time period that he has been regretting his actions. Hosseini conveys Amir’s exploration for redemption by expressing his guilt that drives him to go on his journey to Kabul to find Sorhab and redeem himself for his sins by rescuing him from a war torn country where he had lost all his family. Additionally the imagery of Amir ‘peeking into that deserted alley’ conveys to the reader how Amir has suffered from having this recurring image in his head throughout his life, contributing to this festering feelings of guilt. Amir believes he is the only sinner in his family, which furthermore contributes to his need for atonement so that he no longer has to carry his betrayal of Hassan on his conscience. The moral standard Amir must meet to earn his redemption is set early on in the book, when Baba asserts that a “boy who doesn’t stand up for himself becomes a man who can’t stand up to anything” . As a boy, Amir fails to stand up for himself and as an adult, he can only redeem himself by proving he has the courage to stand up for what is right. As Amir is now older he still has a complex towards his fathers righteous character, which Hosseini uses to power Amir’s need for redemption and to show that he is no longer a coward.
The opening of The Go –Between is powerful “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there” conveying a blend of melancholy tied with anticipation, and their significance reverberates throughout the book before completing its cyclical structure in the Epilogue. Similarly to The Kite Runner and Atonement we are aware of the implication that all will not end well, as it is only with hindsight that Leo comes to understand the full extent of the tragedy of the summer of 1900 at Brandham Hall. The majority of the narrative is book-ended by a Prologue and an Epilogue and by having the older Leo look back (now in his sixties) on his younger self-while he considers the pivotal effect of his brief visit to Brandham Hall had on his entire life creates pathos and tangible narrative tension. Furthermore, the cathartic power of looking back on childhood trauma is visited when Leo realises he can no longer accommodate the horrors of the past, having buried it for most his life until he finds his diary, much like Amir did in the Kite Runner until he receives a phone call from Rahim Khan and can no longer ‘live on in oblivion’ , showing a correlation between Leo’s diary and Amir’s phone call that mark the point that they both have to come to terms with what’s happened and cease suppressing their past. Catharsis can be defined as ‘the purging of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions, especially through certain kinds of art, tragedy or music’ and in Amir’s case he feels relieved of his guilt through the cathartic process of being beaten by Assef as he was too cowardly to face him as a child “My body was broken- just how badly I wouldn’t find out until later – but I felt healed. Healed at last. I laughed” , reflecting how the pain of being beaten and the pain of reliving these events by writing about them has made him feel better in the end.
This point of suppressed childhood trauma and the past demanding attention is conveyed in the Kite Runner “…the past claws its way out” and in The Go Between “the past kept pricking at me and I knew that all the events of those nineteen days in July were astir within me … waiting to come up” , suggesting the pain of reliving the past in the language ‘pricking’ and ‘claws’.
The authors use imagery to emphasize the guilt experienced by the characters such as “How guilt refined the methods of self torture, threading beads of detail into an eternal loop, a rosary to be fingered for a lifetime” connoting the guilt Briony feels leads to ‘self torture’ that has stayed with her a ‘lifetime’. Furthermore, McEwan uses a metaphor for religon when he mentions the ‘rosary’, which is a string of beads used in Catholicism and Islam. This links to the theme because both religions use shame and guilt to oppress human desire, invoke fear and maintain order and may show how Briony’s loss of wondrous imagination has been suppressed due to it running wild at a young age and causing harm. By comparing the guilt she feels to the beads on an ‘eternal loop’ it implies no beginning or end to Briony’s guilt no matter how much she attempts to redeem herself, perhaps because her sister and Robbie never forgave her. Moreover, in The Kite Runner the Kites are an on-going image and symbolise firstly when Amir was a child it was a symbol of joy and something that bonded him with his father. However, it then becomes a symbol of his betrayal of Hassan when he allows him to be raped when he runs for the kite, tainting his memories of Kite flying with guilt, until, in the final stage of the novel instead of the Kite being a symbol of his childhood betrayal and disloyalty it becomes a way he can finally connect with Sorhab after all they had been through and this mirrors the Kites role at the beginning of the relationship between Amir and Baba. Perhaps showing how Amir achieves his redemption as he found ‘a way to be good again’ by helping Sorhab, whereas Briony never seems to become redeemed due to Cecelia and Robbie both dying without forgiving her or ever getting there own happy ending as a couple.
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