First the Basics:external image WHM-logo.gifA Bit About Historical CriticismASSUMPTIONS:
  1. When reading a text, you have to place it within its historical context.
  2. Historical refers to the social, political, economical, cultural, and intellectual climate of the time.
  3. Specific historical information will be of key interest: information about the time during which an author wrote, about the time in which the text is set, about the ways in which people of the period saw and thought about the world in which they lived.
  1. Research the fundamental historical events of the period in which the author wrote.
  2. Consider the fundamental historical events of the period in which the literary work is set if it is different from the period in which the author wrote.
  3. View the text as part of a larger context of historical movements, and consider how it both contributes to and reflects certain fundamental aspects of human history.
Taken from Deborah Appleman's Critical Encounters in High School English

Applying Historical Criticism to The Kite Runner:


“There was a pomegranate tree near the entrance to the cemetery. One summer day, I used one of Ali’s kitchen knives to carve our names on it: ‘Amir and Hassan, the sultan of Kabul’” (27).

  • Historical criticism helps readers understand the allusion to the pomegranate tree. In Christianity, the pomegranate can be seen as a symbol of resurrection and life everlasting in Christian art, the pomegranate is often found in devotional statues and paintings of the Virgin and Child.
  • In medieval representations the pomegranate tree, a fertility symbol, is associated with the end of a unicorn hunt. The captured unicorn appears to be bleeding from wounds inflicted on him by the hunters.(see note) The “wounds” are actually pomegranate seeds dripping their blood red juices on his milk white body. Wild and uncontrollable by nature, unicorns can be tamed only by virgins. Once tamed, the unicorn was held in an enclosed garden and chained to a pomegranate tree, symbolizing the impending incarnation of Christ.(see note)
  • The pomegranate also figures into Islamic stories. The heavenly paradise of the Koran describes four gardens with shade, springs, and fruits—including the pomegranate. Legend holds that each pomegranate contains one seed that has come down from paradise.(see note) Pomegranates have had a special role as a fertility symbol in weddings among the Bedouins of the Middle East.(see note) A prized pomegranate is selected and split open by the groom as he and his bride open the flap of their tent or enter the door of their house. Abundant seeds ensure that the couple who eat it will have many children.
  • "According to the Quran, the gardens of paradise include pomegranates. It is important, tradition says, to eat every seed of a pomegranate because one can't be sure which aril came from paradise." And pomegranates protect the eater from envy and hatred.

Having this background helps us better understand why the pomegranate tree might be also an important symbol.

"I thought of the life I had lived until the winter of 1975 came along and changed everything. And made me what I am today." (2)

  • In order to put this in a historical context, the reader must know what the events that occured in the winter of 1975 were.
  • The reader must have some background knowledge on Afghanistan in order fot this quote to have the significance that it was intended to have.
  • The reader must wonder why one season would change the person telling the story so drastically that he would recognize it as a major turning point of his life.

It is important to know what is going on in Afghanistan during this time. There is oppression taking place against the Hazaras because they are shia and they are more strict and tradition and the Pashtuns are Sunni. But their religious differeneces is only one reason for the harshness. These two groups have a long standing history of fighting. On page 34 it says, "what does he know, that illiterate Hazara. He'll never be anything, but a cook. How dare he criticize you?" This cause problems for the friendship between Amir and Hassan because they are from two different religious groups.