Parvana is not the typical eleven-year-old girl that she would like to be. She is from Kabul in Afghanistan, a city under the Taliban rule. Unlike other girls her age, Parvana is surrounded by violence, oppression, and poverty. Despite these inflictions, her family sees her as the only hope for their survival. Since the Taliban regime took over the city, the girl has rarely stepped outside their one-roomed house (Ellis 6:72).
The Taliban has barred women and young girls from venturing outside. Parvana is prohibited from playing outside, attending school, and shopping at the market. The heroine in Debora Ellis' book, "The Breadwinner," is trapped in her family's one-roomed house. However, this confinement does not last for long after the Taliban takes away her father. She comes to the realization that she needs to take up the role of the family's "breadwinner." Parvana disguises herself as a boy so that she can go outside and fend for the family. Her mother, two sisters, and young baby brother need her (Ellis 73). The current paper is written against this background of Parvana and her role as the family's breadwinner. To this end, the author of this paper explores self-interests, roles, and responsibilities with regards to Parvana as depicted in the book. The girl's character in the novel is used by Ellis to depict the harsh realities of life that women encounter in modern day Afghanistan. Parvana has to choose between self-interests, duty, and responsibilities to support her family.
Duty is a term that is explicitly exhibited in the novel. Each member of the family exhibits and conveys a sense of moral commitment towards other members of the social unit. Parvana agrees to dress like a boy so that she can go outside and earn some money for shopping. The father and the mother are equally bestowed with the responsibility of ensuring that the family is safe. The mother "rebels with a cause" by screaming to the Taliban, demanding that they free her husband (Ellis 3:47). Therefore, everyone in the family is obligated to ensure that the family stays together.
The commitment to responsibilities is seen in the actions of the family members. For example, when Parvana's father is kidnapped, everyone has to do something to keep the family going. To this end, the mother fights back when Taliban takes away the father. She actually pounds the rebels with her fists (Ellis 2:76). Next, she engineers a plan to go and visit him in prison only to be whipped and turned away. In the book, when one member commits to fulfill something, they carry out their duty without considering their self-interests. Parvana has her own self-interests. For example, deep inside her heart, she wants to be a normal child. But she sacrifices her immediate desires to support her family. From the book, it is clear that duty and being responsible are associated with justice and honor. For instance, the mother storms the prison demanding the release of her husband who has "committed no crime and should be released" (Ellis 3:47). It can also be established that duties and responsibilities are derived from being human. They also emanate from character, personal moral expectations, and the social hierarchy occupied by members of the family. For example, with the father absent and the mother depressed, Nooria takes control of the homestead. However, food is running out and something must be done. She asks Parvana to go out and get food from the market. Parvana does not want to venture outside but her elder sisters will not take no for an answer (Ellis 63).
The term breadwinner refers to a person earning money to support a family. In the case of Parvana, she has taken up the role and responsibility of supporting her family after her father is imprisoned by the Taliban militia group. Most people that support a family are adults. They include mothers and fathers. However, the tile of the book, "The Breadwinner," contradicts this view given that Parvana is just 11 years. But at the same time, the title relates well with Parvana's character considering that she has taken up the responsibility of supporting her family. In fact, on her first day as a breadwinner, the girl brings home bread, further indicating the nature of the roles she has assumed.
With regards to duty and responsibilities, Parvana assumes the role of a boy and becomes the family's heroine. She has self-interests too. For instance, she wants to be a normal child. For instance, she loves playing and fetching water with Maryam, her youngest sister. Parvana wants her life back. What she wants more is to walk home from her boring geography class with her girlfriend. She says "I just want to be the normal kid" (Ellis 12). Her self-interest is to have a normal boring life (Ellis 12:36). On her part, the mother has to ensure that her children are fed. She makes lunch every day but it worries her when Parvana skips meals. She is disgusted when she finds out that the reason the girl has been missing lunch is because she goes to the graveyard to dig bones for sale. She is heartbroken and says, "so this is what her family has become..." (Ellis 11:12)
For the sake of the family, Parvana takes up the role of her absent father. She is disguised as a boy by shaving her hair and dressing like a male so that she can walk freely in the market without being detected by the Taliban. It is the only way through which she can get food and earn money for the family. Women are forbidden from taking such roles. In fact, they are banned from going outside. The Taliban require women to wear burqas when they venture outside their homes. Parvana is happy and enjoys the market outings, especially the fresh air and the sun. It is "a dream come true" for a woman to enjoy these privileges in this war-ravaged country. When buying rice and tea for the family, Parvana proudly observes, "I can do this" (Ellis 6:72). She takes her father's role because she can and not because she wants to.
Parvana's self-interest is to meet her friends. She likes the idea of shaving and dressing like a boy. When she goes to the market, she meets her friends. For example, she bumps into Shauzia while doing her shopping. Shauzia is her classmate, who is also pretending to be a boy to support her family. Parvana's interest is to have friends and she is surprised to realize that there are other girls like her in Kabul (Ellis 7). Regardless of the fact that both are different in character, Shauzia engages Parvana in risky adventures in the city. The adventure is what Parvana wants because Shauzia brings back a lot of childhood memories.
The fact that Parvana takes up the duties and responsibilities of her father does not mean that her mother fails in her role as a parent. The mother does what she can to protect her family and ensure the children are safe. She does not sit back and watch as her family is reaped apart. Her active role is well exhibited when her husband is kidnapped. She asks Noora, Parvana's elder sister, to forge a letter that grants her permission to leave the house and visit her husband in Taliban prison. Upon reaching the prison, she confronts the Taliban to release her husband (Ellis 3:54). The Taliban refuses to free Parvana's father. Instead, they whip her and deny her access to her husband. Though she goes home without her husband, she makes her children understand that the one thing the Taliban will never accomplish is to break the bonds in the family. The loyalty and love they have for each other is greater than the Taliban. The sense of duty and responsibly is exhibited in all members of the Parvana family.
The book ends without telling the reader the fate of Parvana's mother after she escapes to Pakistan with Nooria and her younger siblings. She escapes after the Taliban took control of the route they were using to escape to Pakistan. No matter what happens, the mother and the family are not self-centered. They choose to take up their responsibilities and empower each other.
Parvana displays a sense of hope even in the absence of her mother and other family members. It is what interests her the most. For example, when leaving Afghanistan in the back of a truck, she wonders how the next 20 years will be like. Parvana sees uncertainty ahead of her, especially after losing touch with her mother and other family members. She is hopeful when Mount Parvana fades away in the distance. In spite of the fact that her future is uncertain, the girl is hopeful. She is not afraid of what the future holds and is ready to face the unknown (Ellis 5:79). A sense of responsibility towards family is exhibited in Parvana's positive attitude as she takes a final look at Mount Parvana with the sun shining on its peak. There is hope that one day she will be together with her parents as siblings as a family.
Ellis, Deborah. The Breadwinner. Oxford University Press, 2010.
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