Sophisticated Sense Of Empathy To Parvana In The Breadwinner

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This heart aching biography is the story about an 11 year old girl, Parvana and her rocky life of living under the pressure of the Taliban. Set in 1996 in the city of Kabul, this story is an emotional rollercoaster you won’t be able to let go of.

As stated before, Parvana is an 11 year old girl, who is determined, strong, and full of courage and bravery. Parvana lives with her family of five, Father, Mother, and her two siblings although that heavily changes throughout the book. During her journey under the Taliban Parvana is able to develop as a person. She develops a lot more courage and confidence, seen when Parvana goes into the markets and becomes more daring than she was with her father, as a little girl walking through Kabul. “When she had gone to the market with her father, she had kept silent and covered her face as much as possible. She had tried her best to be invisible.” She also develops mental strength as she pushes through all the hardships the world throws at her.

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We are able to empathise with Parvana throughout the story despite having contrasting situations. Parvana is put in situations where extremely hard decisions need to be made. She had suffered loss and felt similar emotions many of us would be able to empathise with.

One of the first key events of this biography is when Mother and Parvana trek to a jail to retrieve her father. Her father had been falsely arrested for crimes so Mother and Parvana set off in attempt to get him back. After pushing it with the guards when being told to stop, Parvana and her Mother got beaten and were forced to leave. ‘One of the soldiers snatched the photo of Parvana’s father and tore it into pieces. Another started hitting mother with a stick. “Release my husband!” her Mother kept saying. Another soldier joined in the beating. He hit Parvan, too.’

This scene is a big part of the book as it is something that shapes Parvana and changes her family’s lifestyle – having her father locked up had the biggest impact on Parvana’s life. In this chapter, empathy is a complicated but beautiful word. The feeling of empathy is strong to those who’ve lost someone they loved, a family member, a friend, maybe even a pet. But for those who haven’t, empathy can be hard to figure out when sympathy could feel more natural.

The second main event of this book is turning Parvana into a boy. This sudden change of lifestyle was crucial to keep Parvana and her family alive. Now that Father is gone someone needs to provide for the family and the only person who can is Parvana… as a boy. This event is extremely memorable as her family’s conditions shifted in the broken city of Kabul. This event also shows us how hard life can be being held under the constant pressure of the Taliban and how sexism was an aggressively strong theme in this biography. Pretending to be a boy to go into the markets and make money is an extremely hard decision. If Parvana got caught the consequences could be life-threatening, for not only her but her family as they would have no other way of income. Many of us have been faced with a decision… one outcome resulting in happiness or something simpler whilst the other results in hurt or something serious. We can even empathise with just the decision making scene in this chapter and the strong family theme.

Can you imagine witnessing criminals being dismembered? Imagine knowing those are the same men your father lies with? I don’t think any of us could imagine that but for Parvana, she doesn’t have to now. When her and an old school friend walk into a stadium trying to sell cigars and gum but accidentally witness the punishment for a certain crime – getting a hand cut off, they became forever scarred in their minds. Who knows what would happen to her father, the Taliban soldiers were proud of what they did;

“He was holding a rope strung with four severed hands, like beads on a necklace. He was laughing and showing off his booty to the crowd.”

When getting insights into someone else’s life, detecting strong themes or patterns helps us to understand their past experiences as, for example, strong themes of courage show us that the person has been faced with hard decisions and put in difficult situations. In this biography the main themes include, family, loyalty, courage, sexism, poverty and more.

Our parents always tell us about how hard things were in ‘their days’, the advantages we uphold because of modern technology. They’re always implying that maybe people of their generation and older, ponder on the fact that because of our youth, we have a less sophisticated sense of empathy and a more invalid opinion because we haven’t ‘experienced real youth’. But many of us have experienced those hardships and are able to feel a strong sense of empathy throughout this enticing book. I would highly recommend this book for people aged 10-14, not as a reading exercise but to understand the past and realise how we are extremely fortunate compared to others.


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