The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis is a harrowing historical fiction novel about an 11-year-old girl struggling to survive alongside her family under the oppressive and brutal regime of the Taliban in the 1990s. Sadly, this book is as relevant today as it was when it was written in 2000. It is an important novel that helps students understand and empathize with the reality that women and girls are cruelly oppressed in some parts of the world. While the events of the story are tragic and traumatic, the book emphasizes the importance of education and the powerful courage of those who resist oppression.
Create a visual plot diagram of The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis! Have students highlight key scenes in the novel.
THE BREADWINNER by Deborah Ellis
EXPOSITION & CONFLICT
The Breadwinner is a historical fiction novel written in 2000 about 11-year old Parvana as she grows up under oppressive Taliban rule in Kabul, Afghanistan in the late 1990s. The Taliban imposed strict laws that forbade women from attending schools or universities and even leaving the house without a male attendant.
CLIMAX / TURNING POINT
Parvana is still young enough to go outside and help her father but her mother and 16-year-old sister Nooria, younger sister Maryam, and baby brother Ali haven't left their one room apartment since the Taliban took over. Parvana's university educated father is brutally arrested by the Taliban one night without cause. The family is left desperate and alone.
To help the family survive, Parvana cuts her hair to pass for a boy and bravely sells things and reads for people at the market as her father did. She meets Shauzia, who is also disguised as a boy to work. They do what they can to survive and make money. They even do the traumatizing but lucrative work of digging up human bones to sell to a bone collector.
Shauzia and Parvana witness the Taliban severing the limbs of prisoners. Parvana's mother believes it is time to flee Kabul and arranges for Nooria to get married in Mazar-e-Sharif, which is not yet under Taliban control. Parvana refuses to go, fearing her father will not be able to find them if he gets out of prison. She stays with kind and determined Mrs. Weera. Parvana meets Homa, whose entire family was killed by the Taliban as they took over Mazar e-Sharif. Parvana fears for her family.
Parvana's father returns home badly malnourished and beaten, but alive. Parvana and Mrs. Weera nurse him back to health and Parvana and her father plan to flee Kabul and find their missing family. They believe the family could be in refugee camps outside of Mazar-e-Sharif. At the same time, Mrs. Weera and Homa plan to travel to Pakistan. Shauzia embarks on her dream of getting to France by befriending some nomads who allow her to leave Kabul with them.
Parvana plants flowers where she used to sell her wares in the market, symbolizing hope for Afghanistan. As Parvana and her father set off to find their family, Shauzia and Parvana make a pact that in 20 years, they will meet once again at the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. Parvana leaves Kabul with her father and as she looks upon the mountain rising above the city that they nicknamed "Mount Parvana", she wonders what awaits them in the future.
Image Attributions:532826 (https://www.pexels.com/photo/architecture-blue-sky-city-cityscape-532826/) - Pixabay - License: Free To Use / No Attribution Required / See https://www.pexels.com/license/ for what is not allowed