Reading Lolita in Tehran Prompt B

Monday, December 8, 2008


Hey guys:

Sounds like you guys are enjoying the book as well! The detail that Vanessa notices in the front cover of the memoir maybe suggestive of the women’s defiance against the limits society has placed on them. What once use to be a religious sacrifice has turned into a signal of political allegiance and it seems that Nafisi wants to use the cover to portray the possibility of defiance, not through violence but through subtle and personal subversion. You seem to have also noticed their appreciation of the daily activities that many may take for granted due to its simplicity or insignificance. However it is evident that when even the simplest right is taken away, its impact is greatly felt and one experiences a deeper gratitude to even something as simple as a book club. It is in times of suppression when “we “rediscover and even covet all [the] things we took for granted.” (55) For the women involved in the group, it is much more than just discussions on selected books. By defying their social expectations, each woman is taking a personal stance against the atrocities that they so unjustly have to fight. Though they are not actively protesting their forced submission to unjust rules, they submissively protest the coverings forced upon them by taking off their robes when in the presence of each other, they resist the ignorance that society expects of them and they find an escape from their harsh reality through literature. Nafisi seems to say that for one’s voice to be heard it is not necessary to physically fight or shout, but rather actions, though simple in manner is a form of protest as well. What I love most about this book so far is that it shows the true power of literature. It shows literature not just in the conventional sense but rather in a way to show its ability to question and push one to reflect upon ideas that we accept or society pushes us to accept.

I really like your observation of Nafisi’s use of color as well. I had not noticed that before. Thanks for providing all those examples! After taking a closer look at it I too see a connection between color and individuality as well as a parallel with the lack of color to the lack of freedom and rights. Distinction seems to be emphasized whenever color is used in Nafisi’s distinction. The women are no longer associated with the same black covering that they wear in public, but rather by their individual styles of clothing and accessories. Throughout the first part of the memoir, Nafisi asks us to “imagine” and picture what their world must be like. In my mind, I see the living room in which they have their weekly meetings to be splashed with an array of color, where as the outside world in which they all must reenter is sadly black and white.

As to the description of Sanaz’s walk home, I find it very revealing as to the feelings, thoughts, and experiences a Muslim woman living in Tehran must undergo. This prohibition that they face daily declares that “whoever [they] are…was not really important… [they] had become the figment of someone else’s dreams.” (28) They live not by their own identities but rather by the identities someone else has envisioned for them.

Ashley, I agree with your thought as to the impact of the veil upon the woman. It serves as a garment that blurs the lines of distinction between each individual and groups woman as one. Nafisi emphasized through Sanaz’s experience, as you have pointed out that, that woman are defined by the men in their lives and lives in subordination to them. They have no individuality for it is taken away by their forced way of dressing as well as overshadowed by the male figures in their lives.

Great comments you guys! Now back to more reading : )


Hi Ashley,

Responding to your post, I agree that when Nafisi speaks directly to the readers, her words seem to not only address the readers but apply to them as well. She truly has provided a new perspective for me at looking at works of literature. That I believe is one of the reasons I like reading this book so much as well. It becomes more than just words but rather experiences that we all have the ability to partake in if we “hold [our] breath with the characters and become involved in their destiny.” However, I believe that she is not only speaking of “entering the world of Muslim women” but she is also asking readers to apply this motto to all literature that they undertake. By reading novels and truly empathizing with the characters, whether one approves of their morals or not is the best way in understanding the actions and feelings of the characters. Nafisi’s ability to empathize with characters and relate them to her life and the lives of others is a commendable gift. She allows the novels she reads to become a part of her and in that way she broadens her views and perspectives of society.

The other quote you chose goes along the same lines as the first one: “It is only through literature…” It reinforces the idea that literature provides a pathway to experiences that one may otherwise have no access to. In Nafisi’s memoir she speaks of women who are oppressed by society, women who have once experienced freedom but also have experienced it being taken away unjustly as they are left powerless, only able to watch as the events unfold. As you said, Nafisi wants readers to empathize and not judge. For empathy is the best way towards understanding. In her memoir, she documents her journey home, a place in which she held her dearest memories of home to find it irreversibly changed.

As to your question of Nafisi alluding to a Christ figure and her students as her follower, I see your point but I don’t believe that she is. She is in many ways like her students and is not in a better position. She finds that all that she once believed was beautiful about Tehran to be questioned as the Revolution takes place. Women lose their rights as individuals, innocent lives are lost, and students are corrupted and forced to form divided groups. She feels “paralyzed and frozen…like a lost animal in danger.” “The fear was not of bullets…[but] some lack, as if the future were receding from [her].” (149) As a woman in Tehran, Nafisi experiences all that the other women experiences as well. However she does help to bring together a group of women to support, listen, and understand each other.

At the end of the novel, why do you guys think that Nafisi and her students lose contact? Did their relationship just exist because of the conditions of the time or was it a natural separation. By losing contact, is it a symbol of leaving the past behind?


Hi Vanessa!

In your post for part 2, I agree that the Gatsby section of the memoir veered off from storyline in the beginning in which a group of oppressed women join together to not only study novels, but also regain their own identities. However, I believe that the Gatsby section is a necessary part of the memoir because it provides background information as to the political and social atmosphere of the time. The Gatsby section also reveals a lot about the character of Nafisi herself. As you have stated, Nafisi is a rebel, not in the traditional sense of the word, but in a more subtle way in which she defies the oppression the Tehranian society has forced upon its citizens. She has returned to Tehran in search of the nostalgic feeling of home, to find, in her horror, a country transformed and changed from that in her memory. As Nafisi rewinds to the past in the Gatsby section of the memoir, she opens and introduces herself as “a young woman [who] stands alone in the midst of a crowd at the Tehran airport…” (81) The “dream” that “had finally come true” (82), however, was not the one she had envisioned. The years she had spent abroad leaves her clueless as to the changes in her home country. She soon discovers that the “mood…was not welcoming. It was somber and slightly menacing…” (82) Nafisi reveals her naïve self upon her return but is soon rid of it as she contemplates the “discrepancies, or essential paradoxes, in [her] idea of “home.” (86) What she once identified herself with, her nostalgic memories of home is no longer and she is left to question, not only where is her home now, but also who is she in relation to the new country she so unexpectedly step foot in. She is lost in deciding on “the familiar Iran [she] felt nostalgic about, the place of parents and friends and summer nights by the Caspian Sea” and “this other, reconstructed, Iran about which [she] talked in meeting after meeting, quarreling about what the masses in Iran wanted.” (86)

Also, I completely agree with you on your opinion that Nafisi is a courageous woman. You say that she is “in the wrong place at the wrong time” but I believe that it is that essential fact that allows her to write such a powerful story of one woman’s struggle against a place and a time in which she does not seem to fit at all. Nafisi herself is a contrast between the Middle Eastern views in Tehran and Western views in America. Having the opportunity to experience both, she is able to separate what she believes is moral from the immoral.

Though I did not enjoy the Gatsby section of the novel as much as I had the Lolita section, I find that it reveals more about the author herself. She brings us back to her teaching days and shows the struggle she underwent to uphold the innocent and peaceful image she once held of Tehran. What is most interesting in the Gatsby section, I find was the description of the divide between the students in her class according to the political groups. This divide illustrates the situation of the country in even a class room environment. The political atmosphere that she incorporates in this section not only serves as a backdrop, but also shows the personal impact it has on her. She shows the changes she has undergone, from an innocent young teacher eager to educate students on the masterpieces of Nabokov, Fitzgerald, and Austen to a stronger and more independent woman who finds a new definition of home and of herself.

Lastly to address your question as to the relation between the novel of The Great Gatsby with the situation in Iran at the time, I believe that Nafisi wanted to demonstrate that like the story of Gatsby, in which one man tries to recreate the past, Iran, trying to bring back unjust rule will no doubt lead to its own destruction. It is both, Gatsby’s and Tehran’s unwillingness to move forward that will lead to disaster.


Hey Vanessa,

I think we have all noticed Nafisi’s ability to engage the readers into the events of her life through her vivid descriptions. Not only does she tell us of her emotions but she gives philosophies that are wise and relatable. She truly shows the significance of literature to lives of not only the oppressed, but everyone. Literature has the ability to play both a minor and a significant role in one’s life. I find that by putting ourselves into the shoes of women living in Tehran, we can feel and experience the horror that must have been running through their minds as the period of uncertainty and revolt was on the rise. Imagine living during a time in which one must go against one’s moral beliefs to avoid death. I find it difficult to envision such a situation. Though the choice seems obvious, what would you do in times of such danger, betray one’s beliefs or comply?

Another topic that you brought up that occurs repeatedly throughout the memoir is the idea of the individuality of women. In Tehran this individuality, not only for women, is put into question and denied as each is forced to wear a veil. The veil creates a suffocating uniformity that deprives each woman of her own identity. The veil is unjust and like you have stated places woman in an inferior position. Though Nafisi addresses this idea of society’s suffocation of individuality, she also hints at the idea that it is one’s acceptance of such oppression that ultimately leads to such atrocity. In the example of Invitation to a Beheading, Nafisi mentions that it is the main character, Cincinnatus C. that fails to assimilate to society and as a result of this failure, it is not him that lives in a surreal world, but those who has put him in exile. The whole story is ironic in that it is the people, supposedly in positions of powers that live in a fictitious world, where as Cincinnatus C., the supposed victim, is able to maintain a sense of reality. In many ways this story relates to the woman in Tehran, where a world of surrealism is enforced upon them. However it is up to each individual woman to maintain their own reality.

Vanessa, I really like your comment that fiction is meant to “question reason.” Reading the book makes me wonder a lot about the concepts we accept in our society and the images we associate to certain groups or beliefs. In many ways Nafisi addresses the power of a group as well as the power of an individual. She poses Tehran and its supporters of the unjust rule, whether forced or not, as the group, but also shows that an individual has the power to reject the ways of society.


Hi Ashley,

I’m glad that you brought up the character of Mr. Bahri in your posts. I agree that he is a quite interesting and unique character in Nafisi’s life as well. As you have mentioned, there seems to be a tension that exists between them two. I find that much like the tension in the society of Tehran, the tension between Mr. Bahri and Nafisi are based on the contrasting views of gender as well as other societal standards. To me Mr. Bahri represents one who is trying to assimilate to the changing ways of society yet still holds doubts as to the morality of the changes. He is a student, still young and easily influenced. Nafisi addresses Mr. Bahri with a title of respect to show that despite their difference in views she still is able to empathize and understand his opinions. Through their example, Nafisi shows that despite having different opinions, it is still possible to up hold a relationship with someone who thinks differently. The tension exists not only because of their differences in thoughts but also because of the ideas society has created of what is right and what is wrong. Even innocent interactions between a male and female must be carefully carried out for it is not “right” for men and women to touch. He is also one of the few men in the novel that appears to maintain respect for women despite the changing times and men’s growing superiority.

Hey Vanessa, me again!

Reading the memoir, I find that it is not that Nafisi wants us to like her work but to have an understanding of it: of not only her struggles and experiences but also the struggles we all may encounter. She shows the importance of one’s identity, as one’s knowledge of oneself is most important in avoiding defeat in the threat of having one’s identity stripped away. The quote the you incorporated in your post about Nafisi’s feeling of irrelevancy to her society seems to show how despite the fact that she is in her home land she does not feel at home. She had once mentioned before that the most powerful kind of literature is one in which makes you feel uncomfortable in your own home. It is possible that Nafisi is trying to relate her experiences to those one would gain from reading a great novel. Though she feels a strange new foreignness in a place which she once held such familiar feelings towards, she still forces herself to remain, to face and to fight the forces that has taken away those nostalgic feelings.


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