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Reading Lolita in Tehran

By: Laura, Shanna, Elsie, Briana
by

Laura Rovinsky

on 7 June 2013

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Transcript of Reading Lolita in Tehran

"The war with Iraq began that September (1980) and did not end until late July 1988. Everything that happened to us during those eight years war, and the direction our lives took afterward, was in some way shaped by this conflict" (Nafisi 158). Foundation Tone Style Symbols The first two sections of the novel tackle two subjects: oppression and resistance.

Nafisi handles the topic of oppression by detailing that government enforced regulations on women make it more difficult for them to freely express who they are. This idea is explained early in the novel when the author remembers the women who were in her reading group:

"In the second photograph of the same position, stands against the wall. Only they have taken off their coverings. Splashes of color separate one from the next. each has become distinct" (Nafisi 4). Background Characters Reading Lolita in Tehran Connector Book Yassi Nassrin Azin Mahshid Manna Nima Mitra Sanaz "The Magician" Theme "I need you, the reader, to imagine us,
for we won't really exist if you don't. Against the tyranny of time and politics, imagine us the way we sometimes didn't dare to imagine ourselves: in our most private and secret moments, in the most extraordinarily ordinary instances of life, listening to music, falling in love, walking down the shady streets or reading Lolita in Tehran. And then imagine us again with all this confiscated, driven underground, taken away from us" (6). After tackling the atrocities of oppression, the author outlines resistance to authority.

The narrator's reading group is small and cloaked in secrecy, but it was still an important form of rebellion. The author uses this story to prove that strict regulations cause people to rebel in order to feel a sense of relief. This idea can be seen on page 9 when the author says:

"For the first time in many years, I felt a sense of anticipation that was not marred by tension: I would not need to go through the torturous rituals that had marked my days at the university" (Nafisi 9). Theme Continued UPSILAMBA! Set Designer Through Nafisi's use of various stylistic devices, she creates an educated and aware atmosphere, in which perspective is exquisitely included and examined. Here are a few examples:

Aphorism:
"It is amazing how, when all the possibilities seem to be taken away from you, the minutest opening can became a great freedom."

In the novel, Nafisi and her students all experience hardships, both personal and related to the new regime and political upheavals. Nafisi's ability to express their sentiments in simple sentences throughout the novel is astounding .

Paradox:
"She felt secure only in her terrible sense of insecurity."

Throughout the novel, Nafisi incorporates paradoxes that, by their nature, seem bizarre, but are in fact utterly and completely appropriate in the context. In this instance, she is describing the constant internal struggle of leaving a world that that has always been there for a new, perhaps better, unknown world. Set Designer Continued.... Style Nafisi utilizes numerous stylistic devices in order to illustrate the long lasting effects of oppression.

Irony

"Many people fled to safer places. I recently read in an account that over a quarter of the population, including government officials, had deserted the city. A new joke making the rounds was that his was the government's most effective policy yet to deal with Tehran's pollution and population problems" (Nafisi 207).

The use of irony in this statement adds to the author's point that war continues in people's minds even after armistices are signed because the she and her contemporaries have adjusted to violence and death as normal parts of life instead of isolated incidents. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov Throughout the first portion of the novel, the author cherishes memories with her reading group. These beloved memories help to develop a nostalgic tone. When talking about the books that were discussed with the group, the author fondly remembered their titles by saying:

"As I write the title of each book, memories whirl in with the wind to disturb the quiet of this fall day in another room in another country" (Nafisi 6).

The use of personification helps to strengthen nostalgic tone by emphasizing how these memories are able to follow her regardless of where she is or what she now does. “My mother would go crazy each time she saw the paintings leaning against the wall and the vases of flowers on the floor and the curtainless windows, which I refused to dress until I was finally reminded that this was an Islamic country and windows needed to be dressed (pg. 7 par 3).”

Through this description of Nafisi's living room, the curtainless windows help shape her character by depicting her as out of the loop of normality. She likes to be pure and her self, which is hard to do while she has to face the effects of the Revolution that causes a strict policy and many restrictions on her beliefs -Upsilamba is a fictional word created
by Nabokov in Invitation to a Beheading. When Nafisi asks her students how the word relates back to the topic of the book they are at a loss for what it could possibly mean. Then Nafisi decides to ask them what kind of image the word evokes in them. Tone Continued In addition to the nostalgic tone that the author incorporates into the first part of the book, she also weaves a feeling or resentment towards the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Her anger is detailed whenever she explains the arbitrary regulations that are placed on women in Iranian society. For instance, when she discusses how the identities of her students have been robbed she says:

"Whoever we were-- and it was not really important what religion we belonged to, whether we wished to wear the veil or not, whether we observed certain religious norms or not-- we had become the figment of someone else's dreams" (Nafisi 28).

The author's use of consonance is shown in this quote, and throughout the book, in order to highlight her resentment. “’Yet that green gate was closed to her, and to all my girls. Next to the gate there was a small opening with a curtain hanging form it. It was an aberration that attracted attention, because it did not belong there: it gaped with the arrogant authority of an intruder. Through this opening all the female students, including my girls, went into a small, dark room to be inspected. Yassi would describe later, long after that first session, what was done to her in this room:…………I could enter the campus of the university, the same university in which men also study. And to them the main door, with its immense portals and emblems and flags, is generously open.’” (pg. 29-30)

The diction that is used in this paragraph emphasizes the distinct chasm between men and women. Women entering the main door and getting through the university involved a complex procedure, while men had the door "generously" opened to them. Living during the time of the Revolution, women had to be submissive to men and authority. Women could be classified as the lowest of the pyramid being evident when having a much more strident treatment in entering the university. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald Novels discussed in the book Daisy Miller by Henry James Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen "our comedian"
youngest
shy, but loves to laugh
questions the world and herself
isn't married and hopes to go to America with her uncles
wants to marry Mr. Darcy
loves to listen to music, even though it is banned
religious because without her faith she doesn't belong "Nassrin was Nassrin" (no good way to describe her)
went to jail and became sick
hardened by her childhood and the regime
was sexually abused as a child
attended Dr. Nafisi's classes at the University tallest
blond curly hair
"the wild one"
married, but not happily
has a daughter she named Negar, after Azar's daughter
has been married three times
outrageous red nails (against the rules)
her smiles are like "preludes to an irrepressible and nervous hilarity"
has a feud with Manna and Mahshid delicate features
"my lady"
very sensitive, "like porcelain" but has a strong core
also went to jail
suffering from work problems
very religious but feels oppressed "made poetry out of things that most people cast aside"
withdrawn
says her paradise is "swimming pool blue"
married to Nima
most identifies with Azar read the assigned material even though he couldn't attend the class
Manna's husband - Nafisi gave them rhyming names for their unity
her one true literary critic
skilled essayist painter
calmest of them
"pastel colors"
"miraculous dimples"
married to Hamid
courted by Mr. Nahvi ("Mr. Collins")
wants to go to Canada with Hamid pressured by family and society
independence vs approval (internal struggle)
obnoxious brother
jilted
gets along very well with Mitra mysterious character
Azar (narrator)'s confidant and moral support
used to be a professor of film who quit his job due the restrictions imposed by the regime
his apartment is always "in tip-top shape"
always gives out chocolate (even though it was really hard to find and technically not allowed) to his guests
"the patient stone" Set Designer The Hallway
Pg. 187: “One night… Miller.”
Pg. 188-9: “During…siren.” The hallway between Nafisi's bedroom and her daughter’s serves as a place of both discovery and seclusion. Nafisi is given a little vulnerability in these passages, as her reactions to the bombings are portrayed. This hallway also shows what Nafisi really cares about: her family and her books. These two aspects are central to Nafisi’s life and character and this hallway represents the union between the two. In a way, the hallway is symbolic of her imagination. It is a place to which she withdraws from the real world while remaining aware of it, holds on to what she cares about (her daughter and her books), and where she crafts her future (in the form of classes and analysis) and reflects on her life (sometimes in the form of comparison with characters). "You needn't be afraid." Connector 'war of the cities" The Iraq-Iran War: September 23rd 1980 to 1988 Iranian Revolution: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/pop_ups/04/middle_east_the_iranian_revolution/html/1.stm Throughout the first half of the book when Nafisi discusses the Iranian revolution and Nabokov's books she often subtly compares them and relates them to the Russian Revolution of 1917 where the Bolsheviks overthrew the Tsar and started a new totalitarian regime. In addition to talking about the devastatine "Five years have passed since the time when the story began in a cloud-lit room where we read Madame Bovary and had chocolate from a wine-red dish on Thursday mornings. Hardly anything has changed in the nonstop sameness of our morning, with that rising of the routine sun as I wake up and put on my veil before the mirror to go out and become a part of what is called reality, I also know of another "I" that has become naked on the pages of a book: in a fictional world, I have become fixed like a Rodin statue. And so I will remain as long as you keep me in your eyes, dear readers" (343) Reading Lolita In Tehran by Azar Nafisi Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice recounts the story of Elizabeth Bennet and her motley family as she discovers what truly matters in life. As the stubborn Lizzie numerously reminds the reader, she values freedom, choice, and the right to marry for love. The last of these is portrayed in the elongated and intricate courtship between her and the infamous Mr. Darcy. Throughout the novel, Austen relates every day cruelties, including greed, oppression by society and family expectations, hurt and betrayal.
In the fourth portion of Nafisi's novel, Austen, the author relates thematic elements from the nineteenth century novel to her life and the lives of her "girls" in Tehran. Amid marital troubles, and internal conflict over the inability to love or chose to marry, the girls find themselves questioning their reality and their happiness.
Nafisi also presents exquisite analysis of the novel, as she does for the others, suggesting that Austen, though she seldom described her characters, related their personalities and moral rank through the use of effective (or ineffective) communication, sight and empathy. "'No one ever taught me how to be happy.'" - Nassrin http://isabellaashley23.blogspot.com/2011/08/pride-and-prejudice-finally.html "The war with Iraq began that September and did not end until late July 1988. Everything that happened to us during those eight years of war, and the direction our lives took afterward, was in some way shaped by this conflict" (Nafisi 270). Author Azar Nafisi is a visiting professor and director of the Dialogue Project at the Johns Hopkins University. She has taught Western Literature (such as the books addressed in the novel) at the University of Tehran, the Free Islamic University, and the University of Allameh Tabatabai in Iran. In 1981, she was expelled from the University of Tehran after refusing to wear the veil that had become mandatory for all women. In 1997, Nafisi and her family (her two children and her husband) moved to America after much heartbreak, and many difficult decisions. She currently lives in the United States. Memories... "memories have ways of becoming independent of the reality they evoke. They can soften us against those we were deeply hurt by or they can make us resent those we once accepted and loved unconditionally" (317) Style Continued In addition to the devastating effects of war, the author's stylistic devices also illustrate how the people of Iran came together after the conflict ended.

Imagery

"Inside, the sudden burst of luminous colors on the screen brought a hushed silence over the audience. I had not been inside a movie theater for five years" (Nafisi 206).

By adding an emotional aspect to the visual imagery, the author is able to accurately and poignantly depict the relief that the audience collectively feels. Discussion Question What was the effect of the veil on the characters in the story? “Yassi always thought it could be the name of a dance. Manna suggested that Upsilamba evoked the image of a small silver fish leaping in and out of a moonlit lake. For Azin it was a sound, a melody. Mahshid described an image of three girls jumping rope and shouting “Upsilamba!” with each leap. For Sanaz, the word was a small African boy’s secret magical name. Mitra [thought] the word reminded her of the paradox of a blissful sigh” (21). Through the girl’s separate views of the word Upsilamba, we see how the word represents their differences in opinion and different personalities and how at the same time they are able to easily cooperate and empathize with one another, despite the uncertainty of their situation. Symbols continued Professor X: Nafisi’s so-called “favorite villain” is a fellow professor at the University of Tehran who harbored a special hatred towards Manna and Nima who both disagreed with his principal views on Lolita. Professor X believed that “Lolita had seduced Humbert an ‘intellectual poet’ and ruined his life,” and he especially despised “flighty young vixens” and “young girls spoiling the lives of intellectual men” (69). Yet ironically, one of his main requirements when searching for a wife was “that her age should not exceed twenty-three,” In fact “his second wife, duly recruited, was at least two decades younger than he,” (69). Professor X’s character is very ironic, and his views reflect the irony in the Islamic Republic and how they forced women to become anonymous yet put so much scrutiny into making sure that women followed the rules that it actually became counterintuitive because people paid more attention to them as oppose to less attention. Tone Part 2 Wistful/Nostalgic
Nafisi continues the nostalgic and wistful tone that she uses in the first half of the book throughout the second half of the book.
“After the first [bomb] attack, the notoriously overpopulated and polluted city of Tehran had become a ghost town. --- To me, the city had suddenly gained a new pathos, as if, under the attacks and the desertions, it had shed its vulgar veil to reveal a decent, human face” (207). Here we see a scene where Nafisi uses sympathetic diction to portray a wistful tone and comment on the life in Tehran during the bombings and the “War of the Cities” and how despite their situation there was still a bit beauty underneath all the bad things that had happened in Iran since the start of the revolution. Tone Part 2 continued Light-hearted

Despite her criticisms of the regime and her otherwise nostalgic tone during the book, she is also able to poke fun at the ridiculousness of the whole situation and find some humor amidst the otherwise oppressive regime. This is evident when Nafisi speak with her friend and fellow professor, Laleh, about how Mina had to deal with a new guard to enter the university who tried to reprimand her for not wearing the veil, which upon refusing to go home and put on a veil the guard proceeded to chase Laleh around the entire campus. Laleh proceeded to comment with: "He reminded me, she said, of a panting clumsy giant fish” (162).

Here we see how Nafisi combines a bunch of seemingly random diction choices to convey the ridiculousness of the situation, despite being a very serious one, it shows how Nafisi was able to see the flaws in the regime but criticize it in a more light-hearted tone as oppose to the typical resentment that she describes more often throughout the story. She also relates it back to American works like the Great Gatsby, and how the Iranian's in support of the new regime disliked the book and banned it for its 'western values'. However, Nafisi compares the dream of the Iranian revolution (to become a completely perfect Islamic Republic like several hundred years before) to Gatsby's dream as they were both trying to repeat the past and ultimately to no avail. Vocab Countenance: Chintz: Mulishness: Myopic: Word part of speech definition example noun/verb n: a person's face/facial expression
v: admit as acceptable/possible Countenance the possibility of failure. noun Printed calico from India She had a beautifully patterned chintz skirt. adjective stubborn, intractable My mulish attitude always annoyed
my parents. adjective nearsighted: unable to see distant objects clearly I was diagnosed with myopic vision. F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is a story about a middle-class midwestern world war I veteran named Nick Carraway as he narrates his adventure in New York (West Egg) working as a bond salesman. Along the way he meets interesting characters like his very vain and very rich cousin Daisy and her husband Tom, and the mysterious neighbor Jay Gatsby. In the second section of her book Nafisi
discusses Gatsby and its so-called 'western views' she talks about why it was looked down upon in the Islamic Republic of Iran because it supposedly condoned bourgeoisie and adultery. To argue for the book, Nafisi decides to put the book on a mock trial with her students participating, in the Islamic Republic of Iran vs. The Great Gatsby case. She and a few of her students argue that the book criticizes the rich and 'bourgeois' for their careless exploitations. Nafisi also compares Gatsby's unattainable dream of having Daisy love him like she once did to the Islamic Republic's dream of reverting society back to the way it was several hundred years before. Shah Reza Pahlavi and democratic views Ayatollah Khomeini and Islamic Views Vs. Vocabulary Enricher Cuckolded: adj.) (Husband) of an unfaithful wife.
“The first work we discussed was A Thousand and One Nights, the familiar tale of the cuckolded king who slew virgin successive virgin wives as revenge for his queen’s betrayal, and whose murderous hand was finally stayed by the entrancing storyteller Scheherazade (pg. 19 par. 1).”
The cuckolded man could never forgive his wife who cheated on him and abandoned their kids to live with her new husband.

Ayatollah: n. one of a class of Iranian Shiite religious leaders.
“’I’ve been translating his magnum opus, The Political Philosophical, Social and Religious Principles of Ayatollah Khomeini, and he has some interesting points to make (pg. 71 par.4).”
The Ayatollah is well respected in the country of Iran where religion is very strict. Vocab Enricher continued.... Bourgeois: n. member in the middle class
“Most revolutionary groups were in agreement with the government on the subject of individual freedoms, which they condescendingly called ‘bourgeois’ and ‘decadent’ (pg. 108 par. 1).”
Him being a bourgeois did not fall into the category of neither the high class nor the low class, but in the middle.

Immaculate: adj.) free from flaws or mistake; perfect.
“A few months ago, I was finally cleaning up my old files and I came across Mr. Nyazi’s paper, written in immaculate handwriting (pg. 124 par. 3).”
The immaculate artwork was so flawless that the worth of it was $2,000,000. As his first love passes away long ago, Humbert longs to find someone else who can replace her. In the book Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Humbert finds a young girl by the name of Lolita to remind himself much of his long lost childhood sweetheart, Annabel Leigh. As he lusts over
Lolita and does whatever he can to express his
"love" to her, Lolita is stripped of her childhood.
Although her one true desire is to be a regular
kid like every other child, and both her parents
are out of the picture with Humbert playing the
role of her step-father, he controls her life by
restricting her to hang out with boys and has a tight grasp over her. Just like Humbert controlling poor Lolita who is helpless and has no other choice but to be submissive, the Islamic Republic of Iran also is monitoring each of their "Lolita's" by having a tight grasp on the people and monitoring each step. Just like Lolita, the Islamic Republic of Iran is stripping away the freedom of womenhood. As Nafisi gathers her colleagues in the only available place to discuss literature, her living room, each character endures obstacles outside of her house. Most of all, they endure the Revolution. Together, reading books like Lolita, Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, and Daisy Miller, which they can reflect and relate to, the women build a sense of fantasy, that is caused by the external political and societal restrictions that they face. Additionally it allows them to have the freedom to vicariously live through each character from the novels. Throughout the book Nafisi's living room is a place where the girls can run from their everyday hardships and speak about whatever they wish, wear whatever they want and express their true character. The veil, the institution, and many more important items in this book helps depict the rules and regulations of that time era, which included strict gender roles, oppression, and etc. Theme Translator " I am authorized to stop any woman who-at this point I interrupted him. I am not any woman! I said with all the authority I could muster....For a few minutes we just stood there, and then, on a sudden impulse, I looked over his shoulder to the left and, as he turned around, I ducked and started to run. To run? Yes, I ran (pg.161-162)."

Laleh, who was determined to get passed the guard to her destination although she was able to get through the gate feasibly for the past 8 years, ran past the guard who repeatedly said that she could not enter. As she argues that she is "not any woman", she runs past the guard, which shows that she is not any woman in the sense that she is not like other woman who choose to submit to the law, but she is the type to have a firm ground and keep her own set of beliefs. Laleh symbolizes the women throughout the country who will not tolerate the new laws and will find means to get passed them, while the guard symbolizes the Islamc Republic of Iran. Outrunning the guard, Laleh represents disobeying the Islamic Republic and getting away with it, which leads to the theme of not giving up one's own beliefs to conform to one's surroundings. Theme continued.. "The day women did not wear the scarf in public would be the real day of his death and of his revolution. Until then we would continue to live with him (pg. 242)."
Although the Ayatollah physically died, the strict rules placed on the country of Iran still lives. His spirit that roams along with the rules and regulations shows that just because he died does not equal the termination of his laws. Oppression still traveled throughout the country, which was being unified with the Ayatollah's presence. Paradox Purveyor/Symbolizer strategies textual ref. explanation symbolism irony "..therefore I would wear it. But I would not compromise on my classes: I would teach what I wanted to teach as I saw fit to teach it (pg.183)." Both the things that Nafisi loves and hates is being united in this scene. Her zeal for teaching literature clashes with her defiance to the Islamic Republic of Iran. She decides to submit to wearing the veil as long as she gets to teach her preferred curriculum. "'Anyway, how can you give me such advice?' I asked him. 'Look at you.....I am not a model. In many ways I might even be called a coward' (pg.181)." Nafisi's magician (aka Mr. Bahri) is a literature genius. He's being a bit hypocrytical here because he's teling Nafisi to keep on teaching, while he is hiding and keeping a low profile. It's ironic because he's a male and yet calling himself a coward although the regime prefers men over women. Although Nafisi is a woman she is more bold and should be the one keeping the low profile rather than Mr. Bahri. by Azar Nafisi Daisy Miller recounts the story of the courtship between Miss Miller and Winterbourne, in a society that they don't fit into.

In Nafisi's novel, Daisy is the character with whom the girls most identify. Daisy often surprises the readers with her defiance of societal norms, and unexpected actions. She can be associated with other stubborn heroines in novels such as Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice.

A sense of not belonging, and going against societal norms is seen continually throughout Nafisi's novel. Page number (pg. 161 para. 4 sentence 2) (pg. 163 para. 4 sentence 3) (pg. 164 para. 1 sentence 2) (pg. 165 para. 5 sentence 2)
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