Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Reading Lolita in Tehran

Group members:

Sodaba D.
Jenny L.
Vanessa G
Ashley A.

Image: "Two Orientalist paintings: Sir Frank Dicksee's Leila and William Clarke Wontner's Safie, One of the Three Ladies of Baghdad; Three colonial picture postcards of young Algerian women--staged, produced and bought by French colonial officers; The original picture from which the cover of Reading Lolita in Tehran was cropped." (Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM) Click link for image in context of an interesting article.

Reading / Posing schedule TBA


Ashley A said...

Based on what Mr. Gallagher stated, a lot of people in the group wanted to read, "Reading Lolita in Tehran" by Nafisi and choosing to read that memoir first is fine with me. I read a summary on the memoir and I sounds quite interesting.

Vanessa G. said...

I agree with Ashley. Reading Lolita was my main choice for this month. Anyone else have ne opinions or suggestions. Remember we hav until the end of today. Post quickly so we can come to a conclusion please :)

Vanessa G. said...

I didn't mean to write any as ne in slang. Excuse me.

Jenny L said...

I also think that Reading Lolita in Tehran would be a good book to start with. Maybe we can even read the books it references later too.

R. Gallagher said...

Cool. You are all set. We can set up a reading / posting schedule early next week.

Vanessa G. said...

Hey everyone. Let me start by saying that we must have already figured out that we have more reading to do than was expected because the book is actually longer than we thought it was. Happy reading! Anyhow, I am actually surprised that I have a lot to say about this book. The first thing that caught my eye would definitely be the cover. The title includes "Tehran", which I figured to be a Muslim city, especially with the two girls in the front. This also brings it to my point because the girls are wearing veils, or hijabs as some might call it. The particular thing about it is that their hair is not fully covered, and from my knowledge, it is sinful to display the slightest of hair.

It's pretty straight forward that the setting of this memoir takes place in Tehran, Iran. From the beginning, Azar Nafisi gives us background information about the book. "I chose seven of my my home every Thursday morning to discuss literature. They were all women--to teach a mixed class in the privacy of my home was too risky, even if we were discussing harmless works of fiction," (Nafisi 3). I chose this quote because it portrays the distinct Muslim culture and how greatly it affects society. I also found it interesting when she mentions that even with something as so innocent as discussing literature, trouble could engulf herself and her students. Another interesting point I would like to cover is about the robe. In Iran and probably Muslim society in general, women are to wear dark colored robes with dark colored head scarves. "I could not get over the shock of seeing them shed their mandatory veils and robes and burst into color," (5-6). I discovered two things and one being that her opinions on the Muslim attire is inserted in this--and many other passages. To Nafisi, it seems that she opposes the use of the scarves. The second thing I noticed was how she terminated the sentence. It seems as though the everyday Muslim woman attire is dull and made into a black and white scene, where every woman is the same, and no one is unique. But, the last part of her sentence, "burst of color" and the "shock" she experienced when they removed their 'costumes' shows how each student became an individual and added different colors to the once black and white scene.

An important aspect that I realized while reading this book is Nafisi's constant use of color when she is describing something. As I said before in the previous quote, as the women removed their dark outer clothing, vibrant colors splashed into the room. I see that color is essential in these women's life--a way in which they can take themselves away from what seems so dull and gray, to a reality in their minds. "...her paintings were splashes of rebellious color", (11), "How many people get a chance to paint the colors of their dreams?" (11), "...until I finally settled on a red-striped shirt and black corduroys jeans...put on bright red lipstick...I fastened my small gold earrings," (12). There are of course numerous examples of Nafisi's use of color in her book. The fact that she uses these colors demonstrates the emphasis for the need of color in the lives of these women, especially the rebellious narrator and also author, Azar Nafisi. Not only does Nafisi dislike the robes but it seems that her students aren't too fond of them either. "...two restless hands, which, were constantly in motion, as if trying to escape the confines of the thick black cloth," (15). Nafisi was describing Nassrin, one of her more mysterious students. Though she probably meant it in a literal sense, I took this quote to a deeper extent. She describes the robe as being thick and black. Indeed, the robe is thick, but at the same time, it could mean that escaping can be so much as impossible. When one attempts to penetrate a dense material, it isn't an easy task and one probably won't be successful.

I wanted to pose a question. What do you all think about Sanaz's experience walking home everyday (This is on page 27 depending on which copy you have. It is the moment in which the narrator introduces a scenario to the reader in a way to personally experience the everyday life of a Muslim women)?

Another interesting point is how Nafisi stresses that the women are NOT Lolita, which she introduces later in part 1. The thing is that I can't help but compare their lives to this specific character Lolita. Lolita is a bound character, by force, under a man named Humbert. He takes away her past and gives her a new future according to his desire. I imagine Humbert as the Iranian government officials. I do this because some of the girls don't want to be bound by this Muslim attire, but only oppose it in their minds and by action. They only do it because society/religion expects it of them. These factors contribute to their bound stages in life in which their future depends on what "society" chooses for them--just like Humbert in Lolita.

Nevertheless, I want to say that I am really enjoying this book so far. Again, happy reading!


Ashley A said...

Thus far, I am finding the memoir to be very interesting and intriguing. From the very beginning, it becomes evident that Azi has gathered together a group of her students, to discuss various literary works. In the beginning of chapter one, Azi comments on how she wonders if one of her students would tell someone about their gatherings because she is “…a pessimist by nature and …sure that at least one would turn against…” (3) her. Although she said this in a playful manner, I found that line interesting because I thought it related to how I would have felt if I were in her situation. I don’t like I would have enough courage to establish such meetings without worrying whether or not someone would turn against me. Through those first couple of pages, I concluded that Azi was a courageous and trusting person, one who was willing to risk a lot, just for the educational advances of others.

As the memoir continued, more cultural information was revealed to the readers and I was familiar with the tradition of Middle Eastern women wearing scarves wrapped around their faces, but I never wonder how much that religious belief impacted their individual identity. For instance, Azi comments on one picture she found and the women were all covered with black scarves, however, in the second picture; the women were dressed in bright, colorful attire. “Splashes of color separate one from the next,” says Azi, “each has become distinct through the color and style of her clothes…” (4) I took those lines to mean that the women were more or less trapped in their own clothing, forced to wear things that they did not want to wear because it stopped their creative desires to express who they truly wanted to be. Are these women forced to dress this way because the men don’t want them to be distinguishable from one another and to reiterate the idea that women are not viewed as free thinking individuals?

A girl named Sanz struggled with this same problem, and she wanting to be an individual, but at the same time, longed for approval by her family. I began to understand how difficult it would be for a woman to defy her families’ beliefs because women really have no freedom. So if she were to take off her scarf and choose never to wear it again, she would have serious consequences to face. Without even the freedom of walking down the street without the guidance of a man, it appears that women are forced to rely on the men in their family. I feel as if the men want the women to view themselves as people who cannot function without male guidance because they are not even allowed to do common things without them. In a way, the women are almost too fearful to defy their religious beliefs because if their family were to disown them, they would not have anywhere to go. Without their fathers, brothers, or husbands, what are the women allowed to do?

“Reality has become so intolerable, … so bleak, that all I can paint now are the colors of my dreams” (11), said Bronte. After Bronte said this to Azi, Azi began to wonder what the colors of her dreams were and the first color I could think of was black. I found that colors were a reoccurring idea in the memoir thus far, because Azi already commented on how different the women became after they took of their scarves and revealed bright clothing and I thought the color of all of their dreams was black because it symbolizes darkness and it is easy to hide behind this color and not be seen. Seeing how their scarves are black and the scarves really cast a shadow over their true identity, I felt as if their dreams thus far in the memoir are clouded and dark, however, I am interested in seeing whether or not their dreams become colorful in the end.

Jenny L said...

Hi Guys!

I just finished reading part one, Lolita, and I find the book really intriguing. The technique that Nafisi uses to write her memoir is very unique. She weaves in the novels she discusses along with her life as well as pieces of her students’ lives in her memoir. In this way she shows a connection between fiction literature and reality. Part of the reason why I find the memoir so intriguing is because it makes me think. Nafisi poses many new concepts and views of looking at literature that I have never thought of before. She shows the power of literature, the escape it provides, the thoughts it provoke, and the many interpretations it leads to through her recollection of the experiences she held with her students.

In the beginning of her memoir, she describes two photographs, both of the same 7 students, but one shows all dressed in black, with head scarves, where as the other shows an array of colors and styles. The difference between the two photos, though of the same essential seven students are significant. The uniform dress of Iranian woman stifles their individuality. In the eyes of the public they are inferior. I have heard of the strict regulations Middle Eastern society sets upon women but to read about actual feelings and thoughts of the victim brings a new light to its severity. The second picture, where all the girls remove their coverings, reveals the individuality that lies beneath. In this way, as Nafisi opens her memoir, readers already see the struggle women must put up with in order to keep their identity under the suffocating covers of society.

Quickly, the weekly Thursday meetings can be seen as more then intellectual conversation but also as a place where for a “few precious hours [they] felt free to discuss [their] pains and [their] joys, [their] personal hang-ups and weaknesses; for that suspended time [they] abdicated [their] responsibility to [their] parents, relatives and friends, and to the Islamic Republic.” (57) In an environment secluded away from the harsh reality they face in society, all seven females attack their personal conflicts through discussions of revered works of past literary heroes. Through their journey, Nafisi subtly draws parallels between the questions and concepts drawn between Lolita and An Invitation to a Beheading to each girl’s actual realities. It is interesting to see the different perspectives and opinions each woman brings to the discussions. The idea that arises from An Invitation to a Beheading, that “the forces of evil…are ridiculous and can be defeated” (23) shows that the oppression faced by the women in Middle Eastern society can be defeated. However, in the face of evil the mass population has no choice but to succumb and abide to survive. This subordination brings about a question as to why is it that we allow such atrocities even though we together have the power to stop it. There of course can be a variety of reasons, but what do guys think?

I find Nafisi’s brief descriptions of Cincinatus C. and his situation as a prisoner to be quite interesting, possible second book? Or even Lolita?

Also what do you guys think is the significance of the magician that she briefly mentions? When she asks us to “imagine” what do you guys see as the image she is trying to portray with her descriptions of the secluded living room? Could the mountain tops she sees outside her window be a symbol?

Again I really like this book so far. Hope you guys are enjoying reading it as well!

R. Gallagher said...

Ladies, great "first posts" so far. You've done a nice job of engaging with the book and posing insightful questions for each other. Keep it going.

Ashley A said...

I previously stated how I noticed a lot of references towards colors and depending on the colors one was wearing, determined her mood. On page 29, Azi reminisces on the days when she taught at a university and there was a huge green iron gate that enclosed the school. The men were able to freely enter this gate and embark on a tremendous educational journey; the women however, “went into a small, dark room to be inspected.” I felt that this gate truly represented a major obstacle in which the women were almost able to over come, but yet men were still finding ways to keep them from entering a place that would allow them to enrich their minds and souls. The green color of the gate could symbolize the fact that once a person received a proper education, it was believed that they would become wealthy (green) and maybe even move to the United States. But the women could see this green gate and view it as something scary, a green monster even, but in general just another challenge that would hold them back from ever reaching the same goals as men.

The character Yassi, is quite interesting because she is one of few women that have found the courage and strength to defy her family’s beliefs, in order to find her happiness. Although she has this strength, Azi “…discovered that [Yassi’s] guilt caused her long hours of disabling migraine headaches.” (31) That line once again forced me to think that the men have such as strong hold over their women that they have in a way brain washed them into believing that they are incapable of ever accomplishing major tasks without the guidance of a man. The guilt that Yassi feels has caused her so much pain that she actually had migraines that enables her. So even if she were to do anything on her own, he headaches are so painful that she would not be able to complete the task and once again feel as if she is unable to do anything without a male’s presence. The veils that the women wear are also constant reminders of their inferiority to men and how they are incapable of functioning without them because “…without [the veil]… she would be lost…”(32) says Yassi.

A scene that took place after the women finished one of their book discussions with Yassi, caught my attention and made me laugh. During one of their sessions, the ladies had differing opinions on a women’s role with her husband, with some believing that women should be allowed to commit adultery and others against that idea. Although the argument was not settled, after the meeting was over, Yassi “…choose the only way [she] knew to cope with problems: [she] went to the refrigerator, scooped up the coffee ice cream,…” and ate it. I found that interesting because I thought that Nafisi added that information into the text in order to establish the idea that although everyone has multiple different backgrounds, we all part take in many of the same things when we are feeling upset.

Such as Vanessa noticed, I too realized that Azi stresses the idea that the women in this story are not Lolita. Obviously Azi wants to create a distinction amongst the women and Lolita, but the question why. I guess that she wants to make it clear that Lolita is a women who they are viewing and questioning her actions. But at the same time, in many situations when someone has a problem, they usually say, well I have a friend that… and this generally is because that person does not want others to know about her problem. Although this could be a stretch, maybe Azi is referring to herself and she doesn’t want others to know. Also, Azi could be trying to end stereotypes of how all Muslim women are inferior to men because many of the women, who attend her meetings, including herself, are educated and independent.

Finally, in response to one of Jenny’s questions about the mountain tops being symbolic, I feel that they are symbolic of the struggles Muslim women are forced to face in their society. The fact that Azi sits in a chair and looks out at the mountains also represents the idea that there are more challenges waiting in the distance for these women to encounter.

Ashley A said...

Prompt A

“Had I been offered a similar position at Oxford or Harvard, I would not have felt more honored or intimidated,” (88) says Azi. After reading that line, I saw Azi’s desire to form her reading groups in a different way because she basically is saying that she doesn’t need a luxurious facility to teach the things she loves; all she needs is students eager to learn. Even though she teaches at the University of Tehran, a college not well known in other parts of the world, she is content where she is because she knows that she is making a difference in people’s lives. The women she meets with for the book group value even the smallest time they spend together because it is one of the few chances they have to escape from harsh situations in their personal lives.

As political wars broke out in response to the variety of ideas and beliefs being thrown at the new Islamic government, it became increasingly difficult to find things that kept people out of the chaos. Azi recalled a time when she attended a demonstration for one of the political groups, when she got separated from her husband and she was “…crying, as if the person closet to [her] had died and [she] was now all alone in the whole wide world.” (91) Through all of the political chaos and campaigns, it was easy for anyone to become swept up in it and even though she became separated from her husband, and felt all alone, she still was not allowed to freely voice her opinions. The differences in gender roles are still prevalent, but despite this madness, her classes still ran smoothly, with the majority of her students in attendance daily, despite their differing political beliefs. I found this odd because I assumed, especially since she is a female that her class would be most disrupted because of the ban placed on certain books by the government. However, I think that regardless of which books her students were reading, given a passionate teacher and the ability to explore different ideas and ways of life through these books, gave them the drive to keep reading regardless of the topic.

“The best fiction always forced us to question what we took for granted,”(94) says Azi to a classroom full of students. Although I don’t disagree with her statement, I feel that this memoir challenges me as well, to view my own life in comparison to others. Although I never felt as if I took much for granted, I do think that this memoir made me even more thankful for even the smallest rights I have, or the freedom I have to walk places without a male guidance because of the religious freedom everyone is given. Does anyone else agree with Azi statement? Has this book made you cherish the rights and freedom we have in the U.S?

Jenny L said...

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 : )

Ashley A said...

Prompt B:

Before reading Vanessa and Jenny’s blogs, I didn’t notice the defiance Nafisi is immediately displaying on the front cover of the book and it is those few small details that really embody Nafisi’s many themes of the book. By many readers not even noticing that the ladies chose not to cover their heads completely and to allow a small portion of their hair to show, could foreshadow how these women were able to slowly gain more power and control in their own lives by gradually and discreetly breaking some rules as they go unnoticed. I really find this fascinating because even the expressions on their faces is as if they are so peaceful and innocent but as readers turn the pages of the novel, they discover their inner thoughts and desires to steadily break free of these oppressing rules.

Jenny, I completely agree that the women are defying the law by secretly forming these book groups because their discussions sometimes go beyond the book and into the reality they deal with daily. For instance, on page 54, the women began to argue over whether or not it should be a women’s right to commit adultery and although they weren’t reading about this topic, the environment that they have created for themselves within these groups has given them the feeling that they can freely talk amongst themselves about any topic.

However Jenny, you also brought up the idea that the women were taking a stance by taking off their veils while in the presence of one another and revealing colorful clothing. I disagree with this idea because from my understanding of their culture, women were allowed to take off their veils in the presence of other women, but they weren’t allowed to do so in the presence of males. With that, I feel that they are making light of the rules by obeying them to a certain extent, such as not taking their veils off around men, but their true statement lies beneath the veils, bright clothing. So that too could connect back to the idea that they are slowly breaking free of these laws by giving the illusion that they are obeying them, such as simply wearing the veils, but underneath its completely different.

Ashley A said...

Prompt A:

The political uproars seem to be at the forefront of the novel thus far and I constantly wonder how I would feel if I were in Azi’s situation. On page 106, she said, “The America of my past was fast fading in my mind, overtaken by all the clamor of new definitions;” and this comment came about after protestors started chanting, death to America. Through all of this, Azi still chooses to teacher her classes, despite the many interruptions she encounters; however, I think that this class could be one the best to take during this crucial time in their country because reading various books seems to be their outlet. I found it interesting that Azi later notes how, “America had become both the Land of Satan and Paradise Lost,” (106) because many people who live in various parts of the world envision America to be a land of opportunities, but many times, that imagine is distorted by the overwhelming conflicts America has had in the past with other countries, especially with Iran.

Regardless of the lessening memoirs Azi has of America, she was eager to “…speak at last in [her] mother tongue …[where]…[she]… was longing to talk to someone who spoke English, preferably with a New York accent…” (107) Why does Azi refer to English as her mother tongue? Does anyone think Azi feels as if she has a closer connection to the U.S. than with Iran?

“We in ancient countries have our past—we obsess over the past. They, the Americans, have a dream: they feel nostalgia about the promise of the future,”(109) says Azi to her students, in defense of The Great Gatsby. Clearly, another distinction is made between Americans and Iranians, but I understand and agree with Azi findings. In many American literary classics, the protagonist is generally in search of his dream or defying all odds in order to accomplish the unthinkable, and such is true within reality. Many people in America strive to achieve their goals; mainly because of the numerous resources we have in America along with the constantly changing environment that we live in, whether it is with technology and/or better ways of living. However, in other countries such as Iran, the focus is emphasized more on tradition beliefs because they were the core ideals their countries were founded upon. It appears as if they would rather stay where they are, rather than move foreword into the future.

Jenny L said...

Post 3 Part A

“The first day I asked my students what they thought fiction should accomplish, why one should bother to read fiction at all…I explained that most great works of imagination were meant to make you feel like a stranger in your own home. The best fiction always forced us to question what we took for granted. It questions traditions and expectations when they seemed immutable…” (94)

Nafisi makes a powerful statement as she identifies that the power of fiction lies in the fact that it may be unsettling to one and question what one may hold as true. I believe that she is right, in that literature needs to be able to question the accepted and present ideas contrary to what society may accept without question otherwise. The power of literature lies in the fact that it may “make you feel like a stranger in your own home.” What one may have never questioned or never given thought to is written in another perspective to challenge one’s previous beliefs, either making it stronger or making one doubt it. Literature should challenge us and present new ideas. In Reading Lolita in Tehran, I find that Nafisi does exactly that. She not only calls for readers to take a closer look at the rights of women in society but she also places a strong emphasis of the power of the individual to change what is wrong in society. Though the women conform by wearing the veil in public they still manage to maintain their identity and individuality by not conforming to the political party’s beliefs. As she takes us on her experience from a naïve new professor who is yet unaware of the political instabilities in Iran, to one who sees the social divide and questions her place in it, Nafisi demonstrates that in the midst of the chaos and injustices, by not doing anything, and allowing a “repeating [of] the past… [it has] wrecked their lives in the name of a dream…” (144)

In many ways, literature has the ability to teach us lessons, lessons though not immediately obvious that are nonetheless present. It is up to each individual’s interpretation to find what that lesson is. As Nafisi refers to the novel of The Great Gatsby, she gives us examples of different interpretations of the novel, varying amongst students with different beliefs and different backgrounds. Though some views of Gatsby is less sympathetic than others I find that the idea that Gatsby represents is what makes him so relatable and yet so detestable. He represents the desperate hold one may have on the past, a hold so strong that it is only when destruction of the beholder occurs that it will end. Nafisi thoughtfully parallels Gatsby’s self destruction with that of the situation she describes in Iran. It is not that she condemns any specific opinion, but she offers both sides a fair trial. “Those who judge must take all aspects of an individual’s personality into account.” (118) As the memoir continues, I find myself becoming more aware of the rights I have, both as a female and as an individual.

Not only does Nafisi successfully make comparisons between novels and her life as well as the life of others, she demonstrates that it is only through literature that “one can put oneself in someone else’s shoes and understand the other’s different and contradictory sides and refrain from becoming too ruthless.” (118) This ability to empathize, I agree, is crucial in being able to truly appreciate works of literature. Nafisi gives readers reasons as to why literature is so power. She indirectly praises the works of literature through her integration of them into her own memoir. What do you guys think that “fiction should accomplish”?

Ashley A said...


There are many occasions in the book when I feel as if Nafisi is speaking directly to the readers, giving her words more meaning and power, which is why this book has been such an enjoyable read for me. A quote that really stood out to me was:

“a novel is not an allegory…it is the sensual experience of another world. If you don’t enter that world, hold your breath with the characters and become involved in their destiny, you won’t be able to empathize, and empathy is at the heart of the novel. This is how you read a novel: you inhale the experience. So start breathing.” (111)

Although this quote is quite long, there were many times just in these few sentences alone that Nafisi draws the readers in, and preps them on how to read the continuation of the novel, in order to get the best experience. When she says the reader must enter the world and hold their breath, for this book, the readers would be entering the world of Muslim women, struggling to find their identity amidst political and social uproars. I agree with Nafisi that we would not be able to obtain the same experience or learn as much from the characters if we didn’t empathize with their struggle and relate our findings back to our personal lives. I loved the last two lines of the quote because they have a suspenseful tone and through Nafisi’s specific choice of diction, she foreshadows how there is a lot more the readers are going to discover as the novel progresses.

Another quote that speaks to the readers states, “ it is only through literature that one can put oneself in someone else’s shoes and understand the other’s different and contradictory sides and refrain from becoming too ruthless.” (118) Again, I feel that Nafisi draws the readers in and guides them to understanding the true contents of the book by giving the readers descriptive details on the lives’ of Muslims. At the same time, the end of her quote, “…understand the other’s different and contradictory sides and refrain from becoming too ruthless,”(118) is also very important because I felt she was implying that although she is giving us a glimpse at this life style, there is much more too their religious beliefs than what is presented in the book. I feel that Nafisi places a subtle empathize on the last part”…becoming too ruthless” because she doesn’t want the readers to form extremely harsh judgments upon her culture, regardless of how they feel about her culture because the readers don’t know everything about the Muslim culture.

I found it really interesting that Azi wanted to put the book, The Great Gatsby on trial because in many ways, the controversy the students felt about the book was very similar to that of the disagreements they had about many issues in their society. Such as Nasfisi pointed out that, “ some claimed in private that they personally like the book. Then why didn’t they say so? Everyone else was so vertian and emphatic in their postion, and they couldn’t really say why they liked it – they just did.” (135) That quote made me think about women’s rights Iran and how many women and probably some men feel as if women should be given more rights, but no one will say this aloud because they don’t want to go against the majority’s beliefs.

The students also pointed out that Azi really liked Professor R, a professor who left the University before he was expelled. He had a different way of teaching, one of which many must have enjoyed because his lecture hall was always packed when he spoke. He also, held “…meeting[s] with a select group of friends and disciples...” within his apartment. With that, it lead me to begin to think that he and Azi were similar in many different ways. They both had an array of different students who liked and didn’t like their class and they both held secret meetings in their homes. However, I never connected how Azi’s friends could her disciples or that she could be a Christ-like figure. It is true she does have many followers and she has suffered many consequences because of her radical views. Does anyone think that Azi could represent a Christ-like figure?

Jenny L said...

Post 4 Prompt A

From the very beginning of the novel in which Nafisi recalls the two photographs and describes her students, she places special emphasis on Nassrin. Nassrin, who “lived in so many parallel worlds” (297), is a character in Nafisi’s life that represents the clashes between the many different expectations of society, of oneself, and of one’s heritage. In writing her memoir, Nafisi describes her relationships with each of her students in which they share with her personal stories and experiences but seems to find it difficult to exactly define Nassrin. In her attempt to describe her, she finds that “she’s slightly out of focus, blurred, somehow distant.” (5) Like a Cheshire cat, appearing and disappearing at unexpected turns in [Nafisi’s] academic life…one can only say that Nassrin was Nassrin.” (5) Nassrin is an interesting character to me because she lives in three different worlds. She lives in world, a “reality” created for her by society. One in which women are considered to be subordinate, and one in which women must not show any trace of individuality or identity. She is also caught in a world in which she must build with lies to her parents in order to maintain their idea of traditions. She lives in a world where people define for her what is acceptable and proper, yet despite being in such oppressive realities, she finds refuge in Nafisi’s book club. She finds that though such harsh realities exist, the “relation between fiction and reality” (6) may be just a thin line between acceptances of rules imposed upon her or her will to fight for what she believes in. In many ways, Nassrin is an example as to the pull society has on an individual. Even when she is “without the veil, she slumped, as if she were trying to cover something.” (296) The oppression that she has put up with leaves her unable to know how to embrace herself and leaves her feeling naked when it has been taken away.

Another character that I find to be intriguing is the magician Nafisi occasionally visits and mentions. His presence and significance in the novel is vague, yet he brings about an air of mystery that leaves readers and even Nafisi asking, “was he ever real…did he invent me?” (Epilogue) He has isolated himself from society and this isolation allows him to view the Revolution from an outsider point of view. Nafisi’s vagueness about him makes me wonder whether he was part of her imagination, a sort of escape from reality. What do you guys think about the magician? Does he truly exist?

It is interesting that Nafisi writes a memoir in which the stories of others, whether it be stories from novels or stories from the lives of her students, become such a distinct part of her that in describing each one, we learn about her views as well. Nafisi integrates all her experiences with the Revolution, with her students, and with her personal life to shape a memoir that ultimately shows “the relation between fiction and reality.” The relationship between the two is ever changing, depending on one’s views. What is once fiction can ultimately become reality.

Jenny L said...

Post 5 Prompt B

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?

Jenny L said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ashley A said...


Such as Jenny, I agree with Nafisi’s quote about questioning literature. I understand Jenny’s belief that we should question the accepted and present ideas contrary to societal views because it is the only way in which a community and people can grow. Learning from others through their mistakes and downfalls, I believe will only help people become better and halter their ability to create more mistakes. With that, I think Lolita is forced to form secret reading groups not only because men would not allow them to do so without their permission, but also because reading such books would give women the power to think for themselves and to formulate their own ideas. I perceive that the fear men have in allowing women to read any type of book, especially those that go against their views, is that it would give women a voice. One that would be full of education and factual information on how others live and men fear that women would use this against them to form groups and rebel.

Jenny, to answer your question, I think that literature should be something that readers should have the freedom to challenge and with that, they should be allowed to create their own ideas and beliefs. Just as Nafisi states, “one can put oneself in someone else’s shoes and understand the other’s different and contradictory sides,” by challenging a text because when one challenge’s the ideas of another individual, that person is essentially forcing them self to look even deeper into their own beliefs, in order to give the best argument. Regardless of the outcome, a person becomes stronger because he is able to not only gain a better understanding of their own original beliefs, but most importantly the beliefs of others and their reasoning’s.

Ashley A said...


Jenny, I agree with you that a number of characters in the book are unique and interesting in their own ways, which is also why the book is so interesting. It is quite funny that there are some many different types of personalities within these women; given the fact that they are all supposed to conform to a very select group of ideas and views. That to me also plays on many of the stereotypes of Muslims, but more specifically, Muslim women. Before reading this book, I thought that many Muslim women were reserved and content with the limitations placed upon them by society, after reading about many of their ideas however, my views have changed. Although we did encounter some women who felt satisfied with their roles in their society because they were following tradition and they did not want to disappoint their family, many women such as Nassrin and Azi had different opinions, they desired to go beyond traditional views and experience life for what it was worth. The first step to doing that for most women that Azi knew came about in joining her reading group.

Jenny, although I thought Nassrin was an interesting character, I also thought Mr. Bahri was quite intriguing as well. He had a certain stature about himself that I found to be subtle, but yet generous and kind. For instance, he would linger on after Azi dismissed her classes… “but he made not attempt to come closer” (112) to Azi. It seemed as if Azi and Mr. Bahri were able to form a special relationship, but at the same time it remained within a certain limitation. For instance Azi, although the professor, generally referred to Mr. Bhari with the title of “Mr.” and at one point in the book, Azi went to shake his hand, but he refrained. I feel that the limitations placed on women affect both men and women because it hinders them both from learning and developing from one another. I personally think that the women in this story had a lot more to offer than their fathers, bothers, and even sons allowed.

Vanessa G. said...

Part 2

Hello again!

So far, my perspective of this book has changed only because I noticed I began losing interest in the story. As I was reading Part 2 Gatsby, I was wondering what happened to the secret literary meetings Azi was hosting at her house? I guess I would have just wanted to see more of the meetings throughout the book. But, the techniques Azi used to steal my attention in her book was clever.

First off, I noticed an interesting point Azi applied into the book. She states, “I had become a wayward and unruly child and could not be controlled,” (88). The reason I found this interesting is because she puts this later on into the novel. This quote reflects her character ever since the beginning when she introduced herself and the others around her. She wears her hair down, without the shall and her style of dress does not demonstrate the way the Islamic Republic would want her to dress. I also think that Azi is a courageous woman because especially at the time she is living in Iran, things would be extremely dangerous for her—not obeying the proposal and all. This also relates to her statement addressed to her class in Tehran University, “I told them I was going to a protest meeting, to oppose the government’s attempts to impose the veil on women and its curtailment of women’s rights...I was determined not to miss any more,” (111). It’s pretty obvious that she is in favor of women’s rights and independence, but, it seems to me that she is living at the wrong place, and definitely the wrong time to possess these sort of ideas. She lives in Iran. This most likely took place in the seventies or early eighties. Azi is her own person and she is risking her life for a cause she finds particularly significant for her. I mentioned that she is living at the wrong place because Iran is an Islamic country and anything that has anything to do with Western influence is shunned and extremely opposed, especially during a time of revolts. I think Azi purposely puts this statement here so we could create our own image of her and having this put in was most likely just a confirmation.
BUT what made me question this is the scene of the riot where Azi officially participated in. She states, “Then there were the intellectuals like myself, who did know a thing or two about demonstrations...two of them took photographs of the crowd, jumping menacingly from side to side. We covered our faces and shouted back,” (115). Why did Azi and her friend cover their faces? Were they trying to protect themselves from the photographer taking pictures of the public (probably ends up in newspaper) or were they covering their faces because they could not be seen. I’m not to clear on that...

I would like to bring up a question about the Gatsby section—hopefully it can be answered. What do you all think about the Gatsby section of Nafisi’s book? I did not quite understand how this related to her life or political life in Iran—though I do have a hunch. I’ll take a chance at it:

I think it has been established that the theme of The Great Gatsby is the American dream and what it consists of. Gatsby’s dream was to have Daisy’s love again, to be with her forever, just as they used to before he was sent off to war, which he almost succeeded in. Also, before the war, he had goals in becoming wealthy, which he succeeded in already, illegally, might I add. All Gatsby was missing was Daisy, but her unfaithful husband Tom Buchanan was in the way. Gatsby faced many obstacles to obtain this “American dream” which led to his fall, his death. So I am guessing that the Iranian regime is establishing this dream, too, except anti-American, in hopes of Islam dominating over Western culture and democracy. Is Nafisi trying to conclude that this hope of Iran, or Muslims (Islam), trying to gain this dream is hopeless and will lead to their fall? What do you think?

Vanessa G. said...

Part 3

So, third part of the book so far: James. Just like Ashley noticed, Nafisi is engaging more political influence in the novel. It was a jump for me because I guess I could say I didn't expect the story to become so “involved”. When Azi, the narrator, would tell her readers to “imagine” something or a scene she is replaying for them, I would just read along. But, unlike Ashley, who insightfully did so, I realized I was missing out on the book. Therefore, I went back a few pages and reread only that passage and I felt the sudden “sympathy” of what these women would go through. I could never really place myself in the shoes of these people and feel what they experience as something so normal a part of their daily lives. One scene that I particularly felt haunted by was the scene where Azi actually participated in the revolt. There were men armed with guns and knives ready to attack and murder any of those who opposed or caused destruction. As women were the subordinate sex, I would be extremely fearful for my safety because they would probably consider me just one less woman to worry about in the world—plus they had no mercy for even the teenagers they killed. Now, Iran is at war with Iraq, posing an even more political threat for the people.

Certain aspects that fluttered in part one of Lolita have emerged in James, part three. The situation with women being their own person—individuality, and how the head scarves create an enormous blend of bland women, all the same, and how once they remove the hijabs, they become themselves and unique in their own way. As I mentioned before in the previous paragraph, there have been revolts and a war in Iran. The revolts included a women's protest against veiling, which they obviously lost. So, women are to have the heads covered when entering the workplace at all times and there were no exceptions. But, “'I am authorized to stop any woman who—at this point I interrupted him. I am not any woman! I said with all authority I could muster,'” (161). This statement was from one of Azi's friends, Laleh, who was cut off from working further at the University of Tehran because of her refusal in adapting to the new law of the veiling of women. The italicized words are meant to stress the earnestness in Laleh's voice. She believes that women should be able to freely express herself and the new law would disable her from doing so.

I think Jenny answered her own question in her analysis of the novel. She asks at the end, “what should fiction accomplish?” I agree on almost all of her analyses. I think fiction is meant to accomplish anything and everything. The certain glitches one may have when reading a novel is normal and only means that the brain is engaging with the text, if one has any questions. Also, I think fiction is meant to make one think and question what is around him and also question reason. I remember reading in my history book that philosophers would write endless books with different meanings of life and theories as to why this is this and that is that. I think fiction functions in a similar way because Gatsby for example portrays an average American man with big hopes and dreams that all come crashing down at the end. I think it was meant to force us to question human ability in reaching goals and to expect the unexpected. The only opposition I have is that Jenny believes that “she indirectly praises the works of literature”. I personally don't believe that she indirectly praises literature, I believe its the other way around. I figured this because 1) she held secret meetings at her home every Thursday afternoon for those devoted to literature 2) she went on trial in defense of the shunned book by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, which is considered an abomination in Muslim society because of its “immoral teachings” and 3) she just seems so dedicated to literature that I couldn't imagine her not directly praising the work otherwise.

Almost there...

Vanessa G. said...

Part 4

I know in my last post I mentioned I was beginning to lose interest in the novel suddenly, but I must say that I take it back. The idea of the book turning into a war story in some ways forced me to disengage with the text only because it wasn't what I wanted to read or expect. But, I realized that the war between Iran and Iraq was actually significant to the book.

“So he had formulated an ideal of me as a Muslim woman, as a Muslim woman teacher, and wanted me to look, act in short live according to that ideal...No, I could tell Mr. Bahri, it was not that piece of cloth that I rejected, it was the transformation being imposed upon me that me made me look in the mirror and hate the stranger I had become,” (165). This was my first quote that I chose for the the fourth part of the book because I finally got a sense of what she really thought about the veil, what she really felt about being covered, head to toe, in a black her own words. It's pretty obvious that the veil is an extremely important aspect of the lives of Muslim women in Iran—especially the narrator, Azi. The idea that she applies about the veil was a way that I never thought of it before. I always thought she opposed the idea because she was a rebel and hated conforming to the government, and would rather live her life the way she chose to rather than the way “they” chose to.

Jenny you noted that Nassrin, one of Azi's students, lives in a society where women are considered to be subordinate and they mustn't show any trace of individuality or identity. The narrator is living in the same one. This world that the Muslim women are living in contradicts Azi's beliefs that wearing the “piece of cloth” would turn her into a stranger within herself, which I agree with. I can't imagine her in a thick black chador of endless layers that block her from personal expression. Wearing the veil would mean a dismissal to, according to Jenny, “her identity and individuality”, most of her beliefs, her lifestyle, and her behavior. In other parts of the book, she calls herself “irrelevant”. Azi's irrelevance to society is because she is so different. The university believes she is different, too. This came to be after the veil was required in most accommodations in the country. Also, most of her favorite book stores were closed down because they sold too many “Westernized” novels that they believed were poison to the country. “Sometimes, almost unconsciously, I would withdraw my hands into my wide sleeves and start touching my legs or my stomach. Do they exist? Do I exist...Unfortunately, the Revolutionary Guards and the guardians of our morality did not see the world with the same eyes as me. They saw hands, faces and pink lipstick...” (168). This relates to Azi's previous statements because as before, she is not the average woman living in Iran. I couldn't believe when I read over the passage that she was wearing the veil! I was shocked and a bit angry because I saw it as defeat, but then again, it was necessary in order for her to return to teaching at the University of Tehran. What she said foreshadowed this quote because the cloth did make her a stranger. She would walk down the street and question whether her existence was true or false. The Islamic regime only saw what their minds and eyes forced them to see. They did not realize how wearing the veil would rape these women of their individuality (according to few of the characters).

Vanessa G. said...

Part 5

In my previous post, I noted that Azi believes that she is irrelevant to society. I just wanted to add a quote that I think would branch off from it:

“I wrote, rather dramatically, to an American friend: “You ask me what it means to be irrelevant [I asked the same thing]? The feeling is akin to visiting your old house as a wandering ghost with unfinished business. Imagine going back: the structure familiar, but the door I snow metal instead of wood...Your office is now the family room and your beloved bookcases have been replaced by a brand-new television set. This is your house, and it is not. And you are no longer relevant to this house...” (169).
Before the quote, Azi would talk to anyone who would listen to her. She believes that others she has spoken to feel as if their place in the world was taken away. Though she applies this to others, it also relates to herself. She was living in a country where not all that mattered to a person were limited and she was able to articulate with that, but now, ever since she began wearing the proper Muslim woman attire, her life changed drastically. It seemed to really affect her. “The problem for me was that I had lost all concept of terms such as home, service and country,” (169).

Anyhow, Jenny, you wrote about Azi's visits to her magician. Before, I elaborate, I would repeatedly get confused about who this “magician” was and her relation with him. I did not want to go back to the text because I was hoping that the narrator would explain his importance. I also agree with you about whether or not Azi “invented” him or not, but I think he really existed because of the scene when she had an appointment with him and did not find him there. I don't think that his significance to the novel was all that vague as you put it. I looked at the name she gave him first, “magician—and at times, my magician”. A magician is a talented person who usually performs tricks, illusions, and provides an entertaining atmosphere to a crowd. In this case, Azi's magician put an air of hope and fulfillment. “This was what was good about him: people who went to see him somehow ended up with some plan or another, whether it was how to behave towards a lover or how to start a new project...” (175). The narrator mentions how he was able to fix situations and how people would come to him for advice. The magician was put there (especially notable during the times of the bombings in Tehran when most people lost all hope) to help bring Azi back on track on her teaching. She left Tehran University because of the veiling law that was passed. I found it interesting about how he described her. “He said later that when friends asked him after our first meeting, What is the lady professor [this is what the magician called Azi, the narrator] like?, he said, She's okay. She is very American—like an American version of Alice in was merely a fact”, (175-176). He describes her as being very American, where most Muslims in Tehran would probably take as an insult. Instead, she thinks nothing of it—rather she agrees with his statement. He also believes she is like Alice in Wonderland. This movie was a story of a young girl who falls into an unfamiliar world with fictional characters unlike herself, that seem yet adapted to their environment. She travels in this fantasy world, different as can be, and befriends the most unusual creatures. She's lost in this land and must find a way back to her world; same as Azi. She is in a world where she is unlike the others, she's lost (because of the veil she's wearing) and tries to find a way back to her purpose (teaching back at the university).

Ashely, you asked if Nafisi could be a Christ figure. Like Jenny, I understand where you're coming from because, yes, she has disciples that like and don't like her classes that she teaches. I don't really see the relations of Christ within her except that she has followers. But, then again, I see that she represents Christ in other ways, too. She seems very devoted to her books, just as Christ was with the Bible, and doesn't seem to care what others think about her, just as Christ felt when others denied him as prophet and instead as a hoax. Then again, at the end, she conforms to wearing the veil because she has to in order to continue teaching, let alone walking in the street, which Christ did not conform to, instead he remained faithful to God and His plan, was crucified, and died, but rose again.

Jenny, to answer your question about losing contact with the other students, I just believe that it was meant to happen. Many of her students were either jailed or executed, and many just chose not to come to school or had joined the fight against Iraq, especially with the war that was going on. Even before the war, Azi was losing contact with many of the students As to it being a symbol of leaving the past behind, I see your point, and I find that I agree. She left for the United States in 1997 as she stated in the Epilogue. After all of her experiences in Tehran, Iran, I believe that she left to a land where she could be herself, her true self and not worry about what the Islamic regime had to say about it.

Vanessa G. said...

Mr. Gallagher, I realized I haven't been separating my blogs like the others have: Part A or Part B, mostly because I noticed I integrated them. The blogs where I am addressing the other girls are Part B and the ones where I elaborate before is Part A, I guess. I could repost them if it makes it easier?

Jenny L said...

Prompt B

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.

Jenny L said...

Prompt B

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.

Ashley A said...

Mr. Gallagher,

My first two posts, integrate both prompts “A” and “B”. The remaining posts, (number’s 3-5) have prompt “A” and prompt “B” written in individual posts.

Ashley A said...

December reading group:

I guess we decided that we would post our suggestions for the December reading group, so I think “Funny in Farsi A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America” by Firoozeh Dumas would be an interesting book to read.

Jenny L said...

Prompt A

“How do you get away with those nails…I wear gloves, she said. Even in summer I wear dark gloves. Polished nails, like makeup, were a punishable offense, resulting in flogging, fines and up to one year imprisonment. Of course they know the trick, she said, and if they really want to bug you, they’ll tell you to take off the gloves…It makes me happy, she said in a thin voice that did not suggest any trace of happiness. It’s so red it takes my mind off things…and then she burst into tears.” (271)

Reading this passage, it really struck me as to how restricted and how much the oppression has impacted the women. I realize that everyone is fighting their own battle, some more strongly than others, but nonetheless fighting a battle that seems never ending, against the forces that strips them of the rights that they have once experienced. In this passage a simple action, one that I can relate to, painting one’s nails must be hidden from public view. “Even in summer [she] wears gloves.” I empathize with not only the discomfort of having to wear gloves during the summer, but also the indignity that something as simple as painting one’s nails for self expression must be concealed. A front seems to be put up by Azin as she lies and says “it makes me happy.” It is evident that she tries to distract her self from the horrifying nightmare turned reality as she states that the “red [of the nail polish] takes [her] mind off things.” Throughout the memoir, Nafisi continually brings up subtle yet sudden events that truly show the magnitude of the changes each woman living in Tehran at the time must face. They have to adjust to a completely new lifestyle and hide what once was defined as normal. This change in societal standards is so sudden that I question whether it is possible to happen in America. Though probably most unlikely, it is nonetheless a possibility. Reading this novel makes me question the possibility of the impossible. The citizens of Tehran are in a sense living in a surreal world in which they had not envisioned as their future. Having to struggle to do something as simple as painting nails makes one appreciate the rights they have even more.

As Nafisi has previously questioned, why is it that “Lolita or Madame Bovary fill us with so much joy? Was there something wrong with these novels, or with us? (47) I believe that it is not that we enjoy the pain of others for our own satisfaction but because “regardless of the grim reality they present, there is an affirmation of life against the transience of that life, an essential defiance.” (47) The stories we may encounter, though tragic and heartbreaking are nonetheless stories that show a struggle nonetheless shows an effort at which we try to fight against the injustices imposed upon us successful or

Jenny L said...

Prompt A

“A hero becomes one who safeguards his or her individual integrity at almost any cost…Lack of empathy was to my mind the central sin of the regime, from which all others flowed. My generation had tasted individual freedom and lost; no matter how painful the lost, the recollection was there to protect us from the desert of the present.” (224)

Like many of the other statements Nafisi makes in her novel, they are all thought provoking and makes me think of concepts that I have never bothered or even considered exploring. Unlike the valiant image we all hold of heroes, Nafisi describes a hero, not to be the physically strong individual who saves the day, but rather simply, as an individual to maintains his identity and integrity “at almost any cost.” Thinking about that statement, the task , though sounding pretty simple, is in fact difficult to uphold in times when one’s life is threatened. In Tehran, woman are threatened if their veils are not worn, and many, going against what they know is right must embrace the cruelty. There seems to be then, a very thin line between what is heroism and what is not, is saving one’s own life or the lives of others by going against one’s integrity not heroic?

Nafisi has asked repeatedly throughout the memoir for readers to “imagine” and ultimately to empathize with the situations that she describes as well as the pain and the suffering the woman undergoes. The ability to experience what the characters in a novel experiences is what sets apart the astute reader from the regular reader. I agree with Nafisi in that not being able to empathize can be considered an evil, one that blinds one to the feelings of humanity and allows no room for sympathy or kindness. As Nafisi continues to weave her life as well as the lives of the group of woman she shares so little and yet so much in common with, she does so in a way in which we see each one grow to become an individual. At the start of the novel, though each was given a different name, it was hard to distinguish who was who since their traits were so vague and indistinct. However as each begins to shed not only the physical veil that they cover themselves with, but also the veil which we all in some ways wear, they become distinct individuals.

Also in Nafisi’s statement that I have quoted above, she asks us to ponder what happens when the protection of the past is not enough to shield the harsh reality of the present “desert.” Where do we turn to when reality seems to be a nightmare, a surreal world? In times such as those that the woman in her memoir faces, it is ourselves that we must turn to.

Jenny L said...

Prompt B

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.

Jenny L said...

Hi Mr. Gallagher I organized my posts on my personal blog, please refer there. Thanks!