Monday, October 26, 2009

Reading Lolita in Tehran, Part III “James”

This is a 100 point assignment in the ‘Participation’ section of your of your grades.
  • You will be graded on the Malden High School Open Response Rubric.
  • You need to make 2 posts in total. There is a Part A and a Part B to each post you make.
  • Both posts are due by Wednesday, Oct. 28th @ 11:59 p.m., though you should make your first post as soon as possible. Keep in mind others depend on your comments to continue with their own.

Please label your posts.

Part A: Post your reaction to something specific and thought provoking in the book (though this is not a minimum, your post should be at least a few hundred words.) Feel free to ask questions in this section as well, since everyone will be reading these posts.

Part B: You should also respond by elaborating on another comment in the stream (about the same length--a couple hundred words as a minimum.)

The above prompts are vague because it is up to you as a group to start to develop your own focus. You can feel free to bring in outside research etc, just make sure you cite or give a link to your sources—but I’m most interested in your “philosophical” discussions about specifics in the book and your ability to discuss the writer’s technique and how she affects meaning.

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 1996) Click this link for image in context & source of info.) An interesting perspective from a non-American source. Feel free to use as fodder for discussion if you want.

25 comments:

hillary said...

This one question that would not leave my mind was about freedom. What can you actually do as a “free” woman living in Iran? On page 163, Nafisi’s conversation with her friend Laleh really sparked this interest. Laleh says that she will “go back to sewing or baking cakes.” I keep thinking that is really all she can do, and that is not something that necessarily requires freedom. Nafisi then follows up with “This was the astonishing thing about Laleh. She looked like the last person in the world to bake a cake, but she was an accomplished tailor and a fantastic cook.” I am now thinking that just the thought of being free is liberating in itself. Perhaps living in a third world country such as Iran would be quite impossible to do anything more than the set customs. However, it is actually the title of a “free person” that means the most to someone. Freedom does not always necessarily mean doing something productive or contributing to society – it does not require anything. Freedom of choice is something that ungratified all the time, and I think Nafisi chose a great example in defining freedom through anecdote and personal experience.


I would like to open this question up to interpretation. What is your personal opinion on freedom? How should people appreciate/act on this privilege?

Stephany J. said...

Within the third section entitled “James” there are many scenes that stood out predominantly to benefit the work as a whole. The specific aspect that I wish to draw attention to is on page 189 when Azar Nafisi comes across a message that states that “The adulterous Nafisi should be expelled.” This scrawled note was ironic because it was Nafisi’s friend who wanted her to go to the university and teach like she used to. Ms. Rezvan even went to the extent of using her teaching skills in context of it being her duty to her country. Frankly, Nafisi did not wish to return to educating students because of all the stipulations that went along with the task. If she could not teach the way in which she wanted than she’d rather not teach at Allameh Tabatabai University. Ms. Rezvan continued to pressure Nafisi even though she proved to be resistant. Nafisi did not like the idea of having restrictions in an area where she felt at ease.

After agreeing to teach at the university it became apparent that she was not very popular with the rest of the administration. Through her teaching she was able to configure an alternate thought process in regards to the revolution. Could this be the reason why the university initially wanted Nafisi to be a permanent professor? Did they realize the impact that Nafisi had on the revolutionary youth ? By using Nafisi as a tool the university would possibly be able to do what they wanted to---strengthen the resistance. Yet, since Nafisi refused to conform with the university ‘do’s & don’ts’ the students would continue to be taught controversial subjects. These ideas created a threat for the resistance because it could cause the youth to loose faith in the revolution.

The government of Tehran had made it an official law that women were to wear a veil. As readers we know that Nafisi previously fought against wearing it because she simply did not agree with it. Being that rebel that she is, Nafisi wore the veil incorrectly which caused her more trouble than it was actually worth. It is a known fact that Nafisi is a women who is comfortable in her own skin, so why would she choose to create more battles for herself on an everyday basis?

Did anyone else from the class find this quote to be ironic, or did you passively read over it despite the fact that it was in bold letters?

Stephany J. said...

In Response to Hilary:

I also questioned freedom while reading this section. In all honesty, women do not have freedom in Iran. It is simply not permitted to them. In this society women are to be viewed as quiet and respectable. The government strongly believes that the main priorities of a women should involve her wife and children primarily. If they waiver from what society expects from them, harsh actions will follow. Any type of “freedom” that women desire must be handled behind closed doors. Even behind closed doors these women are only partially “free”. Yet, this is only a faulty freedom because one is not able to be who they wish to be. I can agree with your definition of freedom, but I saw it slightly differently. I believe freedom entails being able to be genuinely happen without having to constantly wonder what the reparations will be. I think that women in societies such as Iran do not know how to live the way they are meant to. While women in societies such as the United States partially take their freedom for granted. The United States is a place that is built on the word freedom. In this present time women have never had to compromise their freedom the way in which Iranian women are forced to. Since we have never been forced to live under the thumb of society we are unable to realize what these women have to go through on a daily basis. Unlike Tehran, the United States government has laws that protect women from having to deal with any prejudice because of their specific race.

oliviak said...

In response to Hillary's comment, I think that personal freedom in our society is basically having the freedom to makechoices for ourselves. I know that in Iran, as in any other culture, people can do what they want, but there are greater repercussions there than there are in America. It's cliche, but this book made me a little grateful for living in a place where I am not forced to wear or do anything that I don't agree with.
In Stephany's post, I think that Nafisi chose to wear her veil incorrectly despite it just causing more problems because, as you said, she was a rebel. I think it was really hard for her to allow herself to take the teaching job and wear the veil, because it went against everything she was fighting.
The comment she received under her door was surprising to me, but I didn't think of it as ironic. I wonder who would write that, it couldn't be one of the staff, so I'm guessing it was one of the students that don't agree with her. Maybe someone like Mr. Ghomi who always fired back something even if it didn't pertain to the topic/book they were discussing in class.
I was sort of questioning this 'magician' character. He seems to come out of nowhere, all of sudden Nafisi writes that she called him despite not really wanting to and then goes from there. Nafisi didn't really strike me as the type of person who would go to a man like this because she seemed confident in herself. I feel like this man acts as a mirror of herself, basically thats what he says he does. Suddenly, Nafisi isn't trusting herself too well. I think it's because of the combination of losing her job and also not feeling like she's a part of her country anymore. I think she's been trying to hide herself too much and she's lost some of the passionate energy she used to have.
Did anyone else find the magician odd? I guess I just don't really understand his purpose or why Nafisi would call him.

Asian said...

Referring to Stephany’s post, I too found that statement to be ironic. The hypocrisy of the Iranian government is implied/brought up so many times in this book. Not only was that message an example of this, but also on page 160 where they frown upon the “arrogant rich and subversives.” I find the Iranian government to act as they do because they are against everything democratic or resembling democratic thinking (not considering religion). The hypocrisy of the situation is evident because not one single race is perfectly free of those they consider other countries to harbor. There is also no legit respect for the veil as can be seen on page 165. Mr. Bahri identified it as “a piece of cloth.” So why make such a big deal over a cloth? The irony in this is that they seem so focused and concerned over something such as simply showing skin, but it really does not mean much to the revolutionaries at all. It is all a scare tactic – only something to control people.

From our past discussions, we have already established that Iran emphasizes its State rather than individuals. Would it be a remote possibility that they are somewhat oblivious to their hypocrisy? Are they unintentionally sending out the wrong message to the young people of the society? I personally think it is mere jealousy or an effect of feeling victimized.

hillary said...

The Asian is actually me, Hillary. I was signed into another gmail account by accident and commented, sorry!

Sandy. J said...

Referring to Hillary's question. I think that freedom is the capability of doing whatever one is happy or comfortable with. Laleh is probably perceived as not being free because she was expelled from the school, and she loved teaching. But we also have to consider the fact that she was great at baking, if she excelled in baking, we can infer that she enjoyed doing it. I believe that Laleh is free, her colleagues "said that Farideh's expulsion was more a result of her headstrong resistance" (164). Isn't freedom supposed to be the ability for one to do whatever he or she desires? That's excatly what Laleh did. She was strong in her resistance, she refused to wear the veil, and conform to certain rules that she did not agree with. Even of the guard at the University of Tehran repeated that "no woman is to pass in your condition" (pg 61), Laleh still tried to enter. She refused to succumb to the guard's offers, instead of obeying him, Laleh ran. Laleh was successful in her resistance because she "emerged from the door of the department...marched out a "free" woman". Laleh, along with the other Iranian women in the novel epitomize freedom because they do what they think is right for them, such as not wearing the veil, regardless of the rules.
Although freedom is a privilege, I don't see how one could appreciate it,if he or she doesn't know what it feels like to be restricted or without freedom. We can only appreciate freedom if we experience what it is like to be unable to have it.

Jackie said...

While reading Part III, I found the relationship between Nafisi and Mrs. Rezvan. I found that Mrs. Rezvan is a very dominating and overpowering character. Quite the opposite from Nafisi who seems to be a much quieter person. The other character that struck me as interesting was the magician. He also seems to contrast Nafisi, in a more subtle way than Mrs. Rezvan though. They seem to me like real life foil characters, bringing out and highlighting different aspects of Nafisis personality.
Mrs. Rezvan emphasizes something new in Nafisi like on page 178 “Some of these duties I’m grateful for, like forcing me to meet with a handful of progressive religious journalists” The magician emphasizes or highlights the inner struggle that Nafisis goes through. For example when they first meet at his house “I was nervous and had unconsciously adopted a schoolkid’s pose in front of a much respected teacher”. (174)I found it interesting that there are real life foil characters and was wondering what everyone else thought. I also thought that perhaps her children and husband could be foil characters as well, as well as people from the university. It’d be interesting to know what everyone else thinks.

Gaelle said...

referring to Hilary and Stephany J, about how the women has no freedom.It's like they just there to be there, they can't really get involved the way men are which I think it's not fair.How could the women live like that?I don't think I could of live that, because, everyone has freedom of speech, explain how you feel.in pg 161 "It's right here, he protested, a written order signed by the president himself, that no girl, he corrected himself-no woman-is to pass in your condition" When he said that I was kind of confused, I started questioning myself what's wrong with Laleh? Does she have medical problem, but as continue reading, I found out the whole condition thing was the veil, just because she was wearing a veil, he talk to her like that.One of the thing that continue to surprise me is when Laleh ran past him, she took a risk, which I was surprised, I did not see that coming .Pg 162 I looked over his shoulder to the left and ,as he turned around, I ducked and started to run.To run?Yes, I ran."I though that very brave of her, I still can't believe

Gaelle said...

Did anyone think that security guard was taking it to far, first she rubbed Nafisi cheeks, and yet there was nothing. Pg168 Then she took the tissue herself and rubbed it against my cheeks, and since she did not achieve the desired results, because I had not worn any make up, as I had told her, she rubbed it even harder, until I thought she might be trying to rub my skin off.” For real, come one, I know that’s there job, to make sure, that the women are following the law, but isn’t she taking it to far. I feel bad for those women, it’s like they have no say.

Jen said...

I know that freedom is something that we have here in America; it’s not necessarily the same for others around the world. It’s being able to do as we please, up to a certain extent. I agree with Olivia, reading this does make me realize just how we have, and how much it’s taken for grated sometimes. It’s not just the fact that these women have no freedom at all, but the way they are punished if they decide to rebel. On page 167 it says that they “receive up to seventy-six lashes”, I thought that was way too extreme, and it’s just so unnerving to know that their government have so much power over them, and they can’t do anything about it. It seems to me that in order for them to obtain their freedom they had to give up a part of themselves, which I think is part of the reason why Nafisi started losing confidence in herself.

When I read this section it was one of the things that stood out to me. Laleh talks about how happy she is to be free, and not to have to adhere to the rules. Then Nafisi went on to say that she’ll probably go back to sewing and baking. It shows just how little importance women have. The jobs they have are flimsy things. Even though she’s free, she can’t really do anything with her life, so in a way the government wins anyways. The only things hey can do are what’s expected of a respectable woman. They really have no freedom in anyway, not even in their own home. On page 160, when she spoke of the government and their way of protecting its citizens from harm, they told the women to “dress properly” so that they won’t be “indecently exposed to strangers’ eyes.”

Jen said...

I thought that she did a really good job explaining the changes she went through once she wore the veil. Olivia was talking about hoe Nafisi lost her confidence, and I think that it had to do with the veil. In the veil she felt lost, she lost her personality, and sense of self. When I read that part it really stood out to me, to see the impact that this revolution was having on the women, and how the men think it’s the right thing to do.

For the part with the magician I thought it was weird, I don’t know what’s going on with their relationship. I don’t really know how to describe it, but I was wondering if something else was going on with them.

I also noticed how the war affected the people. She would sleep in the hallway near her children to be safe. When she started talking about how she’d take a flash light to read, it just reminded me of a scared child, or someone attempting to escape their world. It sad that it became a ritual for friends to call each other to make sure they’re still safe. That went on for eight long years.

Sandy. J said...

In this memoir I've always perceived Nafisi as an independent woman that does what she believes in. She had refused to wear the veil, like everyone else because she believed that women shouldn't hide themselves. She bought "a very wide black robe that covered me down to my ankles.Gradually I pretended my whole body disappeared" (pg 167). Everything Nafisi said throughout the memoir I feel like contradicted that. She spoke of how the veil covered women, and how it hid their beauty, and the individuals they can be. Nafisi was convincing when she spoke of how Iranians, especially women were living someone elses' dream. When she bought that robe, to me it signified weakness. She was starting to give in to her beliefs, because she could no longer longer survive the revolution. Her curiosity to how the robe felt, or the characteristics it brought demonstrated that she no longer wanted to fight against all the rules they wanted them to follow. When "her body disappeared", it signified that her spirit and her courage had faded away. She wasn't herself anymore, all she was was a veil which was represented what the government turned women into. I also saw it as hypocrisy because because the Nafisi would be against it, she was preaching about its negativism, but now she was doing it herself. I was appointed as a reader, my entire perspective of Nafisi changed. Her strength diminished in a way, I then perceived her as one of those other vulnerable women in Iran thatfeel like they have to accept things as they are, and that they can't make an attempt to rebel.
With all the chaos occurring in Iran, Nafisi needed an escape. Although in previous chapters, she used literature as an escape, this time around it was the births of her children and niece. Nafisi expressed to us her feelings "from the moment I saw her, I felt a bond, a warmth; I knew she would be good for me and good to me" (170). I interpreted the birth of her niece as a rebirth for herself. All her life she had worked so hard, she experienced tribulations while working at the University of Tehran, and living in Tehran itself, but when her niece was born, all of those things seemed to have disappeared. She couldn't look forward to teaching, or helping her students learn about literature, buy she did have a new niece that would bring her solace and joy. She was reborn again as a happy woman with something new to live for. She needed to fill the void, and she did with the birth of her niece.

Sandy. J said...

One question. Has anybody noticed Nafisi's repetition of the word irrelevant or irrelevance? What do you guys think it signifies?

KellieLeonce said...

Reading your posts, I agree that a very provoking aspect of chapter three was the issue of freedom, but I felt as though a really provoking topic was Nafisi’s sudden change in theme. In the first two sections of the book, I got accustomed to Nafisi exploring literature and discussions about literature and the relation of the books to the Iranian government. I felt as though her first two portions of the book were heavily influenced with the use of literature in portraying life in Tehran. Now in section three, Nafisi brings up the specific societal and political problems. I thought it was interesting that she decided to start the chapter with “The war came one morning, suddenly and unexpectedly” (157) because her sudden information made it seem very unexpected.

War was one obvious theme represented in chapter three, but I found it interesting that Nafisi chose to reveal all of the unfortunate events in the middle of the book. In this chapter, a bomb drops close to Nafisi’s apartment, and Khomeini dies. These events are clearly very powerful and somewhat depressing, especially the scene where Khomeini dies and everyone is surrounding him. As I was reading this, I thought it was very different from the style that Nafisi originally started with because before, I felt as though Nafisi was trying to get the reader to open their eyes to see the limitations of Tehran through different troubled literary characters. I guess every book needs to have a peak somewhere throughout the middle of the book, but I thought her abrupt change was very confusing, and I really didn’t see why Nafisi spent so much time relating Gatsby and Lolita to the Iranian government and her students. One reason I think she might have done this is to allow the reader to gain background information about the characters in the beginning two sections, so that in the third section, they will sympathize more with the girls and Nafisi. Honestly, I really can’t see a clear connection with the first two chapters and this third one. Maybe I’m over thinking it. Do you guys see any drastic changes in her themes?

Samantha J said...

When I began to read the section of the book it became really apparent to me how much Nafisi’s experience with the changes in Iran differed from her students. They were born into a world were freedom already did not exist, but Nafisi had experienced Iran before all freedoms began to be taken away and this seems to be her ultimate struggle. It is easier to live with restriction if you have never been free, but it is harder to have all your freedoms taken away.

This discussion leads me to the moment in the book I found especially thought provoking. On page 224, Nafisi talks about her definition of evil and she says, “Lack of empathy was to my mind the central sin of the regime, from which all the others flowed.” It brought me back to the times in class when we discussed the difference between sympathy and empathy. The regimes refused to put themselves in the place of their citizens and by doing this were able to take away their freedoms without a second thought. They did not feel for their citizens and thus became the evil in Iran. Nafisi seems to see the heroes as those who maintained their integrity and I think this was provoked her to push against the regimes law changes more than many others and what allows her to relate to the stories that she reads, she wants to be the hero I think.

What does every one else think about how empathy’s role in the book?

Stephanie A. said...

“I felt fictional, as if I were walking on air, as if I had been written into being and then erased in one quick swipe” (167). When Nafisi left her job and was “free” she didn’t seem happy about her choice. It was the choice she wanted to make but I didn’t feel her sense of satisfaction as her friend Laleh had making the same decision. Hillary first said “that just the thought of being free is liberating in itself.” To me, Nafisi seemed more bothered about her surroundings than anything because she had to quit the job she loved. Nafisi seemed like she didn’t know what to do with her self in her “liberation”, like when she went to the book store for no reason and frantically picked up books. What’s the point of being free if you can’t even do what you want? But Nafisi was never free to begin with. She was free from the restrictions’ of her job but not free as a citizen of her county.

I think freedom has to coincide with happiness. If you’re free then you have the choice of doing the things that make you happy. But as Olivia previously said, sometimes we take our freedom for granted. What’s the point of being free if you’re not going to take advantage of it? And how can you enjoy your freedom if you’re not even happy. You can be free and you can have the options of doing what you want but if you’re not happy or feel content, you can’t even enjoy your freedom.

Kellie said...

In Response to Hillary:
As a free woman in Iran, there is obviously limited freedom, and “freedom” is actually giving women more rights than they had before, but not as many rights as men. I feel as though “freedom” in literature is going to come up a lot because we’ve already seen it in “All Things Fall Apart”, “Reading Lolita in Tehran”, and even “A Doll’s House”. I thought it was interesting that you questioned what freedom meant after reading “A Doll’s House” because Nora faces some freedom issues throughout the book. But back to “Reading Lolita in Tehran”, even though we think that the women in Tehran do not have full freedom, they do not view it as that. The women in Tehran were never exposed to what we know as “freedom” and probably think that the freedom they are given, is what freedom actually is.

Samantha J said...

First, referring back to the discussion of freedom that Hilary brought up in the beginning, I think it is at the center of this section. As the Nafisi continues throughout the book we see that as freedoms are being taken away Nafisi is having an identity crisis. I think that this book really makes us look at what we have here in America and appreciate it much more. By seeing what it is like to have your freedoms taken away, I find that I look more at what freedoms I have here, especially when the forced veil is brought up.

Reflecting on what Steph A brought up, I do think that taking advantage of our freedoms is a natural consequence of having them. We have the ability to take advantage of our freedoms and that is one of the great things about living in America. I also agree that freedoms make no difference if your not happy, but that is what they are their for. We have all these freedoms so we have the chance of pursuing what makes us happy.

Finally, responding to Kellie, I do see a change in themes but I think they all connect. Freedom seems to be a connecting factor between the three sections so far, it plays a large role in both the reading group and the books that she is focusing on in each section. I think in the first two sections the books she was focusing on played a greater role than in this third section, she seems to focus more on her life than how it relates back to the books.

Jess said...

I've been dying to bring up a quote, from page 225: "It is because these characters depend to such a high degree on their own sense of integrity that for them, victory has nothing to do with happiness. It has more to do with a settling within oneself, a movement inward that makes them whole. Their reward is not happiness- a word that is central in Austen's novels but is seldom used in James's universe. What James's characters gain is self-respect."

This came to mind a few times as I was reading your comments. Especially your question, Stephany, about why Nafisi chose to wear the veil incorrectly even though the consequences made it seem not worth it. Her freedom, even if it was a simple act of rebellion like this, was worth the unhappiness it caused. It appears Nafisi values her self-respect more than her actual happiness.

So what I'm really getting at here.. What do you think? How do you feel about self-respect and happiness in relation to each other?

Jackie said...

In regards to Hilary's post, I feel as though a women's freedom in Iran is very little freedom indeed. I think that being a woman would be hard because it doesn't allow much freedom to be oneself. Also it seems as though all women would be same on the surface because they all have to wear veils and abide by the same restricting laws. Furthermore, it seems to me that the hardest thing about being a "free" woman in Iran would be having an actual identity. It seems like because of the laws that were put in place, it would be possible to lose one's struggle. This is apparent in this section as Nafisi seems to be having an identity struggle. Perhaps this is why she goes to the magician. It looks as though she doesn't know what to do with herself when she is no longer teaching. It could be that the magician gave her a sense of self.

Which brings me to respond to Kellie. I do see a change in themes, i think that in this section the theme is in fact, Identity or "the self" but that Freedom is the overarching theme throughout the whole book.

In response to Stephanie A's post I do think that we do sometimes take advantage of the freedoms we have. However I also feel as though some parts of the world misinterpret our government and the fact that our freedoms weren't "given" to us, they are natural rights that we are entitled to. I think that some nations have a different belief and this influences how their governments and society view different liberties. I feel like though we do take our freedoms for granted it's because we have never had them taken away from us to begin with, and never had to worry that they would be.

Stephanie A. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephanie A. said...

In response to Jessica’s question, I was saying how Nafisi’s happiness was not worth it if she wasn’t going to be happy, because if you’re not even happy, you can’t enjoy the freedom you have. I think that happiness should be the result or the outcome of having your self respect and freedom. Nafisi wanted to be free and sacrificed what she loved to be free. And as Jessica said, she did this to keep her self respect. But was all her sacrifice worth it if she wasn’t going to be happy in the end? Maybe happy and sad and other emotions don’t even matter. Maybe it’s about what you believe is right for you and what you think is morally correct.

But having freedom and preserving your self respect are things people would value. The type of thing people go to war over, like countries fighting to have their own freedoms and groups of people not only fighting for their freedom for the respect and being treated equally which ties into self respect. But I would think that making these sacrifices should make a person happy if it means having their freedom and their self respect. I would think they’d have a sense of satisfaction. If they weren’t looking for a sense of satisfaction in knowing they made a worth while sacrifice, then why do it at all? I just think that if you have self respect and you have freedom, you should be happy having it. Happiness should be the result.

Jess said...

I have to say, Jackie, I agree that Freedom is the overarching theme throughout the book, but I don't think that Identity is the theme only in this section. I think that in saying that freedom is the overarching theme implies that freedom of self expression/identity is also prominent throughout.

Also, although most of the citizens of Tehran haven't known a life with any more freedom than they have now, it doesn't mean it's any easier for them. We take our freedoms for granted because we've had them all of our lives, and we haven't had them taken away, so there's no way that we could know how they feel. We can't just assume that they didn't know better.

And Sandy, I have also noticed the repetition of "irrelevant." I even did a journal entry on it. Nafisi in section two had said that she remembers when she "became irrelevant," for example. This strikes me as odd, because the fact that a woman's identity is dismissible and that they are irrelevant seems to be super a super relevant topic. It is very relevant that they are irrelevant, I guess.

Samantha J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.