Reading Lolita Into Tehran

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Azar Nafisi uses the power of western literature to illustrate to her seven women students the importance of connecting books to fictional imagination. She wanted to challenge her students to discuss "the relation between fiction and reality." (Pg 6) Women in Tehran, when the Iranian revolution began, had little or no freedoms out of their houses. Nafisi took an enormous risk by inviting these seven women into her house to discuss literature. If caught she and or her students could face jail time because the books were banned in fear of conspiracy against the new revolutionary Iran. In the memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran, the extreme risks these women take are due to the reoccurring theme of oppression throughout the story. As each day progressed these women were faced with new, more difficult battles of repression that they had to overcome in order to maintain their personal freedom.

Before the revolution occurred it was not required for women to be veiled at all times in publics, most books that discussed western culture had not been banned and women were allowed on the streets without men. Nafisi reflects on her time at Tehran University when women had the choice of which political party they chose to participate in and how they were able to dress. As revolutionaries became more apparent throughout the university, classes were cancelled, women were late to classes because of lengthy searches when entering the university, and certain books became more controversial. At this time, women lost their independence and their right to an education unless they were veiled and followed the appropriate laws. Those who refused to wear the veil felt it "created such an elaborate fiction out of his relationship with the world that the more he claimed to be detached, the more he seemed to be actually involved. The myths were his cocoon; in that land people created cocoons, elaborate lies to protect themselves. Like the veil." (pg 174) Women against the veil felt as though it was taking away their identity. Nafisi took a stand at the university and refused to wear the veil. She explained to one of her revolutionary students, Mr. Bahri that "it was not just a piece of cloth that I rejected, it was transformation being imposed upon me that made me look in the mirror and hate the stranger I had become."(pg 165) A simple "piece of cloth" took away everything an Iranian woman strived for; independence. It gave up their right to express themselves in a physical manner and it gave them no choice to an ordinary everyday life.

Nafisi's first book for the seven women to read was Lolita. It's a story of a young girl who is empowered by a man and is deprived of her innocence like most of Nafisi's students. Nafisi describes how Humbert leaves her with nowhere to go and she is trapped in his possession because of her young status. His fantasy and immaculate love for her destroys his dream and her life. This man, Humbert, was a solipsist. He took his own fantasy to the extent and used his abilities to take over someone else's life. He lived in the moment and manipulated a young girl to his own skewed views. Lolita, unaware of her misfortune until it was too late, "is hopeful, beautiful even, a defense not just of beauty but of life, ordinary everyday life." (pg 33) The group could sympathized with Lolita and position We learn in the story that this man was not just a pedophile to a young girl, but he took this "confiscation of one's individual's life by another," (pg 33) to an extent which ruined the young child's life. This is much like what occurred of the seven women due to outcome of the impending revolution.

Women dreamt for their beloved country to regain democratic status in hopes of regaining ordinary everyday life. Yet hope dwindled as the revolution took a toll on their freedom and families. The seven students in Nafisi's Thursday classes came from all different backgrounds and lives but each shared a similar belief that there was...
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