Reading Lolita in Tehran

A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi

Author's Purpose

Nafisi's purpose in writing this memoir is to share her experiences of what the revolution in Iran was like (1978-1981), to show how the government destroyed people while trying to force their dreams on people, and to communicate some of the horrors the women experienced.

Invisible Women

One of the first examples we see of the dislike these Iranian women have for the laws and regulations that are forced on them is on page 7 where Nafisi is talking about the girls showing up at her house for the first day of the class she created. "Each girl, as soon as she reaches the door, takes off her robe and scarf, sometimes shaking her head from side to side." I italicised 'as soon' to help point out that as soon as they had the opportunity, they took off the robes and scarf.

Then from pages 72-74 one of Nafisi's students, Sanaz, tells of a vacation she and some of her friends took to visit her friend's fiancé. They were all visiting and Revolutionary Guards suddenly jumped over the low walls and claimed they'd received a report of illegal activity. They found nothing illegal and had no legitimate reason to bring them in but arrested them anyway. "They were held in that room for forty-eight hours. Despite their repeated requests, they were denied the right to call their parents." Once their parents found them, the court forced the girls to sign confessions and "subjected them to 25 lashes." "Sanaz, who was very thin, was wearing a tshirt under her robe. Her jailers jokingly suggested that since she was wearing an extra garment, she might not feel the pain, so they gave her more." This is one of many examples of how women were harassed simply because they were women; they were degraded, humiliated, and constantly controlled.

Really Cool Fact About This Book

This book was on the New York Times bestseller list for over 100 weeks and has been translated into 32 languages!!! That is really amazing to me (but does not surprise me- it's phenomenal).

Lolita; The Stealing of Life

In one of their meetings, Yassi tells the group about how wearing the veil used to be something that was important to her; a symbol of her relationship with God, but now that it was required it had really lost it's meaning. "It was like this veil that meant nothing to her anymore and yet without which she would be lost. She had always worn the veil. Did she want to wear it or not? She did not know. ....She said she could not imagine a Yassi without a veil. What would she look like? Would it affect the way she walked or how she moved her hands (Nafisi, 32)." Yass barely knows who she is as an individual because the government has more or less told her who she is; they aren't allowed to make certain gestures, not allowed to have their nails too long, and so many other restrictions that they barely have their own individuality anymore.

Nafisi goes on to talk about how this compare with Lolita. She says that the story of Lolita isn't just the rape of a 12 year old girl, it's the "confiscation of one individual's life by another (Nafisi, 33)." She discusses how in Humbert's attempt to make Lolita into his own dream; he destroys her. This is the same with Iran; by trying to force their dreams onto the citizens, they are totally destroying them.

Gatsby; Death by Dream

In one of Nafisi's classes during the start of the revolution, they have a mock trial for the book The Great Gatsby; inspired by one of the students utter disapproval of the book and the trials going on in Iran. Nafisi writes on page 144, "What we in Iran had in common with Fitzgerald was this dream that became our obsession and took over our reality, this terrible, beautiful dream, impossible in its actualization, for which any amount of violence might be justified or forgiven." To the guy who expressed disapproval of the book, she says, "Dreams, Mr. Nyazi, are perfect ideals, complete in themselves. How can you impose them on a constantly changing, imperfect, incomplete reality? You would become a Humbert, destroying the object of you dream; or a Gatsby, destroying yourself." What she's getting at is that even though the dream itself may be good, forcing it onto others is destructive to all involved, even the dream itself.


Reading Lolita in Tehran is a memoir about an Iranian woman teaching at the University of Tehran during the revolution from 1978-1981. It discusses the secret class she taught in her home and the 7 women who attended it. In the book, you gain insight on the lives of these women and how they felt about the laws forced on them. You learn a lot about how cruelly the women were treated based on the discussions they have in their class. Nafisi (the author) relates the books they read in class to life in Iran. She does a lot of dissecting and analyzing of these books to map out how they are similar. One of the major themes is how the government destroyed the lives of those living in Iran by trying to force their dreams on Iran’s citizens. You see the extreme extent to which the government controls its people; especially the women. Nafisi shows the reader how, by making the women nearly invisible, it affects the men negatively as well; resulting in essentially the whole dynamics of the nation being obstructed. The book talks about the tension between the students of different political parties, the protests, sit ins, and the escalation of violence. It informs the reader of the purging of faculty and students from the university and how eventually even those who were asked to stay were victims of violence from the government.

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University of Tehran