For example, Nafisi knew that her mother was one of the first women elected to Parliament in s. The female students in her home-based literature class had no such freedoms in their past to remember. The theme of education and the teacher-student relationship is emphasized in Nafisi's memoir. Most of the book's episodes, both good and bad, take place in a classroom or on a university campus.
Nafisi wants her students of both genders to gain an appreciation of literature and its importance. While she faces difficulties with the restrictions she is under and is sometimes the subject of harassment, Nafisi will not compromise her teaching methodologies. Though male students like Mr. Bahdi sometimes try her patience and highlight her diminished place in society as a woman, Nafisi also accepts that this student in particular worked behind the scenes on her behalf.
Her relationships with her female students are more complex—running the gamut from hostile to very friendly—but they help her appreciate the power of her position and what she accomplishes. When former student Mahtab tells Nafisi about her time in prison, the professor learns that Mahtab and her cellmate, another former student named Razieh, had reminisced and laughed about their classroom discussions while confined before Razieh was executed. Just as Nafisi values the influence of her mentor in her own life, her influence on her students is clearly a source of strength in troubled times.
In her last two years in Tehran, Nafisi finds her greatest satisfaction as a teacher in the class she decides to hold at her home. Each Thursday morning, seven female students she has carefully selected meet to discuss great literature and its relationship to their realities. While Nafisi's memoir focuses on the discussions and the books, she also emphasizes the community that developed among the women. Her students were from diverse backgrounds, had different political beliefs, and varied in age, marital status, and personality.
There was often conflict between them over the books, opinions, and life choices. Yet the women could be themselves in that classroom in ways they could not in general Iranian society. They took off their robes, veils, and chadors, and revealed who they were to each other and the professor. Each woman found acceptance and belonging, and was allowed to grow and develop intellectually and socially. Nafisi's family also became close to all of them, with her mother and her housekeeper, Tahereh Kanoom, becoming familiar in the class routine.
Some students, like Yassi, even stayed overnight at Nafisi's home on a regular basis. This community was especially important to Nafisi, who essentially dropped out of Iranian academia after the end of her last post. The community and camaraderie kept her going when she felt she had no place in Iranian society.
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First and foremost, Reading Lolita is a memoir. Unlike a biography, which tells the story of a person's life, a memoir provides the author's recollections of a particular period in his or her life. In her memoir, Nafisi gives perspective of what life was like in Iran from the late s to the late s for herself and other women as well as for other academics and her family.
She describes in detail the difficulties of life under the totalitarian regime and how it deeply affected her and her sense of self. She also illustrates her belief in literature's enduring power to inspire. In addition to being a memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran also provides some literary criticism. Literary criticism is the interpretation, analysis, and judgment of literature, in this case great novels. Nafisi inserts her ideas about certain books in the text, primarily around the discussions of the books in her classes or with students, to highlight and illustrate her points.
Occasionally, Nafisi offers a more in-depth analysis of a novel. For example, in the chapter 26 of "Part III: James," the professor interprets James's Washington Square and places it in the greater context of his books in remembrance of deceased former student Razieh. The plot of Reading Lolita in Tehran is not linear.
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
That is, it is does not follow the events of Nafisi's life in the sequence in which they occurred. Nafisi moves back and forth through time to draw parallels between events and evoke a response in readers. She often uses flashbacks—events that occurred before the actual story began—and episodes—descriptions of individual events—as part of the text. The memoir begins with Nafisi giving a brief explanation of how she came to start the class in her home, a description of each of the students, and their first meeting.
The next chapter of the section offers an analysis of a different work by Nabokov, the author of Lolita , before Nafisi relates the book to life in Iran. Chapter 7 focuses on more explanation of life in Iran, beginning in and ending with her home-based class.
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Nafisi relates the incidents that occur in her memoir strictly from her own point of view. She uses the personal, or first-person, voice, which means that "I," and sometimes "we," are the primary pronouns used. Nafisi is also the primary protagonist, as the central character in the stories she tells. Every incident in the book is filtered through her perspective, though she is not always at the center of the story. The setting is important to understanding Reading Lolita in Tehran.
The memoir is set in Tehran, Iran, from the late s to the late s. That period of time marked extreme changes in Iranian society as the monarchy, headed by the Shah of Iran, was overthrown in favor of a revolutionary government that put its interpretation of Islamic law at the center of society. The experiences that Nafisi has are a direct result of the memoir's setting.
Often supported by western governments, the Shah modernized Iran, helped the country develop economically and commercially, and brought in many western customs and practices. Many of his reforms, however, were not popular with most Iranians. Inflation was extremely high in the s and s, creating widespread economic hardships. Furthermore, a number of Iranians wanted an Islamic government, not a secular one. In the last two decades of Pahlavi's reign, religious and student leaders began to advocate for government change.
By the late s, a leader emerged to bring focus to the emerging revolution: the Ayatollah Khomeini, a respected Islamic clergyman. Khomeini was an engaging speaker who was popular with the people. He used his oratory skills to demand change, not just in terms of religion but also in terms of economic and social improvements. Forced into exile in France in , the popular Khomeini returned to Iran in when the Shah fled to Egypt under pressure. In Iran, Khomeini organized religious and student leaders and began the revolution.
The Islamic Republic of Iran was proclaimed on April 1, , and all laws in the country were then based on the principles and traditions of Islam. Khomeini was declared the Spiritual Leader of the Islamic Revolution, the title for the cleric who served as the head of the Iranian government. A president with lesser powers was elected, as was a parliament whose decisions could be overturned by the Council of Guardians, made up of Muslim leaders.
Khomeini and his Islamic Revolution Party took over leadership of Iran, forcing the Shah to remain in exile until he died the next year.
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Iran essentially became a theocracy controlled by fundamentalist Shiite Muslims. One defining act of this new Iran was the takeover of the U.
Fifty-two Americans who worked in the embassy were held hostage by the Iranians until January Khomeini remained in power until his death in , when the Ayatollah Khamenei succeed him as the Spiritual Leader of the Islamic Revolution. Soon after the Ayatollah Khomeini took over control of Iran, the country became entangled in a long war with its neighbor, Iraq.
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Iraq hoped to take over some of Iran's land and oil reserves and become a greater power in the Middle East by attacking Iran and overthrowing Khomeini. Iraq invaded Iran in September While Iraq sought peace in , its efforts were rebuffed by Khomeini and his followers, who kept the war going for three more years to consolidate their hold on Iran through political intimidation and greater control of the military. A peace agreement was finally signed in Though women were active participants in the Islamic Revolution in Iran, their rights were significantly restricted after Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution Party took power.
Women were legally regarded as inferior to men, and could be married off at the age of nine. Men could have as many as four wives and were in charge of making decisions for the family.
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Men controlled where their wives and daughters could go. Women could not be in the company of a man who was not her husband or a relative. A husband had to give his written permission for a woman to travel or obtain a passport. Men also had custody of their children. All women had to follow a public dress code—the hejab —which included completely covering of one's hair and body while outside the home.
Makeup was forbidden. Anyone ignoring these rules could face corporal punishment or imprisonment.