Nafisi's account flashes back to the early days of the revolution, when she first started teaching at the University of Tehran amid the swirl of protests and demonstrations. In 1980, Nafisi claims she was dismissed from the University of Tehran for refusing to wear a veil; she subsequently pursued an independent writing career, bore two children, and, after a long hiatus from teaching, took a full-time job at Allameh Tabatabaii University where she resumed the teaching of fiction.
The book also discusses issues concerning the politics of Iran during and after the Iranian revolution, the Iran–Iraq War, and the Iranian people in general. In one instance, for example, Nafisi's students ridicule Iranian soldiers who served and died during Iran–Iraq War. She writes: "[The students] were making fun of the dead student and laughing. They joked that his death was a marriage made in heaven - didn’t he and his comrades say that their only beloved was God?"
Nafisi also describes how her freedom was restricted and why she had to leave Tehran University in 1981: "I told her I did not want to wear the veil in the classroom. Did I not wear the veil, she asked, when ever I went out? Did I not wear it in the grocery store and walking down the street? It seemed I constantly had to remind people that the university was not a grocery store." Later making a compromise and accepting the veil, Nafisi came back to academia and resumed her career in Iranian universities until 1995.
The issue of the headscarf in Iranian society is a running theme in the book. In Nafisi's words: "My constant obsession with the veil had made me buy a very wide black robe with kimonolike sleeves, wide and long. I had gotten to the habit of withdrawing my hands into the sleeves and pretending that I had no hands." Ayatollah Khomeini decreed Iranian women must follow the Islamic dress code on March 7, 1979. In Nafisi’s view, the headscarf was the icon of oppression in the aftermath of the revolution. In referring to Khomeini's funeral, she writes that "[t]he day women did not wear the scarf in public would be the real day of his death and the end of his revolution." The Ayatollah Khomeini had established the new regime after a referendum on March 30 and 31, 1979, in which more than 98% of the Iranian people voted for the creation of the republic. Before this revolution, Iranian women had not been obliged to wear a veil for almost 60 years; contrarily, women who did wear headscarves had been banned from most universities and could not work as government employees.
Although Nafisi criticizes the Iranian government, she also calls for self-criticism. In her speech at the 2004 National Book Festival, she declared that "[i]t is wrong to put all the blame on the Islamic regime or ... on the Islamic fundamentalists. It is important to probe and see what ... you [did] wrong to create this situation."
To The New York Times, Nafisi stated that "[p]eople from my country have said the book was successful because of a Zionist conspiracy and U.S. imperialism, and others have criticized me for washing our dirty laundry in front of the enemy."