Reading Lolita in Tehran

Reading Lolita in Tehran Imagery

Memories as Rainfall

“Imagine you are walking down a leafy path… The sun is receding, and you are walking alone, caressed by the breezy light of the late afternoon. Then suddenly, you feel a large drop on your right arm. Is it raining? You look up. The sky is still deceptively sunny… seconds later another drop. Then, with the sun still perched in the sky, you are drenched in a shower of rain. This is how memories invade me, abruptly and unexpectedly…” (59)

Nafisi often uses metaphors rich in imagery to describe the way she is affected by her memories of Iran and as a narrative device to bring readers back in time to explore those memories. In this quote, Nafisi compares memories to a sudden rainfall, choosing to highlight the abruptness of memories coming back as well as their ability to totally take over and alter a current state.

The Woman at the Airport

At the beginning of Part II, "Gatsby," Nafisi creates an interesting, imagery-laden scene to take the reader from the relatively late memories of Part I (which dealt mostly with Iran in the 1990s) back to the beginning of Iran's revolutionary tensions in the 1970s. To do so, Nafisi describes in vivid language the experience of seeing a woman who had just arrived at the Tehran airport after years away. While in the first paragraph Nafisi simply describes her ("She stands in the customs area, teary-eyed" [81]), she points out a certain omniscience in the second paragraph ("Not having registered as yet that the home she had left seventeen years before" [81]), and by paragraph four she seamlessly melds the external description of the woman with her own experience, making it somewhat unclear whether she was describing herself all along or generalizing the phenomenon of returning to a place that is no longer home.

Clothing Description

Nafisi often takes great care when describing the clothing that her students wore as well as the moments in which they took off or put on their veils and body coverings. She does this first as she describes her students in the photographs she saved of them as a group, one in which they are veiled and one in which they expose their clothing and hair underneath. She also describes the clothing and act of de-veiling each time the girls arrived for class. Nafisi uses their clothing to symbolize their personalities, and recognizes the fact that having to cover these clothes much of the time is an act of obscuring their personalities and uniqueness.

Asking Readers to Imagine

Nafisi will often directly command the reader to imagine certain things as a way to help the reader connect with the memories and emotions, and perhaps signal that there is no way for the reader to truly experience them. Nafisi uses this same device to describe the way she experiences memories (“Imagine you are walking down a leafy path…The sun is receding, and you are walking alone, caressed by the breezy light of the late afternoon" [26]) and to ask the reader to mentally place themselves as much as possible in the situation with her and her students ("How can I create this other world outside the room? I have no choice but to appeal once again to your imagination" [26]). By explicitly asking readers to imagine, Nafisi creates a space in which she can freely weave imagery, using true memories, symbols, and authorial creativity to best depict her life in Iran.