You get a strange feeling when you're about to leave a place, I told him, like you'll not only miss the people you love but you'll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you'll never be this way ever again.
The themes of memory and transformation are central to Reading Lolita in Tehran. Here, Nafisi reflects on leaving Tehran (including the life she's built there and, importantly, the literary and emotional space she has created with her students) and being lost to time and memory. As time moves forward, changes big and small come with it, as is so important to contemporary Iranian history; Nafisi is often conflicted about how to cope with this change.
Do not, under any circumstances, belittle a work of fiction by trying to turn it into a carbon copy of real life; what we search for in fiction is not so much reality but the epiphany of truth.
Nafisi is adamant at multiple places in the novel that reality and fiction should be separated. This is of intellectual importance to her as a scholar of literature, but also personal importance. Literature has provided her with an escape from reality when she has needed it. In addition, her classroom and livelihood had been impeded by people who did not make this distinction, part of the reason she resigned from the university.
You don't read Gatsby, I said, to learn whether adultery is good or bad but to learn about how complicated issues such as adultery and fidelity and marriage are. A great novel heightens your senses and sensitivity to the complexities of life and of individuals, and prevents you from the self-righteousness that sees morality in fixed formulas about good and evil.
Again and again, Nafisi delineates the difference between fiction and reality. In this quote, she takes issue even with students who supposed that a work of literature would weigh in on issues of morality rather than simply portray them.
Memories have ways of becoming independent of the reality they evoke. They can soften us against those we were deeply hurt by or they can make us resent those we once accepted and loved unconditionally.
Nafisi writes here on the specific changes time and memory may wreak on one's relationship to people and places. Like fiction, memory can diverge greatly from reality, with positive and negative effects for the people experiencing them.
She resented the fact that her veil, which to her was a symbol of scared relationship to god, had now become an instrument of power, turning the women who wore them into political signs and symbols.
Nafisi speaks of her grandmother in this quote, spoken during a conversation with the devout Muslim student, Mr. Bahri. Veiling is an incredibly important aspect of Reading Lolita, and this quote helps the reader understand the way women's relationships with veiling practices changed due to political and religious movements in the 1970s and 1980s, creating internal and external conflicts that persist into the 21st century.
Living in the Islamic Republic is like having sex with a man you loathe.
This quote, said by Nafisi to her husband Bijan after a particularly taxing day, continues into a harrowing explanation: "If you're forced into having sex with someone you dislike, you make your mind blank--you pretend to be somewhere else, you tend to forget your body, you hate your body. That's what we do over here" (329). Nafisi not only equates living in the Islamic Republic to rape, but also ties it back to a point she has long been making about people, especially women, seeking out fiction. She argues they do so because it provides a departure from reality, giving them an escape for a time. By comparing the Islamic Republic to sex with someone one "loathes," the reader also understands the feeling of helplessness Nafisi's students feel about ever getting out of this society and way of life.
Every fairy tale offers the potential to surpass present limits, so in a sense the fairy tale offers you freedoms that reality denies.
Nafisi compares all fiction to fairy tales to underscore her belief that fiction should not be read as either a reflection of or compass for reality. Instead, Nafisi focuses on fiction's ability to provide freedom and escape, crucial to the survival of the author and her students. The use of the term "fairy tale" also lends itself to Nafisi's pursuit of a sense of youthfulness and perhaps femininity, things she and her students hope to reclaim in the privacy of their secret studies.
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.
Nafisi often uses metaphors to describe the way her memories of Iran affect her and 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 as well as their ability to take over and alter a current state.
It is only through literature that one can put oneself in someone else’s shoes and understand the other’s different and contradictory sides and refrain from becoming too ruthless. Outside the sphere of literature only one aspect of individuals is revealed. But if you understand their different dimensions you cannot easily murder them.
Mirroring views held by Nafisi herself, a student of Dr. A delivered this quote concerning the importance of literature as a way to understand the complexity of the world. However, unlike the position Nafisi usually takes, this student focused on the outcome of reading literature in concrete terms: fewer murders. At a time when death permeated Iran, this student suggested that literature can lead to deeper understanding and that this may be the key to peace.
Art is as useful as bread.
This quote, originally written by Mike Gold in "Toward Proletarian Art" in 1929 for publication in the radical journal New Masses speaks to the importance of art to the survival of society. Art, he argues, can teach people important skills that even a government would seek out: how to use tractors, how to design, and how to create the lyrics and dances to entertain and motivate. Nafisi studied Gold for her dissertation and clearly cares deeply about his writing. She taught short stories by Gold in her class at University of Tehran just before her important unit on The Great Gatsby. She and her students had to come to terms with the ways Gold's ideals, the ideals of The Great Gatsby, and the ideals of vying political and religious groups in Iran, concurred and contradicted.
Reading Lolita in Tehran Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Reading Lolita in Tehran is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.