Thursday, May 14, 2009

Independent reading: reading lolita in tehran



Thus far, I am finding the memoir to be very interesting and intriguing. From the very beginning, it becomes evident that Azi has gathered together a group of her students, to discuss various literary works. In the beginning of chapter one, Azi comments on how she wonders if one of her students would tell someone about their gatherings because she is “…a pessimist by nature and …sure that at least one would turn against…” (3) her. Although she said this in a playful manner, I found that line interesting because I thought it related to how I would have felt if I were in her situation. I don’t like I would have enough courage to establish such meetings without worrying whether or not someone would turn against me. Through those first couple of pages, I concluded that Azi was a courageous and trusting person, one who was willing to risk a lot, just for the educational advances of others.

As the memoir continued, more cultural information was revealed to the readers and I was familiar with the tradition of Middle Eastern women wearing scarves wrapped around their faces, but I never wonder how much that religious belief impacted their individual identity. For instance, Azi comments on one picture she found and the women were all covered with black scarves, however, in the second picture; the women were dressed in bright, colorful attire. “Splashes of color separate one from the next,” says Azi, “each has become distinct through the color and style of her clothes…” (4) I took those lines to mean that the women were more or less trapped in their own clothing, forced to wear things that they did not want to wear because it stopped their creative desires to express who they truly wanted to be. Are these women forced to dress this way because the men don’t want them to be distinguishable from one another and to reiterate the idea that women are not viewed as free thinking individuals?

A girl named Sanz struggled with this same problem, and she wanting to be an individual, but at the same time, longed for approval by her family. I began to understand how difficult it would be for a woman to defy her families’ beliefs because women really have no freedom. So if she were to take off her scarf and choose never to wear it again, she would have serious consequences to face. Without even the freedom of walking down the street without the guidance of a man, it appears that women are forced to rely on the men in their family. I feel as if the men want the women to view themselves as people who cannot function without male guidance because they are not even allowed to do common things without them. In a way, the women are almost too fearful to defy their religious beliefs because if their family were to disown them, they would not have anywhere to go. Without their fathers, brothers, or husbands, what are the women allowed to do?

“Reality has become so intolerable, … so bleak, that all I can paint now are the colors of my dreams” (11), said Bronte. After Bronte said this to Azi, Azi began to wonder what the colors of her dreams were and the first color I could think of was black. I found that colors were a reoccurring idea in the memoir thus far, because Azi already commented on how different the women became after they took of their scarves and revealed bright clothing and I thought the color of all of their dreams was black because it symbolizes darkness and it is easy to hide behind this color and not be seen. Seeing how their scarves are black and the scarves really cast a shadow over their true identity, I felt as if their dreams thus far in the memoir are clouded and dark, however, I am interested in seeing whether or not their dreams become colorful in the end.

I previously stated how I noticed a lot of references towards colors and depending on the colors one was wearing, determined her mood. On page 29, Azi reminisces on the days when she taught at a university and there was a huge green iron gate that enclosed the school. The men were able to freely enter this gate and embark on a tremendous educational journey; the women however, “went into a small, dark room to be inspected.” I felt that this gate truly represented a major obstacle in which the women were almost able to over come, but yet men were still finding ways to keep them from entering a place that would allow them to enrich their minds and souls. The green color of the gate could symbolize the fact that once a person received a proper education, it was believed that they would become wealthy (green) and maybe even move to the United States. But the women could see this green gate and view it as something scary, a green monster even, but in general just another challenge that would hold them back from ever reaching the same goals as men.

The character Yassi, is quite interesting because she is one of few women that have found the courage and strength to defy her family’s beliefs, in order to find her happiness. Although she has this strength, Azi “…discovered that [Yassi’s] guilt caused her long hours of disabling migraine headaches.” (31) That line once again forced me to think that the men have such as strong hold over their women that they have in a way brain washed them into believing that they are incapable of ever accomplishing major tasks without the guidance of a man. The guilt that Yassi feels has caused her so much pain that she actually had migraines that enables her. So even if she were to do anything on her own, he headaches are so painful that she would not be able to complete the task and once again feel as if she is unable to do anything without a male’s presence. The veils that the women wear are also constant reminders of their inferiority to men and how they are incapable of functioning without them because “…without [the veil]… she would be lost…”(32) says Yassi.

A scene that took place after the women finished one of their book discussions with Yassi, caught my attention and made me laugh. During one of their sessions, the ladies had differing opinions on a women’s role with her husband, with some believing that women should be allowed to commit adultery and others against that idea. Although the argument was not settled, after the meeting was over, Yassi “…choose the only way [she] knew to cope with problems: [she] went to the refrigerator, scooped up the coffee ice cream,…” and ate it. I found that interesting because I thought that Nafisi added that information into the text in order to establish the idea that although everyone has multiple different backgrounds, we all part take in many of the same things when we are feeling upset.

Such as Vanessa noticed, I too realized that Azi stresses the idea that the women in this story are not Lolita. Obviously Azi wants to create a distinction amongst the women and Lolita, but the question why. I guess that she wants to make it clear that Lolita is a women who they are viewing and questioning her actions. But at the same time, in many situations when someone has a problem, they usually say, well I have a friend that… and this generally is because that person does not want others to know about her problem. Although this could be a stretch, maybe Azi is referring to herself and she doesn’t want others to know. Also, Azi could be trying to end stereotypes of how all Muslim women are inferior to men because many of the women, who attend her meetings, including herself, are educated and independent.

Finally, in response to one of Jenny’s questions about the mountain tops being symbolic, I feel that they are symbolic of the struggles Muslim women are forced to face in their society. The fact that Azi sits in a chair and looks out at the mountains also represents the idea that there are more challenges waiting in the distance for these women to encounter.

Post # 3
Prompt A

“Had I been offered a similar position at Oxford or Harvard, I would not have felt more honored or intimidated,” (88) says Azi. After reading that line, I saw Azi’s desire to form her reading groups in a different way because she basically is saying that she doesn’t need a luxurious facility to teach the things she loves; all she needs is students eager to learn. Even though she teaches at the University of Tehran, a college not well known in other parts of the world, she is content where she is because she knows that she is making a difference in people’s lives. The women she meets with for the book group value even the smallest time they spend together because it is one of the few chances they have to escape from harsh situations in their personal lives.

As political wars broke out in response to the variety of ideas and beliefs being thrown at the new Islamic government, it became increasingly difficult to find things that kept people out of the chaos. Azi recalled a time when she attended a demonstration for one of the political groups, when she got separated from her husband and she was “…crying, as if the person closet to [her] had died and [she] was now all alone in the whole wide world.” (91) Through all of the political chaos and campaigns, it was easy for anyone to become swept up in it and even though she became separated from her husband, and felt all alone, she still was not allowed to freely voice her opinions. The differences in gender roles are still prevalent, but despite this madness, her classes still ran smoothly, with the majority of her students in attendance daily, despite their differing political beliefs. I found this odd because I assumed, especially since she is a female that her class would be most disrupted because of the ban placed on certain books by the government. However, I think that regardless of which books her students were reading, given a passionate teacher and the ability to explore different ideas and ways of life through these books, gave them the drive to keep reading regardless of the topic.

“The best fiction always forced us to question what we took for granted,”(94) says Azi to a classroom full of students. Although I don’t disagree with her statement, I feel that this memoir challenges me as well, to view my own life in comparison to others. Although I never felt as if I took much for granted, I do think that this memoir made me even more thankful for even the smallest rights I have, or the freedom I have to walk places without a male guidance because of the religious freedom everyone is given. Does anyone else agree with Azi statement? Has this book made you cherish the rights and freedom we have in the U.S?
Prompt B:

Before reading Vanessa and Jenny’s blogs, I didn’t notice the defiance Nafisi is immediately displaying on the front cover of the book and it is those few small details that really embody Nafisi’s many themes of the book. By many readers not even noticing that the ladies chose not to cover their heads completely and to allow a small portion of their hair to show, could foreshadow how these women were able to slowly gain more power and control in their own lives by gradually and discreetly breaking some rules as they go unnoticed. I really find this fascinating because even the expressions on their faces is as if they are so peaceful and innocent but as readers turn the pages of the novel, they discover their inner thoughts and desires to steadily break free of these oppressing rules.

Jenny, I completely agree that the women are defying the law by secretly forming these book groups because their discussions sometimes go beyond the book and into the reality they deal with daily. For instance, on page 54, the women began to argue over whether or not it should be a women’s right to commit adultery and although they weren’t reading about this topic, the environment that they have created for themselves within these groups has given them the feeling that they can freely talk amongst themselves about any topic.

However Jenny, you also brought up the idea that the women were taking a stance by taking off their veils while in the presence of one another and revealing colorful clothing. I disagree with this idea because from my understanding of their culture, women were allowed to take off their veils in the presence of other women, but they weren’t allowed to do so in the presence of males. With that, I feel that they are making light of the rules by obeying them to a certain extent, such as not taking their veils off around men, but their true statement lies beneath the veils, bright clothing. So that too could connect back to the idea that they are slowly breaking free of these laws by giving the illusion that they are obeying them, such as simply wearing the veils, but underneath its completely different.

Post # 4

Prompt A, need to add B in response
The political uproars seem to be at the forefront of the novel thus far and I constantly wonder how I would feel if I were in Azi’s situation. On page 106, she said, “The America of my past was fast fading in my mind, overtaken by all the clamor of new definitions;” and this comment came about after protestors started chanting, death to America. Through all of this, Azi still chooses to teacher her classes, despite the many interruptions she encounters; however, I think that this class could be one the best to take during this crucial time in their country because reading various books seems to be their outlet. I found it interesting that Azi later notes how, “America had become both the Land of Satan and Paradise Lost,” (106) because many people who live in various parts of the world envision America to be a land of opportunities, but many times, that imagine is distorted by the overwhelming conflicts America has had in the past with other countries, especially with Iran.

Regardless of the lessening memoirs Azi has of America, she was eager to “…speak at last in [her] mother tongue …[where]…[she]… was longing to talk to someone who spoke English, preferably with a New York accent…” (107) Why does Azi refer to English as her mother tongue? Does anyone think Azi feels as if she has a closer connection to the U.S. than with Iran?

“We in ancient countries have our past—we obsess over the past. They, the Americans, have a dream: they feel nostalgia about the promise of the future,”(109) says Azi to her students, in defense of The Great Gatsby. Clearly, another distinction is made between Americans and Iranians, but I understand and agree with Azi findings. In many American literary classics, the protagonist is generally in search of his dream or defying all odds in order to accomplish the unthinkable, and such is true within reality. Many people in America strive to achieve their goals; mainly because of the numerous resources we have in America along with the constantly changing environment that we live in, whether it is with technology and/or better ways of living. However, in other countries such as Iran, the focus is emphasized more on tradition beliefs because they were the core ideals their countries were founded upon. It appears as if they would rather stay where they are, rather than move foreword into the future.

Post #5
Prompt A need to add B:

There are many occasions in the book when I feel as if Nafisi is speaking directly to the readers, giving her words more meaning and power, which is why this book has been such an enjoyable read for me. A quote that really stood out to me was:

“a novel is not an allegory…it is the sensual experience of another world. If you don’t enter that world, hold your breath with the characters and become involved in their destiny, you won’t be able to empathize, and empathy is at the heart of the novel. This is how you read a novel: you inhale the experience. So start breathing.” (111)

Although this quote is quite long, there were many times just in these few sentences alone that Nafisi draws the readers in, and preps them on how to read the continuation of the novel, in order to get the best experience. When she says the reader must enter the world and hold their breath, for this book, the readers would be entering the world of Muslim women, struggling to find their identity amidst political and social uproars. I agree with Nafisi that we would not be able to obtain the same experience or learn as much from the characters if we didn’t empathize with their struggle and relate our findings back to our personal lives. I loved the last two lines of the quote because they have a suspenseful tone and through Nafisi’s specific choice of diction, she foreshadows how there is a lot more the readers are going to discover as the novel progresses.

Another quote that speaks to the readers states, “ 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.” (118) Again, I feel that Nafisi draws the readers in and guides them to understanding the true contents of the book by giving the readers descriptive details on the lives’ of Muslims. At the same time, the end of her quote, “…understand the other’s different and contradictory sides and refrain from becoming too ruthless,”(118) is also very important because I felt she was implying that although she is giving us a glimpse at this life style, there is much more too their religious beliefs than what is presented in the book. I feel that Nafisi places a subtle empathize on the last part”…becoming too ruthless” because she doesn’t want the readers to form extremely harsh judgments upon her culture, regardless of how they feel about her culture because the readers don’t know everything about the Muslim culture.

I found it really interesting that Azi wanted to put the book, The Great Gatsby on trial because in many ways, the controversy the students felt about the book was very similar to that of the disagreements they had about many issues in their society. Such as Nasfisi pointed out that, “ some claimed in private that they personally like the book. Then why didn’t they say so? Everyone else was so vertian and emphatic in their postion, and they couldn’t really say why they liked it – they just did.” (135) That quote made me think about women’s rights Iran and how many women and probably some men feel as if women should be given more rights, but no one will say this aloud because they don’t want to go against the majority’s beliefs.

The students also pointed out that Azi really liked Professor R, a professor who left the University before he was expelled. He had a different way of teaching, one of which many must have enjoyed because his lecture hall was always packed when he spoke. He also, held “…meeting[s] with a select group of friends and disciples...” within his apartment. With that, it lead me to begin to think that he and Azi were similar in many different ways. They both had an array of different students who liked and didn’t like their class and they both held secret meetings in their homes. However, I never connected how Azi’s friends could her disciples or that she could be a Christ-like figure. It is true she does have many followers and she has suffered many consequences because of her radical views. Does anyone think that Azi could represent a Christ-like figure?

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