Blog Post 3: Reading Lolita in Tehran: Chapters 14–18

“Why is it that stories like Lolita and Madame Bovary — stories that are so sad, so tragic — make us happy? Is it not sinful to feel pleasure when reading about something so terrible?” This is how chapter fourteen begins, and what a way to open a chapter. Mitra is asking this question to Nafisi, and Nafisi doesn’t really know how to answer at first. And, really, who does? Why do we take some sort of pleasure from the downfalls of other, even if it’s in books. Mitra makes another good point by saying that if we were in the place of Lolita, or if all these tragic things happened to us, we wouldn’t be experiencing happiness of any sort.

From this, Nafisi shows us small parts of herself. She starts off by saying she’s nervous and anxious at night. “Most nights I lay awake waiting for some unexpected disaster to descend on our house or for a telephone call that would give us the bad news about a friend or a relative.” I think this type of thing only happens to her at night because that’s when she starts thinking, and subjecting her mind to the thoughts she keeps locked up during the day. “I paid for it at night, always at night, when I returned. What will happen now? Who will be killed? When will they come? I had internalized the fear, so that I did not think of it always consciously, but I had insomnia…” This can really hurt someone, them always on edge, living in their fear. But then she explains about herself during the day. “In the daytime it was better. I felt brave. I answered the Revolutionary Guards, I argued with them, I was not afraid of following them to the Revolutionary Committees.” I believe she is keeping up this facade, so she can get through her life. I would almost compare her to some teenagers in our time. A teenage boy/girl will have something happen at home, or in their personal relationships, weep at night, then come into school the next day as if the previous night never happened. And, I believe that is when all the secrets come out: at night. That Nafisi’s insecurities and fears shine through, and the teenager’s loneliness abandons them to their own thoughts.

“It’s a vicious cycle.” -(said a number of people including Ellen DeGeneres, Marvin Gaye, and Malcolm X)

The girls in Nafisi’s class began to share their own fears, them having nightmares. In these nightmares, the girls would dream that they would go out into public without their veil, and they’re running, but they would realize they were rooted and there was no getting away. Nassrin was the only one who said she hadn’t had the same fear. “’I was always afraid of having to lie. You know what they say: to thine own self be true and all that. I believed in that sort of thing,’ she said with a shrug. ‘But I have improved,’ she added as an afterthought.” So they were all affected by some sort of fear.

Nafisi’s past was opened up to us, which I really didn’t expect. Her father got the liking of a certain general. The government disapproved, jealous of his attentions, and put him in jail. He was accused of “insubordination”. Nafisi was in Switzerland when she heard the news.

A very personal part of Nassrin is shared with us, and Nafisi goes on to explain how Nassrin would shock her the most. “My girls all surprised me at one point or another, but she more than the rest.” While filing, Nassrin dropped the bomb that she was sexually assaulted by her youngest uncle. And that is utterly disgusting and heartbreaking. But even though it is both of those things, it is very intriguing how she decided to share. Maybe she was just in the moment, or had just needed to get it off her chest so she told Nafisi, someone she trusts. Either way, it begs the question of why she would drop such a big piece of herself on the plate at such a time. Later on, we learn that her mother came from a modern family. Her mother knew both English and French, and went to study at an American school. She fell in love with her tutor (Nassrin’s father), who was completely the opposite of her. He never smiled and was a very serious man, something Nassrin’s mother was not. And I liked to take this as “opposites attract”. Maybe Nassrin’s mother was looking different in her life, and she found that in Nassrin’s father.

Nassrin’s father + Nassrin’s mother = balance (love)

Throughout this story, I feel Nafisi is teaching the readers what was going on in the world in Iran, 1990’s. She explains the rules of the government, the regulations in schools, for both boys and girls. She explains how people were affected, and shows prime examples through her students how something so drastic can make people desperate for that which they don’t have.

The scene switches back to them discussing Lolita and they talk about how certain things about this story bother them. “’What bothers us the most, of course,’ I said, ‘is not just the utter helplessness of Lolita but the fact that Humbert robs her of her childhood.’” And that gets me to thinking, yeah, that is horrible. He stole one of her most precious moments in life, period. “’It is hard for me,’ Mahsid said at last, ‘to read the parts about Lolita’s feelings. All she wants is to be a normal girl.’” This is what I find messed up. That people around the world make reviews on Lolita and point to the twelve year-old girl who still carries the mentality of a child (who was the victim of this situation), and say she is a seductive vixen who was getting what she deserved. She is a twelve year old girl. Twelve year old girls deserve a loving family who is there to protect them. Not a child molester who makes her do acts of lust against her will, no one deserves that.

She’s just a girl, guys.

I have been discussing over and over who I think the main and intended audience, but I think it’s time for me to discuss who I think the secondary audience is. So if the intended audience is women who are suffering and need the courage to stand up, I think the secondary audience is the men around those women. The men who see the injustice’s that these women must deal with on a daily basis, and hopefully this book will convince them to stand up for the women who can’t stand up for themselves. To protect their wives, mothers, sisters, and friends.

As their discussion on the book continues, it falters and heads into a more personal direction. Before long, Azin is having a not-so-obvious-argument with Mahshid and Manna. “I was sure that Azin’s assault had been partly directed against Mahshid, and perhaps indirectly against Manna, too. Their clashes were not only the result of their different backgrounds. Azin’s outbursts, her seeming frankness about her personal life and desires, made Manna and Mahshid, both reserved by temperament, deeply uncomfortable. They disapproved of her, and Azin sensed that. Her efforts at friendship were rejected as hypocritical.” I really like that Nafisi is showing their differences and issues. It proves that they weren’t always “happy happy” with each other 24/7. They had their problems, which is shown above, and have to work through that. They have to realize that their goal should go before their differences.

I think Nafisi’s tone of this novel is almost somber, as she is going through her memory of how everything happened. But at the same time, I can sense a sort of defiance within the words. That she won’t let herself, or all the girls for that matter be held back because of government rules. It’s less of her rebelling against the government and more of her just wanted to read and discuss the books she wants to with these girls. And I think the purpose of this is to help show how she felt during those moments, how she felt brave during the day. That feeling of being daring seemed to flow through her at certain times, and I think she is trying to incorporate that into her story. Her tone being the mood she felt in that position. And in turn, this makes it more real for the readers.

Nafisi always comes back to the underground man as she calls him (aka magician man), the man who gives advice in the return of being anonymous. Even though I know we will most likely never learn his name (because, duh), I’m still really interested in learning who he is and how he got started with Nafisi. Was he the one who made her this way (a tiny bit rebellious) and is he a person who convinced her to follow with her dream? He really is just a mysterious entity to me at this point and I can’t stand that. I want to know EVERYTHING about this person now.

Who is he?!

In their next discussion, the girls talked about how as soon as they entered the room to start their book discussion, they left their own reality. “Mitra’s confession led to a debate about how we needed this pause from real life, in order to return to it refreshed and ready to confront it.” I think this is positively, most definitely, right. People leave their own reality every single day. I do it. You do it. We do it by watching television, watching movies, reading books, listening to music, etc. And I think it should be a necessity in life. Just as I, myself, need my alone time to cope, I also need my distraction. It keeps me sane. Keeps a lot of people sane. With so much going on in people’s lives today, you have to find some way to get away and breathe. To stop worrying and stressing, and just relax.

Negar, Nafisi’s daughter, is introduced. She is crying to her mother about what happened to her school. They went into the class and checked every student for every mishap. Negar’s friend, an American, was told her nails were too long. The teacher cut her nails, and accidentally drawn blood (or was it an accident?). Nafisi is scared for her friend, but isn’t allowed to go to her. The teachers have the friend separated from all the other kids. And I can understand why Negar felt the way she did. If my best friend was hurt, or needed my attention, I would be there in less than a minute. The fact someone was there blocking her would definitely rub me the wrong way. I would not be to happy. When you care about someone, you hate the fact that you can’t go help them in their time of need.

In chapter eighteen, Nafisi describes to the readers how she sees her memories. “This is how memories invade me, abruptly and unexpectedly: drenched, I am suddenly left alone on the sunny path, with a memory of the rain.” I like how she puts this. As if everything is good, but there is always bad in the good. And even though the memories are nice to think about at times, they always carry that bad along with it.

She then begins to talk about how close she became with her students, far more personal with them than she ever imagined. I think this is what made them have such a close bond, because of what they shared with each other. And thus, came my favorite and the last line of the chapters I’ve read this blog post. “I constantly felt I was being undressed in front of perfect strangers.”

Through chapters 14–18, we see a lot more of Nassrin’s past which is very depressing yet fascinating. I hope we continue to learn more about the girls. And we saw more buddy buddy time with Nafisi’s magician who I want to learn more about. Hopefully in future chapters and future blogs.

*cue cheesy smile ending here*


  1. To teach, to delight, or to persuade?
  2. Who have been or might be secondary audiences?
  3. What kind of style and tone is used and for what purpose?