Blog Post 8: Reading Lolita in Tehran — Chapters 21–26
Nafisi is closing up her curriculum of Gatsby to her class. They’re discussing the overall theme of Gatsby, and in this section, Nafisi makes some good quotes. She describes Gatsby and how he changed himself for his dream to come true. “Gatsby fakes everything, even his own name.” He makes himself into something he wishes to be. “The reality of Gatsby’s life is that he is a charlatan. But the truth is that he is a romantic and tragic dreamer, who becomes heroic because of his belief in how own romantic delusion.” She goes on to say he can’t stand his past life, the way he was portrayed, what it limited him to. “He cannot change the world, so he re-creates himself according to his dream.” Which, if you think about it, that takes a lot of bravery and time. People do this all the time, make themselves into someone that they wish to be, turning themselves into these depictions of happiness, or at least how they see it.
Nafisi compares Gatsby’s dream to the American dream. How Gatsby is wanting Daisy, and how the immigrants want a better life. “The dream is not about money but what he imagines he can become. It is not a comment on America as a materialistic country but as an idealistic one, one that has turned money into a means of retrieving a dream.” After she asks Mr. Bahri to read a few lines, she says something I really like (actually a lot of things I really like). “He could be dishonest in life and he could lie about himself, but one thing he could not do was betray his own imagination. Gatsby is ultimately betrayed by the ‘honesty of imagination.’ He dies, for in reality no such person can survive.” He tried to make the world his imagination, and that just wasn’t possible. As Nsfisi said He could lie about himself, and as I took it, he couldn’t lie to himself. “Gatsby never should have tried to possess his dream, I explained. Even Daisy knows this; she is as much in love with him as she can ever be and yet she cannot go against her own nature and not betray him.” This is actually really, really sad. That the one girl that he made everything for, who was his literal dream, is the same person who ripped up that same dream and threw it back in his face. And it begs the question: had he fallen for another woman, had she not been as ruthless and careless as Daisy, would his dream have come true?
“So now, let us review all the points we have discussed. Yes, the novel is about concrete living relationships, a man’s love for a woman, a woman’s betrayal of that love, But it is also about wealth, its great attraction as well as its destructive power, the carelessness that comes with it, and yes, it’s about the American dream, a dream of power and wealth, the beguiling light of Daisy’s house and the port of entry to America. It is also about loss, about the perishability of dreams once they are transformed into hard reality. It is the longing, its immateriality, that makes the dream pure.” She continues on to compare Gatsby to Iran, which honestly fits perfectly. As Gatsby obsessed over Daisy, Iran is obsessing over America. “Dreams, Mr. Nyazi, are perfect ideals, complete in themselves. How can you impose them on a constantly changing, imperfect, incomplete reality? You would become a Humbert, destroying the object of your dream; or a Gatsby, destroying yourself.” I love that last line. You’re either destroying your love, or destroying yourself for that love.
“When I left class that day, I did not tell them what I myself was just beginning to discover: how similar our own fate was becoming to Gatsby’s. He wanted to fulfill his dream by repeating his past, and in the end he discovered that the past was dead, the present a sham, and there was no future. Was this not similar to our revolution, which had come in the name of our collective past and had wrecked our lives in the name of a dream?” Iran was self-destructive, just as Gatsby was. History repeating itself (in a way), but they could’ve easily avoided all this if they just paid attention to books, to words.
While reminiscing on some memories of herself when she was younger and with a friend, she felt the difference of Tehran then to Tehran now. “I had a feeling that day that I was losing something, that I was mourning a death that had not yet occurred.” It was the death of the Tehran she once knew, the Tehran she had lived in so many years ago. “I felt as if all things personal were being crushed like small wildflowers to make way for a more ornate garden, where everything would be tame and organized. I had never felt this sense of loss when I was a student in the States. In all those years, my yearning was tied to the certainty that home was mine to the having, that I could go back anytime I wished. It was not until I had reached home that I realized the true meaning of exile. As I walked those dearly beloved, dearly remembered streets, I felt I was squashing the memories that lay underfoot.” That’s really sad, that you don’t recognize your country. It reminds of when you grow older and the place you grew up doesn’t look the same as it did when you were younger. Except instead of this happening over the course of fifty or so years, this just happened in a few years. That much change can definitely affect a person.
There was battles happening throughout Tehran. Nafisi was in the middle of one, bullets being fired at her. I can’t even imagine what that felt like. “The whole day was one long nightmare.” It reminds me of a school shooting, being stuck in the middle of it. “As I stood there alone on the hospital grounds, with people rushing around me, I had a strange experience: I felt as if my heart had been torn from my body and had landed with a thump in an empty space, a vast void that I did not know existed. I felt tired and frightened. The fear was not bullets: they were too immediate. I was scared of some lack, as if future were receding from me.” I think it is very interesting how she was more scared of her lack of future than the pain of death. Usually, it is the opposite. Most people think about the pain, fear the pain, than ever living another second. But it shows how much Nafisi treasures her minutes, hours, and days over pain. Even if bullets are “immediate,” getting shot in the leg won’t kill you. You still feel that pain. A bullet doesn’t equal death. “Never again would I rush so innocently, so eagerly, to a class as I did in those days at the dawn of the revolution.”
Nafisi begins to look back on those in her life, and wonders what they’re doing now. How are they? She looks back on what the revolution cost her an others. “I would like to know where Mr. Bahri is right now, at this moment, and to ask him: how did it all turn out, Mr. Bahri — was this your dream, your dream of the revolution? Who will pay for all those ghosts in my memory? Who will pay for the snapshots of the murdered and the executed that we hid in our shoes and closets as we moved on to other things? Tell me, Mr. Bahri — or, to use that odd expression of Gatsby’s, Tell me, old sport — what shall we do with all these corpses on our hands?” I love how she words this, comparing Mr. Bahri to Nick — old sport — and asking him how she feels about the blood on his hands. The revolution he had loved so much, had put so much into, and how did he feel about it now? We know that she regretted the revolution, she regretted it’s existence by her tone. And that makes me wonder, did he fall under the very thing he made rise up? Was he shot and killed for finally taking a stand against something he worked so hard for?
And that really does make you question: was Mr. Bahri actually Nafisi’s friend, or was he a foe? Although we like to think of them as just “arguing buddies,” shouldn’t have Mr. Bahri listened to Nafisi? Shouldn’t he have realized that the very thing he was rooting for, that precious revolution, had been the same thing to kill some of his friends, imprison others, and had his beloved teacher, Nafisi, expelled from the country? Or was it until after all this happened to the people he cared about that he truly became Nafisi’s friend? I hope we learn more about him, why he believed what he believed, and how he truly felt about Nafisi.
I really enjoyed this section of the reading as everything came crashing down. The Gatsby section personally wasn’t as entertaining as the Lolita part, but I do hope that the next part will show us more of the girls.