• Reading Lolita in Tehran is a memoir of Iranian author
and professor Azar Nafisi. The book jumps around in
conjunction with Nafisi’s life throughout the 1970s, 80s,
and 90s, but is centered around the secret class that
she has created on Western literature with a few of her
brightest female students throughout the years in Tehran
during the 90s. The class is held in Nafisi’s living room.
• The book chronicles Nafisi’s life as a professor in Iran at
the University of Tehran and Allameh Tabataba’I
University during the Iranian Revolution and Iraq-Iran
War. Nafisi takes the reader on a journey through the
major impact these two historical events had on Iranian
society and her life.
3. Summary Cont.
• The memoir is split into four sections- Lolita,
Gatsby, James, and Austen which follows the
syllabus Nafisi throughout her career as
professor of literature. She uses these pieces of
works as launching points for her own story.
Each section she recalls discussions she had
with her students about the works of literature,
linking their themes to memories of life in Iran
before, during, and after the Iranian revolution.
• Nafisi emphasizes the interruption of villains and
heroes in literature and reality. She challenges
the reader and her students to think twice
about these categorization of characters. She
accomplishes this through inspirational
teaching which helps students to teach
themselves by applying their own intelligence
and emotions to what they are reading.
• In "Lolita," Nafisi introduces her private students and largely
focuses on their discussions of the restrictions put on the lives
• Nafisi writes that she chose her students not based on their
religious or ideological backgrounds, but for "the peculiar
mixture of fragility and courage [she] sensed in them" (12).
• The private class focused on the relation between fiction
and reality: “Every Fairy tale offers the potential to surpass
limits, so in a sense the fairy tale offers you freedom that
reality denies” (47).
• Nafisi tasks the reader to envision them hiding away from the
cruel politics and culture of 1990s Iran to experience life's
simple pleasures: listening to music, falling in love, reading
and discussing books.
• “It is amazing how, when all possibilities are taken away from
you, the minutest opening can become a great freedom.
We felt when we were together that we were almost
absolutely free” ( 28).
• "Gatsby" is eleven years before the "Lolita" just as the Iranian
revolution starts. The reader sees Iranians' dreams, including
the author's, shattering through the government's burden of
• In this section the author gets married before she is 18, then
goes to America to study, and comes back to Iran after 17
years. She gets a job as a teacher at the University of Tehran
as the Iranian Revolution breaks.
• The battle between the leftists and Islamics is being played
out on university campuses, and Nafisi chooses Gatsby to
teach in her class because it captures a revolutionist theme.
• Nafisi realizes Iran is on the same suicidal path as Gatsby:
trying to fulfill a dream by living in the past only to find that
“the past was dead, the present a sham, and there was no
7. James Part 1 & 2
• This section is chronically after “Gatsby” during the
Iran-Iraq War. Nafisi is expelled from the University of
Tehran along with a few other professors for not
wearing the veil and having too revolutionary
• The veil and robe becomes mandatory, and she
states that the government wants to control society.
• During her hiatuses from teaching she had two kids
and struggled with depression for being so isolated.
• She started teaching again around 1987, and has
growing pains with the new society she has to teach
• The James section is about uncertainty and the
way totalitarian mindsets hate uncertainty.
• "Austen" follows "Lolita" chronologically as Nafisi plans to
leave Iran and the girls in the secrete class discuss the
issue of marriages, leaving Iran, men and sex.
• "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Muslim
man, regardless of his fortune, must be in want of a
nine-year-old virgin wife" (257)
• Nafisi's close friend reminds her not to blame all of her
problems on the Islamic Republic. Pride and Prejudice is
used to support themes about blindness and empathy.
• “Austen” is about the choice of women. The women in
Nafisi’s private class at the end are making choices that
ultimately rock their reputations and world.
• Nafisi ends the book with: "I went about my way
rejoicing, thinking how wonderful it is to be a woman
and a writer at the end of the twentieth century" (339).
10. Women and Gender
• "In our case, the law really was blind; in
its mistreatment of women, it knew no
religion, race, or creed" (273).
• The books main theme was the
experience of women before, during,
and after the Iranian revolution, and
how they were affected by the new
laws around veiling and modesty.
• Nafisis speaks about domestic
violence, divorce, and women's rights
with her private class.
• “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
• Nafisi make sure the readers know that she
has written from memory not truth. This is key,
because as Nafisi gives herself room for the
same imagination and creativity she glorifies
• “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”
• Literature is creating an escape from reality for
Nafisi and her students.
• Nafisi explores how literature is used
Inaccurately as a demonstration of or guide for
reality, but can lead to real-world
understanding, empathy, and truth.
• “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” (103).
• Nafisi’s did not focus on the religious
practices or discussions, but focused on
the social and political implications of
religious and cultural beliefs.
• Many women clung to religion as a
means to survive the very conflict
caused by it.
14. America and the West
• “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” (131).
• The Iran revolution created friction
between western cultural and Islamic
• Gatsby made Nafisi’s students to
critically think and question the morals
of the text and ask complex questions.
• You keep talking about democratic spaces,
about the need for personal and creative
spaces. Well, go and create them, woman!
Stop nagging and focusing your energy on
what the Islamic Republic does or says and
start focusing on your Austen" (282).
• The political landscape and experiences
generated a sense of anxiety and confusion
that helps create the emotional landscape
of the story itself.
• "How can I create this other world outside
the room? I have no choice but to appeal
once again to your imagination" (26).
• The question of imagination throughout
the book- is retreat from reality through
fiction a solution to the pain of life?
• Nafisi uses the readers imagination to
create her book world, and Nafisis has
been clear that she used her imagination
in the writing of the book as well.
18. • Is retreat from reality through fiction a solution to the pain of life? or a healthy coping
• What are some ‘blind’ laws that you see in America?
• “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”- How have you
experienced this in the last year while in school?
• I am reminded of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, and how the women were not
archiving the self-actualization level of the pyramid. So they created a space to meet
that need. It makes me think about how we would create space to achieve all of ones
needs? Also, how I can assist my clients in creating those spaces to reach their fullest
• How can we create a space for clients where they are free from oppression and have
• What are your thoughts on Nafisi’s recreation of relative through her memoir? She is
very honest about how the book is not complete truths, but memories.
19. Work Cited
• Nafisi, A. (2003). Reading Lolita in Tehran: a memoir in books. New York City, NY:
Random House Inc.