“Reading Lolita in Tehran” by Azar Nafisi Analysis

Table of Content

Lolita in Tehran Thesis:

  • The attitudes towards the veil held by men, women and government in the Islamic Republic of Iran were contrasting .
  • These attitudes had political significances.
  • Many individuals , including men like Mashid objected to political enforcement of the veil( The women’s dress code).

Cultural attitudes held in conservative societies can sometimes be a source of discomfort to all. Azar Nafisi in her book , “ Reading Lolita in Tehran” expresses herself along with the much repressed feelings of the women of the orthodox society of the “Islamic republic of Iran.” Things become especially difficult when the state begins interfering and intruding in the every element of daily life of citizens ( Life style, behavior etc.) in the name of religion.  Among these aspects of daily life can be – the freedom of choice of clothes, education, marriage etc.

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Societies like these live in cultural isolation and anything foreign, say Western, is dubbed imperialist. An analysis of the socio-political scenario indicates that the state is having aspersions about the integrity of it’s citizens.The book under consideration deals with the issue of veiling of women . Women in Iran were forced to wear chadors in conformity with the Islamic dress code in order to impose moral discipline on the society.

On March 7th 1979 , Ayatollah Khomeini decreed Iranian women must follow the Islamic dress code. He had presumably acted as a philosopher king in imposing these strictures. There is little accountability in Iranian political system and it suppresses people who speak openly. The men, women and the government of Iran had interesting and markedly contrasting attitudes towards the dress code for women .

In the opinion of Iranian women, especially the young women, this was an act of oppression by the state. This hypocritical act to intimidate them only provoked rebellion and more of self-assertion. The pressure was hardest on women students in the universities. They were thus to protest the most .

Also, now they outnumbered the men in  the universities. It was more than  the issue of “veil” but of the freedom of choice. It reduced women’s choice between veiling or getting jailed and flogged.(Vick,Karl) This a dictatorial act imposed by the state to shape the women in their own whimsical myopic vision.

None could argue with these statesmen, cultural purists and clerics who claimed to be the representatives of God. In 1981, the government passed new regulations to restrict the clothing of women in public and forcing them to wear either a chador or a long robe and scarf. The regime wanted to control the liberal minded professors. Azar Nafisi left the Tehran university where she was teaching as a professor in protest when she refused to wear the veil.

Wearing a veil became mandatory and Nafisi struck back in defiance. A female professor was expelled because her wrist had shown from under her sleeve while she was writing on the blackboard. The Muslim clerics would blindly impose censorship on films. Literacy work would suffer.

These attitudes stemmed from fear of western cultural imperialism. Khomeini’s party of God raised the slogan’s : “ Veiling is a woman’s protection.” “ My sister , guard your veil. My brother guard your eyes. ”(The Editor’s) These political parties believed that they were ‘right ‘ and the rest were stray sinners. The guards in the universities subjected the women to embarrassing and humiliating clothes check-up’s . This was nothing short of molestation , the women students complained. Women in veils began  questioning themselves – Do I exist? Does my body or a part of my body exist?(Christopher, Dickey) Nafisi  had strong opinions on matter of veiling.

The socio-political revolution in Iran led to the formation of a committee on cultural relations. Nafisi told the committee that by forcing her to wear the veil the state had challenged her integrity as a teacher and a woman. She wrote in her book on Khomeini’s funeral: “ The day women did not wear the scarf in public would be the real day of his death and the end of his revolution.”(Kakutani,Michiko) Things began to change after 1997.

These measures taken by the Iranian government to suppress women, paradoxically, made them even more visible and powerful. The act had boomeranged at the government itself. Every act by women , private or a gesture in defiance of these official rules was now a political statement. These were becoming visible in workplaces and then in shops.

The women were thus actually empowered and enlightened of their rights. The women now walk with more defiance . Their robes are  much shorter and scarves colorful. They walk with independence with men – not their fathers, brothers and husbands.

On the other hand some educated pragmatic women compromise to keep the peace and in self- interest. Most men still hold the view that the revolution was against satanic influence of Western imperialists. The liberal revolutionaries including many educated Iranian men questioned the protesting women – Why this fuss over a piece of “ cloth”, when their were more important issues to think about. This was the stance in revolutionary and intellectual circles dominated by men.

It was tragic that even many educated Iranian men described the veil ( A symbol of women’s oppression) as a mere piece of cloth. Ironically , Iranians who travel abroad deny the orthodox and puritanical image of their society. The image that the world has ( The chador clad and head –to-toe- veiled women) doesn’t represent , they say, the present day Iran.(Simpson, Mona)  Conclusion: History is replete with examples that if an authoritarian state suppresses people by political enforcement of it’s decrees , it only catalyzes chances for a socio- political revolution.

It is quite unambiguous that the political regime in the Islamic Republic of Iran decreed the dress code for women to incite public opinion for political gains. It had little to do with cultural preservation against cultural imperialism.  Nafisi’s grandmother was a humble, devout Muslim home-maker. She belonged to the old generation of conservative Muslim women who spent their lives confined to their homes, totally oblivious of the state political realities.

To her wearing the veil and chador was an inseparable part of day –to-day life, almost a religion. This was the world in which she lived. She was too conscientious to even think of digressing from the small tenets of Islam- like the dress code, offering prayers etc. It was a sad blow to her when she was forced to unveil.

She refused to leave the house for 3 months in sheer embarrassment. She always stuck to her inherent ethos. The political significance that the women’s dress code had gained could have had no impact on her.  Mashid followed the tenets of Islam like any devout typical Iranian Muslim.

He observed the veil and appreciated women at home and in public to wear the chador and the veil. We can say that he was to a degree flexible in his attitude towards controversies like the women’s dress code. However, political enforcement of veil ( women’s dress code )was to him an act of state’s oppression. He was by temperament against any state intrusion in personal life of individuals.


The book hint’s at an age old message. The state shouldn’t interfere in the day-to-day life of it’s people(Like the choice of dress code). The political parties or regimes do so for their myopic political gains. They don’t realize the agony it causes to individuals .

A small incident set’s up a stage for a revolution In due course of time such decrees or laws are banished and regimes overthrown by the people.

Works Cited

  1. Vick, Karl. ”Sorry, Wrong Chador. ” Washington Post Foreign Service. 19 July 2004: Page C01.(Sorry,Wrong Chador(Washingtonpost.com)
  2. The Editor’s. ”Veils ,Women and degradation.” Middle East Quarterly, Number 2 ,Volume X. Spring 2003. (Reading Lolita in Tehran – Middle East Quarterly)
  3. Christopher, Dickey. ”Writing Lolita in Tehran.” Newsweek. Jun1.2005 (Dickey:Writing Lolita in Tehran-Business Edge – News Week)
  4.  Kakutani, Michiko.” Books of the Times. ” The New York Times.18 July 2007. (BOOKS OF THE TIMES)
  5. Simpson, Mona. “Reading Lolita in Tehran.” Rev. of The Atlantic Monthly. May 27. 2003(Powell’s – Books – Review-a Day – Reading Lolita in Tehran : A memoir…)
  6. Nafisi, Azar.” Reading Lolita in Tehran. A Memoir of Books. ”: Random House, 2003. ISBN: 978-0-375-50490-7.

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“Reading Lolita in Tehran” by Azar Nafisi Analysis. (2017, Mar 25). Retrieved from


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