James


What about style? How is ‘how it is written’ influencing your response to the content? Consider the use of symbols, structure diction, point of view, etc.

In James, Nafisi’s writing focuses on four areas, “character” development, the war with Iraq, Henry James’ novels and new restrictions placed on women.

Nafisi periodically updates readers on the progress of the war with Iraq, such as at the beginning of chapter 19, “The air attacks on Tehran resumed after a long period of calm in the late winter and early spring of 1988” (Nafisi, 204). By including blunt updates on the war Nafisi reminds readers that the war is a continuous part of her life.

Every time Nafisi sites a new development in the war with Iraq I am reminded that neither the plot nor the “characters” of the memoir are fictional. For this reason I find it difficult to refer the Mina, Mr. Ghomi, Nassarin or the other people mentioned in the memoir, as “characters”. Nafisi does devote a fair amount of time to “developing” these "characters”. Ironically, she seems to focus on characters like Mina, who only appear for certain sections of the memoir. “Mina was one of those people who are irrevocably, incurably honest and therefore both inflexible and vulnerable at the same time. This is what I remember about her: a shabby gentility, an air of “better days” clinging to all she wore” (Nafisi, 202). These two sentences tell me more about Mina, than Nafisi has directly stated in the novel about herself, thus far. I am interested in Nafisi’s observations of people, but I am used to the author giving the same incite into the main character. In this instance, Nafisi is both the author and the main character, so we are given less opportunities to better understand her.

The third area that Nafisi focuses on, in James, is the summarization and analysis of Henry James’ novels. Nafisi spends entire chapters, such as 15 and 16, explaining fictional character behaviour and motives. I do not find these chapters interesting and they hinder my enjoyment of the novel.

The fourth component she focuses on is the development of restrictions on women. “The government didn’t take long to pass new regulations restricting women’s clothing in public and forcing us to wear either a chador or a long robe and scarf” (Nafisi, 167). It is in the context of information, like this, being shared that we, as readers, are exposed to aspects of Nafisi’s character, such as her feeling of irrelevance. The concept of her irrelevance is shared repeatedly, “Now that I could not consider myself a teacher, a writer […] I felt light and fictional” (Nafisi, 167). We, as readers, are able to learn indirectly about Nafisi’s character by her reactions to the situations in her life that she shares.

Nafisi’s bias is there, if you want to read it. The difficulty I have with her writing is that her opinions are ever present, but rarely stated explicitly. When reading Reading Lolita in Tehran I yearn for Nafisi’s “character” to developed the traditional ways, the ways Nafisi develops the other “characters" of her memoir. Reading Lolita in Tehran is more about what happens to Nafisi, as a character, rather then what happens to Nafisi’s character, meaning who she is as a person. I found this distinction especially prominent in James.

That Nafisi does not develop herself as a character changes the way that I respond to the content. Firstly, I am less interested in the information she shares. The information on the war and the regime’s restrictions on women fascinate me, but only when Nafisi refers to it passively or in the development of another “character”. Nafisi’s point of view does not interest me. Unlike her I am not fascinated in the inconsequential details of the lives of fictional characters in classic novels. It may be that Nafisi’s point of view is uninteresting to me is because I am distracted by her bias. On page 208 in referring to a strategy of the Iranian military, Nafisi writes, “The very young were caught up in the government propaganda that offered them a heroic and adventurous life at the front and encouraged them to join the militia, even against their parents’ wishes” (Nafisi, 208). Then later she writes, of Henry James, “Physically he was prevented in from participating in a war in which his two younger brothers fought with courage and honor” (Nafisi, 213). The distinction is apparent between these two quotes; she presents the American brothers as heros and the boys naïve enough to believe they would be heros. It is my observation that Nafisi allows her own biases to be present in her writing through the diction she uses.

Nafisi includes information that I find fascinating, and information that I find irrelevant. I am at a loss as to how to read this work, and therefore how to interpret the information presented, because I feel I can neither treat it as a novel nor a work of non-fiction because it is a memoir. The information is neither fact not fiction, it is Nafisi’s version of reality.