Iran with Lolita in Persepolis
Presentations of the Iranian Revolution by
Nafisi and Satrapi
March 11, 2005
The Iranian Revolution is the period depicted in
Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi and
in Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi each in their refreshingly new
way though each has its own problems. Though there are similarities
in the backgrounds of both authors since they are both from wealthy
and educated Iranian families there are differences in their depictions
of the period as well as how they see Iran in the present.
By using the Nabokov novel Lolita as part of its title, Reading
Lolita in Tehran implies a certain transgression inherent
in the text particularly the scenes wherein the details of the
lives and actions not sanctioned by the new found religiosity are
The women come to represent Humbert Humbert in wanting
to act in a fashion not sanctioned by the rules of the new religious
regime. Actions appropriate before the Revolution are strictly
forbidden and could cause a woman her freedom and social standing.
Their inappropriate actions are given a forum when their discussions
about literature move from the classroom and into the professor’s
salon. Within this haven the professor and her seven best students
move from the literary world and into their own private spheres.
The use of Western novels such as Lolita and The
Great Gatsby is confounding since it legitimizes the alleged freedom and
democracy of these texts and their Western at the expense
texts and their context. The book though well-written would have
better, more insightful and perhaps would have held more
meaning to the students to whom literature was being presented,
the texts used would have been Iranian.
Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis depiction of the Iranian Revolution
in a graphic novel gives an almost comic tone to the revelation
of violent and depressing events as seen through the eyes of a
child -- and further through the prism of a female child’s
eyes. This adds pathos to the recounting of events in that it focuses
attention to the plight of women under the fundamentalist Islamic
regime. The U.S. version of Persepolis is a combination of the
first two of four volumes as they were originally published in
France. The book has been a best-seller in France, Spain and Italy
and has won several awards including the Fernando Buesa Blanco
Peace Prize in Spain.
“I wanted to put a few things straight”, stated
Satrapi has stated that she felt that the publication of the book
was necessary to alleviate stereotypes and educate Westerners about
Iran and its culture. She also distances herself and her culture
from Arabs in stating that most people upon realizing that she
is Iranian expect her to speak Arabic and wear a veil. This was
a bit off-putting but if viewed in context she is simply giving
attention to her culture and the plight of her people since the
Though both presentations of the Iranian Revolution by
Nafisi and Satrapi are valid the latter account is the better account
because there is never a doubt that she is an Iranian and that
she is equally enthusiastic about her own culture and icons whereas
with Nafisi the Occident is presented as the better context at
the expense of her own culture particularly in her choice of texts
to open up discussions about Iran and its political situation.
terms of breaking out and effecting change the slow and steady
rebellion within the home and on the smaller scale is the best
one because it is the one that brings about the most profound
change much as Satrapi did as a child and which she continues as
from abroad in terms of educating others and maintaining contact
with Iran through her visits.
Teresa Camacho is an independent researcher,
critic and writer based in Los Angeles.