Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Right to Choose

There are a myriad of activities which activate the imagination and allow one to leave their reality. Reading, along with acting or watching a movie, is one of the many activities that stimulate the imagination. As one begins to read a book the words jump out of the pages and suddenly create people, images and ideas. These creations that come from books enable one to reevaluate their lives and cope with struggle, by entering a world full of fiction. In Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi, books are essential. Dr. Nasfisi and her seven girls read literature to escape their reality. In the following passage Dr. Nafisi suggests that the challenges and actions of females in works of fiction are similar to the seven girls in Reading Lolita in Tehran as well. Azar Nafisi suggests this by analyzing the Western novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and connecting Austen’s writing style to the overall feel of her book also revealing how the events in the novel connect with the girls in Reading Lolita in Tehran. Also, this passage reveals that the writing style of Austen is similar to Nafisi in the way that she creates her characters and their personal situations. Dr. Nafisi uses this great work of fiction to reveal that the characters in Pride and Prejudice share similarities with Dr. Nafisi’s seven girls.

The passage begins with Dr. Nafisi discussing the novel Pride and Prejudice. She says, “…there is seldom a physical description of a character…”(305), “yet we feel that we have seen each of these characters and their intimate worlds; …”(305-306). This first sentence suggests that although Austen does not necessarily describe these characters physically, one is able to recognize them as people they are familiar with in their every day lives. These characters come alive and become a part of the imagination. Also, Austen’s style is similar to Nafis’s in the fact that they both have the ability to create characters and make the reader feel as if they know them. After the first chapter of Reading Lolita in Tehran, the reader already has a feeling for each character and is able to relate one of the seven girls to someone they know. Nafisi continues to write that “we can see Elizabeth’s reaction to Darcy’s denunciation of her beauty…”(306). The word “see” in this line suggests that Austen’s writing creates an image or paints a picture for the reader and once again taps into their imagination. The image that Austen is creating is through her use of “different tones”(306) and “words that become haughty and naughty, soft, harsh, coaxing, insinuating, insensible, vain”(306). This sentence reveals the wide range of emotions that can be associated with words in a story and how they create characters. Nafisi is suggesting that creating tone is an essential part of literature and allows one to understand these characters. Nafisi than says that Austen’s “sense of touch” is missing from her novel and that it is replaced by “…a tension, an erotic texture of sounds and silences”(306). Once again Nafisi is revealing to the reader how Austen is creating these characters. In Pride and Prejudice the main characters, “Elizabeth and Darcy are placed near each other…but in public places where they cannot communicate”(306). This scene full of “frustrated tension”(306) is similar to the lives of the girls in Reading Lolita in Tehran. The girls are almost always in situations where they want to speak to a member of the opposite sex but cannot because they will be reprimanded. They live with this fear and struggle to escape it. Nafisi than begins to discuss the party scene of Pride and Prejudice which takes place at Elizabeth’s house. Elizabeth is filled with anxiety and wants time alone to speak with Darcy. Nafisi discusses the scene and Elizabeth anxiously pouring tea until Elizabeth finally says, “‘if he does not come to me, then, I shall give him up forever’”(306). The reader sees how anxious Elizabeth is and how this one sentence creates tension and makes the reader want to know what will happen next. Finally, Darcy approaches her, but a girl says to Elizabeth, “‘the men shan’t come and part us…We want none of them; do we?’”(306). Darcy than moves away and he and Elizabeth watch each other all night. Nafisi pulls out these suspenseful scenes in Pride and Prejudice to reveal how Austen is creating the relationship between these two characters. This is also a scene related to the girls in the story. They are always discussing men and love and can easily relate to Elizabeth. After discussing this scene Nafisi reflects on Austen’s writing saying that she “manages to make us aware of the most intriguing aspect of the relationship: the urge, the longing for the object of desire that is so near and so far”(306). Nafisi is explaining to the reader how Austen creates this imaginary world of fiction. She continues to say that Austen is “more interested in happiness than in the institution of marriage…”(306). Nafisi reveals that Austen’s characters are interested in love and being cared for. This is another aspect of Austen’s novel that the girls in the story can relate to. The girls in the story are constantly discussing marriage and discussing their troubles with love. This is one of the aspects of Austen’s novels that Nafisi is interested in and is why she chooses to discuss this book. Nafisi continues to reflect on Pride and Prejudice, she says, “boundaries are constantly threatened by the women in Austen’s novels, who feel more at home in the private than the public domain, the domain of heart and of intricate relations”(307). The girls in Reading Lolita in Tehran also feel more comfortable in their private secret literature classes than almost anywhere else. Nafisi is making the connection that women, despite the time period or situation, are similar because they have struggled and continue to struggle. Nafisi says that Pride and Prejudice “placed the individual, her happiness, her ordeals and her rights at the center of the story”(307). Similar to Pride and Prejudice, in Reading Lolita in Tehran the story revolves around these seven individuals and their rights and happiness. Nafisi goes on to say that “women created the complications and tension which moved “the plots forward”(307) in stories. She also says that many novels “put at the center of attention what Austen’s novels formulate: not the importance of marriage but the importance of heart and understanding in marriage; not the primacy of conventions but the breaking of conventions”(307). This quotation reveals that women have played a vital role in literature and without their struggles there would not be anything to write about. The girls in Nafisi’s story similar to these Western novels are going against the norm of their society and are making changes for females. Finally, Nafisi states, “These women, genteel and beautiful, are the rebels who say no” to their, “silly mothers, incompetent fathers, and the rigidly orthodox society”(307). Women in literature fight for what they believe in and go against the life style which has been created for them like the girls in Reading Lolita in Tehran. These women, “risk ostracism and poverty to gain love and companionship.”(307). These women act this way in order to “embrace that elusive goal at the heart of democracy; the right to choose”(307). Female characters in Western novels took risks and crossed boundaries in order to have freedom and rights as women. The girls in Reading Lolita in Tehran also take risks without even knowing it. The fact that they attend secret literature classes and study Western novels makes them courageous women who are doing something that their rigid society frowns upon.

Dr. Nafisi uses Pride and the Prejudice, along with other Western novels to reveal how women have struggled with marriage, parents, and society through the ages and deserve the right to choose. She also uses Austen’s novel to reveal the similarities between her novel and the girls in Reading Lolita in Tehran. They both struggle to find their identity, to find love and in the end to have the right to make their own decisions

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