Constructing Identity in Iranian-American Self-Narrative by Maria D. Wagenknecht (auth.)

By Maria D. Wagenknecht (auth.)

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Instead of yellow armbands, we wore the sign of our inferiority on our heads” (212). These passages appeal especially to the historical consciousness of Western and Jewish readers, as they recall a time of discrimination and genocide that has entered minds as essentially the worst case scenario for human rights. While never insinuating more than that women have had to endure severe discrimination, subliminally, the comparison to Nazi Germany carries heavy emotional connotations for many readers.

Blood gushed out and showered the walls, the ground, and my shoes still dusted with American soil. I held my neck tight, trying to push the words out: no, no, but my vocal cords would not obey (165). Again, she narrates how her voice is taken away. The blood of the animal stains her shoes and covers the dust of American soil, thus symbolically obscuring her visions of a free life in the United States. She takes her identification with the calf so far as to claim that her “fate was sealed with that of the animal” (166).

The logic of Nafisi’s narrative of victimicy is compelling: They took away my existence and identity—that’s why I had to leave. Nafisi claims that the same holds true for many of her compatriots, both secular as well as religious. Narrating her story to a large extent through her students’ stories, however, she herself could be considered to be confiscating their lives and identities for her own politics. But not only in Nafisi’s memoir do selves become irrelevant and even seem to disappear: Hakakian describes the attitude of the theocratic regime to its everyday subjects and their past as outright warfare: “To cleanse the city of any lingering ‘decadence’ of the old monarchs, the imam declared the greatest jihad of all: the one against the ‘self’” (2004:201).

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