Zoya Pirzad's Characters in Search of Identity

DOI: 10.55804/jtsuSPEKALI-17-9


At the close of the 19th and the start of the 20th centuries, debates concerning the place of women in Persian literature, culture, art, and the intellectual world began. The West introduced feminist concepts to the East, including Iran. The opening of the borders, the dissemination of Western values, and domestic public order all played significant roles in this process.

Many organizations were established in Iran between 1910 and 1941, most of them in secret. Women's organizations that worked for the advancement of women's rights were also formed in secret. Feminist movements in Iran were sparked by the ongoing political processes in the world and the improvements made to women's rights in the international arena. Iraj Mirza and Parvin E'tesami, two renowned poets, wrote about this subject. Their research focused on Iran's oppressed and disenfranchised female population. "Iraj Mirza even wrote that the situation of his modern woman reminded him of the situation of the dark ages" [Burjanadze, 2016:344].

The visibility of the women's movement grew over time. Women, who in society had few civic rights, came to the view that women's education was the key to achieving gender equality. A number of publishing companies were established during this time period, actively advocating women's rights and regularly disseminating articles about the need to advance women's rights [Sanasarian, 2005:68].

The fight for women's rights was slowly making progress and growing strength despite several challenges. This public process found reflection in literature, which in turn had a detrimental impact on the life of the country.  This literary process involved a lot of writers. Women writers eventually joined the male writers and began contributing. Compared to male authors, the expression and form of female writers were clearer and more complex.

Today, when much attention is paid to the protection of women's rights, raising a woman’s role and place in society, these issues are a subject of wide interest and research for literature. The appearance of female writers in Persian literature from the second half of the twentieth century added more credibility and individuality to the issue, because the world of women seen and perceived through their eyes is different from the reality depicted by male writers.

"In literature, we often look at the issue of women from the man’s stand point, and thus, the image of a woman seems less convincing" [Abedini, 1998:1109].

Women writers first began discussing their own problems and ways to solve them.  After the Islamic revolution, in particular, the representation of women in writing increased. This fact became so visible that the term "women's literature" appeared in Persian literary studies. At the modern stage, the phenomenon of women's literature is so interesting and diverse that it is impossible not to notice it.

The works of women writers are distinguished by diversity. The stories that the writers tell us often reflect the painful and dramatic reality. In their works, they talk about topics that have been taboo for the patriarchal society of Iran, which are very relevant and popular in today's world. These issues are: family and gender relations, psychological and physical violence, depression, early marriages and others. Therefore, the number of readers of their works is increasing day by day.

Women's literature is often referred to as feminist literature, due to the connection between the issues raised in it and gender problems. Of course, a feminist stream is definitely noticeable in the work of women writers, although it is not feminism in a narrow sense, as it is often considered in modern reality. In their writings, this phenomenon is much more comprehensive and broad than the definition of women's rights or their public purpose.

Women writers made great sacrifices to establish themselves, both literally and figuratively. However, in recent decades, they have created a unique, self-contained literature, which leaves a special mark not only in Persian literature, but, I would say, in world literature. Among them are Simin Daneshvar, Goli Taraghi, Shahrnush Parsipur, Moniro Ravanipour, Mahshid Amirshahi, Zoya Pirzad, Fariba Vafi, lawyer and human rights defender Shirin Ebadi and others.

One of the important positions among the listed women writers is occupied by Zoya Pirzad. The writings of Zoya Pirzad caught the readers' attention and gained popularity both at home and abroad. The search for a woman's place, purpose, and identity in the family and society is the fundamental theme of her writings. Moreover, the popularity of Pirzad's works in Iran and many Western countries is primarily determined by the feminist characteristics of her work.

When choosing a topic, the writer focuses on details that are often considered trivial and unimportant. I think this is one of the distinguishing features and special charm of her feminist prose. The main characters of her stories are women with their daily lives, routines, sorrows and joys. For some of them, such existence is considered normal and they are not going to change anything. The second group of characters includes those women who adapt to their life and endure it patiently. They feel the unbearableness of the routine, but they don't know what path to take and how to deal with difficulties. A small number of female characters are independent, free women who struggle to change their lives. It is true that they are already children of the era of emancipation, but, despite this, they are not able to escape from the influence of traditions deeply rooted in public opinion and psychology.

In one of the interviews, Zoya Pirzad says: "I write a lot about women, because the issue of women is currently in the center of my attention. It breaks my heart to think that women are dependent on men. In Iran, Armenia, India and many non-Western cultures, when a girl is born, she is a father's daughter, then a husband's wife, and finally a son's mother. The fate and life of a woman is always tied to the life of one man. This is what society expects from a woman: to work at home, get married and then have children" [Pirzad, 2009].

Confessional diversity adds an additional intriguing touch to the prose of Zoya Pirzad, which also distinguishes her from the works of other Iranian women writers and gives a special place to the works of this author.[1] Current events in Muslim and Christian families and societies are mirrored in the works. Her characters are representatives of both ethnicities and religions, however, despite the religious differences, the society's attitude towards the issue of women is similar, and the consciousness of representatives of both ethnicities is patriarchal. According to them, a woman's place is only in the family, she should take care of her husband and children.

Naturally, within the scope of this single article, we cannot touch on all the female characters of Pirzad’s works. Thus, we have selected a few of them, who are different women from each other and present the way of searching for their own place, purpose and identity from different angles.

In the early stories of the writer, the action mainly takes place within the four walls of the house, because this is the usual existence of women, the traditional role adapted to them. They are connected to the outside world only by a small window of the house, a limited field of vision, and, despite their desire, they are unable to change anything, and often they neither imagine nor want to change anything. The traditional views deeply rooted in the mind and psychology for centuries do not allow women to develop and get out of the passive state.

The novel "The Story of the Rabbit and the Tomato" can be considered the starting point and literary position of Zoya Pirzad’s work. The heroine of the play wants to write a fairy tale about a rabbit that fell into a hole, and she thinks about it every day, but instead of a fairy tale, every evening, after finishing household chores, she writes a list of products needed for the next day. The hero of her imagination, a rabbit fallen into a hole, cannot get out of it. The rabbit sees only a small fraction of the sky from the hole, during the day it can observe the birds flying freely, and at night - it looks at the twinkling stars from afar. The main character of the story intends to save the rabbit, but she does not know how. A pitiful rabbit will probably not be able to escape from captivity. Probably, a woman will not be able to write her dream fairy tale either, because everyday family concerns and traditional existence will not allow it.

"I still don’t know how to bring that small rabbit out of the hole. I will think about it tomorrow. I should jot down the story up to this point so that I will not forget it… There are only two tomatoes in the box and two tomatoes are not enough for tomorrow’s lunch. I should buy more tomatoes tomorrow…I wanted to make a note of something. What was it? I tear a piece of paper from the notebook in which I keep an account of my everyday expenditure and write on it: ‘tomatoes.’ I should stick the paper to the mirror hanging over the sink so that I will not forget it by tomorrow" [Pirzad, 2002:5].

In this novel, Zoya Pirzad tells the readers outright that a woman's psychological self-control and conventional thinking are the root of her problems. Any reform or legislation won't be able to improve a woman's life unless she is convinced that something has to be changed in her life, until she believes in her own strength, until she sets a goal to change something, and, most importantly, until she doesn't take effective action to accomplish this goal.

Zoya Pirzad’s prose, despite the simplicity of the plot and language, makes a great impression on the reader. In her female characters, many readers see their own life and their own attitude to events. These characters are real people who live next to us and whom we meet every day in families, institutions and on the streets. Many of these women are already trying to get out of the traditional role, to subordinate their lives to their own desires and abilities, to make their lives the way they want them to be. These are women who are trying to get rid of the traditional stereotypes established in the patriarchal society and look forward to a tomorrow that will bring real changes.

The story "The Flat" talks about the role of a woman, her place and purpose. The story tells the story of two different women who have different views on the role of women.

Simin is a woman raised in a traditional family and environment. She was taught from childhood that a woman's place is only at home, next to her family and children. Since childhood, she has become a victim of traditional patriarchal views, according to which "a man should be the one who receives education" [Pirzad, 2007:57], and for a woman, handwork and taking care of dowry is enough.

For her husband, Simin's daily worries and devoted service to the family remain unnoticed. He is not concerned about a woman's tireless efforts to create a calm, orderly environment in a small, cozy apartment, to take care of her husband and her husband's relatives. He directly tells his wife that it doesn't matter to him whether he sleeps on a mattress or in embroidered sheets. He prefers a wife who will have other interests. Simin expects basic attention and respect from her husband, tries to become noticeable to him, but in vain. Disappointed by her husband's mocking, cold-hearted attitude, the woman considers the birth of a child to be the only way to preserve the family, and she thinks that the birth of an heir will save the family that has been destroyed in its foundations.

"I wish I had a child. If I had a child, the matter would not have come to this point" [Pirzad, 2007:57].

Traditional values that are deeply ingrained frame Simin. Instead of thinking about future plans and self-development, a woman blames herself and, fearing the patriarchal public opinion, where divorce is perceived as a shameful act, she struggles with her only hope.

"God, please change his mind! I will be embarrassed in everyone's eyes!" [Pirzad, 2007:61].

Zoya Pirzad’s novel "I Will Turn Off The Lights" deals with the reflection of the woman's situation, her escape from her traditional role. In the novel, the story unfolds in the middle of the last century in the city of Abadan, located in the southern region of Iran, in Christian, Armenian-Gregorian families. Although the situation of women has changed relatively by this period and she has gone beyond the four walls of the house, she is still obedient to traditional views and norms. The main character of the novel - Clarice - is an educated, cultured woman, although her only activity is taking care of her family and raising her children. Humble, unassuming, non-confrontational, Clarice takes upon herself the responsibility of caring for her family and her family members, spending too much time on their pleasure, and practically becoming their maid. This is her so-called family role and function. Outside the family, in society - for other people - Clarice is a smart, creative, interesting woman who publishes literary translations in children's magazines in her spare time, and the school director asks for her own translations prepared for publication, because he trusts her opinion and taste. Nevertheless, Clarice's cultured and educated husband, who is distinguished by his humanity and generosity in society, does not notice these virtues of hers and pays less attention to their relationship. He is, at first glance, a modern man who shares the view of women's rights and freedom, respects the socially active female employee Nurolah, although he does not properly appreciate the capabilities of his wife. Rather, he does not consider this issue to be a matter of thought and judgment. He also divides the duties and rights into belonging to "woman and man" just as his ancestors did. The main duty for him is the financial support of the family, and he believes that this is enough to show his love and respect to his wife. He forgets that Clarice is, first of all, his beloved woman who silently expects attention, appreciation and love from him.

It is important that Clarice's husband is not an exception in this respect. His position is the position of the whole family - including women (mother, sister, relatives) - this is their traditional relationship. Clarice's family members do not care about her interests, abilities, special love for literature. For them, Clarice's abilities, and, therefore, her value and importance as a person, are defined only by her work in the kitchen, preparing dinner and keeping order in the family. They believe that taking care of the family, working tirelessly, giving up one's own interests is a common story, and Clarice is not doing anything special with this. Over time, a woman discovers that children think of her as capricious and petulant, she realizes that she is losing respect and instead she is gaining new responsibilities. She realizes that while taking care of the pleasure of others, while setting festive tables for them, she even forgets to count herself among the members of the diners. Her relatives consider all this so natural that they do not even notice her absence at the table.

"There was no plate for me. While setting the table for the guests, I always forgot to count myself" [Pirzad, 2001:209].

Maybe unconsciously, but she realizes that losing herself has rendered her invisible and nameless even to the people closest to her. Clarice dislikes this kind of existence, although she can't figure out how to change the situation around her. This dissatisfaction is already the first step towards a woman moving, asking questions and trying to find answers to them. She starts listening to herself and analyzing the facts. She discovers that she created the environment around her by her own humility, unpretentiousness, excessive attention to the people around her, neglecting her own interests and the influence of public opinion. She realizes that she is very tired of carrying out her own voluntary obligations, and her family members do not notice. Behind her smiling face are her own unfulfilled dreams, wishes and unfulfilled plans, which she sacrificed for the well-being of her family and children and daily happiness. Her pain is that her relatives, instead of helping her, put more burdens on her shoulders, which become impossible for her to carry.

"I awkwardly explained that these days I am a mess, I have guests all the time and I take care of children, the air is tight, the humidity bothers me, as the children grow, their problems increase. Understanding these problems and taking care to solve them is exhausting. Sometimes I think that I am not a good mother and the people around me, instead of helping me, put more burden on my shoulders" [Pirzad, 2001:192].

In Clarice's life, a neighbor, Emil Simonian, plays a crucial and maybe even defining role, whose polite, attentive, equal attitude towards women will make her think once again about the monotony and gravity of her existence. Their frequent conversations about literature, life, love, and responsibilities restore a woman's faith in herself and give her inner freedom. Clarice begins to reevaluate her traditional stereotypical lifestyle and decides to change something. She realizes that real change lies in discovering herself, her desires, her interests, and what she loves. She tries to find the strength in herself to change her lifestyle, to allow herself to relax, to be alone with her thoughts and to distribute family responsibilities to family members.

In the process of self-awareness, Clarice discovers that her aspiration to be actively involved in public life, to participate in the struggle for women's rights, in the process of creating an equal and free environment for them, is not at all unattainable. And these changes are achieved slowly, step by step by getting to know and discovering herself and her interests, by internal readiness and by taking consistent, effective steps.

Zoya Pirzad’s Clarice and her problems (as well as many other female characters in the writer's stories) are no longer an illustration of undisguised and direct oppression of women or neglect of her personality,  but they are an excellent example of stereotypical attitudes firmly embedded in the public consciousness and, therefore, in the psychology of men.

Zoya Pirzad’s mastery in this novel is that she naturally and convincingly paints pictures of psychological pressure on a woman and shows that the woman herself is often to blame for this problem, who contributes to her own "captivity".

Another female character in the story "The Flat" is very different from Clarice. Mehnaz is an educated, modern-minded, successful, active woman who marries an educated but stereotypically thinking man. Very soon after marriage, she finds out that she is perceived by her husband only as a woman who takes care of her husband, home and order, and as a mother of future children. Her husband's endless reproaches, ironic attitude, constant control and complete disregard for her personality depress her psychologically.

"I should have married a woman who would take care of her family instead of imitating European women, constantly thinking about work and succeeding in such nonsense... It is clear that the bath towel of a woman whose thoughts and minds are outside the family will be in the kitchen, and the kitchen utensils in the bathroom!" [Pirzad, 2007:56].

Mehnaz's husband makes every effort to deny her a career, her own hobbies, and opportunities for professional growth and to persuade her that a woman's main duty is to have children, care for her family, and submit to her husband's will.

Mehnaz resists her husband's repeated attempts to persuade her to change her mind, and rather than submit to him silently, she chooses to file for divorce and move to a modest apartment she purchased with money her father gave her. After her divorce, she is once more persuaded of the value of education and financial independence for women, since these things give them the chance for growth and freedom.

"How good is it that I didn't stop working!... What if my father hadn’t given me money?" [Pirzad, 2007:56].

In these wonderful works, which tell us about different women, one part is a woman trapped in traditional frameworks, passive, trusting to fate, and the other part is a woman waiting for a better tomorrow and real changes. Very few of these characters are educated, active, professionally trained, modern women. Each of them has already formed their way of thinking. Simin's consciousness is solid, fossilized and stereotyped. She is satisfied with her own feminine origin, feels good in the role of family caregiver, and therefore does not intend to change anything. Clarice is the collective face of women who are trying to find themselves and their interests, overcome difficulties and change their lives for the better. And Mehnaz is already an independent, emancipated woman with well-thought-out plans for the future. She creates her own life and does not allow anyone to interfere in it. It's just that each of them has to make the right choice to change their life.

It's interesting to see the writer's personal perspective on this. Because each person's decision and personal choice often determines their future, the author absolves everyone of blame and gives the characters the freedom to make their own decisions.

In conclusion, in Pirzad's early works, women are still influenced by family and traditional views. For the female characters, the world is a combination of events seen and perceived from the narrow window of the house, and their place in this world is behind the kitchen door. Left without a goal, women who have become accustomed to their daily lives and routines are unable to change anything.

With time, a woman fights for a better future and real changes. She begins to discover herself and her interests. She realizes that her inner freedom depends on her own choice, that a better tomorrow will not come without her involvement, development, progress and willingness to change.

An educated, progressive-minded woman is already trying to assess her own capabilities and actively participate in public life. She knows exactly that much more determination and effort is needed to bring information about women's rights to the public, to recognize their rights and achieve real freedom.


[1]Zoya Pirzad has Armenian mother and knows the Armenian Gregorian community as well as the Iranian Muslim community.


ბურჯანაძე მ.,
ახალი და უახლესი სპარსული ლიტერატურის ისტორია, თსუ გამომცემლობა, თბილისი.
ფირზადი ზ.,
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