Persepolis 1 vs Persepolis 2: Analyzing Satrapi’s Visuals

Marjane Satrapi is an Iranian author and illustrator who grew up in Tehran in a middle-class family. Both of her parents were political activists and supported a Marxist ideology in contrary to the beliefs of the monarchy of the last Shah. Although Satrapi’s family was a relatively progressive and secular one, she had a very strong personal connection with religion, up to the point where her only desire was to become a prophet. The majority of her childhood was ridden with war, violence and Islamic fundamentalist oppression. In both of Satrapi’s memoirs, Persepolis 1 and 2, Islamic fundamentalism is a highlighted topic. She details how the strict regime controlled activities such as alcohol consumption to how women were permitted to act in public. In these memoirs, Satrapi uses graphic weight and empty background to show that Islamic fundamentalism takes an emotional toll.

In the first Persepolis memoir, Satrapi delves into her younger childhood years. Although just a child, she still feels the political weight put on her by the fundamental regime. She communicates this through the use of graphic weight and background.

Satrapi begins her first memoir with a chapter called the veil. In the second panel of page one, Satrapi uses graphic weight to demonstrate the emotional toll that the islamic fundamentalism has taken on the young girls. When glossing over the page, the second panel stands out as it takes up more space and contains expressional portraits of four girls. Each girl looks quite similar to the next and they all look discontented. This negative similarity shows that the girls, by being forced to wear the veils, feel like objects instead of unique individuals. The veils do not allow the girls to be expressive, as the more that is covered the “better.” It can be deduced, by their facial expressions, that they feel very unhappy about this. Hence the islamic fundamentalist tradition of the veil weighs on them emotionally, especially in adolescence.

In the same panel on page one, Satrapi incorporates another element, background. Specifically, a blank background demonstrates the emotional effect of fundamentalism. Behind the girls sits a blank white background with no detail. Not only does this lack of detail put emphasis on the girls, it also understates the sad expressions of the girls. The background is one solid color representing how islamic fundamentalism forces young girls to fit one “ideal” role described in the holy book. There is not meant to be any difference between the young ladies, they are all meant to act in the same modest, conservative way. This, without a doubt causes emotional stress on the girls.

The second Persepolis memoir follows Satrapi into young adulthood. In this book she encounters herself alone in Europe. Here, without the pressure of a fundamentalist regime, she pursues higher education and gets to find her real personality. However much changed she might be as a character, as an author she writes the second memoir in similar style and emphasizes similar ideas.

Again, Satrapi uses size and facial expression to give the panel on page 91 graphic weight. The graphic weight of this panel draws attention to the emotional impact of fundamentalism. In her illustration she becomes full of sorrow when she dawns the veil and realizes that she must return home. She knows she will be abandoning the liberties and freedoms that western women enjoy, to return to an area dominated by fundamentalist thought. The understanding that by returning, she is surrendering her freedom of expression, puts a large amount of emotional stress on her shoulders. Therefore the cause of such emotional stress is directly linked to islamic fundamentalism and is displayed by graphic weight.

Satrapi uses a creative background in this panel to emphasize emotional toll. Since her face is not immediately visible as the veil is the main focus of the image, Satrapi includes a mirror to show her sad expression. The use of background even outweighs the force of graphic weight in this panel as without the background the reader would not know Satrapi’s emotional response to a return to Iran. Similar in comparison to Persepolis 1, Satrapi leaves the rest of the background blank, reinforcing the idea of uniformity instead of individuality. The background in this panel effectively communicates Satrapi’s emotional low in response to the fundamentalist regime.

Both novels use similar elements (those being graphic weight and background) to convey that all throughout Satrapi’s life, the oppression caused by Islamic fundamentalism has torn at her strong, individual spirit and she resents it. It has attacked the emotional foundation of women and progressives alike. It is in this way that both Persepolis memoirs speak to the same theme.

Satrapi recounts portions of her childhood and young adult years in the graphic novel- memoir, Persepolis. She illustrates all of her panels with simple bi-tone colors and includes informational quotes to explain situations. In both books she highlights the practice and government of fundamentalist Islam and how that takes an effect on her life as well as many others. She is able to demonstrate the emotional toll of fundamentalism by incorporating graphic weight and background elements in both books alike. With these elements in hand, Satrapi leads us on a fundamental revolution.

Caught in Two Worlds: Marji’s Social Captivity

There are two different types of captivity: being captive to an outside force or being captive to yourself. When most people think of captivity, they think of an outside force, someone restricting someone else through overt force. Yet the other type of captivity is a struggle to overcome the mental barriers that can hold someone back. Satrapi, in her memoirs Persepolis and Persepolis 2, experiences both of these forms of captivity, through growing up as a woman in Iran and though suffering from depression. Satrapi’s struggles with social and intrapersonal connections restrict her more than the tyrannical laws of Iran, showing that mental captivity generally is more restrictive than physical captivity because it prevents someone from wanting to change.

The tyrannical laws that subjugate women in Iran suppress Satrapi, but by doing so create a struggle that allows Satrapi to have some freedom. The Iranian government represses and frustrates Satrapi through restricting her learning, forcing her to wear a veil, and often imprisoning her. These restrictions give Satrapi a purpose. Recounting how she argued with the University’s lecture on “’Moral and Religious Conduct’” (Satrapi 142) advocating further restrictions on female students’ clothing, Satrapi as the author comments, “this is how I recovered my self-esteem and my dignity… I was happy with myself” (Satrapi 144). Satrapi uses civil disobedience to live up to her ancestors’ legacies and redeem herself for her past mistakes, such as turning in an innocent man to escape the guardians of the revolution. Satrapi’s new-found purpose of disobeying the government and her yearning for freedom contribute to her emphasis on not letting the laws restrict her. She disobeys the government’s restrictions by partying every night. Because Satrapi actively resists the government’s oppression she is able to gain some freedom. Satrapi is able to have some freedom in Iran despite the government’s restrictions.

By contrast, Satrapi’s struggles with social and intrapersonal connections in Austria subjugate her even when she has political freedoms. Satrapi’s depression is caused by her social struggles, such as her difficulty in developing a sense of belonging and her hardships with finding meaningful relationships. Satrapi’s life in Austria is a struggle to belong. “I was a westerner in Iran, an Iranian in the west. I had no identity” (Satrapi 118). In Satrapi’s life in Austria, she feels a pressure to assimilate into Austrian culture. In response to this pressure, Satrapi switches social circles many times and leaves behind her old friends. She leaves behind Lucia for Julie, Julie and Momo for Enrique, Enrique for Ingrid, and Ingrid for Markus. Yet Satrapi’s transition between social roles doesn’t leave her feeling content or happy; the price of assimilating is losing her past. “The harder I tried to assimilate, the more I had the feeling that I was distancing myself from my culture, betraying my parents and my origins” (Satrapi 39). These are natural feelings for someone trying to fit into a new society; Satrapi, however, lacks someone to support her and talk her through her problems the way her parents could. Her parents or long-term friends could give her this support, but she lacks both. Her parents are in Iran and she’s left behind her Austrian friends as she moves through society, so she tries to find support through new relationships. As a result, when she becomes involved with Markus she relies too much him and when he betrays her she is left with nothing. As Satrapi describes it, “I had counted on this relationship for everything. The world had just crumbled in front of my eyes” (Satrapi 79). Without emotional support, friends, or purpose, Satrapi becomes depressed and spends two months living on the streets of Vienna. Satrapi is restricted by social pressures: she does drugs, falls asleep in class, and through living on the streets almost dies of bronchitis. She fails to overcome her mental struggles the way she could with the Iranian government’s restrictions because she doesn’t see a reason to try to succeed. This is because mental struggles often can prevent someone from trying to change, as was the case with Satrapi’s depression. Social pressures prevent her from succeeding in a Western culture the way her parents and she had envisioned.

Satrapi’s ability to be happy in Iran after resolving her internal issues shows that her emotional problems suppress her more than the Iranian government’s tyranny. Satrapi prospers in Iran after finding her way through depression by gaining friends, falling in love, and getting an education in art. She also finds meaning in her life through her marriage, standing up for what she believes in, and her project of creating a theme park. Not only is Satrapi able to find happiness in Iran, but she is far more resilient when she becomes depressed because she develops the emotional connections to support her. For example, when Satrapi and her husband have difficulties, Satrapi’s friends, parents, and grandmother help her. She remains somewhat trapped by the lack of freedom for woman in Iraq, but restrictive laws in Iran do not prevent her from succeeding. This is because Satrapi has what she needs to succeed: meaningful relationships and a sense of social belonging. She may lack political freedoms but she remains able to disobey the government and create her own freedoms. Unlike her experience in Austria, Satrapi has emotional support in Iran, which allows her to avoid being captive to either her depression or Iranian restrictions.

Satrapi’s story is rare, a woman who was able to escape both the oppression of Iranian laws and her own depression to succeed. One reason Satrapi is able to succeed is because Iranian society doesn’t affect Satrapi nearly as much as it affects other women. Iranian society restricts women through the government’s laws but also through a restrictive culture. An oppressive culture that causes someone to believe they don’t deserve rights is a form of mental captivity. Yet because her family taught her Western values of freedom, Satrapi chooses to resist both the laws and the oppressive culture of Iran and to insist on getting an education to make the most of her life. Her family legacy of rebelling also gives Satrapi meaning to her life, which helps her overcome her depression. Although, Satrapi’s depression affects her more than the restrictions of Iran, Satrapi is able to succeed despite both factors.