Persepolis The Story of a Childhood
Nationalism in the Questionable Legitimization of Conflict in Satrapi’s Persepolis
In Satrapi’s graphic memoir Persepolis: A Story of a Childhood, there is a constant theme of exploitation of heroic concepts to legitimize political movements. The dissenters of the Shah used martyrdom, even exploiting a man who had died of cancer, claiming he was a political killing by the government (Satrapi 31-32). The Islamic regime mobilized religious fundamentalism to legitimize closing schools and purging western culture and thought (Satrapi 73). However, while fundamentalism and martyrdom were used often to achieve domestic political goals, it is nationalism which was used in a way that shaped the relations between Iran and foreign states, mobilized first in the novel by the British-installed Shah, and then later by the Islamic regime in its war effort against Iraq. Understanding Global Conflict and Cooperation defines nationalism as “A celebration or assertion of national identity that commonly finds political expression in the claim of a right of self-determination or self-government.” Throughout history this concept has fueled ethnic violence, civil war, and countless revolutions, but in Persepolis Satrapi investigates the ways in which nationalism was exploited for British imperialist means, and as a form of propaganda to fuel the Iranian government’s war effort with Iraq.
Following the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the international politics of Europe were governed by ideals of Balance of Power relations, in which redistribution of territory among great powers was utilized to check any single state from becoming too powerful. This later would lead to a new wave of 19th and 20th century imperialism, from which the British Empire would benefit handsomely from both actual colonies and puppet governments across the world. One of these puppet governments became Iran when the British government took advantage of a soldier seeking to stage a coup and replace the emperor with a republic, helping to install him as the next Shah despite his republican sentiments. Satrapi recognized this imperialist takeover of her home country, depicting on a panel on page 21 a dubious looking Brit reassuring the soon to be Shah that he should, “just give [the British] the oil and [they would] take care of the rest”. This brief backstory of imperialism in Iran, framed by Satrapi in the form of her father rebutting her naïve childhood claim that she “[Loved] the king, he was chosen by God,” is later picked up by her grandmother who tells of the nationalistic rule of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the son and successor of the Shah installed by Britain (Satrapi, 19). This is where exploitation of nationalism as a means to distract from British control of the Iranian oil industry is utilized by the Shah.
Actions such as the Shah’s visit to the grave of Cyrus the Great (depicted by Satrapi on page 28 as glaring disapprovingly at the Shah), and a frivolous government celebration of 2500 years of dynasty were two examples Satrapi gives of a celebration of Iranian national identity that was not in step with the political realities of Iranian autonomy. Ironically, history of empires and the states they colonize is riddled with various attempts to stamp out nationalistic sentiments, such as by the Soviets who deported around 6 million people across the various Soviet satellite states to remove ethnic and national ties (Finlayson, 73). History of International Relations suggests that the British imperialists should have opposed acts like the Shah’s visit to Cyrus the Great’s grave and should have instead purged nationalistic sentiments in the country. Instead, since Great Britain was only involved to take advantage of the Iranian oil industry, they felt the mobilization of nationalism by leaders friendly to British interests actually served to benefit them. Their hopes were that this would make pro-British Shah’s more popular (this wasn’t particularly successful) and would distract the people of Iran by reinforcing their national identity while simultaneously exploiting their oil industry. Though early in the novel the Shah’s government is overthrown by the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the theme of exploiting nationalism to influence international affairs continues, this time by the Islamist government to support the war effort with Iraq.
Satrapi’s memoir Persepolis serves as both a historical account of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and as a Bildungsroman or “coming of age” story. Part of the development of Satrapi as a character is her shifting views of Iran’s government, growing increasingly skeptical and leftist as the story develops. Though by the start of Iraq-Iran war she has certainly grown from her blind acceptance of the king as a divine ruler, her response to the conflict shows just how successful nationalistic appeals can be in persuading citizens to support international conflict. Upon hearing from her grandmother that Iranian fundamentalists had attempted to overthrow Saddam Hussein with the support of Iraqi Shiite Muslims (the same sect of Islam with which the Iranian government associates itself), she ignores the obvious provocation of Iraq undertaken by the Iranian government, and instead latches onto the government’s pretext for the war as the second Arab invasion. “The second invasion in 1400 years! My blood was boiling. I was ready to defend my country against these Arabs who kept attacking us. I wanted to fight,” reads the final panel on page 79, outlining Satrapi’s thoughts of the news. The irony of the fact that the first Arab invasion had been what had brought Islam to the region in the first place, and the justification of war with a 1400-year-old event can seem almost humorous to the reader, but it also is not out of step with how people react when nationalism plays a significant role in conflict.
Over the course of the war, the ties to nationalism become even more obvious: in school students presented reports on the war and twice a day were required to participate in self-flagellation to mourn the dead (Satrapi 85-86, 95). Satrapi even described hitting yourself as “one of the country’s rituals” (Satrapi 96). However, it is with Satrapi’s shift in her views of the war, in which she realizes the sinister reality of the exploitative nature of the nationalistic conflict. “Iraq proposed a settlement, and Saudi Arabia was willing to pay for reconstruction to restore peace to the area,” tells an older and wiser Satrapi, “but our government was against it” (Satrapi 114). The reason that the Iranian government opposed peace it is revealed, was because, “They eventually admitted that the survival of the regime depended on the war” (Satrapi 116). The very idea as a bloody conflict with a foreign state as a means of nationalist propaganda is disgustingly backward, and with it we should learn a great truth about the ugliness which can sometimes occur when nationalism is exploited as a means of justification for violence or oppression.
The history of nationalist movements is checkered at best. When utilized properly, as a self-determination movement of and by an oppressed group or ethnic minority, it can result in the creation of a state which better reflects the interests of its populace. Unfortunately, in the history of international relations, this is not often the case. Instead, often nationalist movements are exploited by those in power to justify cruel and unjust actions. During the reign of the Shah, under the watchful eye of Great Britain, this meant that while Iranian leaders were celebrating the might of Persia, the country gave up control of its most profitable industry in a grand political bargain. Under the Ayotollah this meant the avoidable deaths of countless Iranians who were convinced they were doing the right thing by giving their lives to defend a government who was fighting because the survival of their regime depended on conflict and nationalist fervor. It is because of events like these, and other even darker stains on the history of the human race, that remind us that we must be much more skeptical of leaders who prey on nationalism for justification. When nationalism becomes a façade to mobilize or distract supporters, when nationalism becomes associated with creating an “other”, when nationalism is being preached by those who are overrepresented and not those who are underrepresented, that is when we must be conscious enough to reject it. Now, more than ever, we must understand this as it concerns both our domestic and international societies.
Persepolis: A Bildungsroman
Persepolis is a bildungsroman that tells the story of Marji, a young Iranian girl growing up during a time of revolution, turmoil, and war. Her path of growth and development changes direction at a single moment, and she begins to grow up into a young adult with her own views and opinions. Marjane Satrapi reveals the moral development of Marji in her bildungsroman Persepolis through the theme of coming of age.
In the beginning of the novel, Marji was innocent and naïve about everything going on in Iran. All she understood was there was turmoil in her country; however, she did not fully grasp the severity of the situation. Marji was in her own bubble with her unrealistic ideas of the world. For example, Marji does not understand how bad torture is and what it was really used for, and she makes a fun game out of torture: “Those stories had given me new ideas for games. I have imagination too…the moustache-on-fire torture consists of pulling on the two sides of the upper lip” (Satrapi 53). This shows how Marji really knows little about what is going on because if she did, she would know that torture is not really a funny thing to joke about or a fun game to play. However, this quote does give insight into the benefit of a child narrator. It shows how a child narrator is able to reveal creativity and offer a new perspective through imagination. By doing this, Satrapi helps the reader understand what it was like for her at that time when she was experiencing it.
Marji’s innocence is preserved up until the pivotal moment in her adolescence. The pivotal moment was when her city was bombed, which marked the beginning of the war. Coincidentally, just in the panel before the bombing, Marji yelled at God and told him to get out of her life. Furthermore, on the same page, Marji’s Uncle Anoosh who was important to her, was executed. This moment clearly changes Marji and marks a shift in her views of the world. As they are bombed, Marji chronicles this by saying: “And so I was lost, without any bearings…What could be worse than that?” (Satrapi 71). By using a rhetorical question, Satrapi almost directly addresses the reader. This makes the reader stop and wonder about how Marji is feeling and put themselves in her shoes. From this moment on, Marji adopts a rebellious way of life. This moment shaped the story and added to the theme coming of age because it helped Marji develop further as a character and as a person. It helped her to grow up a little bit and find herself and what she believes.
That pivotal moment not only contributed to the theme of coming of age, but it also helped to develop the story because of the impact that it had on the protagonist. She starts to act out and stand up for what she believes in. This is most obvious by her adoption of and love for Western culture, which is forbidden. She loves listening to Kim Wilde and wearing Nike sneakers, which get her into trouble: “They were guardians of the revolution, the women’s branch. This group had been added in 1982, to arrest women who were improperly veiled. (Like me, for example)” (Satrapi 132). Even though she knew she could get in trouble, Marji still went out in public improperly veiled, wearing tight jeans, Nike sneakers, a denim jacket, and a Michael Jackson button. Satrapi uses these allusions in these panels in order to connect with readers around the world to help them understand that Marji is no different than teenagers in the United States, for example. This example also serves to show how Marji is acting out and rebelling against what is expected of her.
Another example of Marji acting out arises when she smoked her first cigarette. She understood how people in her country were rebelling, and she wanted to rebel too: “As for me, I sealed my act of rebellion against my mother’s dictatorship by smoking a cigarette I’d stolen from my uncle two weeks earlier. Now I was a grown-up” (Satrapi 117). This quote serves to indirectly characterize Marji as rebellious through her actions. She knowingly defied her mother’s will. Furthermore, her reason for doing so was distinct and deliberate and showed that she knew what was going on and wanted to take a stand in her own symbolic way. She understood that people were being arrested and executed for their defiance, so she defied too. This shows her transition into young adulthood because she was forming her own opinions and making her own decisions based on her own personal set of morals, rather than based on what she had been told. For Marji, this moment was significant for her coming of age as she declared that she was now a grown-up; however, her transition into adulthood as Marji claims it to be really started when she kicked God out of her life with the beginning of the war. Satrapi shows Marji’s coming of age through her decision making and shift to a rebellious nature.
Marjane Satrapi masterfully weaves a story of bildungsroman together through the especially prominent theme of coming of age. She clearly demonstrates in Persepolis how a single moment can alter someone’s life and who they choose to be. Through the theme of coming of age, Satrapi not only tells a story but creates a lifelike and passsionate character out of Marji.
The Gray Area Dialogue: An Analysis of Western Perspective in Satrapi’s Persepolis
The late Ed Koch once said that “stereotypes lose their power when the world is found to be more complex than the stereotype would suggest. When we learn that individuals do not fit the group stereotype, then it begins to fall apart.” In Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Satrapi recounts her childhood experiences from Iran through words and pictures as she searches for her true identity in the midst of the chaos surrounding her. Yet, beyond this journey of self-discovery, Satrapi exposes a critical dialogue between Iran and the West that she attempts to resolve through her own struggles. Through Satrapi’s stylistic decisions, Persepolis develops a personal connection between the author and the reader and clarifies our misconceptions of the Middle East, providing Western readers with a greater understanding of the Iranian conflict.
Persepolis would not be nearly as impactful without Satrapi’s development of an individual connection with her readers, which she creates through her graphic depiction of violence in the Middle East. Throughout the novel, Satrapi juxtaposes illustrations of torture with panels of her family to highlight the close proximity of violence. For instance, she places a panel of teenage boys setting off landmines with keys around their necks right next to a panel that shows her going to her first party, demonstrating that violence is always close by as a looming threat on her family’s safety — and creating a sense of unease that Western readers may fail to grasp when considering the conflict. Ultimately, the threat manifests itself completely at the novel’s climax, when Satrapi is confronted by the women’s branch of the Guardians of the Revolution for wearing her “decadent” American items and is threatened to be detained “at the Committee… [where] anything could happen to me” (Satrapi 134). Through her increasingly desperate pleas for mercy that are underscored by the change in her speech balloons and emotive expressions, Satrapi suggests that freedom of expression is dangerous in a country where violence arises because of the perception of cultural dissent. Such dissent is a right taken for granted in the West, and as such readers gain a clearer picture of the detachment between modern and fundamentalist perspectives that characterizes Satrapi’s lifestyle.
In the midst of this brutal setting is Marjane, whose internal struggle with all aspects of her life leads to a cognitive dissonance that reflects the time period’s overall confusion. At the very core of the story, Satrapi’s family is modern, from the material items they consume and enjoy (like jean jackets) to their social beliefs (such as gender equality). Still, as she acknowledges herself, “deep down I was very religious” (6), presenting an interesting dichotomy of beliefs that is depicted through a split illustration; half of her is surrounded by symbols of technology and industry, while the other half presents her surrounded shrouded in the veil and surrounded in calligraphy. This visual presents a readily-comprehensible depiction of her deeply personal connection to her religion, and as a result, readers empathize in her struggle to find a moderate balance between her secular and spiritual beliefs.
Satrapi even struggles in her political views, since she is shaped by the people she is around. As Satrapi mentions herself, she wants to be as peaceful as the philosophers of Zarathustra are, yet she also attempts to justify the Iran-Iraq War and other questionable altercations with the superficial knowledge that she carries at her age. However, when she is confronted and corrected by her father, whose speech balloon dominates almost half of one panel above Marjane in a menacing manner, she cries aloud that “it’s not my fault! It’s the TV!” (62). Like Marjane, children are often shaped by the political views of their parents and the media, so readers immediately connect with her confusion while further recognizing the manipulation and unrest present within Iran. It is because of this very confusion that Satrapi decides to convey her story in a graphic novel style, helping readers to understand a thoroughly complex topic.
Social problems also provide a struggle for Marjane, as she tries to articulate her beliefs despite a class hierarchy present in Iran that places people in lower classes at a severe disadvantage. Satrapi’s portrayal of her family maid Mehri and her love for Hossein, for example, demonstrate the strict barring of movement between social classes that is at odds with her liberal upbringing. Readers empathize with her heartbreak after Satrapi effectively encapsulates Mehri as a sororal figure in a few humorous panels, so that when Marjane realizes the outcome, even she cannot contain her anger and sadness. In fact, in response to her father’s exasperations, Marjane asks, “Is it her fault that she was born where she was born?” (37). Western society takes social mobility for granted, and as a result Satrapi gives readers a glimpse into the struggle people like Mehri face in Iran, even beyond the violence. Satrapi suggests that people want to believe in what is right; however, society at times may dictate the opposite of righteousness simply because the injustice is so deeply rooted within society itself. As a result, tensions break out into a fight for lasting change.
Beyond the personal connection between Satrapi and the reader, Persepolis serves as a mediator of two different sociopolitical climates, providing a way to deconstruct Western readers’ misconceptions of Iran. Reflecting the work’s audience, the West in general has been hostile by portraying political upheaval as characteristic in Iran; situated in the Middle East, some Iranians are seen as misogynistic and fanatical, while others are given little agency in revolution. However, Satrapi shows that many men are neither fanatical nor misogynistic and are instead loving and compassionate. Marjane’s dad in particular is shown to be a beacon of compassion, demonstrating courageous selflessness as he documents the revolution through his photography while placing himself in dangerous situations. Depicted in a borderless panel, Marjane’s father and his photos take up over half the page as a visual emphasis on the small but important role he plays in documenting the revolution. In the West, there also exists a stereotype of loafing Iranian citizens who lack political agency and abide by the rules of an oppressive regime. However, in reality, there have been many who fought against the fundamentalist Islamic government for what they believe is right, and Satrapi uses this opportunity to showcase the real fight for justice and empowerment that pervades the novel. Politically, Marjane encounters many individuals who have risked their lives for their belief in an empowered society; for example, Marjane depicts the numerous tortures Siamak’s friend Ahmadi suffered in political prison in painful detail, even as he is severed into pieces as a result of his unfailing commitment to his comrades. Female empowerment is also demonstrated through Marjane’s mother, who risked her life for the right to choose to wear the veil and goes on to encourage Marjane to “defend her rights as a woman now” (76).
Still, Satrapi also acknowledges Iran-based stereotypes about America, both good and bad, in an effort to provide the whole story. Throughout the novel, America is alluded to as an escape from the reality of the troubles found at home; Marjane’s crush Kaveh, for example, leaves with his relatives for America because they believe “nobody realizes the danger” (63), and in many respects they are correct. The Kansas burger joint, for example, demonstrates the power of American culture and how people ignore the problems that surround them; the small excursion Marjane takes to Kansas seems almost trivial until the sirens go off, at which point a boy hits the dirt in panic for fear of a bombing. Yet, the grave seriousness of the situation is immediately juxtaposed with Marjane’s laughter in the next panel, because “in spite of everything, kids were trying to look hip” (112). At the same time, there is a pervading fear in Iranian society of cultural erasure, as is the case concerning the bilingual schools which were shut down as “symbols of capitalism” (4), as described by a bearded man whose gaze down to the adoring audience reflects the domineering, oppressive nature of the conservative rhetoric. Through the examination of stereotypes that persist in both in the Middle East and abroad, Satrapi clarifies their misguided justifications and attempts to resolve the disconnecting views between them.
In the end, the point of Persepolis is to humanize cultural conflict. Instead of painting the other side as terrorists, Satrapi helps readers realize the ever-present danger for families like Marjane’s in standing up for human rights and, as a result, Western readers develop empathy while gaining insight into the many sufferings that Iranians face. Ultimately, war is not black and white; rather, there are many shades of gray that make conflict difficult to comprehend. Therefore, humanity should make every effort to understand a conflict before attempting to solve it. In this way, society may hope to find resolution in seemingly divisive circumstances.
Marji and Marxism?: The Detrimental Effects of Consumerism and Religion in Persepolis
The Complete Persepolis, an autobiographical novel by Marjane Satrapi, tells the tale of Marjane’s childhood in Iran. In this story, Marjane (Marji) is brought up by communistic parents. Evidence of this Marxist upbringing is displayed several times throughout the book, most especially when Marji exclaims that “it was funny to see how much Marx and God looked like each other” (Satrapi 13). The audience can analyze Persepolis through a Marxist lens to see how particular ideas, specifically the ideology of consumerism, oppress Marjane, her family, and Iranian civilians overall. The main principle behind Marxism is that the acquisition of wealth and goods is what motivates all political and social activities. The audience can see how the Iranian regime utilizes this ideology to subjugate the proletariat in Iran, and how the lower class turns to religion for reprieve. By analyzing Marjane’s family specifically, the reader can realize that the Satrapi family is driven and oppressed by this system of obtaining and maintaining economic power. This analyzation of the Satrapis also sheds light on the rest of Iran and how this consumeristic lifestyle and reliance on religion hurts the country’s citizens.
The idea behind Marxism is that consumerism makes people feel as though their self-worth corresponds with what they buy (Furnham). This philosophy has two purposes: it creates an artificial sense of empowerment for the citizens while helping to placate sentiments of rebellion. To see how Marjane and her family are affected by consumerism, it is necessary to take into account the family’s status in the social hierarchy of Iran. Though Satrapi never states her family’s economic standing outright, the audience can easily conclude that her family is financially comfortable. Even in light of a raging war and a tyrannical government, Marjane’s parents still have money to buy her expensive items from America and even send her to Austria so that she can receive the benefits of a Western education.
However, not everyone in Iran enjoys this comfortable status. The reader is frequently exposed to the struggles of the lower class, like when the destitute boys of Iran are persuaded by the regime to join the war, while the upper class children who are the same age get to attend parties and not have to worry about such matters (Satrapi 99-102). Even at a young age, Marjane realizes that she belongs to a class that is much better off than those who surround her. She even feels guilty about basic things around her, like the fact that “our maid did not eat with us” and “my father had a Cadillac” (Satrapi 6). As for these manipulated boys, the regime uses consumerism to exploit them, promising material goods in heaven in exchange for their lives sacrificed in war. Because of this consumeristic attitude, these boys are quick to give up their lives for the oppressive government, ruining their futures and tearing apart their families.
Analyzing the relationship between the different social classes in Iran and Marxism is critical to understanding how consumerism influences Marjane and her family. Her family’s status in the upper class means that Marjane and her parents are more likely to adhere to Karl Marx’s ideals because, as Marjane’s uncle solemnly acknowledges, “In a country where half the population is illiterate you cannot unite the people around Marx. The only thing that can really unite them is…a religious ethic” (Satrapi 62). That is, the citizens who are most affected by oppression (the lower class) do not have the necessary education and skills to fully appreciate and understand Marxist theory, which focuses on the problems of oppressive ideologies and class struggles. Instead, as Anoosh notes, they often turn to religion for comfort, with thoughts of a pleasant afterlife offering relief from present-day issues.
This theme of a reliance on religion can be traced back thousands of years to ancient Athens. Socrates faced much criticism for his belief that people should question everything and shouldn’t rely on religion to explain everything. He believed that people should be inquisitive about the natural world around them and use this curiosity to further advancements in science, philosophy, and more, instead of attributing everything to the will of the gods. In the same way, Uncle Anoosh serves a similar role as Socrates, lamenting the Iranian lower class’ inability to fully understand the issues causing their oppression and the way to relieve it. Instead, people tend to turn to religion for guidance and support through periods of hardship, which isn’t inherently bad, but does little to fix the systematic oppression they face.
Naomi Mandel, a professor of marketing at ASU, furthers this discussion about the relationship between consumerism, religion, and class. In studying religion’s effect on consumerism, Mandel discovered that “religion helps people to cope with fears such as death, or other life challenges — instead of turning to compensatory consumption [or spending to deal with]” (Worshipping at the Altar of Consumerism). In other words, the upper class liberals of Iran, such as the Satrapis, who adhere to the Marxist ideology may be less oppressed by the doctrine of religion, but the family is more susceptible to suffer from oppression by the principles of consumerism. Naturally, this ironic relationship leads to the hypocrisy that Marjane begins to recognize within her own family. The best example of this occurs when Marjane recalls the time when their maid fell in love with the neighbor’s son. The pair sent each other love-letters until Marjane’s father ruined the relationship by informing the boy of her social status. Marjane’s father explains to her that “in this country you must stay within your own social class” (Satrapi 37). Although Marjane’s father believes in Marxism, he apparently does not adhere to the ideals strictly enough to attempt to change the oppressed status of the lower classes surrounding him. Even though her parents champion liberal values, they still fall victim to discriminating people by their social status and living extravagant lives while the proletariat suffers. Here, the graphic nature of the book is particularly useful in conveying this message by accentuating the emotional pain endured by the maid and the evident indifference of the father and neighbor (once he found out his lover was from a lower class).
This consumeristic attitude also harms upper class families like the Satrapis in the sense that their desire for and acquisition of goods helps placate their need for a rebellion. By purchasing Western goods like t-shirts, posters, music, and more, many Iranians could fall prey to complacency, as they use these objects as a way to escape their current condition. Similar to how the citizens in the lower class use religion as a means of freedom from their oppression, the upper class can begin to satiate their need for rebellion and liberation through small, rebellious acts like throwing a party, that do nothing to improve the current political climate and risk their own lives.
Persepolis craftily highlights some of the issues with Marxist ideology and religion that pervaded late 20th century Iran. Marjane Satrapi artfully portrays how the prevalent consumeristic attitude of the time led to a preservation of economic inequality, and the detrimental effects consumerism and religion had.
Furnham, Adrian. “Affluenza: The Psychology of Wealth.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 28 Aug. 2014, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sideways-view/201408/affluenza-the-psychology-wealth.
Maloney, Suzanne. “Iran Primer: The Revolutionary Economy.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 26 Oct. 2010, www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2010/10/iran-primer-the-revolutionary-economy.html.
Satrapi, Marjane. The Complete Persepolis. New York: Pantheon, 2007. Print.
“Worshipping at the Altar of Consumerism.” Research and Ideas, 23 May 2017, research.wpcarey.asu.edu/worshipping-at-the-altar-of-consumerism/.
Structure of Persepolis and Its Effects on Illustrating Marjane’s Coming-of-Age
The graphic novel Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is a bildungsroman, a novel that deals with the coming-of-age of the protagonist which happens to be the author herself. Marjane develops from an ignorant child to a mature adult as she struggles with who she is regarding political beliefs, national identity, and her stance on relationships. In order to show how Marjane matures from these experiences, Satrapi structures Persepolis in a unique way by presenting Marjane’s struggles in her quest for identity as lessons arranged in three chronological stages.
In the initial stage of Persepolis, Satrapi describes Marjane’s struggles while living under a suppressive regime to explain her critical views towards political and societal rules. The first stage of Persepolis is marked by the time period during which Marjane was still a child living in Iran. At a very young age, Marjane has already lived through several coup d’etat and changes in political power. However, these changes did not ameliorate standards of living but made regimes more suppressive. Initially, Marjane was unconcerned due to her innocence. When her parents returned home from a full day of demonstrations, she approached them happily and yelled, “Hey mom, dad, let’s play Monopoly” (Satrapi 18). This demonstrates her ignorance to what was happening in the society. This innocence was soon adulterated, however, as she matured and learned more about the reality of living under a suppressive regime. One of the lessons she learned was taught to her through her maid Mehri, who was like a sister to Marjane. Mehri fell in love with the neighbor’s son, but their relationship was ephemeral and it all ended when Marjane’s father discovered the affair and told the neighbor’s son that Mehri was actually a maid. Mehri was devastated. Marjane questioned her father and he explained that “their love was impossible” because “in this country you must stay within your own social class” (Satrapi 37). This was abstruse to Marjane but it was only her first taste of what it is like living under a repressive regime. One of the societal rules for women living in Iran is that they have to be covered properly by a veil. Marjane never really understood this when she was still a child. She was fond of the American culture and her modern mother smuggled in sneakers and a denim jacket for her. Marjane wore these clothes happily and went on the street. Unfortunately, she was stopped by the Guardians of the Revolution, enforcers of the strict societal rules, who interrogated the reasons for her wearing “punk shoes” and showing a “symbol of decadence”; they even went as far as telling Marjane to “lower your scarf, you little whore!” (Satrapi 133). Marjane was traumatized by this experience, and when she looked back to her maid Mehri’s experience, she began to feel resentful of the repressive regime and tired of the societal rules. She understood why her parents were protesting instead of playing Monopoly with her. As a result, Marjane became critical of the regime and turned rebellious. When the principal of the school tried to take Marjane’s bracelet away from her, she yelled, “over my dead body!” (Satrapi 143); when a teacher talked about the regime being beneficial to the public, Marjane pointed out that political prisoners were still extant and questioned, “how dare you lie to us like that?” (Satrapi 144). These struggles that Marjane went through while living under a repressive regime during the initial stage of Persepolis taught her to be critical of political and societal rules instead of being naive, making Marjane more mature as she progresses to the next stage of Persepolis.
During the second stage of Persepolis, Satrapi illustrates Marjane’s struggles in her quest to maintain national identity to show Marjane’s development in her understanding of stereotypes. The second stage of Persepolis is marked by the time period during which Marjane lived independently in Austria. At the beginning it was easy for Marjane to tell people where she is from, she even had a friend called Momo who was “fascinated by death” and thought that seeing dead people was “cool” (Satrapi 167). However, Marjane soon encountered her first stereotypical experience when she ate noodles in a pot at the boarding house she lived in. The nun at the boarding house scolded her and exclaimed, “it’s true what they say about Iranians. They have no education” (Satrapi 177). Marjane was deeply offended by this as she took pride in her nationality and insulted back, as a result, she was kicked out. Negative stereotypes towards Iranians worsened as the TV constantly broadcasted news of bombings and warfare in Iran. This caused Marjane to feel insecure about claiming her nationality because “Iran was the epitome of evil and to be Iranian was a heavy burden to bear” (Satrapi 195). This forced Marjane to lie and tell others that she is French. Fortunately, Marjane’s grandmother’s line: “Always keep your dignity and be true to yourself” (Satrapi 150) was ingrained in her mind and resonated continuously until her guilt overwhelmed her. When Marjane heard that others discovered she was lying about being French, she finally exploded and yelled, “I am Iranian and proud of it!” (Marjane 197), which signified that she has matured into an adult who could accept being an Iranian despite people’s judging eyes. Through the struggles to maintain her national identity during the second part of Persepolis, Marjane realized that although stereotypes could be unbearable, it is important to stay firm and be proud of her origins. This maturity towards national identity allows her to be assured of herself and confidently move on to the final stage of Persepolis.
As Marjane transitions from the second stage to the final stage of Persepolis, Satrapi shows Marjane’s struggles in maintaining relationships to illustrate Marjane’s maturing beliefs on intimate relationships. During Marjane’s time in Austria, she was engaged in two intimate relationships. The first one was with a guy named Enrique. Her relationship with Enrique was platonic, but she wanted to lose her innocence. Her desire was not satisfied, however, and she found out that it was because Enrique was homosexual. Marjane moved on, claiming that “this chaste love affair frustrated me more than it satisfied me”, and that “I wanted to love and be loved for real” (Satrapi 214). Then comes her second boyfriend Markus, who she was deeply attached. She even exposed herself to danger by buying drugs while comforting herself that she “was doing it for love” (Satrapi 222). Unfortunately, their relationship ended in Markus’ infidelity, which enraged Marjane at first but she later on viewed the experience in retrospect with clemency, explaining that she “had projected everything onto him” and that it was “surely not easy for a boy of nineteen” (Satrapi 237). These two experiences made Marjane become circumspect towards engaging in romantic relationships. Nevertheless, in the final stage of Persepolis during which she returned to Iran, she met a guy named Reza who she even married. Although they were happy initially, their distinct personality eventually led to a divorce. Marjane admitted afterward that she “had always known that it wouldn’t work, but after my pitiful love story in Vienna, I needed to believe in someone again” (Satrapi 318). Although all three of her intimate relationships eventually came to an end, she learned from these experiences. Marjane realized that relationships cannot be forced. She could not have done anything to change the fact that Enrique was gay; she could not have foreseen that Markus would cheat on her; she also could not have acquiesced her dim future with Reza without marrying him. These experiences made Marjane realize the extent to which faith comes into play in relationships, which made her an even more mature adult as she moved towards the end of Persepolis.
Throughout the three chronological stages separated by Marjane’s childhood in Iran, adolescence in Austria, and adulthood back in Iran, Satrapi expressed Marjane’s struggles during her quest for identity as distinct lessons. These lessons taught her to be critical of political and societal rules despite living under a suppressive regime; to be proud of her nationality and stay true to herself despite the acerbity of stereotypes, and to accept faith’s guidance in intimate relationships instead of forcing incompatible love. Through each of these lessons, Marjane developed a deeper understanding of herself and finally grown to become a mature adult in the end of Persepolis. Satrapi left the readers pondering about what would happen to the matured Marjane as she set her foot down into the undocumented world beyond the novel.
Throughout the book, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood the author; Marjane Satrapi illustrates through her autobiographical graphic novel about the Iranian Revolution and her perspective of the events that occurred her early ages from when she was ten to her teenage years. The book in general, revolves around on the different aspects of conflicts— including those conflicts occurred both individually or socially between good and good, as well as good and evil. The good, according to the Oxford dictionary is defined as “Possessing or displaying moral virtue,” whereas evil can be described as something or someone being “Profoundly immoral and wicked.” As an autobiographical writing, although Satrapi may not accurately show the specific time and events of her own life of when she was a child, stilling learning and growing up, she shows her own beliefs and thoughts on the conflicts involving throughout in the Islamic Revolutions. As the general conflicts such as good between good and evil between good are portrayed endlessly in the book Persepolis, within the Islamic regime a well as the land itself arise, there are importance to them in relation to the growth of the region itself.
One of the major aspects of conflicts related to good versus evil is shown in the beginning of the book when Satrapi introduces the veil. In the book, she states that, “In 1979 a revolution took Place. It was later called “The Islamic Revolution”. Then came 1980: the year it became obligatory to wear the veil at school.” By introducing the topic of the Islamic Revolution, Satrapi shows a clear distinction of evil and good. To do this, she adds the information of the Cultural Revolution, that all bilingual schools needed to be closed; needing to be separated and veiled from the classmates. Through this historical context, Satrapi shows the processes of how the veil created a large conflicts between those who wanted to have the veil as well as those who did not. The veil culturally, showed that an individual wearing it was religious and a traditionalist. However through the narration of Satrapi, her family is described to be “very modern and avant-garde”.
By the disregarding of these modern and avant-garde families, such as that of Satrapi’s the Islamic regime and government portrays the idea of evil in the relationship in between good versus evil; whereas Satrapi’s family would play the good in the topic of good. Although the general idea of the veil have a correlation to the ideologies of politics and how people view Islam— in this case either traditionally or modernly, due to the limitations of choice and the requirement of all Islamic people needing to wear the veil, it shows the evil aspect of the government and their use of trying to limit the progressive and modern mindsets of the Islamic people.
Relating to the ideas of the veil and the political matters it had contributed to, the propagandas the Islamic regime creates; shows the different aspects of another “good versus evil” example. For instance, starting from Marjane Satrapi believing that the king was “chosen by god” and how she states that she loves the king in page 19, the readers can understand the true meaning and understand that the usage of propagandas within student’s educations is unjust. As a way to brainwash students into believing the immoral and unjust act is rather equitable, the regime shows the evil situation in the conflicts between the good and the evil.
Connecting to the idea that it was unjust and evil for the Iranian regime to use the different forms of using propaganda to promote that what they are doing is valid, another similar scene that represents this is shown in the last few pages of the book— page 144 when Marjane Satrapi states that her uncle was “imprisoned by the Shah’s regime but it was the Islamic Regime that ordered his execution.” When her religious studies teacher tells her students the false information, when she states that “since the Islamic Republic was founded, we no longer have political prisoners.” As another example that shows the distinct line separating the moral and the good act between the unjust and immoral act, this is also relevant to back the idea that the Islamic regime continues to use education as a way for form and receive positive viewpoints from students and children— eventually trying to make them support them politically as well as socially.
Not only this, but some groups of people including the Guardians of the Revolution is `another notable people who showed the perspectives of that of the evil. The Guardians of the Revolution; specifically the Women’s Branch is depicted to be traditionalists and work under the Islamic regime, as Marjane Satrapi states in the chapter Kim Wilde, that “their job was to put us back on the straight and narrow duties of Muslim women.” From this explanation and the role of what they played, the Guardians of the Revolution portrays how the regime tried to repress the outside culture and limitations of individual freedom. For instance in the same Kim Wilde chapter, Satrapi is shown wearing her Nike shoes, Michael Jackson’s album Thriller pin, her jacket, and tight skinny jeans. As Satrapi gets caught by the Guardians of the Revolution Women’s Branch, she narrates how she almost gets taken to the committee where it was “the HQ of the Guardians of the Revolution.” She further describes that at the committee, they had the right to detain her without having to inform her parents, and that anything could happen to her during the stay. By controlling the Islamic people with evident fear and terror, the regime is represented as the main evil throughout the whole graphic novel.
Despite all the diverse conflicts between the evil and good given in Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis: Story of a Childhood, some of the scenes throughout the chapter includes the best representations of the ideas of good versus good. Within all the evil described throughout the book— including the oppression of the regime and general internal conflicts, there were people who had fought or were in conflicts for their own good. For instance in the chapter, The Letter, Satrapi is seen to be talking to Mehri that they were both going to attend the demonstration which happened to be the “Black Friday”. In this scene, Satrapi’s mother realizes that both Mehri and Satrapi were gone to demonstrate and slaps them on their faces, thus “attacking them” in the words of Satrapi. However, this action that Satrapi’s mother shows to both Mehri and Satrapi represents the best representation of good versus good. Although she did not realize that it was Black Friday, Satrapi had a good intention to go out and demonstrate; as she wanted to express her own opinion and partake with the opinions with the others of how the Shah’s regime is unjust and thus, should come down from the reign and depart the country. However, her mother hits her for the same reason and mostly due to the fact that they both could have been killed and hurt from the demonstration. Despite the fact that the actions were from harsh movements, she shows that she cares for them, as she and Satrapi’s father had prevented them from participating in the revolution even in the past.
Not only this, but the general idea of family shows the good in many conflicts. The scene when Satrapi and her mother sees a fight between two Islamic women in the supermarket is another best representation of the conflicts relating to good and good. In the chapter The Jewels, the women depicts the strong conflicts between the conflicts of good due to the situation that the supermarkets were empty from the war. This scene shows how the two different families were trying to do their best for their own. Although they were fighting for the same cause and possibly for the wrong cause, as Satrapi’s mother states that “if everyone took only what they needed”— implying that they took more than necessary. Despite this actions, they were fighting for their own good, rather than evil.
In the graphic novel, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood shows the different perspectives in conflicts in relation of individual’s morality and their benefits. Thus, creating a opposition for different actions and choices given. Due to the distinct and decisive view of the good and the evil, the book provides series of examples and the differences of the real life and historical perspective of the conflicts between the good and the good, as well as the good and the bad— all through one viewpoint of an individual.
Unvacant Vessels: Women’s Oppression in “Persepolis” and in Recent Nonfiction
The roles of women in Middle Eastern culture have varied throughout the decades, ranging from being delicate creatures in need of protection to becoming blind soldiers suddenly dedicated to a misleading cause. This is most noticeably depicted in the graphic novel Persepolis, in which author Marjane Satrapi illustrates her own memoir while recalling certain events during her childhood. As demonstrated in Persepolis as well as in an article about radical Islam by Rola El-Husseini, called Radical Islam’s War on Women, women in the Middle East are marginalized through policies like being forced to wear the veil, not being allowed to obtain a decent education, and being manipulated into performing acts of terror, all because Islamic extremists and fundamentalists want to use women as vessels for whichever cause or philosophy they deem convenient during that period of time.
First, women in the Middle East are forced to wear the veil to cover themselves while in public. For instance, when Marjane Satrapi was once caught in her adolescence by the Guardians of the Revolution, she explains that the job of this fundamentalist women’s branch was “to arrest women who were improperly veiled” like herself (Satrapi 132). To the Satrapi family as well as some other progressive Iranians, the veil can be seen as a symbol of feminine limitations and restrictions in their country. The veil that is forced upon them is used to constantly remind women that they are not free or equal and that they need to be protected and dependent on men as well as the government, ultimately giving the male-dominant society even more power. In another instance, Marjane’s mother recounts a traumatic event in which two fundamentalist men “said that women like [her] should be pushed up against a wall and fucked and then thrown in the garbage.” (Satrapi 74). This awful experience was prompted by Marjane’s mother not wearing the veil out in public, further implementing the misguided mindsets and the repressive natures of the policies concerning the mandatory veil. Consequently, the fact that Middle Eastern women are forced to wear the veil highlights their representation of being as empty of independence and individuality as much as their veils appear to be empty black voids as well.
Additionally, the education women receive in the Middle East is either extremely biased or exceedingly disparaged. For example, as Marjane states “I love the king. He was chosen by God” to her parents, she explains that she meant that only because it was written in the first page of her schoolbook (Satrapi 49). By indoctrinating young girls in this fashion, Marjane and many others were already conditioned and influenced by the government through their educations. In this case, the propaganda consists of the government desiring support for the current king, and the earlier these methods infiltrate school systems, the more inclined the children are later in life to believe other, future authorities unconditionally as well. Later on in her schooling, Marjane questioned her religion teacher about governmental policies with political prisoners, declaring “how dare you lie to us like that” (Satrapi 144) after justifying it through a personal anecdote about her uncle being an exception to the teacher’s obviously mistaken information. Even though she experienced heavy fundamentalist influence during her childhood education, later she also became more aware of that influence and learned how to resist it and become her own individual self instead as she grew and matured into her teenaged years. However, unlike Marjane, some of the other women around her may not have had the same insight and upbringing as her, and instead fell victim to that same manipulation, becoming pawns of the misguiding government. Accordingly, this lack of access to decent education eventually leads to this unbalanced society in which some women are therefore more susceptible to any lies and manipulation techniques that are used by fundamentalists.
Finally, Islamic fundamentalists also use women as vessels for performing acts of terror. For instance, in a “warped alternative to progressive feminism” (El-Husseini), radical Islamist movements persuade women to view these acts of violence as a twisted form of empowerment. By convincing some women of this, the rise of Western ideals and influence is combatted by organizations such as the Black Widows and other female suicide bomber groups, all of which are just used to utilize as many bodies as possible for radical Islam. Furthermore, as times began to change in the past couple of decades, extremists began to slightly switch their views on gender roles due to “practical terms”, simultaneously letting more traditional feminine values take a “backseat, unveiling a more cynical and utilitarian outlook” in radical Islamic culture (El-Husseini). By manipulating these women into misleadingly serving their religion and culture, fundamentalists have resorted to using them as means of helping achieve destruction, treating them as convenient and advantageous assets instead of actual human beings. Therefore, Islamic extremists use any means necessary to reach their various and violent goals, which now includes the once inconceivable notion of using women to help perform acts of terror.
Both Persepolis and El-Husseini’s article clearly depict the sexism that exists in Middle Eastern society and radical Islamic culture. Whereas Satrapi mainly focuses on the non-violent side of the issue within the pages of Persepolis, El-Husseini highlights these violent aspects of the issue within the contents of his article instead. Essentially, women in the Middle East face various obstacles concerning the veil, education, and terrorism, all while being represented as either fragile objects or as deadly weapons: both of which are unjustly used as seemingly vacant vessels that the radical Islamists utilize to fulfill whichever cause or ideology they desire.
Family in 1984 and Persepolis
In the two texts, the notion of family is greatly influenced by an external factor, which is the political party in control of the population. In Persepolis, this would be the Iranian government in power during the post Cultural Revolution, while in 1984 it is the totalitarian party, referred to as ‘Ingsoc’ or simply ‘the party’. In Orwell’s novel, the party’s concept of family is defined as the people whom you share a household with, where every member is stripped of affection and comfort, and restricted of every possible aspect of freedom. Orwell depicts this through the melancholic relationship between Winston and Catherine, in which the sexual relations were referred to by Catherine as “their duty to the party”. During the coupling, Winston describes his wife as “cold and rigid” to his touch, mirroring her inability to express pleasure or any emotional response. The relationship reflects the extreme control that the party have manifested over people, who are ultimately reduced to detached machines. Furthermore, it appears like the party are ‘breeding’ the lower class together, which dehumanizes them, making them comparable to caged animals that are experimented on. Therefore it is seen that Orwell manipulates the theme of family such as that the reader is forced to feel disgust and horror towards the conditions that the population of Oceania are put through, which strengthens his message of warning and prevention of totalitarian societies.
Similarly in Persepolis, Iranian families are brought apart and sabotaged by the political changes in the 1970s. Satrapi uses the theme of conflict to demonstrate to the reader how this is of incidence. Conflict raises many concerns in the autobiographical comic, such as war, death and corruption, which leads to the loss of family members as well as close friends. Marjane’s uncle Anoosh is a perfect example in this case, as he is involved in all of these themes. In Marjane’s perspective Anoosh was seen as a ‘hero’ and she had great admiration for him, this is also reflected in the fact that Anoosh’s hair is drawn in white, whereas everyone else has black hair, which suggests purity, peace or even an angel-like figure. Nevertheless this created a source of struggle within the family, because as a child the writer became irritated at the fact that her parents were unlike her beloved uncle. This is because Marjane’s uncle became a political prisoner which she associated to a national hero. She reproached her parents of not contributing enough or as much as Anoosh, to fight against the Iranian Cultural Revolution. This only worsened after Anoosh’s death, as Marjane almost blamed parents for it. In Persepolis familial conflict was created due to the political changes in Iran; it was done indirectly, as children were suddenly led to believe that sacrifice for the nation was a noble act. However there is a difference between the parties in 1984 and Persepolis, as the goal of political party in Iran revolved around beliefs such as religion and culture, and that it would actually change Iran for the better. Whereas in 1984, the party wanted to create their own utopia, based on obstruction of freedom and complete control of the masses.
Marjane was also in conflict with herself, during her younger years, meaning that she confused what was right or wrong. This was due to the clash between the education that her parents provided and the filtered information that she was spoon fed at school. For example, the school would tell her that going at war for Iran was a heroic act, while her parents would convince her that it was on the contrary, a suicide mission, conducted by the government. These externally formed conflicts created familial tension as well as confusion in Marjane’s mind set, which contributed to the wall that was present between Marjane and her parents. Fortunately the boldness of Marjane’s character and the closeness of the family bonds held the family unit firmly together and the political party was only able to pose influence to a certain extent. Therefore the use of family in Persepolis by Satrapi is not as extreme as in 1984, and is present mostly to create drama and tension within the comic. It has to be considered that the text was written to create awareness, but as it is an autobiographical, the story cannot be twisted in certain ways, which would lead to further exploration of the theme of family by the author.
In Orwell’s novel, in contrast, no family resists the oppression of the party, as the external influence is acute, to the point that not having a family strengthens one’s intellectual and emotional state. It can then be justified that the party has more control over individuals whom are part of a family, as the inner members act similarly to telescreens, restricting even further the freedom that a person possesses. As demonstrated with Winston in front of the telescreen in his apartment, he is extremely cautious with his actions and facial expressions, however he does not need to be attentive to his speech, whereas in a family, whilst communicating, you need to beware not to let anything irregular slip out. Therefore families can be seen as an extra security measure employed by the party to preserve control. In this way, Orwell makes the reader understand that Winston and Julia are exceptions to the rule, which produces a distinction between them and other characters. As a matter of fact, this is the only commonality that they share; Orwell juxtaposes their two characters with their descriptions. For example, Julia seems to be an avid supporter of the party on the outside, as she took part in the ‘Anti-sex League’, while Winston was immediately revealed as against the party when writing ‘Down with Big Brother’ in his diary. There is also a distinct age gap between the two, as Julia is ‘young and lively’, while Winston is depicted as ‘old, scrawny and has a varicose ulcer’. Therefore Winston and Julia are comparable to a fault in the code of the party’s programming of the population. Orwell uses the two characters to affront the representation of a family in the dystopia while also to leave a trace of hope in the novel, reflecting that totalitarian societies are preventable, inciting the reader into contributing to the prevention.
On the other hand Satrapi also uses her comic to credit families in a positive way, as she shows that her family permitted her to grow into her own individual through the progression in book 1 and 2. Marji’s Grandmother played a massive role in shaping her own character, as she acts as Marjane’s moral mentor and advice giver. This can be seen when her grandmother says “always keep your dignity and be true to yourself”, which influences many of Marjane’s decisions in Europe, such as leaving the religious home she resided in. Consequently Marjane’s grandmother is portrayed as a wise person with plenty of experience in life, which demonstrates Satrapi’s affection and love for her. The male members of the family, the father or Anoosh also took part in Marjane’s upbringing, as they build up her political conscience and teach her a great deal about ethics. The most important aspect that the author learns through her family is the fact that memory and history are extremely valuable as they can influence the future of a nation like Iran. This is parallel to 1984, where the past is changed with lies and the spreading of false information, affecting people’s memories. Through this Orwell sends out a similar message to the one in Persepolis, which dictates that people should think more on their own and should question everything that they are told or that they read.
Moreover, family members in 1984 are even brought to the point of giving each other up due to the indoctrination of the masses by the party. Orwell illustrates this using the Parsons family, in which the daughter ends up reporting her father to the party because he had unconsciously said “down with Big Brother” in his sleep. It is clearly no ordinary family that would be apparent in our society, although ironically, it seems to be quite average in terms of the common name ‘Parsons’, and the fact that the married couple have a boy and a girl. Thus Orwell suggests that this is the average family unit present in Oceania, as a result of the totalitarian dystopia he has imagined. Looking at the Parsons it can be seen that the parents are impotent towards their children and at one point Winston is terrified of the children, when a pretend gun in pointed at him. As a result, a paradox is created between the control and authority that the parents and children have over each other. In addition, Mr Parsons can be described as an ignorant drone of the party; he is an orthodox follower of the party, the fact that he was denounced highlights the cruelty and inconsideration that is injected into the children of the family by the party. There is such a disparity with the children and the parents that it is frightful for the reader to imagine that such a family could exist, especially since there are many others like it in Oceania. In conclusion, even though the theme of family is apparent in both texts, it is used to a greater extent in 1984 to spread Orwell’s message and to make the reader comprehend the injustice within the party’s oppression towards the population. Where as in Persepolis, family is used to understand the process of Marjane’s childhood.
Trauma in Persepolis: A Catalyst for Change
The autobiographical graphic novel Persepolis follows the journey of Marjane Satrapi’s life as she experiences the dangers of the Iran war. Satrapi’s narrative provides a personal look into life during the Iran war, following her throughout not only her childhood in Iran but into her travels as a teenager up until her departure to France as an adult. Throughout her childhood and adolescence she is faced with many painful events and obstacles due to the consequences of the war, which have shaped her character. Satrapi displays how her personal growth is shaped by moments of trauma, through the execution of her Uncle Anoosh, her survivor’s guilt while in Austria, and her attempted suicide in Iran. These occurrences serve to develop her character and transform her into the person she is by the end of the book.
During her childhood, Marji is forced to learn about death at a young age when her uncle Anoosh is executed. This traumatic event shifts Marji’s perspective on death and religion. The top panel of page 70 (see figure 1) depicts a newspaper with the cover story “Russian Spy Executed,” along with a picture of Anoosh and the two swans made of bread he gave Marji. This image follows after saying goodbye to him, and she thinks, “That was my last time meeting with my beloved Anoosh” (70). Marji is forced to cope with the death of her uncle during a vital point in her development. By being exposed to death so vividly at such an early age, she is forced to face the tragic realities of war, something that children should not have to experience. Up until this point, Marji had only a vague idea of what war encompasses, shifting her perspective of death as she realizes the permanence. She is turning away from her childhood games of “torture and killing” and is beginning to realize the severity of death. The depiction of young Maji floating in space on the full-page panel on page 71 (see figure 2) with the caption “And so I was lost, without any bearings, what could be worse than that? It was the beginning of the war” (71). Marji has just experienced losing a loved one for the first time causing her to feel lost and thrown off balance. On page 70 when God comes into her room, she yells angrily at him, telling him to “Get out!” (see figure 3). She feels betrayed and begins to question why God lets bad things happen, she feels lost after this encounter with God. First, she loses her role model Uncle Anoosh, and now she has banished God who until that point had guided her through the obstacles in her life. She finds herself alone, without anyone to comfort her, neither God nor Anoosh can offer their reassuring advice. The image shows her floating in space, which is representative of how empty and alone she feels. The loss of her uncle leads her to question her faith, shaping her into a person who no longer believes in God’s power to command justice. This trauma serves as a rude awakening to Marji, creating the war and all its consequences to be much more tangible to her as she no longer has God or Uncle Anoosh as her support system.
In her adolescence Marji moves to Austria. There, Marji is haunted by the fact that her loved ones in Iran are in danger while she is safe now in Austria. Additionally, she is forced to hide her Iranian identity for fear of being stereotyped in her new country. The first panel on page 194 (see figure 4) displays Marji looking at a TV set where there is news playing about a bombing in Iran, her face is sad, she narrates, “I felt so guilty that whenever there was news about Iran, I changed the channel” (194). Marji begins to develop survivor’s guilt for being in Austria while her family is left at home in Iran. She feels as though she is not doing anything for her home country and as a result, she begins to perceive herself as a disappointment because of the vices she’s gained. Because of all the sacrifices her parents made to send her to Austria, Marji believes she should be excelling in life. This shame of not doing enough and feeling like she is letting down her parents builds up until she begins to push thoughts of Iran to the side altogether. As she begins to to push away her memories of Iran, in order not to feel guilty, she progressively distances herself from her culture, eventually denying it altogether out of fear of being judged. The top panel of page 197 (see figure 5) shows Marji yelling at the girls who are gossiping about her for being Iranian, the font is exaggerated and aggressive: “You are going to shut up or I am going to make you! I am Iranian and proud of it!” (197). After denying her nationality on various occasions to avoid being targeted, she realizes she needs to be who she is unapologetically. The size of the font symbolizes how she is taking control and saying it loud and proud, this serves as a redemption for continuously denying her Iranian self. After declaring this she feels much more confident and comfortable in her own skin. Through experiencing survivor’s guilt and attempting to disregard her heritage she is faced with the dilemma of being vocal and proud about her roots and risk being discriminated against or remaining quiet and avoid judgement. She chooses to be true to her roots and proclaim her nationality, this helps establish Marji as a strong woman who stays true to the morals instilled in her by her Iranian upbringing.
Marji moves back to Iran as an adult and due to her displacement she feels alienated in her home country and attempts suicide. After Marji attempts suicide, her therapist could not comprehend how she survived after consuming such a large dosage and in response to this she narrates, “I inferred from this that I was not made to die” (273) (see figure 6). Her attempted suicide serves as a catalyst for beginning her “new life,” shortly after surviving she feels a purpose for living. It is as if some higher power has saved her from not dying and this keeps her going. This traumatic moment serves to coax her into changing her life and putting in extra effort. These efforts prove beneficiary in the future. Marji transforms herself and becomes what she describes as a “sophisticated woman” (274). This panel (see figure 7) portrays the “new” Marji, she is wearing a dress, makeup, and has gotten her hair professionally done. It shows how she has gone through a makeover in order to jumpstart the transition into her new life.
All of Marji’s emotions have been repressed for years because of the trauma she has gone through. As she begins to change herself she’s becomes more in touch with who she is, she begins to direct her life towards new goals. She goes back to school and eventually moves to France to pursue a higher education and to be able to live as she yearns for. Had it not been for the trauma’s Marji experienced she would not have developed into the person she is at the end of the novel. In Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi thus illustrates how moments of trauma source growth and change, through three major events in her life. She illustrates how events in life can change people and shape them into who they are, regardless of how much control they have over the situation.
Figure 1 (pg. 70) Figure 2 (pg. 71) Figure 3 (pg. 70) Figure 4 (pg. 194)Figure 5 (pg. 197) Figure 6 (pg. 273) Figure 7 (pg. 274)
A Grandmother’s Wisdom: The Power of Family in Persepolis
In the graphic memoir Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi discloses her experiences as a young girl growing up under the oppressive regime of the Iranian revolution. Throughout the novel, she faces moral dilemmas, suffers culture shock, and struggles to adapt to constantly changing societies, forcing her to turn to her family, as many do in times of chaos. The grandmother’s influential voice and guidance plays a pivotal role in shaping Marji into the women she becomes. Growing up under such dire circumstances pushes Marji to mature at a rate too rapid for most children and teenagers, but with the thoughtful aid of family, she is able to build a life of peace for herself, contrasting the violence and destruction she witnessed on a daily basis in Iran. In Satrapi’s, Persepolis, the grandmother embodies Marji’s cultural roots and values through her comforting support, memorable advice, and reminders regarding ancestral pride, demonstrating the significant role family plays in shaping identity.
The grandmother represents hope in Marji’s life, emphasizing the way relatives provide a reliable support system, while simultaneously shaping character. As Marji is growing up, she dreams of becoming a prophet, because her “grandmother’s knees always ached,”(6) and she did not want to see her loved ones in pain. Instead of laughing at the seemingly absurd concept, the grandmother responds,“In that case, I’ll be your first disciple” (7), revealing the security Marji is lucky enough to find in her family. Marji can be stubborn at times, but also incredibly selfless as she strives to help those she cares for most- her family specifically. She complains about how her maid did not get to eat at the dinner table with her and how others were not privileged enough to drive a cadillac like her father, but her motivation to end the suffering of her grandmother proves just how much she cares for her relatives. The grandmother is an authority figure that Marji feels safe sharing ideas with, as a child and throughout her teenage years; however, it is also evident that Marji feels the need to repay her grandmother for all she has done, and becoming a prophet appears to be her way of doing this. The grandmother remains a steady role model throughout the memoir, while concurrently providing an abundance of warmth and safety. Before Marji leaves for Austria, her last moment with her grandmother seems to be one she cherishes and remembers, as she explains how, “When she undressed, you could see the flowers fall from her breasts” (150). Marji almost idolizes her grandmother, seeing through her age to the radiance that lies underneath. As Marji deals with puberty later in the novel, she struggles with femininity, so it would make sense that she would appreciate the steps her grandmother takes to feel feminine, from picking “jasmine flowers to put in her bra” (150) to soaking “them [her breasts] in a bowl of ice water for ten minutes” (150). Family plays a fundamental part in guiding their children through their confusing, awkward teenage years, but because Marji moves away from her parents at such a young age, she is forced to soak up all the advice she can before departing. Breasts can be used to symbolize nurturing, growth, and transformation, as they are a necessity for babies who breastfeed, but after a certain age they are no longer an imperative resource. In an unconventional way, the grandmother’s breasts amplify the way Marji desperately relies on her grandmother as a child, but slowly becomes less dependent on family as she progresses through life. Although the grandmother vastly contributed to the foundation that allowed Marji to grow and develop away from home and ultimately shape her identity.
As Marji’s journey to adulthood progresses, she transforms, learns, makes mistakes, and faces consequences for them, but the thoughtful words of her grandmother consistently hold her morally accountable for the decisions she makes. The grandmother gives Marji powerful advice before she leaves for Austria, whispering, “Always keep your dignity and be true to yourself (150). This notion obviously strikes a chord with Marji as it follows her throughout her Austrian experiences and pulls her back to her Persian roots when she begins to stray from them. The wisdom exerted on that night is referenced many times as Marji’s story progresses, acting as a moral compass. In order to find her place in Austrian society, Marji begins to avoid discussing heritage in order to distance herself from stereotypes; however, when she does this, she feels immense guilt. In Austria, she attends a school party in which a boy asks her where she is from and she introduces herself as French. Marji then comes to the realization that it is much easier to lie about being Iranian than to bear the burdens of telling the truth, though later that night she thinks to herself, “I remembered that line my grandmother told me” (195). In a new community surrounded by new people, Marji holds her grandmother’s words close to her heart, exposing the universally experienced impact family can have on growing minds. The grandmother’s single piece of advice evokes feelings of guilt in Marji that fortunately hinder her from betraying her background. While disregarding her heritage seems like the simplest solution, it was bound to have caused inevitable feelings of self-reproach if it had not been for the guidance of the grandmother.
By the time Marji returns to Iran, she has become her own person, though the acceptance of her family remains a primary concern, grounding her in confusing situations. When Marji frames an innocent man in order to distract the guardians of the revolution from her controversial lipstick, she finds the situation comical. Though this humorous attitude is abruptly stripped when she explains it to her grandmother who responds, “It’s the blood of your grandpa and your uncle that runs in your veins! Shame on you!” (291). This is a turning point in Marji’s life, a situation in which she decides she never wants to feel the guilt of dishonoring her family again. She makes showing respect to her ancestors a top priority in order to gain her grandmother’s forgiveness, which is more easily attainable than Marji expected. The significance of family is depicted through the inevitable reconciliation between Marji and her grandmother, alongside Marji’s sudden urge to better her character after the argument. When Marji becomes more independent in her decision making, her grandmother appears less and less. The guardian angel of the novel begins to fade as Marji gets married and continues on with her life. During her final departure from Iran (341), the grandmother does not start crying until the last panel, when everyone else is smiling. Marji had viewed her grandmother as a figure of strength and wisdom throughout her childhood and this vigor falters for the first time as the novel concludes. The tears of the grandmother reveal that Marji no longer needs the stabilizing factor of her family as much as she used to, because she is now an independent women with a future of her own. Marji then reflects on her grandmother and the pivotal role she has played, narrating, “I only saw her again once, during the Iranian New Year in March 1995. She died January 4, 1996… freedom had a price” (341). To be free, Marji had to leave her family, causing her to be unable to say goodbye to her grandmother, but Marji does not seem to express severe sorrow, because she now has a firm grasp on life and is done learning from her elders. This is the final separation between Marji and the family that provided her foundation, expressing how the grandmother further represents the Satrapi past, family pride, and cultural values.
For Iranians during the era Marji grew up in, poverty, death, and brutality was conventional, so civilians—especially children—had no choice but to turn to family when hopelessness began to take its toll. As a child in Iran, a teenager adapting to Austrian society, and a young women moving to Europe, family, especially the grandmother, reminds Marji to honor her heritage and be proud of her moral values. Society teaches the younger generations to conceal anything abnormal, creating insecurities for many, and leading those with distinct cultures, like Marji, to distance themselves from their roots. This not only leads to undiversified communities, but it can be tormenting for those whose values define them. Marji was fortunate enough to have the stable foundation of a close-knit family during the turmoil caused by the Iranian revolution, though without the wisdom, support, and hope put forth by the grandmother, Marji would not be the resilient, self-sufficient women she became.