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.
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