Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

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The Iranian economy, government, and relations with other countries changed drastically in the time leading up to and immediately following the Islamic Revolution, and later the Iran-Iraq war. In her book Persepolis, Satrapi uses these events to depict a coming of age story based on her true life. Cultural and contextual clues aid in allowing the reader to understand the political, economic, and societal changes that occurred during the time period of Persepolis.

The economic conditions in Iran changed dramatically during the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Before, industrialization and modernization had been the two contributing factors to the economy. During, oil became the primary source of revenue, and the black market reigned due to restrictions on goods and later sanctions placed on Iran. This can be seen in Persepolis, when Marji goes to the store with her mother and they are forced to stockpile from empty aisles. Additionally, the state of the economy can be seen in the later stages of the book, as inflation is rampant and Marji is buying things with more and more money.

In addition to economic conditions due to unstable relationships with neighboring countries, gender roles and laws play a large part in the cultural context of Persepolis. Following the revolution, women were oppressed, had no freedom of speech, modesty requirements, no access to reproductive healthcare, etc. In the later parts of the book, Marji is stopped by the Women of the Revolution, who yelled at her for her clothing and her improper head covering. This enforced modesty is an example of the oppression of women’s freedoms, and gives Marji all the more reason to rebel. Rebelling, additionally, was common at the time, with the growth of pop culture, westernization, and the black market in Iran. Illegal and undocumented trade caused the spread of western goods and kept enforcements such as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard on alert due to contraband and the unwanted influence of communism and other radical ideals.

Cultural context surrounding the enforcement of laws and oppression of rights helps to convey the struggles that Marji overcame and shaped her character. Because of the influence of the revolution and outside ideals, her own personal ideals become less clear due to the consequences of war and the revolutions in the late 1970s and 80s.

The coming of age story, Persepolis, as told by Marjane Satrapi, follows a young girl living in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Living in a war torn country, the main character Marj encounters new culture, new governing structures, and is influenced by new ideals. Throughout the graphic novel, Marji struggles to come to terms with her new reality, and her limited understanding of the world is perpetuated by the structure of the book- cartoon drawings with simple text. Marji’s innocence continues to be a primary theme throughout the story, and is something which Satrapi emphasizes with her use of combined pictures and text written and depicted in a childlike fashion. In the graphic novel Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi uses simple images to convey the ignorant nature with which a young Marji views her wartorn city of Tehran and the people in it.

Satrapi depicts graphic scenes with complex content through Marji’s eyes, using simple imagery and simple sentence structure. Satrapi uses this illustration style to aid Marji’s character in describing one of the protests from the Islamic Revolution at the beginning of the graphic novel. The burning of the Rex Cinema was a large protest organized by anti- government protestors which burned 400 people.

To convey a dark tone, the background of each of the panels in which the protest is depicted is black. This is consistent with the illustrations of the soldiers, whose faces are covered in shadows, outlined in white to contrast in the background. Making the soldiers seem ominous, this stays consistent with the text, which asserts that the soldiers would not let bystanders in to help those in the burning building. Additionally, while the soldiers are illustrated in black with a white outline, the bystanders who fight against the soldiers are white against the black backdrop, keeping consistent with the archetypal “light versus dark.”

The actual scene that the comic panels is one of violence and chaos, as demonstrated by the jagged lines with which the corpses are seen flying from their seats in the last panel. People with expressions of fear and frenzy upon their faces can be seen in the fourth and fifth panels, illustrating the horrors that they had witnessed, contributing to the darkened tone. However, the scene is drawn in a cartoon-like fashion, and narrated in a desensitized nature, as if as a news story. The pictures include little detail, though they portray graphic events, which hints at the inability of Marji to comprehend the world around her.

The images help the reader to understand the meaning behind the words on the two pages, which describe the events of the night, but add no emotion: “ The doors had been locked from the outside a few minutes before the fire. The police were there. They forbade people to rescue those locked inside. Then they attacked them(14).” This syntax of short, nondescript sentences further perpetuates the idea that Marji doesn’t understand the gravity of the events taking place around her. Satrapi uses childlike illustrations coupled with unemotional language to express how numb Marji is to the historical events occuring in Tehran.

In addition to simple images, Marjane Satrapi uses common expressions and icons/characters in her graphic novel to convey the worry and fear in her country of Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In the sixth chapter of her novel, she describes her memory of the Shah forced from power.

The first panel depicts identical heads with their eyes rolled upwards and their mouths open in a grotesque shape. The characters seem to be in agony, based on the way that their mouths are shaped, and the uniformity of every character creates the idea of a massive death toll. The next panel further perpetuates the use of icons and familiar facial expressions to create a story and exemplify the death perpetuated by the Shah before this historical event. The panel contains the Shah, dressed in the furs and jewels that are so iconic of a western ruler, but not symbolic of Islamic culture, being pushed by corpse-like bodies. These people wear Grim Reaper-like hoods and have sunken features, like those of a cadaver.

These panels use common, well known icons and small details to aid the audience in understanding how Marji viewed her ruler. However, these icons are familiar to western culture, not Islamic culture. The use of these well known icons allows for the reader to familiarize themselves with Marji’s experiences, as well as emphasize Marji’s ignorant generalizations about her culture based on her limited influence. Additionally, the uniformity of the people in the two panels contrasts with that of the imagery on the following page (42), which depicts many people with varying expressions, characteristics, and clothing.

This is meant to represent a freedom of individuality and escape from the Shah’s regime. “The day he left, the country had the biggest celebration of its entire history (42).” Although the subject matter of this chapter deals with intense events and society’s (and by extension, Marji’s) newfound expression of individuality, Satrapi continues to use simple images to convey complex subject matter. Because the novel is written in the style of a cartoon, Satrapi’s use of symbols and facial features to convey the anxiety of a nation is further perpetuated by a small amount of descriptions.

The way in which Satrapi depicts violence and gore reflects Marji’s inability to fully comprehend the world around her. Descriptions of graphic events are unaccompanied by gruesome details, long descriptions, or grisly illustration. When a friend of Marji’s family, Siamak, comes to visit, he describes the torture he and others had received.

This image is not detailed at all- it seems to be some figment of Marji’s imagination, because Marji is only able to understand the most basic concept of a man cut to pieces. This image reinforces Marji’s innocence in the beginning of the story. There isn’t any blood, no bone showing, or other details that one would expect to find in an image of torture. This imaginative representation exemplifies how little Marji understands the events taking place around her. The man is still whole, just segmented. Marji cannot comprehend the context behind the torture of a man, nor the implications. The only words that accompany the picture are: “ In the end he was cut to pieces (52).” This description of events is highly desensitized- it only describes what happened at a basic level. Describing the phenomenon of being cut to pieces, but having no further explanation of the events that followed or an emotional response further supports the idea that Marji’s age and ignorance contribute to the style and syntax of the story. Satrapi aimed to imply that Marji had originally heard the story from someone else in more detail, but because of her age and innocence, was only able to comprehend the most basic description of events.

Throughout the text, Marji’s childlike innocence drives the artwork and structure of the story. The illustrations depict basic understanding, and the literary features and actual words on the page represent Marji’s limited understanding of the world around her. Because Marjane Satrapi chooses to illustrate in a cartoon-like fashion and uses undescriptive language, she perpetuates a very basic comprehension level, which changes the way that the reader processes the events in the novel. The way that Satrapi uses complex concepts and emotions coupled with desensitized images and expression creates a sense of ignorance and a necessity for a revelation later in Marji’s life.

Cite this paper

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. (2021, Oct 28). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/persepolis-by-marjane-satrapi/

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