Persepolis Thesis Statements

Prescribed question: Which social groups are marginalized, excluded or silenced within the text?

Title of the text for analysis: Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi 2000

Part of the course to which the task refers:Part 3: Literature – text and context

My critical response will:

  • show how Marjane Satrapi grew up under oppression during the Islamic Revolution in Iran,
  • show how secularists, like Satrapi’s parents, also suffered and made sacrifices during this period,
  • show how others, such as nationalists and even Muslims, were tortured, executed and locked up,
  • demonstrate how the Marjane Satrapi uses various conventions of the graphic novel to achieve these ends.
It is often said that literature is a voice for the oppressed. Marjane Satrapi proves this point in her graphic novel / memoir Persepolis, in which she shows how children, secularists, nationalists and even Muslims were marginalized, excluded and silenced in Iran during the Islamic revolution in the 1980s. Her work serves as a voice for those who were oppressed.

From the first page of the graphic novel the author explores the theme of growing up under oppression. She introduces herself and the troubles of the Islamic revolution through the symbol of the veil. The first frame of the first page presents a portrait of Marjane Satrapi wearing the veil, looking expressionless and without identity. The caption reads, ‘This is me when I was ten years old. This was in 1980’ (p. 3). The text and image could not be simpler or more to the truth. The reader hears the voice of the author, looking back on her childhood, showing us a picture of herself, veiled and depressed. In the next frame, you cannot tell Marjane from the others in her ‘class photo’, as they are all covered and depressed. Through cartooning, the author is able to exaggerate these features and simplify complicated matters. Furthermore the graphic novel allows her to explore this theme further in the splash at the bottom of page 3, where the reader sees many children on the playground, jumping rope with several veils tied together, using the veil as a ‘monster’ mask, and taking off the veil because it is too hot. One veiled ten-year-old chokes an unveiled ten-year-old and says ‘execution in the name of freedom.’ From this point, the reader knows that Satrapi is going to juxtapose the innocence of childhood with the seriousness of the Islamic Revolution in order to show how oppressive the Iranian regime was.

In her memoir, Marjane Satrapi continues to explore the theme of oppression. Besides focusing on her own troubles of growing up during the Revolution, she also sheds light on her parent’s struggle with the ruling Islamic Party. She comes to realize that her parents’ beliefs are opposite to those of the regime. While her parents drink alcohol, read intellectual books, have parties and enjoy a wealthy lifestyle, the Guards of the Revolution police this behaviour, execute such secularists and hate any signs of wealth. In one frame Marjane helps her mother pour alcohol down the toilet, as the police threaten to search their apartment (p.110). In another frame, Marjane’s mother puts tape on the windows, as a safeguard against the Iraqi bombings, and black curtains over the windows, to prevent the neighbours from seeing their parties (p.105). She tells this story of her parents living in fear through very stark, black and white drawings, which show the contrast between the evil theocratic regime and her good secular parents. This contrast culminates in the final page of the novel, when her parents send her to Austria to protect the life of their only child from the horrors of war and the dangers of the Islamic regime. In one frame a bearded guard is searching through her suitcase at the airport. In the next frame her mother faints from sorrow as she says goodbye to her daughter (p.153). This scene shows the sacrifices that the elite secularists had to make at the hands of fundamental Muslims.

As one reads this graphic novel, one understands how so many people in Iran, not only Marjane and her secular parents, were systematically silenced. When the Islamic Revolutionists overthrew the Shah in 1979, they imprisoned Persian nationalists and the Shah’s military, including the fighter pilots who were needed during the Iraqi attacks (p.83). This is one of several stories that Satrapi tells of people who were hurt, killed or locked up by the extremists in government. These stories are signs of the times in which she lives, which she can easily tell through voiceovers, jumps between comic frames, dialogue bubbles and iconic images. She depicts how even devout Muslims were oppressed by their own beliefs, as one frame shows a man flogging himself and another frame shows an army of veiled women beating their chests and making chants about martyrs (p.96). Through these devices she is able to give the reader a bird’s eye view of the atrocities that everyone suffered and the frenzy in which society found itself. One starts to feel sorry for the children who brag to each other on the school square about how often they pray each day (p.75).

To conclude, Marjane Satrapi tells how she, her parents and so many others were silenced and oppressed in the 1980s in Iran. The graphic novel, as a medium allows her to depict black and white, stark images that emphasize the conflicts of the times. It makes such atrocities very accessible, and it allows the reader to easily identify with the narrator and main character. For an outsider, Satrapi’s images of Iran and the stories she tells are very shocking, because one’s sees how such injustice can happen in the name of freedom and religion.

(937 words)

Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis. New York: Pantheon, 2003. Print

The medium of storytelling is as important as the story itself in a graphic novel. By using frames of drawing with minimal text, the graphic novel calls on the reader to enter into a different kind of textual interpretation. A reader must read the captions of the frames and interpret this text within the context of the paneled art. Artistic style becomes as important as text for relaying narrative to the reader.

Persepolis brings a particular graphic style to the autobiographical narrative. Satrapi draws in a minimalist style: black and white, often only six to eight panels on a page. This style is meant to represent a childlike understanding of the world since the novel follows Satrapi's own childhood. The black and white symbolizes both the past and how the Islamic revolution left Iran devoid of its rich colorful cultural history. The medium of the graphic novel is also important here because iconic representations of Islam are forbidden by the Islamic regime. The novel is, thus, a form of protest as well as art.

Throughout the novel, Marjane feels a tension between the great and glorious past of the Persian Empire and the violence and problems of modern Iran. In the novel's opening chapters, she identifies herself with the great prophets of the past dating back to Zarathustra. She imagines herself as a symbol of love and tolerance. When the Iran-Iraq War begins, she vehemently defends it as a just cause and relates it to a 1400-year conflict that has been waged between the Arabs and the Persians.

This unwavering belief in the past is put in tension with the novel's present day political intolerance and religious fundamentalism. Marjane's pride in her history is in direct conflict with the imprisonment of political revolutionaries and, later, the execution of those that speak out against the strict cultural demands of the Islamic regime. Marjane's journey through the novel is an exploration of how one can love one's past while denouncing its present condition.

The bildungsroman is a genre of literature in which the protagonist undergoes a process of intense moral growth and self-actualization. For a work to be considered a bildungsroman, the protagonist must progress from childhood to adulthood, leave home to undergo a journey, and develop a more mature understanding of his or her self.

Satrapi's novel, especially if considered in the larger context of the second volume of the series, falls into all of these categories. Marjane begins Persepolis as a child and by the end of the novel declares her independence from her mother and father through the ritual of smoking a cigarette. Marjane's parents force her to leave her war torn home for her safety and this begins her journey. Throughout the novel Marjane must reconcile her own beliefs and understanding of the world with the strict cultural rules of the Islamic regime.

Class conflict is an underlying tension throughout the novel. At the beginning, Marjane cannot quite grasp how her father can drive a Cadillac and her family can have a maid while also preaching the virtues of class-consciousness and equality. Iran's history is seen as a history of both great wealth and great poverty. The 1979 Revolution is characterized by Satrapi as largely a Marxist revolution undertaken by the urban cultural elites on behalf of the impoverished people of Iran's countryside.

This conflict is more clearly seen in the chapter "The Letter." In this chapter, Marjane's maid is forced to abandon her love for a neighbor. They cannot be together, Mr. Satrapi tells his daughter, because their social classes are not supposed to marry. Marjane sees a great injustice in this belief because, at the same time, her parents march in the streets for a Marxist revolution in the nation.

The inability of the Marxist and Socialist revolutionaries to gain political power after the 1979 Revolution causes a great strain for families such as the Satrapis. These families see themselves as modern people. They hold Western political and social beliefs. This is not just seen in the kinds of Western material things that Marjane and her family seek out -- things like rock posters, jean jackets, hamburgers, and Cadillacs. It is also seen in the social values that they hold -- a belief in the rights of women, liberal education, and human rights.

Religious and ideological fundamentalism is portrayed as a hindrance to the development of Iran. This fundamentalism represses its people. It not only takes away the material things that the people enjoy but it also takes away their identity and dignity. According to the author in the book's introduction, one of the chief reasons for writing Persepolis is to show the perspective of a modern Iran persecuted and punished by a few "extremists."

Much of the novel's first half is a recounting of the author's loss of naivety and faith. As a child, Marjane sees herself as a prophet in the line of Zarathustra, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed. Her imaginary friend is her vision of God as an old man with a long flowing beard. In these scenes from childhood, God encourages Marjane to become a prophet and to stand up for love and justice.

As Marjane begins to confront the political and social realities of her world, the reader sees her slowly detaching from her faith. As she hears stories of political imprisonment and torture, she finds that God no longer gives her comfort. As the Islamic regime comes into power, she feels that she cannot defend a faith represented by such fundamentalism. The imprisonment and execution of her Uncle Anoosh causes a break in her faith and she describes herself as lost and alone in the universe.

Throughout the novel, Satrapi uses her own relationship with her parents as a metaphor for her relationship with her country and the wider world. The conflict and love she experiences with her parents is a necessary part of her growth as a person. Her relationship with her mother and father is both tender and full of tension. Her parents love her and seek to provide her with the best in education and upbringing. They hope to provide her with a life full of privileges.

At the same time, however, Marjane feels a great tension between her parents' political views and their actions. Their belief in equality and liberation for the working classes conflicts with the privilege that they hold and seek in society. On one occasion, Marjane compares her mother to the Guardians of the Revolution, the secret police force of the Islamic regime. The end of the novel is a representation of the eventual break that all children must have with those that raise them. In Marjane's case, she also breaks with the country and culture that raised her.

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