Persepolis Literary Commentary

Book Reviews

Persepolis, a graphic memoir written by Marjane Satrapi relates her childhood and coming-of-age in Iran, at a time of conflict.  In page 6 of her graphic memoir, the author illustrates her religious affiliations at a young age.  Marjane Satrapi emphasizes the character Marji’s religious beliefs in order to contrast her modern societal views in a climate of radical change.

Satrapi illustrates the choice between religion or modern opinion as a source of conflict in Marji’s life.  In the first panel of the page, Marji is drawn divided through the center of the panel; half of the imagery is religious while half is modern.  Half of the panel illustrates Marji in westernized and modern clothing, with gears, a ruler, and tools in the background, to represent new and developing technology, while the other half depicts floral designs and the veil, traditional to Marji’s religion.  The author clearly contrasts the inner conflict Marji is experiencing by the white background and black veil she is wearing on the right half, and the black background with white, modern apparel on the left.  Right away, the reader’s eye is drawn to the immediate conflict, represented by Marji’s uncertain expression, which is directly in the center of the panel.  These two topics, clearly mutually exclusive, express the breaking of the metaphysical as Marji looks straight out from the panel, as if imploring the reader’s participation in the debate, though the stoic position of her mouth and eyes show no preference for either.  This being the first panel on the page effectively draws the reader into the proceedings, as Satrapi characterizes the protagonist as hopelessly confused, and torn; a feat that many readers would understand.  Asking outright for their aid draws the reader in, demanding that they choose a side that Marji should follow, therefore investing themselves in the story.  Furthermore, Marji is drawn smiling only when depicted as the last prophet, with a ring of “celestial light” around her face- a traditional symbol of deities that reinforces Marji’s desire to fulfill her religious ambition.  That being said, the decision she must make is still complex, what with the modern ideologies she expresses interest in, in the later panels of page 6.  It is these ideologies that prevent Marji’s immediate alliance to her religion, therefore stimulating her inner conflict.

      

The author expresses Marji’s controversial opinions of societal norms through her desire to change societal norms through her desire to change society as a prophet.  The main character is illustrated in the 5th panel next to the prophets who had come before her.  As Marji explains to them that she is the last prophet, they all bear the same expressions of scorn and anger with the words “a woman?” written above their heads.  It is here that Satrapi characterizes the naivety of the protagonist, as society and, in this case, her religion (personified by the prophets) already have in place roles for the woman in their societies.  As we see in these panels, the religious men are outraged by Marji’s proclamations, a reaction to be expected in this historical context.  Marji on the other hand is still smiling- not reacting to the juxtaposition of a woman as a prophet.  Additionally, the young girl associates religion with the solution to social classes and poverty; another instance highlighting her naivety as a child.  She draws her father in his cadillac while she hides in the backseat, as a problem, though we may reason that wealth is instead an asset.  Were it a problem (as Marji believes it to be) it would not take religious intervention to solve it.  Satrapi highlights that her maid did not eat with them- something negative from her perspective.  She again emphasizes the gap in wealth as the maid is drawn smaller in the background, while she and her family are drawn in the forefront.  The elimination of social classes, as Marji hopes to see to in her future as prophet, would result in communism, a style of life Marji shows her approval of later in the book.  Communism is hated by those promoting the Revolution; the same people who proclaim their religious fidelity.  This is ironic as Marji believes the same religion of the fundamentalist leaders, though her morals in other respects directly oppose theirs.  Her governmental doctrines in in addition to her views on equality for women (demonstrated by her desire to be a prophet, though not accepted by the other religious men) contradict some of her religious beliefs, creating a disjointed combination of religion and modernity.

 

Satrapi foreshadows the protagonist’s eventual change of views in relation to the revolution.  The continual use of the past tense to describe her religious sentiments: “didn’t know”, “was”, “wanted”, foreshadow a change in those beliefs.  Marji discusses her confusion toward the veil, stating that at the time she did not know what to believe.  Her statement later on however, places all these events “before the revolution” reiterating that the revolution was a turning point which decided her stance on religion.  She recounts her tale as a childhood fantasy, accompanied by a tone that firmly positions those ambitions in the past, which would imply that Marji turned away from religion to follow her “avant-garde” family.  These indications are proven by her already controversial opinions of religion (support of feminism and communism) that did not coincide with reality.  

The author alludes to Marji’s own values, which contradict those of her family.  As a baby, Marji states that she was “born with religion” though makes no mention of her parents having anything to do with instilling those morals in her.  Her family was modern and so, seemingly disconnected to any religion their daughter practiced.  On page 6, her parents are only illustrated in the last panel- and even then they are critiqued for their high social class: the possession of a cadillac and physical separation from the maid.  Her parents are drawn with content facial expressions, seemingly unaware of their daughter’s frustrations.  In the 6th panel, Marji is the only one who is unhappy- even the maid smiles from her seat in the kitchen.  This would suggest that these luxuries in life do not perturb Marji’s parents, nor do they notice that those same luxuries bother Marji.  Her values, stemming from her desire to right the world as a prophet do not bother her parents, so proved by the fact that she is religious and her parents are not.  This is significant in contrasting Marji’s two beliefs.  Her parents, who are not interested in religion, clearly side with the modern lifestyle.  To choose religion would be going against her parents’ affiliation, something which young Marji is hesitant to do, which serves to prolong her inner conflict.  Her situation is even more difficult in that she must choose her family, or God.    
Though Marji is extremely religious, her moral codes stray from tradition dictated by her religion and conservative society.  The conflict between choosing to ally herself with God or her family continues throughout the memoir as the Islamic Revolution continues to change the society in which she lives.  It is only in emphasizing her personal religion that the reader can also deduce her opinions on society.    

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