Introduction to Persepolis-1
Persepolis is a masterpiece of Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian rebel who fought for her rights and freedom. The book is a graphic novel, originally written in bande dessinees in French. The author went into exile after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran. The comic book, the first of its kind written and illustrated by the author from 2000 to 2003. It was released in four volumes as published by L’ Association. Later, it was translated and published in English in Europe. The book has also been used at a play successfully in theatres. This is the first in the series of four, presenting the childhood of Marjane up to her migration to Austria.
Summary of Persepolis-1
Persepolis 1: The Story of a Childhood
The storyline of the first book introduces a ten-year-old girl, Marjane, who happens to be the protagonist of the novel. The novel is set in the 80s, detailing the experience of the young girl during the turbulent periods of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran when she first learns about the veil and status of women. It happens that the author goes through the turbulent period of religious extremism and the ensuing war between Iran and Iraq. Tehran was ruled by Shah, the dictator who imprisoned many Princes one among them was Marjane’s grandfather who happened to be a Persian Prince.
As a member of an elite social class, Marji is mostly involved in reading books and educational material which make her come to know western political thoughts. She immediately reverts to the political orientation of her family, which leads her to take part in the existing political mobilization against the regime of Shah. The movement is about ousting Shah and sending him into exile. When this takes place, she gleefully sees the unfolding of the Islamic Revolution and the rise of religious extremism that takes its toll on the young girls.
She studies in a French co-educational school with non-religious teaching and her parents being very liberal and open to western ideas. Her mother protested against the veil in the streets which was captured by the newspapers and magazines. Marji was so proud of her parents and westernized ideology. In spite of their modern ideas, the family was religious. Marji always fantasized of being the last Prophet even though there are no female prophets. She shared this idea at school and people mocked her. Once, when she was fantasizing about the prophethood in front of other students, her teacher overheard and called for her parents. Although they defended before the teacher, they asked her about it at home and she simply lied that she meant to become a doctor. At this point, she was a very religious person and wanted to be the instrument of God.
She finds that Anoosh, her uncle, often visits the family to orient her about the political situation and relates the stories of the arrest of the communists in the country. These stories create a sense of resistance in her that leads her to view the new Iranian clerical regime with some suspicion despite some governmental reforms, and she happens to be correct that the social restrictions slapped on the people make them flee to Europe. During this time itself, she learns from her mother that her grandfather was Persian Prince and died in the water cell. However, her uncle Anoosh soon faces the music and is thrown behind the bars. He is soon sent to gallows which frustrates the dreams of Marji when she does not see God coming to help the poor prisoners and the people. Therefore, abandoning her faith, she moves out of the country for vacation.
When she returns after the vacation, she comes to know about the Iran-Iraq war and its impacts on the public. The main source of the new items and commentary is her grandmother. Living in Tehran makes her constantly fear the air raids of the Iraqi air force, and they move to the bunker in the basement of their house. Later, she learns about the national anthem on television and about the pilots protesting in the prisons to be released to take part in the war. She and her family soon find themselves on the other side of the fence, when they start partying and consuming alcohol, considered illegal on religious grounds. She also starts skipping classes and meeting boys, a thing not considered appropriate in the new regime.
With Iran-Iraq raging in the background, Marjane soon finds herself caught in the crosshair when a missile hits their street with her family having a close shave. The missile, however, causes causalities in the Jewish neighborhood. Marji, seeing the debris, lashes out at the regime for initiating a war, and soon fearing reprisals, the entire family moves to Austria for safety.
Major Themes in Persepolis
- Childhood: Persepolis presents the story of a childhood and the impressions that Marjane holds about politics and religion. However, they have less impact on her until she enters adulthood and smokes for the first time. Her argument is that children are extremely vulnerable to ideological and violent events whether they are liberalizing or restricting the social fabric. When she comes to know about the overthrowing of the regime, she feels jubilation little knowing that the Islamic clerical regime would make life difficult for liberal families like theirs. However, when they feel the restrictions increasing in their country, she finds herself in Austria, ruminating over her gone childhood.
- Politics: Although the novel is promoted as an autobiography of Marjane Satrapi with some character sketches of her family, yet deep down it has a political theme that is when revolutions and changes occur in the political administration, it does not mean that they would be beneficial for all. For example, Marjane does not understand the meanings of a veil and yet when it is imposed, the atmosphere becomes stifling on the political front. Her view that the ordinary people, too, change with the government proves a smokescreen to her when her family faces oppression on account of their liberal lifestyle. Therefore, it is where politics enter the personal lifestyle of an individual.
- Past and Present: This graphic novel, Persepolis, is about Marjane’s past and also about her present life, including the past of the empire and the tension of modernity in present-day Iran. When the novel starts, Marjane takes the reader to the past of the empire and its traits of tolerance and love. However, when the revolution takes place and the violence of war reaches the doors of the citizens, she comes to know how religion becomes a tool for spreading intolerance. As the novel moves forward, her pride in her historical background merges with her love for her homeland, and yet she is to leave it on account of the suppression that the new regime has brought.
- Bildungsroman: The self-actualization, formative years of a person or bildungsroman of Marjane occurs when she learns that she had to grow up too soon and that her childhood was lost in hope and expectations of a better future in Iran. However, her journey from childhood to adulthood and then back and forth journey in memory highlights that she has become fully aware of the political consequences of the changes that her country and countrymen have witnessed during the change from one regime to another regime. When war is imposed on the people, she comes to know how one is forced to leave her home. This awareness and self-actualization go with her in her graphics images and conversation.
- Class Conflict: The novel also demonstrates the theme of conflict. Although Marjane did not highlight it explicitly, her lifestyle and family orientation show that despite speaking about the western democratic ideals, she still enjoys the elite lifestyle of having a Cadillac and a maidservant at home. On the one hand, she enjoys a luxurious lifestyle and on the other hand, she expects revolution to bring changes in the lives of the poor people. This conflictual undertone moves with the novel and her story until the end when Mr. Satrapi spurns his daughter that their maid, Mehri, cannot marry outside of the class despite harboring Marxist views, a hypocritical act.
- Fundamentalism: Religious fundamentalism is another theme of this graphic novel. Iranian society faced the issue of religious intolerance and extreme religious beliefs in the wake of the Islamic Revolution of 1979. When the Shah regime was ousted, the western cultural demonstration became a thing of the past, and families having western orientation became the butt of the religious strictures. Marjane and her parents faced severe issues when western outfits, food, and values were constantly on the receiving end. That is why she has targeted the extreme ideals of the religious beliefs in the shape of God and other religious values propagated by the religious clergy.
- Freedom of Imagination: Freedom of imagination and freedom of expression is another major theme in that Marjane, as a child, thinks that she could be a prophet and stand up for justice, and yet she fears that in case it becomes clear to the religious clergy, she would face persecution. The same happens to their political and social views as they were entirely against the power structure established by the religious regime.
- Familial Relationship: Family and relationships are other major themes on account of the presentation of childhood and parental life during a political transition in Iran. The Satrapi family faces severe backlash on account of their political orientation. Amid this backlash, they shower love on their children who in turn tell them that they are a privileged class despite showing their leanings toward Marxism, a classless social structure.
- Contradictions of Life: Marjane also learns contradictions in social life in Iran. She comes to know about Marxism as the way of social equality but then Mehri cannot marry out of her social class as her father opposes it when he comes to know about it. She also comes to know strange things that if God has brought Shah to power, why He has helped revolutionaries, and if God comes to her why their schools have been closed.
Major Characters in Persepolis-1
- Marjane: As the author of this graphic novel, Marjane Satrapi is a major character as well as the protagonist of the first part in which she opens up about her childhood, her memories of her parents, her family, her political orientation, her school, her relations and overall situation in her country. She comes to know about religion and thinks of herself as a prophet and yet loves her country despite having a religious revolution in Iran. During the protests and war, she demonstrates her love for her country, but she also dislikes to abandon her social orientation of the western values, though, Mehri’s love affair, too, saddens her that equality has not taken firm roots even in their own family. Finally, she leaves her French school for Austria for education after oppression from the clerical regime.
- Satrapi: Mr. Satrapi is the head of the family and also the head of his father’s family due to his position and status in society. A well-educated Marxist, he is a silent revolutionary unlike his brothers Anoosh and uncle. His upbringing of his children as having western education shows his personality orientation of western values. His political education of his children makes him stand out in the family and yet he shows class discrimination when it comes to the marriage of their maid, Mehri.
- Satrapi: Although Mrs. Satrapi is leading a privileged life, her poor background peeps through her insistence on the education of her children, which she sees as a solution to the social ills. Even during the oppression of Shah and transition to revolution, she insists that her children stay connected to their studies and do not waste their time. That is why when it comes to more repression, she prefers to leave the country, move to the west for her children’s education.
- Grandmother: The role of grandmother is significant in the story as she connects Marjane to a royal family, for her grandfather was the former emperor. Yet, her husband harbored communist ideas and jailed for supporting revolutions that have had impacts on her in that she has become suspicious of the incumbent government. Like her Taji and Ebi, she expects her granddaughter to excel in her studies and take part in politics to excel in life.
- Annosh: The character of Anoosh is significant as he faces frequent arrests on account of his political views. However, his role becomes prominent on account of his communist ideals. He is later arrested and executed for being a Russian agent.
- Mehridia: Mehridia or Mehri as she is known in the family circle, is a maidservant working with the Satrapi’s. She develops a love relationship with the boy of the neighbor and stays in contact with him through love letters written by Marjane. However, when Mr. Satrapi comes to know about it, he strongly discourages Marjane as well as Mehri, reminding her of her social status that confuses Marjane, too.
- Siamak: A heroic figure in her eyes during the revolution, the Savak police arrest him and torture him until the revolution succeeds. However, strangely, he also becomes a fugitive during the Islamic revolution. He leaves Iran, hiding among sheep when being transported out of the country.
- Mohsen: A friend of the Satrapi family, he also faces torture at the hands of the Shah’s police. However, later the Islamists kill him and propagate his death as a suicide.
- Mali: A friend of the Satrapi family, she often comes to live with the family during the war years on account of the bombing of her town located on the border. Despite them being from a wealthy family, they are nearly homeless, living on the streets due to the war and bombing.
- Taher: The character of Taher is a significant but minor character from the Satrapi family. He has chronic heart disease and dies of cardiac arrest.
Writing Style of Persepolis -1
Despite being a graphic novel, the author’s writing style has a unique quality, especially with witty dialogues. As far as the language is concerned, it suits the graphic novel of this type having black and white drawings. Appropriate titles, dialogues, and simple vocabulary become the hallmark of its effectiveness in communicating the political upheavals of a third-world country like Iran. To stress her feelings, Marjane often turns to metaphors and similes more than any other literary device.
Analysis of the Literary Devices in Persepolis -1
- Action: The main action of the novel comprises the childhood of Marjane Satrapi in her journey toward adulthood. The falling action occurs when she comes to know that the revolution is going to confine them behind veils and that the bilingual schools are going to face closure. The rising action occurs when she sees that Shah is going into exile.
- Allusion: The novel shows good use of different allusions as given in the examples below,
i. In 1979, a revolution took place. It was later called “The Islamic Revolution.” (3)
ii. The first three rules came from Zarathustra. (7)
iii. Followed by the Mongolian invasion from the east. (11)
iv. I knew everything about the children of Palestine. (42)
v. About Fidel Castro (42).
vi. The BBC said there were 400 victims. (42)
The above examples show perfect allusions. The first example refers to the Iranian revolution of 1979, the second to the ancient Iranian philosopher, the third to Mongols, the fourth to Palestine, the fifth to the Cuban leader, and the last to the British Broadcasting Corporation.
- Antagonist: One of the antagonists in the novel is Marjane’s teacher who separates the girls from the boys. The second is the Savak, the secret police of Shah and the last is the Islamist regime.
- Apostrophe: The novel shows the use of the apostrophe as given in the below example,
In the name of the dead million, we’’ teach Ramin a good lesson. (45)
This example shows the use of apostrophe that is to call somebody who is absent or dead. Here Ramin is not present.
- Conflict: The novel shows both external and internal conflicts. The external conflict is going on between Marjane’s family and the regime, whether it is Shah or the Islamic one. The other conflict is the mental conflict that is going on in the mind of Marjane about her faith and her understanding of the world around her.
- Characters: The novel, Persepolis, shows both static as well as dynamic characters. The young girl, Marjane, is a dynamic character as she shows a considerable transformation in her behavior and conduct by the end of the novel. However, all other characters are static as they do not show or witness any transformation such as Mr. Satrapi, Mrs. Satrapi, Uncle Anoosh, Mehri, and her grandmother.
- Climax: The climax in the novel occurs when her father advises her not to help Mehri to marry the neighboring boy as she is not of their class.
- Foreshadowing: The novel shows many instances of foreshadows as given in the examples below,
i. In 1979, a revolution took place. It was later called “The Islamic Revolution.” (3)
ii. At one of the demonstrations, a German journalist took a photo of my mother. (5)
The mention of revolution and then of demonstration show that the coming events are not going to be about peace. Therefore, it shows the future that seems bleak for Marjane in Iran.
- Hyperbole: The novel shows various examples of hyperboles are given below,
i. At the age of six I was already sure that I was the last prophet. (6)
ii. I wanted to be a prophet (6).
iii. Yes you are my celestial light, you are my choice, my last and my best choice. (8)
iv. “2500 years of tyranny and submission” as my father said. (10)
All of these examples exaggerate things as she cannot be a prophet and that there could never come celestial light to choose her and also tyranny could no be prolonged to 2,500 years.
- Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example,
i. The material world does not exist. It’s only in our imagination. (12)
ii. You mean that even though you see this stone in my hand, it does not exist since it’s only in your imagination? (13)
iii. That night I stayed a very long time in the bath. I wanted to know what it felt like to be in a cell filled with water.
The above examples show images of feelings, touch, and taste.
- Metaphor: Persepolis shows the use of various metaphors as given in the examples below,
i. Today my name is Che Guevara. (10)
ii. I am Fidel. And I want to be Trotsky. (10)
The above examples show that each time the author compares herself to persons like the revolutionaries.
- Mood: The novel shows various moods; it starts with an innocent and jubilant mood but turns out very ironic as well as stifling when the revolution appears on the horizon and tragic and loving when Mehri starts her love story and letter writing.
- Motif: Most important motifs of the novel, Persepolis, are politics, killing, history as well as weather.
- Narrator: The novel, Perspolis, is narrated from the first-person point of view, the author Marjane Satrapi. The novel is described from her point of view as a child, hence, starts with her and ends with her life experience.
- Protagonist: Marjane is the protagonist of the novel. The novel starts with her entry into the world and moves forward as she grows young after going through various trials and tribulations.
- Setting: The setting of the novel, Persepolis, is Tehran, the capital city of Iran.
- Simile: The novel shows good use of various similes as given in the below examples,
i. The revolution is like a bicycle. (12)
ii. You think I look like Marx. (13)
iii. Don’t you think I look like Che Guevara. (16)
These are similes as the use of the words “like” or “as” show the comparison between different things like the revolution to a bicycle, the persons to different figures.