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Many writers have made heavy use of figurative vocabulary and imagery in their works. Persepolis author Marjane Satrapi used graphic novels as one of the visual forms to express a message about what a young girl child was facing in her life in war-torn Iraq. A graphic novel contains comical material that may be fictitious or nonfictional, depending on the author's message or themes (Gertler and Steve 7). Graphic novels are important because the use of images provides a summary of the plot and allows readers to read the whole story (Kaplan 43). In the book Persepolis, the author narrates a story of an Iranian girl known as Marjane Satrapi, who tries to fight against social injustices caused by religious and political turmoil in Iran. Therefore, this essay aims to review the novel by analyzing the themes, styles applied.
Advantages and Disadvantages
The author used the graphic novel form to convey the story of a little girl in a more appealing manner that could attract a reader’s attention to keep on reading further. Looking at the first images of “The Veil” one can see how the author narrates on how life became unbearable after the Cultural Revolution where Islamic practices were against the western culture. A reader can capture the full story by just reading the opening of the narration where the action is clearly seen. Kaplan explains that one of the most advantages of a graphic novel is that the “presence of action on the page attracts a reader and makes reading and taking in information quicker” (57). As a result, it becomes exciting to see a story moves along so fast.
Literature studies have proved that graphic novel creates a sense of visualization and reality because not only a reader reads words on the page, but also the characters faces and body language. Most of the images in the Persepolis 1 are portrayed with various facial expressions and body language to deliver a certain message. For instance, the characters in “The Veil” image seem unhappy when posing for the class photo as they feel their liberty in choosing their dressing code is restrained. Mahshid, the third girl from the left seem to have closed her eyes in the photo to express her sadness (Satrapi 3). Other instances are seen when the students try to remove the veil complaining that it is too hot and dark. Therefore, the images in graphic novels reinforce the language when the illustrations and words work together.
The author has applied symbolism in this graphic novel to convey various messages. According to Gertler and Steve symbolism is an artistic style that uses symbols to imply ideas and qualities by giving them figurative meanings that are different from their literal sense (17). Symbolism is one of the advantages of the graphic novels because it takes one to reason beyond their imaginations to derive the hidden meaning. However, Kaplan posits that graphic novels inhibit imagination because, unlike books that give an opportunity to a reader to interpret the descriptions and create characters and places in their minds, the graphic novels lacks this chance (58). The Veil symbolized personal and cultural identity as well as the lack of freedom in the society. This is the reason why the author placed the image at the beginning of the story to express of the society was strict especially towards a girl child. On page 5, Marjane shows demonstrations all over the streets for and against the veil. This symbolizes fight for liberty and choice (Satrapi 5).
Black and White Color
The black and white color images symbolize restrain and freedom respectively. Satrapi, as a little girl has been going through a lot of challenges on her way to fight for freedom and justice. She had to flee from her home country to Vienna due to the eruption of turmoil in Iran. However, in Vienna Satrapi misses her family, gets depressed, and becomes homeless. She then decides to return to Iran to keep on fighting for change. In most parts of the novel, struggles, wars, and fights are depicted in black and white color. White is associated with light, innocence, goodness, purity, cleanliness and peace (Malek 358). It is considered to be the color of perfection. In contrary to black, white usually has a positive implication. The author has depicted both uncle Anoosh and God dressed in white colored clothes, which unquestionably shows that Satrapi viewed both of them in a truly positive light. Uncle Anoosh has been the hero and light for Satrapi since her childhood. Therefore, the goodness of both the uncle and God is symbolized in white. On page 14, the Islamic regime army is dressed in black beating down the resistors dressed in white who are trying to save people in the Cinema (Satrapi 14). This symbolizes a restraining and force against a call for freedom. Moreover, the Black color is typically associated with the negative or the unknown and represents despair and hardships. The veil worn by the girls were totally black, and the author explains “We found ourselves veiled and separated from our friends” (Satrapi 4). This symbolically shows that not only did the veil restricted dressing choice on women but also curbed their freedom to interact with boys.
The selection of black and white color goes further to show two opposite sides of Satrapi’s perception and feelings about the Cultural Revolution and Ideology in Iran. In most of the scenarios, the women for the veil are in black color while the women fighting for freedom are in white (Malek 370). This clearly shows Satrapi’s negative perception of the veil and her bitterness in being force to wear something that is against her will and choice. On page 51, the man torturing Ahmadi is wearing black from head to toe with only his hands and face exposed. This portrays black as am an oppressive image when compared with Ahmadi. Satrapi portrays her childhood innocence by keeping her clothes, body and background white (Satrapi 6). This shows the author’s perception of white as a color of purity and innocence.
Religion, Gender, and Conflict
The dominant themes in the Marjani’s story center on religion (Islam), gender and conflict as the main issues associated with the Cultural Revolution. Persepolis explores the intersection of modernity and religion, as well as the impact of religious suppression on the religious practices and feelings of those who must endure it. The religious revolution led to a conservative religious hard-liners who view modern Western-style culture as discordant with Islam (Malek 372). The new government-the Islamic Republic of Iran-passed laws that rigorously controlled all behavior on strictly religious grounds. The Islam religion outlawed consumption of or interaction with fundamentally anything seen as Western, such as American clothing or music. Additionally, the new regime in Iran made it compulsory for women to wear the veil. They also separated the schools between male and female (Satrapi 4). Such fanaticism portrays Islam as an authoritative and violent religion, and yet, in reality, it is not the case. Only, those in power are using it as an excuse to attain their ill motives and gain power forcefully.
Conflict intersect with religion as the atmosphere became turmoil after the Iranian Revolution introduced strict Islamic practices. After the Shah of Persia was overthrown and ultimately replaced by an Islamist government, many Iranians who supported the Shah were exiled, and some fled the country. Satrapi narrates her experience of the revolution comprising of bombings, torture, and violence that led to deaths of family and friends. After the revolution, intense social changes occurred as what had formerly been a liberal, the pro-Western country had become a fundamentalist religious state. Satrapi recounts having to wear the veil, learning governmental and religious propaganda in school, and encounters with Iran's moral police. Due to her developing rebellious nature and fearing for her safety in such an anti-rebellious, moralistic society, her parents relocate her to Europe (Malek 356).
Conflicts and religion affect the personal issues of an individual and expose the minors or women as vulnerable. Satrapi as a young girl feels like her life is being affected at both personal and professional level due to religion and eruption of war. She is forced to wear clothes that she feels uncomfortable in them as well as being separated from her family due to turmoil and politics. Her social activism in the fight for freedom betrays her to escape her country and find a sanctuary in Vienna. Satrapi’s childhood and adolescence are affected as she feels lonely in a foreign place away from her friends and family. In addition to that, based on the text, the strict Islamic belief system is often portrayed in the West as a source of conflict because opposing forces emerge to fight for freedom (Malek 356). Satrapi is shown as a young girl who is fighting against all the harsh laws that affect the Iranian people, especially women.
Religion and politics affect gender roles unequally. The roles of women are portrayed to be dictated by the religious rules whereby Satrapi is forced not to choose her career. The author tells us that the school thought it was weird for Satrapi to be a prophet and decided to call her parents. Even though Satrapi tells her parents she wants to be a doctor, she still really wants to be a prophet. This shows how politics and religion affect gender roles in society.
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Persepolis is a graphic novel that addresses thematic issues affecting the society. Politics and religious revolution is the source of conflict whereby individuals fight for their freedom to emancipate themselves from the bad governance. Satrapi has been an embodiment reason for people to fight for change regardless of gender or age. It is important for authorities to respect the rights and freedom of their people to create harmony and unity.
Davis, Rocio G. A Graphic Self: Comics as Autobiography in Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis. Prose Studies. 2005, Pp. 264–279.
Gertler, Nat, and Steve Lieber . The Complete Idiot's Guide to Creating a Graphic Novel. Alpha Books. 2004.
Kaplan, Arie. Masters of the Comic Book Universe Revealed! Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2006.
Malek, Amy. “Memoir as Iranian Exile Cultural Production: A Case Study of Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis Series.” Iranian Studies, 2006.
Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis. 1st ed. New York: Pantheon Books, 2000. Print
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