As a burgeoning form of literature, the graphic novel is a subversive medium fighting to gain legitimacy in the arts. Marjane Satrapi’s The Complete Persepolis uses the graphic novel to address certain discrepancies and stereotypes towards Iran. Through the direct anecdotal lens of her life, Satrapi allows readers to give new definition to Iranian culture and its people.
Persepolis follows the typical journey of an Iranian adolescent, exploring the secular lifestyle many citizens strived to live under Islamic Fundamentalism. Satrapi describes various fanatic practices of the regime. At political demonstrations, the revolutionary guard is shown violently beating and dissolving the crowd. While the material may seem scornful to her home country, the use of satire and raw imagery reveal the humanity within Iran.
Throughout her adolescence and adulthood, Satrapi engages in activities deemed rebellious, such as seemingly ordinary parties.
Satrapi states, “In spite of all the dangers, the parties went on. ‘Without them it wouldn’t be psychologically bearable,’ some said. ‘Without parties, we might as well just bury ourselves now,’ added the others.”
These parties served as escapism for Iranians from the radical religion, war, and devastation that claimed their lives otherwise.
Satrapi also depicts the ordinariness within Iranian institutions, such as universities, where there were secular and non-partisan people. Disobeying ultra-radical and religiously-minded art laws, Satrapi and her peers brought in their own controversial artworks. She recalls, “Our professor was so happy to see the sketches we did at home.” The delighted teacher responds to the work saying, “Bravo! An artist should defy the law! I congratulate you!” Through these events, Satrapi emphasizes the disconnect between the extreme representation of Iran and the actual lives of the people.
Satrapi’s depiction of childhood reiterates the themes of innocence and nonconformity among Iranian children. Although the children may appear ingenuous at times, they often act with defiance and insolence. There are many instances when the children mock and defy the fundamentalist practices required at all institutions. In the schoolyard, Satrapi portrays a scene of rebellious students when it is time to pledge allegiance to the regime’s religious virtues.
Satrapi emphasizes the presence of secular, Western culture in accounts such as one where she goes to the black market. Among the various Western items in high demand, the young Satrapi searches for music tapes, showing the similarities between the Western prototypical teenager and Iranian teenagers.
As a result of the cultural, social, and economic revolution taking place in Iran, there were ever-increasing instances of cruelty. The world began to associate Iran with hostility, which escalated during the Iranian hostage crisis from 1979-1981 when Americans vilified Iran as an enemy of the state. This crisis, along with the Fundamentalist Regime that gained power, cemented America’s perception of Iran as inhumane. When President George Bush branded Iran as part of the “axis of evil,” Iran’s global reputation continued to worsen. This opinion of Iran is more popular today, owing to the disagreement over the Iran Nuclear Accord in 2015. It is for this reason that Satrapi’s work and her goal to change public perception is critical to current events.
Satrapi satirizes the radical laws that the Regime placed on the citizens. When Satrapi was painting a male model at an Iranian art school, an authority figure came over and rebuked her by saying, “…You’re not allowed to look at [the model], it’s against the moral code.” Her personal narrative may have the sole intention of letting people see Iran as a backward, senseless place. However, Satrapi also contradicts this misrepresentation of Iran by depicting the innocent lives of the public.
Satrapi shows the world what it really is like to be Iranian through her reporting. She succeeds in changing the public’s everyday perception. Many people across the world now have access to a new insight and there is less room for blind discrimination against Iran. In an age of international volatility, Satrapi’s main goal seems even more relevant. In an interview discussing her motivations behind Persopolis, Satrapi states, “There is so much good in bad, and so much bad in good.”
By Maxwell Sternberg
Maxwell Sternberg is a Freshman at Baruch College with an intended major of Finance. This essay was written for ENG 2100, but with the much discussed issue of the Iran Nuclear Deal, Maxwell felt that this essay and perspective would be ever so pertinent and revealing.