Family in 1984 and Persepolis

In the two texts, the notion of family is greatly influenced by an external factor, which is the political party in control of the population. In Persepolis, this would be the Iranian government in power during the post Cultural Revolution, while in 1984 it is the totalitarian party, referred to as ‘Ingsoc’ or simply ‘the party’. In Orwell’s novel, the party’s concept of family is defined as the people whom you share a household with, where every member is stripped of affection and comfort, and restricted of every possible aspect of freedom. Orwell depicts this through the melancholic relationship between Winston and Catherine, in which the sexual relations were referred to by Catherine as “their duty to the party”. During the coupling, Winston describes his wife as “cold and rigid” to his touch, mirroring her inability to express pleasure or any emotional response. The relationship reflects the extreme control that the party have manifested over people, who are ultimately reduced to detached machines. Furthermore, it appears like the party are ‘breeding’ the lower class together, which dehumanizes them, making them comparable to caged animals that are experimented on. Therefore it is seen that Orwell manipulates the theme of family such as that the reader is forced to feel disgust and horror towards the conditions that the population of Oceania are put through, which strengthens his message of warning and prevention of totalitarian societies.

Similarly in Persepolis, Iranian families are brought apart and sabotaged by the political changes in the 1970s. Satrapi uses the theme of conflict to demonstrate to the reader how this is of incidence. Conflict raises many concerns in the autobiographical comic, such as war, death and corruption, which leads to the loss of family members as well as close friends. Marjane’s uncle Anoosh is a perfect example in this case, as he is involved in all of these themes. In Marjane’s perspective Anoosh was seen as a ‘hero’ and she had great admiration for him, this is also reflected in the fact that Anoosh’s hair is drawn in white, whereas everyone else has black hair, which suggests purity, peace or even an angel-like figure. Nevertheless this created a source of struggle within the family, because as a child the writer became irritated at the fact that her parents were unlike her beloved uncle. This is because Marjane’s uncle became a political prisoner which she associated to a national hero. She reproached her parents of not contributing enough or as much as Anoosh, to fight against the Iranian Cultural Revolution. This only worsened after Anoosh’s death, as Marjane almost blamed parents for it. In Persepolis familial conflict was created due to the political changes in Iran; it was done indirectly, as children were suddenly led to believe that sacrifice for the nation was a noble act. However there is a difference between the parties in 1984 and Persepolis, as the goal of political party in Iran revolved around beliefs such as religion and culture, and that it would actually change Iran for the better. Whereas in 1984, the party wanted to create their own utopia, based on obstruction of freedom and complete control of the masses.

Marjane was also in conflict with herself, during her younger years, meaning that she confused what was right or wrong. This was due to the clash between the education that her parents provided and the filtered information that she was spoon fed at school. For example, the school would tell her that going at war for Iran was a heroic act, while her parents would convince her that it was on the contrary, a suicide mission, conducted by the government. These externally formed conflicts created familial tension as well as confusion in Marjane’s mind set, which contributed to the wall that was present between Marjane and her parents. Fortunately the boldness of Marjane’s character and the closeness of the family bonds held the family unit firmly together and the political party was only able to pose influence to a certain extent. Therefore the use of family in Persepolis by Satrapi is not as extreme as in 1984, and is present mostly to create drama and tension within the comic. It has to be considered that the text was written to create awareness, but as it is an autobiographical, the story cannot be twisted in certain ways, which would lead to further exploration of the theme of family by the author.

In Orwell’s novel, in contrast, no family resists the oppression of the party, as the external influence is acute, to the point that not having a family strengthens one’s intellectual and emotional state. It can then be justified that the party has more control over individuals whom are part of a family, as the inner members act similarly to telescreens, restricting even further the freedom that a person possesses. As demonstrated with Winston in front of the telescreen in his apartment, he is extremely cautious with his actions and facial expressions, however he does not need to be attentive to his speech, whereas in a family, whilst communicating, you need to beware not to let anything irregular slip out. Therefore families can be seen as an extra security measure employed by the party to preserve control. In this way, Orwell makes the reader understand that Winston and Julia are exceptions to the rule, which produces a distinction between them and other characters. As a matter of fact, this is the only commonality that they share; Orwell juxtaposes their two characters with their descriptions. For example, Julia seems to be an avid supporter of the party on the outside, as she took part in the ‘Anti-sex League’, while Winston was immediately revealed as against the party when writing ‘Down with Big Brother’ in his diary. There is also a distinct age gap between the two, as Julia is ‘young and lively’, while Winston is depicted as ‘old, scrawny and has a varicose ulcer’. Therefore Winston and Julia are comparable to a fault in the code of the party’s programming of the population. Orwell uses the two characters to affront the representation of a family in the dystopia while also to leave a trace of hope in the novel, reflecting that totalitarian societies are preventable, inciting the reader into contributing to the prevention.

On the other hand Satrapi also uses her comic to credit families in a positive way, as she shows that her family permitted her to grow into her own individual through the progression in book 1 and 2. Marji’s Grandmother played a massive role in shaping her own character, as she acts as Marjane’s moral mentor and advice giver. This can be seen when her grandmother says “always keep your dignity and be true to yourself”, which influences many of Marjane’s decisions in Europe, such as leaving the religious home she resided in. Consequently Marjane’s grandmother is portrayed as a wise person with plenty of experience in life, which demonstrates Satrapi’s affection and love for her. The male members of the family, the father or Anoosh also took part in Marjane’s upbringing, as they build up her political conscience and teach her a great deal about ethics. The most important aspect that the author learns through her family is the fact that memory and history are extremely valuable as they can influence the future of a nation like Iran. This is parallel to 1984, where the past is changed with lies and the spreading of false information, affecting people’s memories. Through this Orwell sends out a similar message to the one in Persepolis, which dictates that people should think more on their own and should question everything that they are told or that they read.

Moreover, family members in 1984 are even brought to the point of giving each other up due to the indoctrination of the masses by the party. Orwell illustrates this using the Parsons family, in which the daughter ends up reporting her father to the party because he had unconsciously said “down with Big Brother” in his sleep. It is clearly no ordinary family that would be apparent in our society, although ironically, it seems to be quite average in terms of the common name ‘Parsons’, and the fact that the married couple have a boy and a girl. Thus Orwell suggests that this is the average family unit present in Oceania, as a result of the totalitarian dystopia he has imagined. Looking at the Parsons it can be seen that the parents are impotent towards their children and at one point Winston is terrified of the children, when a pretend gun in pointed at him. As a result, a paradox is created between the control and authority that the parents and children have over each other. In addition, Mr Parsons can be described as an ignorant drone of the party; he is an orthodox follower of the party, the fact that he was denounced highlights the cruelty and inconsideration that is injected into the children of the family by the party. There is such a disparity with the children and the parents that it is frightful for the reader to imagine that such a family could exist, especially since there are many others like it in Oceania. In conclusion, even though the theme of family is apparent in both texts, it is used to a greater extent in 1984 to spread Orwell’s message and to make the reader comprehend the injustice within the party’s oppression towards the population. Where as in Persepolis, family is used to understand the process of Marjane’s childhood.