Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis
Is it their skin color? Their language? Their appearance? Or maybe the tragic occurrence of September 11th? Over the years, Muslims have rapidly become subjects to one of the many groups that are strongly stereotyped throughout the West. Whether it is religious, physical, traditional, or even affected by disdained feelings against them, Muslims suffer from all kinds of stereotypes. This occurrence, however, is clearly recognized by a Muslim author named Marjane Satrapi.
In her graphic novel, Persepolis, Satrapi illustrates her story of living in Iran as a discreet revolutionist child going against the Fundamentalists’ throughout the Islamic Revolution. Proving Iran’s image of having connections with fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism false, Satrapi successfully sheds light upon her subversion to Western stereotypes about Muslims through the use of three illustrative strategic dichotomies.
These creative dichotomies include the color usage of black versus white, the significance of big images versus small images, and the illustrative facial expressions of Iranian Fundamentalists versus Iranian Revolutionists. When one first encounters the visual dichotomy of black and white, one does not immediately recognize the significance that black and white colors can have upon an image. Marjane Satrapi illustrates numerous images using only the colors black and white in her novel from the very beginning to the end.
At first, it is not too obvious that Satrapi is using the colors in significance for a deeper meaning, but as one keeps reading, the significance becomes very apparent. On page three of Persepolis there are two different images that aid in demonstrating the illustrative dichotomies Satrapi uses on black color versus white color. In the first image Marji, is pictured sitting at a black table with her hair wrapped in a black vile due to the strict rules of the Fundamentalists’ throughout the Islamic Revolution.
Her skin, her clothes, and the background of the image are all colored in white, which works as a way to distinguish her physical appearance. However, in the second image people seem to be rebelling in the Islamic Revolution. Instead of this image having as much white color as the other, it is predominantly colored black with the faces and outlines of people’s clothes colored in white. This differentiation of black and white within the images is continuously viewed all throughout the novel as Satrapi ells her story. However, when the first image on page six is observed, the meanings behind the color black versus the color white become very clear. Satrapi is using the color black as an indication of rebellion or possibly even as an indication of disorientation, whereas, the color white is used to indicate normality or orderliness. Seeing that the color black signifies rebellion and the color white signifies normality, one can imply Satrapi’s points of view easily.
Since the veil on her head in the first image is black and the rebellion image is predominantly black, and the image on page 6 demonstrates half of a Fundamentalists’ way of life and half of a Revolutionists’ way of life, Satrapi is obviously against Fundamentalism throughout the Islamic Revolution, making her a Revolutionist. The contrast between the usages of black and white in the images, functions in demonstrating two groups within Islam, the extremist Muslims and the modern Muslims.
Furthermore, this contrast demonstrates one of the ways Marjane Satrapi subverts to the Western stereotype about Muslims being all the same. The illustrative dichotomy of black versus white, however, is not the only illustrative strategy Marjane Satrapi uses in subverting Western stereotypes about Muslims. The varying sizes of the images Satrapi illustrates in some parts of her novel can possibly function in making Westerners have a positive comprehension on the impact of particular experiences she had.
Marji’s impact on a particular experience can account for those Muslim Revolutionists who were in the same position as she was in Iran or in any Islamic country. For instance, on page 71 Marji is illustrated as floating and crying in space after she found out that the Fundamentalists’ killed her beloved uncle. This image however takes up the entire page which can be interpreted as symbolizing the severity of her feelings. In addition to the impact of Marji losing her uncle, someone yells at her saying “MARJI, RUN TO THE BASEMENT!
WE’RE BEING BOMBED! ” (71). A reader at this instant will possibly actually feel the struggle and pain Marji is experiencing at this moment because of the image being enlarged. The fact that this image particularly takes up the whole page emphasizes the impact allowing for readers, including Westerners to feel how she feels. This denotes that if such a connection occurs stereotypes affected by disdain against Muslims could possible lessen because readers now understand some Muslims possible xperiences. A similar understanding can derive from Satrapi’s other illustrative strategic dichotomy. The contrast between visual facial expressions between the Fundamentalists’ and the Revolutionists’ are very differentiable throughout the novel. For example, on page 66 the first image portrays Fundamentalist men looking for a Revolutionist. This is because if the Fundamentalists’ find out a person is a revolutionist they will find the person and kill them for going against the Fundamentalist regime.
These men have very bold black V-shaped eyebrows along with a full black beard, they dress in all black, and they are illustrated as if they are always in rage. Now, comparing how these Fundamentalist men are drawn to how Marji’s father or uncle are illustrated in the fourth and last image, one can see that these men do not have a full beard like the Fundamentalist men, portraying their differences. In addition to their looks, the Fundamentalist man illustrated as if he is in rage repeatedly occurs all throughout the book.
While the Fundamentalist is always in rage and looking the same, the Revolutionist is, in fact, consistently varying his facial expressions. The contrast in the facial expressions of these two different kinds of men proves that not only are there two levels of Islam, but each level of Islam implies a difference in personality. Although some people might argue that assuming a certain personality to a specific kind of Muslim person is still being stereotypical towards Muslims, dealing with such a diverse religious group in this way can detain prior Muslim stereotypes from being so negative.
According to W. Shadid and P. S. van Koningsveld’s article, “The Negative Image of Islam and Muslims in the West: Causes and Solutions,” Western stereotypes against Muslims arise due to the effects of national and international developments such as the Islamic Revolution. Frequent encounters with Muslims and people of the West, in fact, are the reasons why stereotypes have now become a serious issue.
Shadid & Koningsveld elaborate on this by stating, “Mutual contacts are based mainly on stereotypes and prejudice, which are clearly observable in the various reports in the media in which Muslims are described as fanatics, irrational, primitive, belligerent, and dangerous” (Shadid, and Koningsveld 174). Although some people might not notice it, Muslims are too stereotyped in the media. Some of these media programs include the PBS television programs, “Jihad in America” and “Crimson Jihad” (The Pluralism Project at Harvard). These stereotypes, however, exist because Westerners only focus on the violence of the Muslim World.
New York Times reporter Nicholas D. Kristof, actually, describes a very well driven Islamic society he visited in 2006 called Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei located in Asia. He was stunned to experience, “a society in which females predominantly occupy high rankings in politics,” (Kristof, New York Times). Kristof’s review can go to show that there possibly exist more positive occurrences within the Muslim World that Westerners do not here about because of the media’s lack of knowledge. Muslims are a very large and diverse religious group, and it is unfair to those Muslims that are not extremists to be treated as if they are.
Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis functions well enough to give some knowledge. Her illustrative strategies of the black color versus the white color, the significance of big images versus small images, and the illustrative facial expressions of Iranian Fundamentalists versus Iranian Revolutionists successfully subvert common Western stereotypes against Muslims. If Westerners would have more knowledge on the good doings of the Muslim World like Nicholas D. Kristof, W. Shadid, and P. S. van Koningsveld there will sure be a lesser amount of negative stereotypes about Muslims in the West.