Persepolis: Unity in Diversity
PERSEPOLIS: Unity in Diversity Submitted by: Akoijam Malemnganbi 13HEMA50 ‘If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. ’ -an excerpt from The Merchant of Venice Introduction
Inspired by Art Speigelman’s ‘Maus’ and his use of the medium of graphics combined with words in narrating a pensive horror story of the holocaust in WW2, Marjane writes about her own life story when she was growing up in Iran before, during and after The Islamic Revolution in her book Persepolis 1: The story of a childhood. In her second book Persepolis 2: The story of a return she continues the novel with her life just starting in Vienna, a country where she faced alienation owing to her being an Iranian.
In this paper I shall try to examine her use of the medium in accordance with the themes as well as the treatment of cultural diversity and her attempt to show the affinities in human beings all over the world while trying to bring in an Iranian perspective or rather an alternative perspective to the western approaches regarding the stereotyping of Iranians and the middle easterners. I shall present these two aspects of the novel conjointly as they are closely interrelated. The first chapter of the graphic novel1 is titled ‘The Veil’ where Marjane and her friends are introduced wearing veils for the first time in 1980.
It became obligatory to wear the veil at school after the Islamic Revolution and boys and girls were separated in schools. For Marjane and her friends who were in a nonreligious school where boys and girls studied together, the veil represents the oppression by the regime. However, in the streets, there were demonstrations for and against the veil equally. 1. The term graphic novel was first coined in 1964 Richard Kyle in a newsletter published by the Comic Amateur Press Alliance.
It was later on popularized by Will Eisner in 1978 after he used it to describe his book ‘A contract with God’. In the first page itself, Marjane is in a separate panel while the rest of her friends are in another to show the alienation she feels throughout the novel, both in Iran as well as in Austria. This also gives a clue to us of her individualistic rebellious approaches and stances she makes over a period of time unlike many of the Iranians and the westerners who forms their ideas based on stereotyping.
For instance, when she is staying with the nuns in Austria, one of the nuns insults her by insisting the remark that Iranians have no education only because she is eating spaghetti out of the pot while watching TV in the refectory. She remonstrates by saying that then it must be true that the nuns were prostitutes before they become nuns. In another instance, during a party in school in Austria, she hides her identity and pretends to be French in front of a guy called Marc. Later, unfortunately for her, she is found out and called a ‘cow’ by some of the students in school during a conversation in a cafe.
She shouts them back affirming that she is an Iranian and she is proud of it. For the massacre scene where there are more than 400 victims when the Rex Cinema Hall is burnt down, Marjane uses a panel that takes more than half of the page to excite the reality in the readers’ mind. For the same reason, the victims are integrated in the drawing of the flames. Marjane’s father Ebi takes photos everyday and the panels are placed together on top of each other; each panel representing a photo. This lets the readers1see the photos directly and make them a witness to the atrocities more or less.
Not only this but also the use of a drawing of a folded newspaper on the page with two swans at the two sides instead of enclosed by a panel lets the readers to witness her life from a very realistic panoramic viewpoint rather than just reading a comic strip with panels after panels. So much so for this matter, Marjane wants the readers to relate and understand her novel strictly from a humanistic personal viewpoint. Thus, she illustrates the novel using a monochromic of black and white and presents the obscured neglected facet of Iran.
Using this medium, she says, helps her in representing the characters with minimal signs appertaining to a particular culture. Sometimes, she draws only the silhouettes of the characters. This way she can avoid the indicators that implies to a 1. She ratifies in an interview that she wrote it mainly for the western audience. certain culture such as clothing, streets, buildings, parks, hills and mountains and so on and so forth. Henceforth it is easier for the readers to relate to the characters since the characters represent humans who do not belong to any place or time in particular.
They are simply representation of humans who can be from any place of the world. In this fashion Marjane tries to convey that the Iranians are also just like the westerners who eat when they get hungry, who laugh at the jokes, who love and care about their family amidst the bombs and guns. To enhance this thought in the novel, there are many drawings of the characters in uniform. Some examples are the depiction of the revolution, the demonstrations, the massacres, the young kids exploded on the minefields with their keys1 around their neck, the girl students, the nuns, the fundamentalist etc.
However, this uniformity also manifests the lack of individuality which is a result of the stereotyping in case of the nuns and the fundamentalist and the psychological or physical oppression of the whole lot in case of the demonstrators, the revolution, the massacres and the girl students. Her uncle Anoosh, a communist who died for the equality of the people in Iran is glorified in the novel. He is presented as an idol for young Marjane. There is even a panel of him with an aura at the back of his head.
In Marjane’s quest for the affinities between the east and the west, she often finds beauty in the diversity of the cultures as well and it is portrayed through different characters in her novel. To begin with she is friends with an eccentric2, momo, a punk ‘who greeted people in his own way’3, and two Swiss orphans, Thierry and Olivier. When she is left alone after everyone went for Christmas in 1984, her roommate Lucia invited Marjane to her house in Tyrol, a place in southwest of Austria, to celebrate Christmas with her parents. Lucia’s parents and little sister welcome her with the utmost respect and love.
She is invited every day by an aunt or an uncle because they have never seen and Iranian and a cousin who had spent four years in francophone Switzerland enjoyed acting as a translator. At the time of her departure, she is gifted a cabinetmaker by Lucia’s father and a 1. The young boys were promised by the regime that the key opens the path to heaven after death and persuade them to join the military in the name of serving the nation. 2. Julie, a sullen French 18 year old girl in Marjane class where the average age is 13-14. 3. He kisses them. candied apple and some fruit by Lucia’s Mother.
Lucia’s mother even called her Schatzi which means dear in German. In fact, she writes that she has found a new set of parents in the novel. In another incident, Marjane wakes up in a hospital after a prolonged exposure in the cold after her break-up with Markus who cheated on her. In spite of being an Iranian, she is treated with proper care and medicine in the hospital and is advised to not smoke since she is diagnosed with severe bronchitis. The hospital even gives her presentable clothes to visit her mother’s friend Zozo and collect the 3000 shillings she owes Taji, her mother.
On the other hand, after coming back to Iran, Marjane finds herself alienated from the rest. She is an Iranian for the foreigners and a foreigner to Iran. She falls into depression for quite a while and has hallucinations often when she takes the pills prescribed by the shrinks. She feels that she is haunted by the victims of a war she’s fled. She can no longer understand her Iranian friends and connect with them in any level. She cannot associate herself with their act of resistance against the fundamentalist by ‘making themselves up and wanting to follow the western ways’.
Marjane’s trend of mind is no longer aligned with her friends. However, after her recovery Marjane starts questioning the fundamentalists’ rules and restrictions that are loosely based on human moral ethics. Her grandmother plays a pivotal role in Marjane’s life in formation of her moral decisions. She teaches Marjane to never lose dignity and integrity which rebuilds and enhances Marjane’s conviction and confidence. Her self-esteemed is restored mostly through her interactions with her grandmother. Time and again, she goes to her for advice and consolation till the end of the novel.
During the convocation when she was studying Graphic Arts, Marjanes questions the fundamentalists of their stern choice of clothes for the Iranian women. She criticizes the impositions on the woman students that make no sense by the mullahs1 in the novel. In the beginning of the novel, there is a panel that shows the prophets in shock with disgust and aversion when they see Marjane as the last prophet. Thus, she scrutinizes the situations in and outside Iran that deprive the basic human needs and the idea of preserving the so-called cultures that is entailed with patriarchic elements based on false belief.
Regardless of sex, gender and race every human beings has a right to exercise a certain amount of freedom. 1. The guardians of the regime, the fundamentalist. In this novel, Marjane pictures the irrational regulations of the regime that supposedly impede lascivious, indecent behaviors. The regime forbids the citizens to use make up, to drink liquor, to listen to western music or wear clothing such as a neck tie, whatever that has to do with the west. For them it was a sign of western decadence.
Man and woman were prohibited to even hold hands in the public before marriage. It is even worse for the homosexuals. They are either fined or wiped if caught. Many youths are forced to get married like Marjane herself to avoid this inhumane limitation by the regime. The Iranians whilst trying to find ventilation from this insane constriction they began to indulge in all the forbidden activities secretly and throws parties now and then. Eventually, the contrast between the official representation of Iran and the real life of the people grew tremendous.
In fact, it was the polar opposites. Conclusion In this novel, Marjane portrays the everyday life of the many Iranians through her and her family in an episodic manner. She brings forth the ignored stories of the Iranians which is invisible to the public media. She exhibits the inherited quality of human beings in Iranians through the picturesque of a caring grandmother, parents and families. The cardinal values she gives to the relationship she has with her uncle, friends, mother, father, grandmother etc. nd vice versa invalidates the stereotyping of the Iranians by the west; the stereotyping that implicates that they are all the time engaging in war and bombs and guns. She asserts that one can find extremist and warmongers everywhere be it in the west or east. The cultural diversity does not make any human from any place of the world lesser than any other. Differences are bound to be there no matter what, it is to respect that difference that counts. As an individual and a human being one needs to resist the nonsensical restrictions and cherish the distinctness.
Thus, her stance on race, gender and class is founded on this ideology. References: 1. McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers. Inc 1993 page 5 to 23. 2. http://www. bookslut. com/features/2004_10_003261. php 3. https://blogs. stockton. edu/postcolonialstudies/hybridity-and-comics/persepolis-apostcolonial-feminist-reading/ 4. 5. 6. http://blog. nationmultimedia. com/print. php? id=3716 http://serendip. brynmawr. edu/exchange/node/11879 Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and The Story of a Return. UK: VINTAGE UK Random House. 2002.