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Persepolis is a mirror of the ancient history and culture of Iran. It was built by the order of Darius the Great in 518 BC and with an area of about 125,000 square meters. Persepolis was one of the architectural masterpieces of its time in the world. In addition, it is one of the sights of Shiraz (Fars).
Persepolis is in fact the peak of elegance and creativity of Iranian artists in using the culture of different peoples. Peoples such as Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Medes, and Armenians who were under the rule and command of the Achaemenid. Darius’ goal in building this complex was to build a capital in his empire that was unparalleled. Therefore, for this purpose, he chose the vast plain of Marvdasht with its ancient historical background.
Persepolis or Takht-e Jamshid?
In the inscription from the remains of Xerxes on the entrance gate (aka the Gate of Nations) and according to some Elamite tablets, the original name of Persepolis is mentioned as the “City of Persia”. It is said that during the Sassanid era, this building was called a hundred pillars and in the Islamic period, it was called “forty pillars”, “forty minarets” and “the throne of Solomon”. However, later, because people did not know the creator of this collection, they attributed it to Jamshid, the ancient king, and named it “the throne of Jamshid (Takht-e Jamshid)”.
During the Achaemenid period, there was a residence for each season. Summer residence in Hegmataneh (modern-day Hamedan), winter residence in Susa (capital of Elam), and Persepolis were also spring residences for holding Iranian national celebrations (like Nowruz).
After Darius the Great, his son Xerxes, as well as his grandson Ardashir I, added magnificent buildings to this collection of art. In total, the construction of Persepolis palaces took about 180 years. It was used for 200 years and was abandoned after being destroyed by Alexander III of Macedon.
Historical Context of 'Persepolis'
Marjane Satrapi began to write Persepolis after she finished university in France in 1994, with her friends at the time acquainting her with the graphic novel form. It is thus a text composed in an increasingly volatile global environment, one which perhaps paralleled the epoch she was depicting.
Satrapi&rsquos work was created in an era preceded and followed by large amounts of military intervention and social unease in the Middle East. This is often thought to be largely a result of the vast, often untapped, oil reserves found in there. In an increasingly energy insecure world, oil reserves are of great importance, and thus Iran&rsquos vast primary natural resources can cause large levels of unrest and troubles. Iran&rsquos government states that oil reserves in Iran are third largest in the world, with approximately 150 billion barrels available as of 2007 (being ranked second if unconventional oil reserves &ndash such as the Canadian reserves - are excluded). This is roughly 10% of the world's total proven petroleum reserves, and Iran is therefore an energy superpower, also claiming precedence as one of the leading members of OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) (OPEC).
As Anup Shah states, &lsquogiven the vast energy resources that form the backbone of western economies, influence and involvement in the Middle East has been of paramount importance for the former and current imperial and super powers, including France, Britain, USA and the former Soviet Union.&rsquo (See link: Middle East: Global Issue). Indeed, this is a fact perhaps exemplified by the number of US military bases around Iran. See Figure 1. The involvement of Western countries in the Middle East was thus increasing at the time Satrapi was writing, and her work, depicting a revolution begun by Western influence on the Shah (See: Persepolis, Satrapi, pages 14-15, 38-39) would have had great resonance with the Iranians of her contemporary world.
(Figure 1: US Military Bases around Iran. Image source.)
Moreover, the text was written amongst the trade embargos and sanctions of the years that followed the mid-1990s. 1995, for example, brought oil and trade sanctions imposed on Iran by the US following Iran's alleged sponsorship of terrorism after Iran&rsquos efforts to acquire nuclear arms. Initially, both nations were hostile as Iran denied the charges, and by September of 1998 Iran&rsquos deployment of thousands of troops on its border with Afghanistan had only furthered these embargos.
Similarly, Persepolis was written around contemporary social unrest, with protests and demonstrations becoming widespread. July 1999 has been cited as bringing the most violent uprisings since the 1979 revolution which Satrapi depicts, producing six days of student-led protests and rioting, and the arrests of 1,000 Pro-Democracy students.
Satrapi&rsquos work was thus written in a time of political fears and social unease and disintegration, and her work depicting a revolution whose end had not brought about peace is one relevant to her contemporary audience, and the time in which she wrote it.
When the text was set and the historical events of Persepolis
Although Iran historically has had a volatile history, this has not always been the case, and the first human rights charter discovered originated from Iran. This has been named the &lsquoCyrus Cylinder&rsquo in modern years, after the Emperor of Persia, Cyrus, in 576-530 BC. See Figure 2. The Cylinder's text has traditionally been seen by Biblical scholars as corroborative evidence of Cyrus&rsquo policy of the repatriation of Jews following their captivity in Babylon. Satrapi seems to consciously ignore this heritage however, and instead her text focuses on the more restless aspects and history of the nation.
(Figure 2: Cyrus Cylinder. Image from British Museum)
The title of Persepolis itself places the text directly in the turbulent ancient history of Iran. Once the capital of Iran, Persepolis was located in the South-West of the country, only the ruins of which now remain. Diodorus Siculus, a Greek Historian, writing between 60 and 30 BC, detailed its destruction in his famous work, Bibliotheca historica, stating that Persepolis:
&ldquoWas the capital of the Persian kingdom. Alexander [the Great] described it to the Macedonians as the most hateful of the cities of Asia, and gave it over to his soldiers to plunder. (3) The king, too, more greedy for wine than able to carry it, cried: "Why do we not, then, avenge Greece and apply torches to the city. (8) Such was the end of the capital of the entire Orient.&rdquo (Diod. Bibliotheca historica. Book 17.70. Verses 3-5)
By naming her text after such a city, Satrapi is placing her text in the context of a continually feuding nation, setting the scene for the novel as one which is well versed in the art of war. Its positioning as such therefore has resonance with an increasingly Capitalist world, where Alexander the Great&rsquos destruction parallels that of modern day imperialism. For a further overview of ancient Iranian history, see the BBC&rsquos timeline (BBC Timeline)
The text is set between the years 1976 and 1994, detailing eighteen years of the author&rsquos life, and encompassing Iranian history from the past two millennia. It is set in the years surrounding 1979 Iranian Revolution, which Marjane Satrapi herself states "was normal, and it had to happen. Unfortunately, it happened in a country where people were very traditional, and other countries only saw the religious fanatics who made their response public." (Marjane Satrapi Interview).
The revolution occurred for a number of reasons. Largely, it was a result of opposition to the Westernizing and secularising attempts of the Western-backed Shah, and this is the main reason documented in Satrapi&rsquos text. Other reasons included a rise in the public&rsquos expectations following an overly ambitious economic policy, which aimed to exploit the income made from oil in 1973, anger over a short, sharp economic downturn in 1977-78, and other shortcomings of the &lsquoancien regime&rsquo (the monarchical hierarchy established by the Western nations centuries before).
Iran was the subject of a great deal of controversy throughout the time Satrapi depicts. The Iran&ndashContra affair, for example, was an American political scandal which came to light in November 1986 during the Reagan administration. Reagan&rsquos government, which played a decisive role in the survival of Iraq&rsquos president, Suddam Hussein, by allowing intelligence and hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to be given to Iraq throughout the 8 year war with Iran, had also been allowing the sale and facilitation of arms to Iran. When this financing of both sides came to light, Reagan stated:
"First, let me say I take full responsibility for my own actions and for those of my administration. As angry as I may be about activities undertaken without my knowledge, I am still accountable for those activities. As disappointed as I may be in some who served me, I'm still the one who must answer to the American people for this behaviour." (Reagan on the Iran Contra Scandal)
Thus, Satrapi&rsquos text is set predominantly in a nation which, particularly in recent years, has centred around scandals and warfare. Though the majority of Satrapi&rsquos text focuses on her personal life, some of the Iranian revolution is explicitly depicted.
The main historical events documented are as follow:
Cinema Rex Fire, 19th August 1978, pages 14-15:
- The Cinema Rex in Abadan, Iran, was set ablaze, killing around 470 individuals. The government blamed the Islamic militants, while the anti-Shah protesters blamed the governmental intelligence service. It was later disclosed that it was the Islamic militants.
Black Friday, September 8th 1979, pages 38-39:
- Involved the shooting of protestors in Zhaleh Square in Tehran, Iran. It has been described as a pivotal event in the Iranian revolution, where any hope for reconciliation between the Shah&rsquos regime and the revolutionary movement was lost. According to anti-governmental sources, a predominately peaceful demonstration was broken up by the Iranian military, with opposition and Western journalists reporting that the Iranian army massacred protestors and left between 100 dead.
Closing of Universities, 1979, page 73:
- University and higher education had been common in Iran, dating back to the early centuries of Islam. In the twentieth Century, the system was seen as antiquated, and was remodelled along French lines. However, the country's 16 universities were closed after the 1979 revolution and were only reopened after the Cultural Revolution Committee had investigated and dismissed professors who were Marxist, Liberal, or believed any other "imperialistic" ideologies. The universities reopened gradually with Islamic curricula between 1982 and 1983 under Islamic supervision.
Western Sexual Revolution, 1960-80s, pages 182-191:
- The sexual revolution was a Western social movement challenging tradition concerning sexuality and relationships from the 1960-80s. This liberation began with included increased acceptance of sex outside of marriage, and widely available contraception - most importantly the Pill - the normalization of premarital sexual relations and, the legalisation of abortion, and the acceptance of homosexuality and alternative forms of sexuality.
Iraq bombs Tehran, 1985, pages 256-257:
- In 1985, Iraqi warplanes bombed Tehran and two other Iranian cities on a Sunday, killing at least 28 people in largely residential areas of the Iranian capital. Baghdad deemed the raids &lsquoretaliation&rsquo, for an attempt to assassinate the leader of Kuwait, and Iran said its aircraft hit back.
Iraq attacks Kuwait, 1991, page 322:
- The Invasion of Kuwait, later known as the Iraq-Kuwait War, was one of the larger conflicts between the Ba&rsquoathist Iraqi&rsquos and the nation of Kuwait, which resulted in a seven month occupation of Kuwait by Iraq, leading to direct military intervention by Western, American-led forces in the Persian Gulf War, and culminating in the torching of 600 of Kuwait&rsquos oil wells in 1991. (See the 1992 IMAX production film Fires of Kuwait)
Iran&rsquos Plastic Keys to Paradise, 1980, pages 100-102:
- This episode in the text refers to the plastic &lsquoKeys to Paradise&rsquo allegedly distributed to young Iranian military volunteers during the Iran/ Iraq (1980-1988) by the Islamic Republic of Iran leadership, who stated that they symbolised certain entry into Paradise upon death. They were deemed absurd by even some contemporary.
When the text is being read
Published in English in 2008 and at the turn of the millennium in French, Persepolis is a modern text, written amongst continued strife and fraught relations between Iran and the West. With initial military intervention in the Middle East beginning in 2003 with Iraq, Persepolis is consonant with continued warfare and struggle. Following the US sanctions introduced in October 2007, the toughest since those first imposed almost 30 years before, and the nuclear threat posed by Iran, relations between the West and the US were at a low point. The text is thus being read by an audience aware of the constant issues in the Middle East, and although written about past events, can be seen as integral in shedding light on current and future events. Indeed, with the continued political and cultural dominance of the West - particularly the US - Satrapi&rsquos text is a worryingly individual account of the impacts of such dominance, a fact which only heightens the reality of current events in the Middle East. It is a starkly genuine and modern portrayal of a nation at war.
Persepolis opens right after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which results in the downfall of the American-backed dictator known as the Shah of Iran and leads to the rise of the religious hardliners who establish the oppressive Islamic Republic. Marjane Satrapi describes how she used to attend a French co-educational and non-religious school, but how this is outlawed because the Islamic Republic distrusts and rallies against all Western influences. Further, the regime forces all women and girls to wear veils . Marjane’s parents , however, are modern and secular in outlook though they supported the Revolution again the Shah, who was a despotic ruler, they are alarmed and dismayed at the fundamentalist turn of the new Islamic Republic. Forced to grow up quickly, Marjane begins to learn about the history of Iran and the many invaders and rulers it has had over its centuries’ long history. Her own grandfather was a Persian Prince who was often imprisoned and tortured under the rules of the Shah. She also begins to understand that different social classes exist, and that this is one root of much tension and suffering in the country.
After the Revolution comes to an end and the Shah is ousted, many political prisoners find themselves released from prison, including Siamak and Mohsen , both Revolutionaries who have been in prison for years. They speak of the tortures they experienced and the deaths they witnessed. Thinking of these two men as heroes, Marjane remains disappointed that her own father is not a hero, and that no one in her family is one, either. However, she is enthralled when she meets her uncle Anoosh , who fled Iran to the USSR so that he would not be arrested for his activities against the Shah. However, when he came back to Iran, his disguise was not good enough to keep him out of jail, and there he experienced much degradation. Marjane considers him a hero, and he hands her a bread swan he made while in prison. Unfortunately, soon afterwards, with the new radicalization of the country under the hardline government, the former political prisoners that were released become targets again, and Mohsen gets assassinated, though Siamak manages to sneak out of the country. Anoosh gets arrested, and Marjane is allowed to see him just once before his execution. This is the point at which Marjane rejects God .
Many of Marjane’s family and friends leave the country, but the Satrapis decide to stay in Iran for economic reasons. Soon after, Marjane’s mother gets harassed by men for not wearing her veil, and Marjane and her family go out on their last demonstration against the veil, which turns extremely violent. Soon after that, the Iraq-Iran War breaks out. This is a moment of great nationalism for Marjane, as she desperately wants Iran to defeat its enemy, but as the war goes on she begins to realize the cost of war, heroism, and of so-called martyrdom – something the government regime valorizes – when her friend Paradisse’s father, a fighter pilot, dies while bombing Baghdad. The new war brings many refugees from southern Iran up north to Tehran and many young boys are enlisted into the army. They are given plastic keys painted gold as a symbol of the easy entry one enjoys into paradise after dying for the nation. Marjane and her family see this as a despicable lie, particularly because it is only told to poor people.
During the War, the country’s policing of its people becomes more stringent, and the Satrapis' forbidden wine supply—as people still hold parties as an attempt at normalcy—nearly gets found out. When Marjane’s parents sneak in Western items for Marjane—like posters and sneakers—after their trip to Turkey, two members of the women’s branch of the Guardians of the Revolution nearly arrest Marjane. The Iraqis now use ballistic missiles against Tehran, which are very destructive, and one day the Satrapis' Jewish neighbors’ home gets destroyed, though at first Marjane thought that her own house was hit. Nevertheless, Marjane is traumatized when she sees the severed arm of her dead friend Neda beneath the rubble of her house. Marjane, always rebellious, becomes even more so. She becomes bold, bold enough to slap her principal at school, and she is promptly expelled. Even in her new school she speaks her opinions, and Marjane’s family thinks it best (and safest) that Marjane continue her education in a country that will afford her more freedom. Tearfully, Marjane leaves her family and makes her way to a new life in Vienna, Austria.
Civil Strife and National Conflict
The situation in Iran at the time Satrapi recounts is complex, as there are two kinds of war taking place. The first is the internal struggle between Iran's people and its government, as the oppressive regime of the Shah gives way to the oppressive regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Second is the Iran-Iraq War of 1980–1988, which begins one-third of the way through the volume and is more clearly defined as a war.
Often, the seemingly contradictory natures of the two wars are brought into stark relief by Satrapi. When the war with Iraqi heats up, Marji and her father are struck by a wave of patriotism when the national anthem—which was banned under Khomeini's regime—is played on television. They later discover that the fighter pilots imprisoned by the government for a failed coup demanded the anthem be broadcast before they would agree to fight for their country. Though fundamentalism and secularism compromise with each other to protect the country from an outside threat, national unity nonetheless remains impossible.
Civil strife in Persepolis occurs in two phases: outright demonstrations against the Shah of Iran and more subtle forms of dissent when the Islamic Republic government takes over. Marji's parents are dedicated demonstrators against the Shah, but their secular politics place them in danger when the fundamentalist tenets of Islam become the basis of the new Islamic Republic of Iran. The book illustrates one of the great ironies of the Islamic Revolution, that the political prisoners held by the Shah became freed heroes, only to be executed shortly thereafter by the new government's Islamic Guardians of the Revolution.
Given the extreme cruelty of the fundamentalists, protests change from public mass demonstrations to small signs of resistance. Satrapi employs a chart to illustrate differences in appearance between fundamentalists and progressives. Progressive Iranians express their freedom by holding illegal parties and drinking alcohol. This is dangerous and could incur great punishment, but the demand to enjoy life often makes it worth the risk. "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."
This was especially true for young people in Iran, who sought individual freedom and tested the limits of what they could achieve (or get away with). Initially, Marji wants to participate in the demonstrations that her parents are involved in, but as they grow more dangerous, and as she grows older, the focus of her rebellion changes. As she approaches adolescence, Marji understands rebellion in personal terms, going to the restaurant, Kansas, with some older girls, listening to banned pop music, and, when caught by her mother cutting class, calling her "Dictator!" Though extreme in its comparison, the exchange has the emotional resonance of any teenager experiencing parental difficulties.
War from a Child's Perspective
This story is told from the point of view of a young Iranian girl, so the perspective is markedly different from the typical accounts of war and revolution found in literature. There is very little exact information regarding major events, emphasizing this as a personal account of a historical time as opposed to an objective historical account with facts and dates. In addition, things that may seem important to readers from other cultures are not nearly as important from young Marji's perspective. Perhaps most striking to readers from the United States, the American hostage crisis—still one of the defining events in America's understanding of Iran—is dealt with in a single page. The hostage crisis itself is not important to the Satrapis (though they disagree with the fundamentalist students behind it), but the consequence that visas to visit America are no longer available is important.
As a child, Marji is an open vessel for knowledge. Readers learn the history of Iran through the stories Marji hears from relatives such as her grandmother, her parents, and Uncle Anoosh. Since her family is descended from royalty, there is an intimacy to what would otherwise be remote historical events, and often, the historical stories somehow feature Marji's relatives. We also see Marji and her friends repeat what they have heard from various sources of the adult world like school, television, their parents, even thirdhand accounts of what someone else has heard. At one point Uncle Anoosh defends Marji by saying, "She's just a child who repeats what she hears!" Later, Marji becomes wiser about propaganda, but it takes time and a certain awareness of the world for such understanding to take place.
Politics does not always make sense to Marji, but adult behavior in general does not make sense to her. Things that would take on added significance to an adult—the ironies of the revolution, an uncle's heartbreak overshadowing his political oppression—are not fully understood by Marji, and as a result are never fully explained. This provides a distinct view of a culture in turmoil that never becomes overwhelmingly complex.
Open to all of the perspectives she hears, Marji points out the contradictions of wartime morality without the accompanying rationalizations adults give. For example, after the revolution, Marji's teacher tells her to rip out the picture of the Shah in her textbook. She is confused, because the same teacher praised the Shah before the revolution. Marji does not understand the political advantages in changing one's allegiances, as she sees the world in black and white, which is echoed in the visual style of Satrapi's comics.
When Marji's mother hears of the torture her friends have endured, she demands that all torturers be massacred. Just before, she had advised Marji to forgive. Marji asks her mother why they should not forgive the torturers as well. Marji's mother gives a vague reply: "Bad people are dangerous but forgiving them is dangerous too. Don't worry, there is justice on earth." If anything, however, this makes Marji less sure of what "justice" really means.
It is significant that the main source of moral certainty is the character of God. He begins the story close to Marji and then appears less frequently during the revolution. Finally, Marji orders God away after her Uncle Anoosh is executed—a symbolic loss of faith and sureness in morally compromised times.
In Persepolis, Marji becomes aware of class differences and when she finds out she is among the privileged, she is ashamed. During the Iran-Iraq War, young boys from poor families are recruited to die on the front lines while families that are more affluent are protected from such recruitment. This is the focus of the chapter "The Key," where poor boys are promised access to heaven if they die for their country.
This results in one of the most powerful visual moments of the book. The page consists of two panels: the top two-thirds of the page contain the first panel, where faceless black silhouettes of soldiers are blown up in minefields with their plastic "keys to paradise" dangling around their necks. The bottom third is devoted to a second panel, showing Marji's first party. The characters at the party are individuals, not faceless strangers or silhouettes. They are frozen in midair like the soldiers in the minefield, but these children are dancing to music. In addition, where the soldiers had keys to paradise dangling around their necks, Marji has a "decadent" punk rock necklace of chains and nails. In this manner, the contrast between two kinds of childhood is conveyed. One is moderately safe from danger and filled with the joy and energy of youth the other is filled with sacrifice, war, and anonymous death.
Exploring the significance of the veil in Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis”
The Islamic Revolution in 1979 overturned a progressively Westernized Iran into a country deeply roo t ed in archaic and patriarchal ideologies, where it became obligatory for all women to wear the veil. Over time the wearing of the veil, enforced through Islamic Shi’a tradition, has either been embraced or met with reservation by women. For some, it is ritualistic — a necessary compliance with the Qur’an. Whilst for others, it signifies conforming into faceless obscurity. Satrapi uses this veil to symbolize her transitions in her Persepolis, from her state of conformity, to her metaphorical unveiling of the truth behind the Islamic regime and ultimately her complete rebellion that leads to her eventual freedom.
We are immediately confronted by Satrapi’s conformity to the veil at the start of Persepolis. In Fig.1, Satrapi introduces herself to the reader and makes note that it is post-Islamic Revolution, when she was 10.
One of the most telling panels, this depicts a somber Marjane (or Marji as she is known throughout Persepolis), looking directly at the reader, as a prisoner would silently crying for help, with her arms tightly folded as if to physically close her body off from the world. She has been forced to wear a perceivably thick, black veil, and shows no enthusiasm about it. This is further elaborated in the next panel, fig.2. A significant part of the caption reads, “I’m sitting on the far left so you don’t see me.” Satrapi has deliberately cropped herself out from the class photo, with just her left arm showing, for two particular reasons: To stress the idea that they all look exactly the same with the veil on — they are all just as faceless and insignificant as each other so it simply wouldn’t matter if she was in the photo of not. Marji also does not want to associate herself with the regime nor does she want to adopt any of its principles — including wearing the veil she does not want her class photo to be of her wearing a symbol of conformity and obedience. Even though Marji associated the veil negatively, the Iranian government saw women wearing the veil as an embodiment of cultural authenticity — an expression of Iranian and Islamic culture, rather than repression (Begolo 3).
Another interesting point to note in fig.2 is that all of her classmates hold different, subdued facial expressions while simultaneously wearing veils. Satrapi deliberately did this to convey to the reader that although the veil is physically and metaphorically weighing them down, their differences in eye shapes and expressions, hairstyle and noses show that underneath the veil they are individual women in their own right, wanting to break free.
The juxtaposition of women who are either for or against the veil depicted in fig. 3 deeply symbolizes Marji’s perception of the veil. The four women to the left of the panel are heavily shrouded in the black veil, both physically and metaphorically, with their eyes tightly shut. Satrapi intentionally did this to convince the reader that they have their ‘eyes wide shut’, as in, they believe that what they know is real and true, but in reality they are ‘blinded’ by tradition and their eyes are physically and metaphorically shut to what is the actual truth. At this point, Marji is unsure of what is truth and what is myth behind the veil, but it is starting to evoke her curiosity about the regime and what is causing this dichotomy between “The veil” and “Freedom.”
This curiosity is reinforced perfectly in fig.4. Here Marji is figuratively torn between what she was brought up to know and what she is curious to know — the world she was brought up in is depicted with images of working cogs, hammer and ruler to represent logic and reason, not associated with the veil. The other half depicts a world of fundamental Islam — Marji is shrouded by the veil as well as Islamic art of all things, to represent the fact that her notion of traditional Islamic faith is visual, not factual. The fact that Marji is seen to have a neutral facial expression depicts that she is unsure of which ideology is the one she should embrace, a question that plagues her throughout the course of Persepolis.
The unpleasant truths about the regime are metaphorically unveiled to Satrapi, paralleling to her loss of innocence. When Marji is told of her communist grandfather’s imprisonment, she is disheartened to hear that he was brutally tortured for holding beliefs that differed from the Shah’s.
In Fig. 5 we see Marji’s mother sadly concluding that her grandfather was in pain all of his life. The fact that visually almost half of her face is shaded black signifies how the regime has caused her to lose faith, hope and ultimately innocence. This visual dichotomy between dark and light is reiterated in the following image of Marji, whose innocence physically evades her after hearing of the brutality of the regime. She wants “to take a bath” to empathize being in a cell filled with water, just like her grandfather. This guilt causes Marji to begin to lose faith in the regime and everything associated with it. In Fig. 6 this is further addressed to the reader visually when the Shah crowns himself as King of Kings, seeking legitimacy in the heritage of the Persian Empire (Sciolino 1). The Shah promises a modern Iran, where “People will regain their splendor” (Satrapi 27). Marji is drawn to be in the luminous moon because she is figuratively becoming enlightened, after beginning to come to the realization that the Shah’s regime was built on false promises.
Marji’s resentment for the regime continues to grow the more statistics she hears of it (regardless of their validity). After hearing that her friend’s father “was in the Savak” and that he “killed a million people,” (Santrapi 44) Marji wants to teach her supposed friend Ramin “a good lesson.” (Satrapi 45)
In fig. 7 Marji and her peers put nails between their fingers with the intention of attacking a petrified Ramin, who hides behind a tree. The eyes of Marji and her peers are closed tightly in anger, which again represents the notion that their eyes are physically and symbolically shut — they are metaphorically veiled to believe that what they are told about the regime (even if it has not been proven to be accurate) is enough justification to outright attack someone they once considered to be amongst them.
Marji is profoundly unveiled to the brutality of the regime when she hears of the torture that is exercised in Iran’s prisons. Fig. 8 depicts the brutal torture that political prisoner and family friend Ahmadi had to endure that led to his eventual assassination.
Note there are no panel walls firstly because the Satrapi wants to make it clear that the effects of the torture are everlasting, and secondly the veil virtually has been lifted — the truth behind the brutality of the regime is out in the open to Marji and the Iranian people and it is so shocking and profound that it cannot be confined within panel walls. Marji can barely comprehend what she hears, and is astounded that a domestic appliance in her home, a single iron, could be used to end someone’s life with such brutality.
It is this brutal force in the regime that kills Marji’s beloved uncle, Anoosh. After hearing the devastating news of his death, Marji experiences a significant turning point. In Fig. 9, Marji firmly tells God (or her notion of God), who has come to console her, that she never wants to see him again.
She feels betrayed by everything she thought she knew of religion, Iran, its leader and his ideologies. This harsh unveiling of the truth results in Marji’s loss of childhood innocence — she will never be the same again, and it is at this point where she begins to use the regime and its restrictive ethics as a justification for rebellion.
Satrapi uses the veil to symbolize her rebellion against the regime, which leads to her eventual freedom. In fig. 10, Marji and her classmates make a mockery of the on-going war between Iraq and Iran by knitting ill fitting, comical and impractical winter hoods for the soldiers.
They are not taking the reality of the situation seriously in any regard, and show little respect for the soldiers and/or authoritative figures behind the war. They do not realize the impact the war has taken on families, especially those of the 40,000 soldiers who died (Anon 1). This could convey to the reader that not only do the soldiers deserve the attention or respect of the girls, but it is how the girls see the veil — an article of clothing that is ill-fitting, impractical and something that they cannot take seriously, for they do not see any logic or reasoning behind it. The bottom three panels in fig. 10 illustrate Marji and her classmates’ lack of respect for an authoritative figure — in this case her teacher. When the teacher demands which student jokingly said the word “Poopoo,” Marji’s captioned response was simply that they were all united — she is making a mockery of the fact that they all look identical wearing the veil, thus they are automatically all ‘united’ as one. The far right panel shows the girls’ further disrespect for authoritative figures/people in power by making silly gestures behind the teacher’s back, after the teacher informs them that they are all suspended for one week. This is emphasized through the visual aspect of this panel — all of the girls huddled together are the exact same height as the teacher, depicting themselves as equals to the power figure. Noticeably, the power figure is depicted as wearing a continuous long black veil that shrouds her entire body, rather than the typical veil seen throughout Persepolis that meets at the shoulders. This could have been Satrapi’s intention to further illustrate that those in power were the most metaphorically veiled to the brutality of the regime.
Marji continues to rebel against the veil and the ideology it represents in fig.11. Even though she wears the compulsory veil (which she now refers to as headscarf — a slightly more laidback, modified veil) Marji puts on her “1983 Nikes” as well as her denim jacket fitted with a Michael Jackson button.
She wants to be able to express her individuality through clothing and personal style, as she is starting to come into her own self whilst slowly turning her back to the regime. When Satrapi gets caught for her “punk” clothing on the bottom right panel on p.132 (Satrapi 132), she is ultimately released — an outcome that symbolically foreshadows her eventual freedom from Iran, the veil and the ideologies it represents at the end of Persepolis.
Despite its negative connotations, the veil has physically and metaphorically guided Satrapi to her eventual freedom. Despite her initial state of conformity, at the end of her journey in Persepolis, Satrapi is no longer metaphorically ‘veiled’ or blinded by disinformation or deceptive ideologies behind the regime as she is able to think freely and critically for herself. The wearing of the veil itself has caused Satrapi to realize how important it is to express and embrace individuality, rather than choose to be defined by patriarchal and conformist ideologies at the hands of another.
Sciolino, Elaine. “Iran and PERSIAN MIRRORS: THE ELUSIVE FACE OF IRAN.” 2000. Web. Nov 3 2012
“The Iran-Iraq War (1979–1988).” Jewish Virtual Library. American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. Web. Nov 3 2012
Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis, Paris: L’Association, 2000, Print
Bergolo, Zephie. “Veiled Politics.” History Today. Volume: 58. Issue:9. Publication Date: September 2008. Page Number 42+. Nov 3 2012
God Looked Like Marx
Marjane Satrapi's ''Persepolis'' is the latest and one of the most delectable examples of a booming postmodern genre: autobiography by comic book. All over the world, ambitious artist-writers have been discovering that the cartoons on which they were raised make the perfect medium for exploring consciousness, the ideal shortcut -- via irony and gallows humor -- from introspection to the grand historical sweep. It's no coincidence that one of the most provocative American takes on Sept. 11 has been Art Spiegelman's.
Like Spiegelman's ''Maus,'' Satrapi's book combines political history and memoir, portraying a country's 20th-century upheavals through the story of one family. Her protagonist is Marji, a tough, sassy little Iranian girl, bent on prying from her evasive elders if not truth, at least a credible explanation of the travails they are living through.
Marji, born like her author in 1969, grows up in a fashionably radical household in Tehran. Her father is an engineer her feminist mother marches in demonstrations against the shah Marji, an only child, attends French lycée. Satrapi is sly at exposing the hypocrisies of Iran's bourgeois left: when Marji's father discovers to his outrage that their maid is in love with the neighbors' son, he busts up the romance, intoning, ''In this country you must stay within your own social class.'' Marji sneaks into the weeping girl's bedroom to comfort her, reflecting, deadpan, ''We were not in the same social class but at least we were in the same bed.''
Marji finds her own solution, in religion, to the problem of social injustice. ''I wanted to be a prophet . . . because our maid did not eat with us. Because my father had a Cadillac. And, above all, because my grandmother's knees always ached.'' The book is full of bittersweet drawings of Marji's tête-à-têtes with God, who resembles Marx, ''though Marx's hair was a bit curlier.'' In upper-middle-class Tehran in 1976, piety is taken as a sign of mental imbalance: Marji's teacher summons her parents to discuss the child's worrying psychological state.
A few years later, of course, it's the prophets who are in power, and the lycée teachers who are being sent to Islamic re-education camp. Marji is 10 when the shah is overthrown, and she discovers that her great-grandfather was the last emperor of Persia. He was deposed by a low-ranking military officer named Reza, who, backed by the British, crowned himself shah. The emperor's son, Marji's grandfather, was briefly prime minister before being jailed as a Communist.
When the present-day shah is sent into exile, Marji's parents rejoice. Their Marxist friends and colleagues, freed from years in prison, come to the apartment for celebrations, at which they joke about their sessions with the shah's special torturers.
The nationwide jubilee is brief. Soon these same friends have been thrown back into jail or are murdered by the revolutionaries Marji and her schoolmates take the veil and are taught self-flagellation instead of algebra. Those who can decamp for the West.
Once again, Marji finds herself a rebel, briefly detained by the Guardians of the Revolution for sporting black-market Nikes, in trouble at school for announcing in class that, contrary to the teacher's lies, there are a hundred times as many political prisoners under the revolution than there were under the shah. Once again, Marji notes, it's the poor who suffer: while Marji attends a ''punk'' party for which her mother has knitted her a sweater full of holes, peasant boys her age, armed with plastic keys promising them entry to paradise if they are killed, are being sent into battle in Iraqi minefields .
It is the war with Iraq that is this book's climax and turning point. Satrapi is adept at conveying the numbing cynicism induced by living in a city under siege both from Iraqi bombs and from a homegrown regime that uses the war as pretext to exterminate ''the enemy within.''
When ballistic missiles destroy the house next to Marji's, killing a childhood friend and her family, Marji's parents decide to send her abroad. The book ends with a 14-year-old Marji, palms pressed against the airport's dividing glass, her chador-framed face a mask of horror, looking back at her fainting mother and grieving father. ''It would have been better to just go,'' her older self concludes.
Contemporary American cartoonists tend often to operate in a twilight zone of ironically diminished expectations -- Ben Katchor's Lower East Side automats, Daniel Clowes's hospital examining room. ''Persepolis,'' by contrast, dances with drama and insouciant wit.
Satrapi's drawing style is bold and vivid. She paints a thick inky black-on-white, in a faux-naïf pastiche of East and West. ''Persepolis'' deploys all the paranoid Expressionism latent in the comic strip's juxtapositions of scale -- the child dwarfed by looming parents, would-be rescuers dwarfed by giant policemen guarding the locked doors to a movie theater that's been set on fire -- but when Satrapi depicts a schoolyard brawl, it's straight from Persian miniature.
''Persepolis'' was first published to enormous success in Satrapi's adopted France, where adult comic books are a long-favored form. The English edition comes with an introduction expressing the author's desire to show Americans that Iran is not only a country of fanatics and terrorists. The book could hardly have come at a better moment.
Iran, after all, is not the only Muslim country with an urban Westernized elite that's been decimated by dictatorship and pauperized by decades of war. It's not hard to imagine a cartoon '𧮫ylon'' whose war-scarred author might not be so diplomatic as Satrapi in pointing out how her own country's now-toppled Frankenstein was constructed from parts made in the West and sold by its current ''liberators.''
The PFA Project
The Persepolis Fortification Archive Project is a new phase in recording and distributing the information that brings about these changes, using electronic equipment and media alongside the conventional tool-kits of philology and scholarship. In its early phases, the PFA Project has:
- Captured and edited conventional digital images of almost two and a half thousand Elamite Fortification tablets, accelerating work that has been under way since 2002
- Captured and edited very high resolution digital images of more than six hundred Aramaic Fortification tablets and their seal impressions, as well as hundreds of uninscribed, sealed Fortification tablets, using large-format scanning backs and Polynomial Texture Mapping apparatus built specifically for the project
- Started to explore advanced technologies for recording and conservation of Fortification tablets and fragments (3D scanning, subsurface laser scanning, CT scanning, laser cleaning and others) Formed a team of editors to prepare editions of Elamite and Aramaic Fortification tablets and studies of seal impressions, both those accompanying texts and those on uninscribed tablets, to be distributed on a real-time rolling basis along with images of the tablets Catalogued, assessed and sorted about a third of the thousands of tablets and fragments that remain to be recorded, to identify priorities for conservation, study and presentation
- Set up data structures for recording, linking, analyzing and presenting images and documents in the On-Line Cultural Heritage Environment (OCHRE)
- Entered co-operative agreements with projects at the Collège de France, the University of Southern California, and UCLA. which will lead to distribution of PFA data through at least three other on-line sources
- Established a weblog to collect news reports on the status of the PFA as well as on-line images, articles, and books connected with Persepolis and the Persepolis tablets.
Marjane Satrapi Biography
Many People who grow up in a society battered by political persecution can become programed to think, fell, and act in a manner which fulfills the “proper criteria” of how an individual in that particular society should behave. Marjane Satrapi, before becoming a world renown graphic novelist, was an Iranian-born girl from the city of Tehran, Iran. Marjane was born on November 22, 1969. By a young age Marjane was caught in the middle of a large scale conflict of values that was taking place in her country. Beginning in 1979, at the tender age of 10, Satrapi, an only child, witnessed the civil up rise of the Iranian population against the monarchy of the Shah during Iran’s Islamic Revolution. Her parents, who openly practiced with communist and socialist parties, were avid protesters against the regime of the Shah. As the situation within Iran escalated into a civil war, Satrapi and her family began to feel the effects of the conflict first hand. During the revolt, Satrapi and her family began to feel the effects of the conflict first hand. During the revolt, Satrapi’s Uncle was imprisoned and executed by revolutionaries because of differences in religious beliefs and disagreement with the regime. Although Satrapi’s parents were strong-willed individuals, the situation reached a point where it was inevitable for women to dress in an Islamic gard to avoid harassment from the religious police.
Marjane was instilled with the same nonconforming attitude as her parents because Satrapi’s parents were confident individuals who refused to truly conform to the rules of their society. However, this attitude would land Satrapi in trouble on more than one occasion. In high school Marjane never hesitated to question the authority of the material the teachers were teaching. This persuaded her parents to send her to Vienna, Austria in order for her to gain knowledge freely without the effects of political propaganda. During her tenure in Vienna Marjane was forced to live in a convent where she was ethnically discriminated by one of the nuns. After leaving the convent she jumped into a life of drugs, anarchy, and romantic relationships. Without a secure home she temporarily stayed with friends until, at age 18, she ended up homeless and in the hospital. She then moved back to Iran and unwillingly accepted her role as a women in Iranian society until she finished college. Satrapi moved to Paris and began learning how to successfully produce graphic novels. She also, at the age of 31 (2000) produced a graphic novel of her own that would go on to become a “Angouleme Coup de Coeur Award” winner named Persepolis.
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood is an autobiographical story of a young girl that is displayed in an unusual comic trip form. Not only is this piece of literature autobiographical but it also possesses first-hand historical context of the Islamic Revolution through the eyes of a young Marjane Satrapi. In an interview with the New York Times Satrapi stated, “I hope Persepolis will combat the negative images that people have of my native country.” Although the book covers a vast array of sensitive subjects regarding politics, war, violence, and persecution, it also contains a portion of humor which Satrapi elaborates by stating, “Iranian’s are used to using humor to shave off despair.” In 2004 Satrapi released the sequel to Persepolis, Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return. This second book tells the story of her life during adolescence into adulthood. The sequel of Persepolis focuses much on rebellion and how acting in public and behind closed doors creates a “multi-personality person.”
Satrapi’s style of writing in comic-like form allows her audience to visually capture the aspects of the text and get a better sense of feeling and understanding. Because the book is categorized as a graphic novel, and was also later turned into an animated film (2007) which has been translated into several different languages, it is easily comprehensible for people of all backgrounds to comprehend the underlying messages of freedom in her work. The fact Persepolis is not just biographical but also a historical piece of literature that mirrors the Iranian Islamic Revolution through the eyes of somebody who was passionately involved. It is almost a contribute to her fellow countrymen and women.
Marjane Satrapi is now 41 years of age and calls home in Paris, France with Sweedish-Nationalist husband Mattias Ripa. She continues to work on her literature and is actively involved in animated film, illustration, and writing children’s books. Other notable books which she has produced include “Embrodieries” (2005) and “Chicken with Plums” (2004). Marjane Satrapi is undoubtedly one of the pioneers of the graphic novelist. Although this style has been present for centuries her success with Persepolis opened up a wave of up and coming authors who’s admirations are surrounded by the success of this well written piece of literature.
Resources To Gain A Further Understanding:
“Confessions Of Miss Mischief”
Hattenstone does a wonderful job of painting a descriptive image of what Marjane Satrapi is like in person, allowing the reader to have an inside perspective of the raw, rebel-ish Satrapi. Seeing the emotions of Marjane we see in this interview allows readers the opportunity to put the emotion back into Persepolis, furthering the diary-like feeling of Persepolis. It is an interesting perspective to Satrapi’s biography and her current ideology.