A Child’s Perspective

There are a few things that stand out to me about this book.  One is that this is a graphic novel which has not been assigned, if at all, here in the SUNY Fredonia English department.  I really enjoy the graphic novel because you still must use your imagination to piece together the story but you have the help of the pictures to stay completely on track with the Marjane Satrapi’s vision.  It is as if this is a novel and a play combined into one.  Every so often there is a picture of only the narrator which seems like a mini conversation between the narrator and the audience with the rest of the cast frozen in time on stage.

The other aspect of Persepolis that stood out to me was that the narrator is a child.  Children have a completely different perspective on reality from adults.  They do

not see sides or differences in ethnicity.  The only thing that children want to know is why they can no longer see their friends in school every day.  All of the changes and issues going on around her are difficult to understand.  Throughout the first section of this book it becomes apparent just how easily it is to mold the mind of a child.  Children believe who they trust.  Marji trusts her parents just how Ramin trusts his father.  He does not find killing human beings wrong because his father has made communists the “bad guys” in his mind.  When Marji confronts Ramin about his father and the murders he states, “He is not a murderer!  He killed communists and communists are evil.(p46)”

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The Graphic Choice

I’ve always loved graphic novels ever since I was a nerdy little high schooler who couldn’t wait for the newest adaptation of a Frank Miller tale. V for Vendetta, Sin city, 300 and many others became quite popular among the media. My favorite of those is V for Vendetta which tackles a lot of political issues within England and makes some very, very bold statements about where the country is heading. I use V for Vendetta as an explanation as to why Satrapi decided to tell this story in graphic novel form. These stories are easy to compare because honestly as a writer I can see the act of writing these stories out in strict novel form being an incredibly challenging and long winded task. Being able to show characters’ emotions through an image simple saves space and can be more effective in certain situation-both novels containing such situations.
While illustrating the novel definitely helped tell the story in a unique way, the perspective definitely served as the most important part of the story. Satrapi’s choice to tell this story through the eyes of a little girl makes her ignorance and lack of knowledge understandable, and offers the reader a chance to learn about her country and the conflict within it with her. This is probably my favorite text in the class syllabus and I think it’s because it offers a much more in depth learning curve which is both education but most importantly entertaining at the same time.

what I didn’t know about the Revolution

I’ve enjoyed this book the most so far in class for several reasons. First of all, the format of the book is enjoyable and makes for an easy read. I think this is important that this book is a graphic novel because the Iranian Revolution was such a serious matter. Reading the book as one would a comic strip takes a lot of seriousness and previous political ideology out of the equation. There is no way we as Americans are used to reading about matters dealing with Iran in a similar way to which we read “Calvin and Hobbs”, and thus it brings many new ideas and perspectives to light regarding the situation as a whole. When combined with the narrative from a little girl growing up amidst the revolution, I find myself actually re-learning what happened. Some things I had misconceptions about includes everything from the attitude of the country (I had no idea there were so many sides to the revolution, or that so many events took place before the taking over of the U.S embassy; it seems Americans only perceive the revolution as taking place once our embassy was taken over). I also like the little girls depiction of God as a personable force in her life, as well as her religious comments in the beginning of the novel. We clearly see how religious attitudes of the country are much like our own in America, and possibly even more mild when considering the Evangelical Resurgence in the political climate of the U.S. Also, as clearly depicted in the last bubble on page 79, I learned that Arabs are NOT Iranians. This concept never occurred to me.

I was stunned to learn how repressive the regime was over a population which didn’t necessarily support a religious government. As seen with the family, people have very mixed views about religion – an idea embodied in the little girl. It amazes me how people use torture and violence to subjugate a population in fear and obedience. This concept is so foreign to me I can’t relate to it at all.

However, my favorite part about this novel is the humanity found within each character. I think it’s safe to say I’ve never been spoken to a group of Iranians in my life and therefore have never gotten a preview as to who they are as people. From what the graphic novel has pointed out, they are just like us; emotional, intelligent, and even funny. My favorite example of humor in the novel is on page 81. The little girl is complaining about the Iraqi’s telling her father how “they want to invade us”. Her fathers response really cracked me up; “And worse they drive like maniacs.” Its the same sort of everyday humor I could hear an American person using about some other group of people which we don’t understand or connect with.

Lastly, I’m fascinated by the clothing restrictions put on the population by the new Iranian government. Neckties, short sleeves and skirts were banned among other things. Recently I’ve also heard that Shorts and necklaces have been banned for men in that country. What does banning a style of clothing do to people? This is a question I will bring up in class. To show the hypocrisy of such an idea, here is a picture of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Please tell me that the lack of his necktie doesn’t still contradict his Armane suit. There is a stark contradiction to the traditional dress of the religious leaders of Iran, like Ayatollah Khomeini. Why is this? This is what puzzles me about the modern Iranian regime – the mixed signals we get in trying to understand them. Just like the little girl in Persepolis.

Graphic Novel Memoirs–A Fresh Approach to What Can Turn into a Dull Subject

I cannot even begin to describe how brilliant I think it is that Satrapi chose to present her memoirs in this format. Books are so common, but graphic novels, at least autobiographical graphic novels, are rare (that I have seen). I’m not even sure where to begin with this graphic novel. Surprised and shocked would be two very accurate adjectives which could be used to describe how I reacted while I was reading, and also when I found out Persepolis is a memoir. So I suppose I shall begin with the brilliance in which Satrapi uses a pre-adolescent/adolescent girl–herself–to provide readers with a new lens to view the war through. It is not often that a writer is willing to do something such as that because it can be quite risky. Satrapi risked her credibility when she decided to make her memoir into a graphic novel; she also risked losing an audience because not everyone is a fan of graphic novels. Admittedly, this is my very first graphic novel so I don’t have any basis to compare, but I think Satrapi does an excellent job reaching out to all different kinds of audiences in this book.

There are so many panels I wish I could talk about because there are endless moving sections of this book. However, because I am spatially limited, I really want to focus on one particularly moving section which is found under the heading of “The F-14s.” While Marji is in school the class is given an assignment to write about the war. Marji, being the know-it-all character that she is automatically exclaims she knows everything about the war and writes “Four pages on the historical context entitled ‘The Arab Conquest and our War.'” (Satrapi 86) Because she is still relatively young and in the late stages of childhood egocentrism, Marji is extremely proud of her knowledge. This is all well and good but I was truly moved to tears whenever Pardisse read her simple yet sweet letter to her father, “It was a letter to her father in which she promised to take care of her mother and little brother…’rest in peace, dad.'” (Satrapi 86) This little girl managed to move not only the class and teacher to tears, but the reader as well. That is the sign of good writing for sure.

One of the awesome things about Persepolis is that it is not just a graphic novel. Below is in interview with Satrapi about the film version of Persepolis (I definitely want to see this!).

All in all, Satrapi provides us with a fresh and interesting twist on the war in Iran by allowing us to see it through the eyes of a child.

 

Work Cited

Persepolis. Digital image. Dance with Shadows. 28 June 2007. Web. 29 Mar. 2012. <http://www.dancewithshadows.com/movies/persepolis-iran-protest.asp&gt;.

Persepolis Exclusive: Marjane Satrapi. Perf. Marjane Satrapi. Youtube.com. Youtube, 19 Sept. 2010. Web. 28 Mar. 2012.
Satrapi, Marjane, and Marjane Satrapi. The Complete Persepolis. New York: Pantheon, 2007. Print.

 

 

 

Little Said, Lots Told

To get this out of the way, I’m halfway through Persepolis and I think it’s great.  The serious overtones lightened by the perspective of a child’s innocence in the beginning of the story makes for an interesting way of conveying political history, and the narrative medium of the graphic novel takes it one step further in making it accessible to an even wider audience.  I’m looking forward to watching the animated film after I’m done with the book.

This isn’t the first graphic novel I’ve read, but it is the first one that has had obvious political statements.  There’s many places to choose from, but the page that felt really strong in statement was on page 48.  I felt it said a lot about why, often, certain nations offer up any kind of support to another nation or group: personal gain.

In the first row of panels we are seeing the report about the Shah’s exile and how Jimmy Carter is refusing him and his family refuge.  Marjane’s father then says, “It looks like Carter has forgotten his friends, all that interests him is oil!”  Very brief, but those few words have much more meaning.  It’s a direct statement on how the U.S. sets up puppet leaders for personal gain, then forgetting them when usefulness has been lost.  We are not the only ones though, as Britain was pointed out as setting up the now exiled Shah’s father for the small price of giving them the oil.  A reason I find this interesting is because it always seems that when looking at conflicted situations history is often left out of the picture, at least when it comes to informing the (U.S.) public at large.

In the second row of panels the father again makes an interesting statement: “In any case, as long as there is oil in the Middle East we will never have peace.”  This, to me, rings true, especially in light of what the author states in the introduction.  Unfortunately it comes down to cold politics, which, again, as the father says in the last panel, “Politics and sentiment don’t mix.”  Through young Marjane’s eyes we see the erosion of a way of life that seems to have been brought about by the setting up of a puppet for foreign diplomats seeking to enrich their own countries.  Their normal lives disrupted and largely lost because of self-interest without sentiment, compassion, for human lives.

Maybe I’m wrong on some of this and just venting some anger about the fact that these kinds of things have and do happen.  What’s great is that we have an example of a work produced in a medium that usually doesn’t get much wide-spread critical attention conveying political information in such an accessible manner.

Reading Persepolis

Persepolis is the first graphic novel I’ve ever read, and I’m really surprised by how much I like it. I expected reading a book with pictures to be like watching a movie with subtitles: sometimes, it can be hard to decide what to pay attention to (do I look at what’s on the screen or read all the stuff at the bottom?) and when to privilege one thing over the other. I think it speaks to Satrapi’s talent, and the artfulness with which she crafted this book, that neither the words nor the pictures ever distract from the other.

In the article “On Writing Persepolis,” Satrapi discusses why she wrote Persepolis and why she chose to do it in the form of a graphic novel. She says, “[My friends and I] would see pieces about Iran on television, but they didn’t represent my experience at all. I had to keep saying, ‘No, it’s not like that there.’ I’ve been justifying why it isn’t negative to be Iranian for almost twenty years. How strange when it isn’t something I did or chose to be?” I think this speaks to the “othering” of the Middle East that has happened in the US, particularly since the late twentieth century. So many Americans fall victim to the popular media representation of Middle Eastern peoples as tent-dwelling, suicide-bombing, radical Islamists — exactly the sort of thing that Riverbend spoke to in Baghdad Burning as well. Satrapi says that she “wanted people in other countries to read Persepolis to see that [she] grew up just like other children.”

One part of the book that I found particularly interesting was Satrapi’s recollections of her struggles assimilating to European culture. On page 193, she writes, “The harder I tried to assimilate, the more I had the feeling that I was distancing myself from my culture, betraying my parents and my origins, that I was playing a game by somebody else’s rules.” I think its interesting that there seems to be, at least in some cultures, some sort of aversion to cultural pluralism on the individual level — it’s more of a “you’re either with us or you’re not” mentality. Also, I’d venture to guess that the pressure to assimilate is felt even more by someone coming from a culture about which there are so many (unflattering) misconceptions; going from Iran to Austria is probably a very different experience than going from, say, Sweden to the US. I’m not sure where this aversion to pluralism comes from — xenophobia? the French? (kidding. [kind of.]) — but it’s definitely there.

I think part of why Persepolis makes sense as a graphic novel is due to Satrapi’s desire to upset the very “image” of Iran that many people in the West seem to have. As a graphic novel, Persepolis allows little to no room for the reader to incorrectly picture the characters, their situations, the setting, etc. Unlike Riverbend, who could only describe to her readers the ways in which their ideas of Iraq were (probably) wrong, Satrapi uses pictures to force the reader to directly confront his misconceptions.

Also, I couldn’t help but think of this song at least one million times while I was reading this book.

 

Satrapi, Marjane. “On Writing Persepolis.” Random House, Inc. Academic Resources. randomhouse.com. n.d. Web. 28 March 2012.

Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis. New York: Pantheon, 2003. Print.

 

Humanism Across Culture

Persepolis is a text that in many ways falls into a league of it’s own. For me what stands out about it the most is Marjane Satrapi’s use of the style of the graphic novel. This form is something that is for many, completely different from how we are used to texts functioning. In the academic sense, in the sense of popular literary culture, and in my own experience we do not often experience texts in this way. There is a very specific relationship that this style creates with the audience. When we sit down to read a regular novel, short story, play, or poem we are forced to use our own experiences with the world to create images of what is happening in the text. With the graphic novel, like films, we are given not only clues but very direct interpretations of the words that we are seeing. So when Satrapi talks about being both religious and modern/avant-garde as a child, we are shown what that looks like to her and are not left only with our own preconceived notions or schema of what it would look like.

This style speaks to a feminist standpoint as well as a humanist standpoint. In an interview for the website bookslut, Satrapi says “I believe that we say too much ‘We the women’ and ‘We the men,’ but should say ‘We the human beings.’” Satrapi favors a humanist standpoint and denies feminism in this article but without belaboring the point I’ll say that my definition of feminism falls exactly in sync with the above quote so I include feminism in this argument. In an interview about the movie version of Persepolis she reiterates the same point.

The abstraction of the animated figures in the movie opposed to real life figures, in much the same way as graphic novel opposed to plain text, destroys or preconceived notions of a demographic. This style creates a universalism and globalism through humanism. As an American reading this graphic novel I appreciate the accessible way that this text functions. It goes without saying that this text explores many very serious and even horrifying political concerns. Concerns that are also in many ways very specific to a geographical area. But the way that she turns everything, the people and the issues, into universalized, human issues is what makes this text so important and so powerful.

 

Ifcnews. “Marjane Satrapi: “Persepolis” a Pro-Iranian Humanist Tale.” YouTube. YouTube, 11 Oct. 2007. Web. 28 Mar. 2012.

Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis. New York: Pantheon, 2003. Print.

Tully, Annie. “An Interview with Marjane Satrapi.” Bookslut. Oct. 2004. Web. 28