Persepolis Discussion

17Sep09

Hi all.  My name is Laura and I primarily blog at Adventures of a Young Feminist.  I’m one of the book club bloggers and I thought I would get things started on the discussion surrounding our book for September, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.  Warning: there are some spoilers.

Persepolis is the memoir in graphic novel form of Marjane Satrapi’s childhood growing up in wartime Iran, her adolescence spent in Austria, and her return to Iran and all the trials and tribulations that come with that.  Growing up during the Islamic Revolution and a war with Iraq in Iran, Marjane had to learn quickly about the cruel realities of the world.  Her family was outspoken (as much as they could be out of fear of persecution) against the new regime and the war and encouraged Marjane to develop her own voice through education.  As a teenager living by herself in Vienna, Marjane had to face the confusion of adolescence alone as well as trying to stay true to her Iranian heritage but also struggling to fit in to the European culture.  Returning to Iran was just as difficult for Marjane.  After spending four years in Europe, she was too Western for Iran but too Iranian for the West.

What’s so great about this book is that it is at the same time foreign and familiar.  Many people have not experienced the Islamic Revolution as a child or have grown up when a war was waged on their country.  But at the same time, Marjane’s coming of age story is familiar to many.  Seeing the world from the “innocence” of a child and discovering the meaning on things for the first time.  Struggling to fit in as a teen when you feel as if no one will accept you.  Being in a romantic relationship for the first time and all the fears and joys that come from that.

As a graphic novel, Persepolis is easy to read and understand.  But the fact taht it is a graphic novel adds something else.  The illustrations of Persepolis add another dimension to the story.  My experience with graphic novels is limited, but I found the story of Persepolis to have its reality enhanced by the illustrations.  Even though the graphic violence of wartime or the exploration of one’s sexuality as a teenager is not shown, the adventures of Marjane’s childhood and adolescence are given a face through the illustrations.

I do not know a whole lot about the Islamic Revolution in Iran or Iranian culture in general.  Because of this, I did have a hard time understanding some of the background of the story.  But Satapi does a good job at explaining the traditions and rules of Iranian culture as well as some of the events of the Islamic Revolution.

For all those who are reading along with the book club or have read Persepolis before, I have some questions for you.  I’ll have my answers below the list:

  1. Do you think Persepolis is a feminist text? Why or why not?
  2. What do you think of the representations of moderns vs. traditionalists in Iranian culture?
  3. What do you think of Marjane’s marriage? Was it out of love or necessity? At the beginning? At the end?
  4. What do you think of Marjane’s eventual decision to leave Iran for France?

Now here’s what I think:

Do you think Persepolis is a feminist text? Why or why not?

Yes. Definitely.  Marjane herself was raised to think for herself and to seek education in whatever forms necessary.  While I have mixed feelings about the use of the veil (and I really shouldn’t comment too much on it because I am not too familiar with Islam), I do feel that when women are forced to wear the veil instead of it being their individual choice, then something is wrong.  In Iran at this time, women were forced to wear the veil.  While Marjane and the women in her family wore the veil in public out of a need for survival, Marjane speaks out against it.  In a lecture about moral conduct, Marjane speaks up:

“You say that our head-scarves are short, that our pants are indecent, that we make ourselves up, etc…You don’t hesitate to comment on us, but our brothers present here have all shapes and size of haircuts and clothes.  Sometimes they wear clothes so tight that we can see everything.  Why is it that I, as a woman, am expected to feel nothing when watching these men with their clothes sculpted on but they, as men, can get excited by two inches less of my head-scarf?”

Of course, speaking up against the head-scarf requirement is not the only feminist issue that Persepolis raises.  I’m just using it as an example.  Marjane speaks up against the injustices that she sees.  She takes her life into her own hands at many times and questions social injustices.

What do you think of the representations of moderns vs. traditionalists in Iranian culture?

In the introduction of the book, Satrapi states: “I believe that an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists.”  I don’t know a while lot about Iranian history or Iranian culture, so I can’t really speak to the validity of this representation that much.  I did find it interesting that many times there were “modern traditionalists” – people who had the appearance of being modern on the outside but were really more traditionalist on the inside.  Marjane didn’t really like these people.  She thought they were being fake.  But these “modern traditionalists” speak to Marjane’s conviction that Iranian culture not be judged by a few.  Iranians are more than just one thing, or two for that matter.  Marjane shows in her portrayal of her life in Iran that there are people all throughout the spectrum of moderns to traditionalists.

What do you thik of Marjane’s marriage? Was it out of love or necessity? At the beginning? At the end?

It’s a little hard to judge this situation because a) it’s acutally a person’s life, and a person that I don’t know for that matter and b) we know when we meet the man that she is going to marry him and we know before they get married that they eventually get divorced (I would have liked the divorce to have been a little more of a surprise.  It would have been nice to discover that they weren’t right for each other along with Marjane instead of knowing from the beginning).  But I was surprised when she did get married at age 21. As I said, we knew the marriage was coming, but I wasn’t expecting it to be that soon/early.  Throughout the story, Marjane was strong and independent.  She was strong and independentin marriage as well.  The decision to get married at age 21 was a decision that she seemed to deliberate a lot because she, too, thought she was too young.  But she and Reza were discriminated against but society because they were unmarried.  And they thought they were in love, so it made sense to get married.  I think it was always out of necessity.  They would have realized they weren’t right for each other if they could live together before getting married, but they couldn’t do that without being married.  They couldn’t be together in public without getting married.  I think I might get married young as well if that were the case for me.

What do you think of Marjane’s eventual decision to leave Iran for France?

I think that this was a good decision for Marjane.  She didn’t agree with the politices and cultural traditions of Iran.  Even though she felt attachment to Iran, she was confident in herself and her beliefs enough to know that she would not be happy staying in Iran any longer.

*********

What are your thoughts on Persepolis?  I will be posting about the book on my blog as well in a couple days, so look for further discussion there.  Also, look for an upcoming post on the movie Persepolis and its relation to the book.

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12 Responses to “Persepolis Discussion”

  1. Do you think Persepolis is a feminist text? Why or why not?

    Yes, absolutely. Marjane questions all of the various expectations of her as woman and the different roles she has to fulfill: wearing the veil, how to be a daughter or grand-daughter, whether she wants to be a wife or not.

    What do you think of the representations of moderns vs. traditionalists in Iranian culture?

    Mostly skewed of course towards the modern; however, Satrapi did balance the representations somewhat by depicting the director of her school as a “true religious man.”

    What do you think of Marjane’s marriage? Was it out of love or necessity? At the beginning? At the end?

    I agree with you that marriage was necessary because although they were in love, they first needed to live together to really get to know one another and in order to live together, they needed to get married.

    What do you think of Marjane’s eventual decision to leave Iran for France?

    I think she accomplished a lot for herself and for her people by creating Persepolis. She would not have achieved this if she had not left Iran.

  2. Wow Laura, this is a great post! I agree that I definitely see this as a feminist text. I was struck by how independent she is while she’s growing up. Perhaps because my own childhood and adolescence was so sheltered, I am always taken aback when I learn other women are not the same way.

  3. 1. Do you think Persepolis is a feminist text? Why or why not?

    Absolutely it’s a feminist text. In addition to the points raised already, she interrogates her interpersonal relationships with men and women, her feelings over her physical appearance–which is made even more salient because it’s a comic, so you see her depiction of her looks, her choice not to make herself prettier or sexualized–even when she’s dealing with sexuality. Speaking of which, her attitude toward sex is one of the most refreshing things in the book: she decides to lose her virginity, she wants sex, she doesn’t fall apart over her first sexual encounter. She simply treats sex as a part of life.

    2. What do you think of the representations of moderns vs. traditionalists in Iranian culture?

    Satrapi definitely is opposed to the enforcement of “traditional” values. But what I think is important is how she shows how Iran was before the revolution–and connects THAT Iran to its long history. Being modern is not only adopting Western values or listening to its music; it is part of the evolution of Iran, one that the revolution stopped in its tracks and forced backward.

    3. What do you think of Marjane’s marriage? Was it out of love or necessity? At the beginning? At the end?

    It was out of love and necessity. They weren’t allowed to have a relationship unless they were married–that doesn’t mean they didn’t think they were in love or want it any less. Obviously the cultural rules forced them into making their relationship legal, but I don’t see it as some horrible decision that she was culturally forced into. It was like any of us moving in with a significant other at 21–a lot of those relationships end. Most of us don’t have to sign legal papers on the way out, but there are always entanglements…

    4. What do you think of Marjane’s eventual decision to leave Iran for France?

    She made the decision she had to make for her safety and sanity.

    I’d like to throw out a question of my own: since I write about comics a good deal, I wonder if anyone has thoughts on the story of Persepolis as a comic. Did you think this was the best medium for her story? Would it have had the same impact as a prose story?

  4. 1.Do you think Persepolis is a feminist text? Why or why not?
    While we don’t know what Satrapi intended the reader to feel, i think any text that confronts and makes attempts to discuss women’s roles in society can definately be read as a feminist text. persepolis did this constantly so it definately deserves to be in a feminist book club.

    2.What do you think of the representations of moderns vs. traditionalists in Iranian culture?
    I felt the different representations of Iranian culture were certainly an eye opener to the various people that make up iranian society but i also think it could be taken as a comment on western society. as laura pointed out, the young girls that are made up to look westernised held very traditional iranian views about women. maybe this shows that neither traditional or modern society has a place for the empowered woman. They will both chastise you about your sexuality, one will keep you hidden from the world behind a hijab and other behind layers of makeup.

    3.What do you think of Marjane’s marriage? Was it out of love or necessity? At the beginning? At the end?
    I think Marjane may have been in love, we can’t question her on that. It certainly was easier to live as a couple when they were married but to me that doesn’t completely explain why such a strong minded person would get married so young. I felt it might have been societal pressures. If your whole self worth is decided by your marital status you may give in and take the easy way out as it were.

    4.What do you think of Marjane’s eventual decision to leave Iran for France?
    I think her leaving was necessary. It would have been amazing if she stayed and made a huge differance to her country but this is real life and things do not always work out that way. I think all of us would take the opportunity to leave if was offered to us.

    in response to sarah J, i can’t really imagine it as a prose text but that’s because the pictures added so much for me especially since i knew next to nothing about iran before. I have never really read a comic or graphic novel before.

    Thanks for starting the discussion x.x.x.

  5. 1. Do you think Persepolis is a feminist text?

    Absolutely!

    2. What do you think of the representations of moderns vs. traditionalists in Iranian culture?

    That was one of my favorite things about the book – we see a very one-sided view of Islamic countries in the US – particularly since the war. I hate to say I was quite surprised by what life was like there until fairly recently. I find history pretty boring, so reading about it in graphic novel form was perfect for me. Satrapi is so concise, and the sparsity of her images only added to the succinctness of her history lessons.

    I read this book last year – here’s my blog post if you’re interested.

  6. I really enjoyed reading Persepolis, and found myself flying through the book (though I’ve noticed I tend to do that with graphic novels)…

    My responses:

    1. Do you think Persepolis is a feminist text? Why or why not?

    This is a hard one, particularly since it’s hard to define “feminism” to begin with (especially when using a “Western” concept to describe circumstances in a “non-Western” setting)…that being said, I would say that Persepolis is a feminist text, as it describes Marjane’s exploration of her own place in the universe and what it means to be a woman in both Iranian and European culture.

    2. What do you think of the representations of moderns vs. traditionalists in Iranian culture?

    Obviously, Marjane’s sympathies are with the moderns, but I found her description of life among traditionalists to be compelling, as she doesn’t turn them into caricatures. Her description of Persian/Iranian history was great for this, as I gained a real understanding of why Iran ended up on the path that it did, and why it has taken the positions viz a viz the West that it has.

    3. What do you think of Marjane’s marriage? Was it out of love or necessity? At the beginning? At the end?

    While I don’t think her marriage was completely for love, I’m not sure “necessity” really covers it either. My first impression was that they married so that they could experience a full relationship in all of its facets, and that they felt marriage was the only way to do that in Iran. At the end, it seemed that Marjane’s husband was more engaged in the relationship than she was–she needed (so in this case, necessity) to move on.

    4. What do you think of Marjane’s eventual decision to leave Iran for France?

    Maybe this was anticlimactic for me, since I had read the author’s blurb on the back flap of the book. I read the book as leading up to her decision to return to Europe–like it explained how she came to the decision that she could be truer to herself in France, even though she would never fully feel at home in either Iran or Europe.

    Sarah J, I had wondered about the medium myself. I think the story had more of an impact as a graphic novel, particularly because the drawings are so distinctive. I would guess that if she had published it as a text novel, it would have received nice reviews, but wouldn’t have made the impact that it did.

  7. 7 Jessica

    1. Do you think Persepolis is a feminist text? Why or why not?

    I agree with a couple of other readers. I think it is hard to define any book (particularly fiction) as a ‘feminist’ text. Although, as a feminist, I think it is easier to relate to, and find things of interest, in certain texts even if they are not labelled as ‘feminist’. Anyways, I read Persepolis through a feminist ‘gaze’ and found it incredibly relevant to feminism and womanism. The main area that I related to as feminist was her questionings of the behaviours of men and women and their different treatment by the authorities and the ‘moral code’. Some examples of this are Marjane’s rant about Iranian men on page 339 where she states

    “If a guy kills ten women in the presence of fifteen others, no one can condemn him in a murder case, we women can’t even testify! He’s also the one who has the right to divorce and even if he gives it to you, he nonetheless has custody of the children! I heard a religious man justify this law by saying that man was the grain and woman, the earth in which the grain grew, therefore the child naturally belonged to his father! Do you realize??”

    Earlier in the book she also questions the difference in clothing which again appears to favour men

    “You don’t hesitate to comment on us, but our brothers present here have all shapes and sizes of haircuts and clothes. Sometimes, they wear clothes so tight we can see everything. Why is it that I, as a woman, am expected to feel nothing when watching these men with their clothes sculpted on but they, as men, can get excited by two inches less of my head-scarf?” (page 299)

    I find it interesting that these comments and questions about wider cultural, and gender, norms seem to come later in the book whereas the beginning is filled with Marjane questioning herself. I wonder if this is part of her own feminist journey. One that started with(in) herself and eventually moved outside herself to the wider world.

    2. What do you think of the representations of moderns vs. traditionalists in Iranian culture?

    I have never read anything about an individual’s experience of living in Iran through this period. Even though I know one book is still a very limited view I found it enlightening to learn more about how Iranian culture has changed through the years. I found it interesting how the movement to ‘Westernised’ culture created such conflicts both internal and external and wonder if this move is/was a good thing. The other conflict between ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’ was that of the revolution. Although the revolution was modern in that it happened in ‘modern’ times it was a retrograde step in terms of going back to traditionalist and religious values. As Marjane’s father states on page 349 “We Iranians, we’re crushed not only by the government but by the weight of our traditions! Our revolution set us back fifty years.” So the conflict between modern and traditional was both very public but also private. Although much of the Iranian youth in the book were portrayed as following the latest punk and boho fashions, listening to Western pop, some having sexual relations outside marriage and wearing Nikes, it was frowned upon to do so, punishable by law but also policed and frowned upon on a personal moral level (Marjane was rejected and lectured by her peers for her sexual behaviour for example and also arrested by the ‘Women‘s Branch‘ for being “improperly veiled”).

    3. What do you think of Marjane’s marriage? Was it out of love or necessity? At the beginning? At the end?

    I think Marjane’s marriage was both out of love and necessity. It is taken for granted by many of us in the ‘white west’ that we can date whomever we like, move-in together, have sex and make babies if we choose, before being married. Heterosexual relationships can generally be carried out in public and private without fear of reprisal, punishment or humiliation. I think Marjane did love Reza even if her love was naïve. I believe the only way for her to find out if her love was ‘real’ was for her to be able to have a ‘normal’ relationship with the man and the only way for them to have this relationship and get to know each other properly was to be married.

    4. What do you think of Marjane’s eventual decision to leave Iran for France?

    I think Marjane’s decision was the ultimate symbol of her emancipation and the result of the personal and political journey that took place for her throughout the book. Marjane became disenfranchised, no longer feeling like she belonged in Iran nor completely in Europe either. However, I think that the life experiences described in the book gave her a taste for a life and for opportunities that she knew she would never have if she remained in Iran. I think the eventual and full realisations of her limitations while living in Iran came with her resignation when the Mayor’s Deputy told her that “The government couldn’t care less about mythology. What they want are religious symbols. Your project is certainly interesting, but it’s unachievable.” to which she replies “…I understand…” There is no longer resistance or fight there because I think she knows that, as one woman alone, she can not win this fight, “A gord afraid in a chador is no longer a gord afraid.” (page 333) Know what I mean?

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  9. Persepolis used to the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire in Persia (ca. 550-330 BC). This historical region constitutes of the ruins of various magnificent structures such as Apadana Palace and the throne Hall. It is also UNESCO world heritage site.

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  1. 1 Radical Readers and Feminisms for Dummies: Book 1 ‘Persepolis’ by Marjane Satrapi « The Other Side of the Apple

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