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How and Why Is a Social Group Represented in a Particular Way?

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* Show how Marjane Satrapi grew up under oppression during the Islamic Revolution in Iran. * Give and explain evidence of how the author presents that different social groups were marginalized/silenced. * Show how Marji and her parents shared the same beliefs when making reference to the regime.

The graphic novel Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, explores her childhood years in the middle of the Islamic Revolution. Situated in the commotion of the overthrowing of the Shah’s regime, and the war with Iraq, the reader learns how secularists, nationalists and even Muslims marginalized, excluded and silenced the modernists in Iran during the Islamic revolution. Through the eyes of herself as a child, Satrapi shows how the period brought out and affected different parts of society in multiple ways. By analyzing different scenarios in the novel, this essay will show that Satrapi’s use of symbolism and imagery create tension in Persepolis, which, in turn, reveal differences in social classes and their respective marginalization.

From the very first page of the text the author explores the theme of growing up under oppression. She introduces herself and the troubles of the Islamic revolution through the symbolic implications of the veil. The first frame presents a portrait of Marjane Satrapi wearing the veil with a vacant, expressionless gaze. The caption reads, “This is me when I was ten years old. This was in 1980” (p.3), setting the tone with a hopeless portrait of herself, as the reader immediately notices she is depressed. In the next frame, Marji sits alongside three other girls, and it is impossible to distinguish her from the rest given they all look the same. Thematically, the juxtaposition of these two frames alludes to the lack of individuality at the time, making the reader see the discouraging effect this had on the youngsters, they all look out of humor and depressed too. Later on, as the novel progresses, the veil becomes a symbol of the repression against women and the more Westernized part of society, such as Marji’s parents. Throughout the novel, Satrapi explores the differences between public and private life. Marjane and her mother, for instance, always wore their veils out in public, just like every other woman, but at home refused to. Satrapi makes a point of focusing on the immediate removal every time they return, intensifying the feeling that they can be themselves when not limited by the conventions of the regime, and revealing the degree of this urge for realease.

Another detail that supports the contrast is the prevalence of the color black when depicting the outside world, pitted against the predominant use of white within their home. This stylistic device effects a harsh, visual contrast when portraying their interaction with fundamentalists; on page 5, for example, the modernists shouting “freedom!” – are all clothed in white, whereas the fundamentalists are all dressed entirely in black. This creates an obvious tension that intensifies the social divide. Throughout Persepolis, clothes act as an important symbol by heightening the difference between the fundamentalist and modern/progressive men and women: “There were two kinds of women” (75) and “There were also two sorts of men.” (75) One was either with fundamentalists, or against them; there was no forgiveness for opponents, and a mid-ground did not exist – anyone who disobeyed the rules was persecuted, imprisoned or forced to leave the country. Through the elusive symbolic and visual differences between their home, the outside, and even their attire, Satrapi succeeds in creating a tense, oppressive atmosphere in Marji’s world.

In the chapter “The Bicycle,” Satrapi presents issues of faith and belief. Marji’s innocence is evidenced in her shifting set of values, as they are influenced by her teacher and become related to political ideas. The political propaganda permeates her rhetoric as she exclaims: “Maybe I’ll be even better as Fidel Castro!” (p.16). On the one hand, this sequence shows how Marji perceived the conflicting ideologies at the time, and how she deals with them playfully because of her youthful innocence. However, this change could also represent her frustration at the social division and the oppression she suffers for it, in this way forcing her to renounce her faith. Not surprisingly, because of these decisions, God does not visit her that night, perhaps because her moral values have been tainted, and deviated from her loving nature. As the novel progresses, however, these inner ideological conflicts are unimportant matters when compared to the horrors the poor population suffered. In the chapter “The Key,” Satrapi clearly distinguishes the different social classes, through the imagery of children from different social groups (p.102). Satrapi juxtaposes two different frames on the same page in which one portrays children at war with a key around their neck, (the key represented the poor people) dying in minefield explosions.

Meanwhile, Marji is at a party with her friends. The contrast belittles Marji’s difficult situation; although Marji experiences oppression in many ways, people from poorer classes suffered with their lives. Therefore, the reader can intuit that the degree of marginalization and violence increased as social status decreased. Besides focusing on Marji’s own troubles of growing up during the Revolution, she also remarks her parents’ struggle with the ruling Islamic Party. She comes to realize that her parents’ beliefs are opposite to those of the regime. While her parents drink alcohol, have parties and enjoy a wealthy lifestyle, the Guards of the Revolution control this behaviour.

Marji´s parents share her rebellious spirit: they also want to have secret parties, break the law and dress however they want to. In one frame Marji helps her mother to empty the alcohol down the toilet, since the police threaten to search their department (p.110). In another frame, Marji’s mother puts tape on the windows as a safeguard against the Iraqi bombings, and black curtains to prevent the neighbours from seeing their parties (p.105) There is a parallelism at play between the upper classes of the revolution and the lower classes, although her parents revolt on a daily basis and share the same beliefs, upon returning home they can still try to enjoy secret pleasures in relative safety, whereas the lower classes are not afforded any means of escape.

Satrapi also criticizes Muslims for keeping the religious regime in power. She shows how self-mutilation was taken to extremes during the revolution by fundamentalists. In one scene, Marji stands up to her teacher and tells her to stop talking about the “blood of martyrs.” She explains to her classmates how Iran was actually killing and torturing its own people in the name of religion and the war against Iraq. She describes how even devout Muslims were oppressed by their own beliefs, as one frame shows a man hitting himself with chains and another frame shows veiled women beating their chests and making chants about martyrs (p.96). In these instances the reader understands the extent of horror in the war and the dangers of the Islamic regime. Yet, personally, Marji realizes that one of the main causes for the revolution itself was the separation of social classes: “The reason for my shame and for the revolution is the same: the difference between social classes.” (p.33) In this part of the novel, Marji comes to realize the absurd arbitrariness in holding social standing as a criteria for division, when her maid, Mehri, is refused love by her neighbour.

Her Dad responds by saying: “You must understand that their love was impossible […] because in this country you must stay within your own social class.” (p. 37) Here, the reader is given a brief view of the deepest root at the heart of the problem, and her shame at her own fortune speaks volumes about how the marginalization of the lower classes can even affect the higher classes, even if only at a psychological level. In closing, it is worth saying that Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis explores how Marji, her parents and many others were silenced and oppressed in the Islamic revolution. As we have seen, she succeeds in showing different layers of marginalization through the use of imagery, symbolism and even colors, while at the same time conveying the violence and established problem of social division as one of its main causes. Perhaps Marji’s family’s decision to send her to Vienna at age 14 becomes the only way of letting her escape the horror and psychological damage the Iran – Iraq war and Islamic fundamentalism was having on her.

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