Humor and Irony in Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 1477 |

Pages: 3|

8 min read

Published: Dec 16, 2021

Words: 1477|Pages: 3|8 min read

Published: Dec 16, 2021

Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis runs the gamut of humor, from whimsical and childish to dark and ironic. This humor can be slapstick jokes, found in the captions with accompanying humorous images, or it can be more subtle, as a double entendre in the text or situational irony in an image. The humor that Satrapi uses has a variety of effects, such as emphasizing the grim state of someone in how they frequently use gallows humor. Different types of humor help to create sharp contrasts between different times in the novel, which allows for character development as well as the creation of enduring themes and storylines. Satrapi utilizes literary and visual humor to portray the descent of people from innocence to the depths of despair and hatred, which comments on the human condition: how humans are at once so strong and so fragile that even in the darkest of times they resort, ultimately, to to the healing power of humor.

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Satrapi utilizes sophomoric humor throughout the novel, but primarily in the beginning of part 1 in order to characterize Marji, the protagonist, as being innocent and childlike. On the very first page, Satrapi combines literary and visual humor on the bottom splash. The caption reads: “We didn’t really like to wear the veil, especially since we didn’t understand why we had to”. The humor is derived from how, in the image under the caption, the children are shown to be running around and playing with their veils instead of treating them as the sacred objects as religious authorities demand. One child scares the other by putting her veil on backwards and chasing the other, shouting that they are the ‘monster of darkness’. However, even in this example of sophomoric humor, there is a hint of darkness, as one child solemnly states they are executing another ‘in the name of freedom’. While it is clear they are too young to understand what they are talking about, this suggests that they have heard about or witnessed executions. However, despite the grimness present in their daily lives, the girls in this splash are still innocently playing. Satrapi thus establishes from the beginning page that Marji retains her innocent happiness despite hearing and possibly seeing terrible things happening.

Satrapi creates another moment of Marji’s blithe innocence when her uncle Anoosh tells her about his ex-wife in a series of panels. Anoosh’s sorrow is displayed in the last panel, where he sheds a single tear as he tells his niece that Russians “don’t know how to love”. However, in stark contrast to the gloomy visual context, the literary humor here is apparent in how Marji is completely clueless as to the implications of what Anoosh is saying, and is insensitively curious. People who are less innocent than Marji or at least somewhat aware of social cues when it comes to divorce would have recognized immediately that it was a depressing topic for Anoosh, and would have comforted him. Marji, however, is too young to understand yet, and thus asks childlike questions such as ‘Don’t they have heads?’ when inquiring as to why Anoosh’s ex-wife’s head is scratched out in his photo of his family. Through the humorous lack of social cues, as seen throughout these pages, Satrapi demonstrates that despite the social unrest surrounding Marji, she still has yet to lose her innocence. However, as the novel progresses and the humor changes, her innocence begins to fade.

Satrapi begins to mix and replace the more childish humor found in the beginning pages with more sophisticated humor to display Marji’s character progression. As Marji learns about advanced concepts such as rationalism and Communism, she incorporates it into slapstick, burlesque humor. In a series of two panels, Karl Marx throws a stone at Descartes, breaking his skull, to poke fun at Descartes’s philosophy of cogito ergo sum. This demonstrates the mixing of highbrow humor with slapstick humor, an indication of the beginning of Marji’s maturation due to how she is able to find humor in more complex topics. On the middle splash of a page, her parents are debating with another family on what types of weapons that Iraq will use on Iran: “From the Iraqi border to Tehran it’s thousands of miles. Missiles that can go that far cost a fortune!” “Well, that’s what the rumors say!” At this, Marji makes the wry observation that “We Iranians are olympic champions when it comes to gossip”. The humor here is derived from how, instead of gossiping about typical topics of rumors, they are ‘gossiping’ about how they could possibly die violently. This demonstrates how Marji, despite the bleak circumstances she has found herself in, is still able to make jokes that relate the generally light pastime of gossip to the horrors of war: a blend of guileless innocence with the taint of war. Satrapi reveals to the reader that her character has yet to completely be corrupted by despair. She makes a point about how children at Marji’s age, while incapable of fully understanding the horrors in life, can still resort to humor to make sense of the world they discover is darker than they once believed.

As the novel progresses and Marji matures into a young adult, now going by Marjane, the type of humor Satrapi utilizes completes its transformation, with dry, morbid, and self-deprecating qualities to it. An example of such dry humor is when Satrapi describes how she attempted to embrace feminism by urinating while standing up. In a series of panels, it shows how her attempt fails as the urine “ran lightly down [her] leg” (176). This is clearly self-deprecating humor, in how she describes her valiant attempt at feminism as being ‘disgusting’. The humor here lies in how an act that should be formal and noble, considering how it champions a school of thought that gave rights to an oppressed minority, is instead ridiculed. Since Marjane performs the act, believing that it would be a noble experiment, it is self deprecating because her principles are made light of. Another example of this is when Satrapi details Marjane’s suicide attempt by slicing open her wrist. While suicide is an extremely morbid topic that is generally considered unacceptable to joke about, Satrapi makes a dry quip about how “It must be said that it’s a little difficult to kill yourself with a fruit knife” after she fails to bleed out by slitting her wrists with the aforementioned fruit knife. This is in stark contrast to young Marji, who would never had been able to understand the despair and depression that contributes to ideations of suicide and suicide attempts. Again, Satrapi demonstrates how Marjane has lost her innocence over the years with the transformation of humor: she now finally understands how horrifying life can be, and copes, in part, with humor.

Despite the innocence Marjane has lost, Satrapi makes clear to the reader that despite the darkness and morbidity of Marjane’s adult life, humor is still to be found. This implies that although Marjane is suffering greatly, having to witness the ravages of war and feeling immense survivor’s guilt, she still has hope. This is strengthened by how an entire chapter is titled “The Joke”. Instead of titling the chapter with a focus on the pain and death that Marjane is seeing for herself, the chapter is instead focused on an ephemeral moment of humor, indicating that Satrapi is choosing to focus on the positives instead of the overwhelming negatives. Despite the humor in the later part of the book being mostly gallows humor, some of the jokes could be seen as a warped version of her childhood version of humor. For example, the joke that her disabled veteran friend Kia makes combines the puerile with the morbid: the joke’s setup is that a soldier is catastrophically injured in the war, but the punchline is risque, being ‘Kiss my ass!’ as the soldier points to his buttocks, which have been grafted to his armpit in a mishap. This demonstrates how despite their terrible, depressing situation, they are still able to find humor: that is, despite the terrible things that have happened to them since they were a child, they still, deep down, retain their sophomoric innocence. This forms a key theme of the novel; that humans are at once so strong and so fragile that even in the darkest of times they resort to humor.

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Satrapi blends literary and visual humor, using them in tandem to display many different types of humor. The humor found in Persepolis ranges from childish to morbid, becoming darker over time. Despite the morbidity found in the final part of the novel, where the protagonist has seemingly lost her innocence, she still is able to find humor in her appalling situation, which proves that she has still managed to retain one of the best qualities found in children: the ability to see good in everything.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Humor And Irony In Persepolis By Marjane Satrapi. (2021, December 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 19, 2024, from
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