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The graphic novel Persepolis centers on the childhood of the author, Marjane Satrapi in Iran. It takes the time to discuss issues such as inequality, the chapter The Letter discussing the family’s maid, and detailing the general history of the country from her own personal perspective. Satrapi does well in showing her audience moments in her life she considers important in as well as her reaction to significant events; she makes deliberate attempts to detail relevant topics such as the issues surrounding religion, more specifically the Islamic religion. The significance of the topic is shown through its recurring themes as the main source of disagreement in Iran and as a form of motivation that Satrapi falls in to but the topic shows the most importance when one considers its effects on Marjane herself as well as the effects of its disappearance in her life.
From the earliest moments in the text we learn of the significant effect religion had on Satrapi herself when we hear her declare that she wished to become “a prophet” or that she was “very religious” and “Born with religion”, the idea largely having a good influence on her, but Satrapi also works to mention that while religion was a significant part of her life it was well balanced with her modern lifestyle- shown both in words and images on page six. Up until this point religion is largely a driving force in Satrapi’s life as well as a topic of comfort that she can fall back on in times of need and to do this best she creates an image of god in her own mind to represent the entirety of religion itself; in this way the young girl could better consider religion, going so far as to have discussions with this god about whatever she fancied. This personification of religion also does good for the audience as it allows one to see Satrapi’s opinion of her faith, through both her conversations with it as well as the visualization of the character itself, and her development. As the character of god is itself Satrapi’s rendition of her religion every aspect of it can be considered a purposeful choice and these choices can tell us many things about Satrapi. For one, we can see how early on in her life Satrapi viewed her religion as a pure thing that would comfort her in times of need, listening when she needed someone to speak to. Her perception of religion’s purity can be seen in its almost pure white image, one of the few aspects of the text that never switches shades or develops a darkness. The aspect of a listener as well as comforter are seen in both chapters The Veil and The Heroes when her god holds Satrapi in its arms as she sleeps and throughout many different chapters as it listens and discusses different topics with the child. We can guess that she saw Marx as similar to god in the way he is also drawn similarly, she herself saying “it was funny … how much Marx and God looked like each other” and we can go further to infer that to her, religion was a calm and unchanging thing, its unchanging aspect coming from how little it’s rendition changes throughout the text; its appearance of calm is created through purposeful choices tone and the mood built during discussions, the simplistic questions and ‘fluffy’ drawing brings about a sense of ease to both the readers and Satrapi.
Of course Marjane continued to make use of such a significant character to show the growth of Satrapi, both by comparing her to the unchanging god and through her eventual ‘banishment’ of the visualization from her life halfway through the text. The childish Satrapi has many different discussions with the imagined being, many about more trivial topics such as the weather or her appearance but what is significant about these discussions (more so than the discussions themselves) is how both her relationship and treatment of the being change with each new meeting- sometimes even during the meeting itself. Satrapi makes use of small stories between meetings with god to show how she is influenced by the things around her and the audience is able to follow along with these developments ‘as they happen’ allowing them to understand why Satrapi may have changed, but these changes are further emphasized by her meetings with god, a character that never seems to change in the slightest; watching as god asks her if she still wants to be a prophet on page nine and hearing her reaffirm this after lying to fit in with her family is a scene that pushes the audience to consider the chapter as more than a story to pass the time. The audience understands that Satrapi still wants to be a prophet from the chapter and doesn’t question it as she lies, but having her god ask if she still wants to be a prophet gives the audience the chance to question the situation a bit more- to ask why she lied and the significance of the miniature story that had just taken place. Another interesting scene would be page 13 where we see Satrapi purposefully avoid talking about religion with god. This chapter truly shows the changes that Satrapi is going through as the little girl that once talked about religion with pride now avoids having discussions about it with the one character she feels truly inclined to discuss with. She goes even further to “shhhh” it as it talks about the weather and generally ignores god throughout the chapter prompting it to leave her; Satrapi having become upset with her parents later on in the chapter asks the empty room she cries in where god is and the audience is then told that “That night he didn’t come.” even as they understand that it was she that drove the god away. This shows us the wavering in Satrapi’s faith as she begins to pay less attention to it in favor of other things but we know that she has not abandoned religion as we still see god appear to comfort her in times of need. Until about half way through the text when Satrapi’s beloved uncle is executed by the country as a Russian spy.
When god appears before the enraged and saddened girl he asks her what she is upset about, in the same way he has always asked questions throughout the text, to which she yells at the being to “Shut up” and “Get out of [her] life!!!” Showing the changes in how young Satrapi talks to god and the things she talks about throughout the text works to develop her character and show the audience both how she perceives her religion and the changes in her ideals. After Satrapi’s banishment of god on page 70 the graphic novel moves forward to a teenage Satrapi and eventually a young adult but one of the most notable changes in this ‘second half’ of the text is the exclusion of both god and religion in general when looking solely at Satrapi. After pushing god out of her life Satrapi becomes much less focused on religion and the text then looks largely at the country itself and the difficulties of living in it. This purposeful shift does many things for the text such as cement Satrapi’s abandonment of religion in the audience, show her growing maturity as she now looks at her country and has discussions with her parents about the changes in it and details how losing this spark of religion changed Satrapi as a person, this change being her movement towards a far more modern lifestyle and a strengthened maturity. In this way Satrapi makes many use of the character known as god throughout Persepolis, using him to portray development in character and a growth in maturity as well as detail her emotions, views and ideals when it comes to religion. This characterization of an entire belief and system of faith is imaginative and useful in many different ways thus making Satrapi’s purposeful choices all the more relevant and significant through the use of a simple representation.
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