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The graphic novel Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is a bildungsroman, a novel that deals with the coming-of-age of the protagonist which happens to be the author herself. Marjane develops from an ignorant child to a mature adult as she struggles with who she is regarding political beliefs, national identity, and her stance on relationships. In order to show how Marjane matures from these experiences, Satrapi structures Persepolis in a unique way by presenting Marjane’s struggles in her quest for identity as lessons arranged in three chronological stages.
In the initial stage of Persepolis, Satrapi describes Marjane’s struggles while living under a suppressive regime to explain her critical views towards political and societal rules. The first stage of Persepolis is marked by the time period during which Marjane was still a child living in Iran. At a very young age, Marjane has already lived through several coup d’etat and changes in political power. However, these changes did not ameliorate standards of living but made regimes more suppressive. Initially, Marjane was unconcerned due to her innocence. When her parents returned home from a full day of demonstrations, she approached them happily and yelled, “Hey mom, dad, let’s play Monopoly” (Satrapi 18). This demonstrates her ignorance to what was happening in the society. This innocence was soon adulterated, however, as she matured and learned more about the reality of living under a suppressive regime. One of the lessons she learned was taught to her through her maid Mehri, who was like a sister to Marjane. Mehri fell in love with the neighbor’s son, but their relationship was ephemeral and it all ended when Marjane’s father discovered the affair and told the neighbor’s son that Mehri was actually a maid. Mehri was devastated. Marjane questioned her father and he explained that “their love was impossible” because “in this country you must stay within your own social class” (Satrapi 37). This was abstruse to Marjane but it was only her first taste of what it is like living under a repressive regime. One of the societal rules for women living in Iran is that they have to be covered properly by a veil. Marjane never really understood this when she was still a child. She was fond of the American culture and her modern mother smuggled in sneakers and a denim jacket for her. Marjane wore these clothes happily and went on the street. Unfortunately, she was stopped by the Guardians of the Revolution, enforcers of the strict societal rules, who interrogated the reasons for her wearing “punk shoes” and showing a “symbol of decadence”; they even went as far as telling Marjane to “lower your scarf, you little whore!” (Satrapi 133). Marjane was traumatized by this experience, and when she looked back to her maid Mehri’s experience, she began to feel resentful of the repressive regime and tired of the societal rules. She understood why her parents were protesting instead of playing Monopoly with her. As a result, Marjane became critical of the regime and turned rebellious. When the principal of the school tried to take Marjane’s bracelet away from her, she yelled, “over my dead body!” (Satrapi 143); when a teacher talked about the regime being beneficial to the public, Marjane pointed out that political prisoners were still extant and questioned, “how dare you lie to us like that?” (Satrapi 144). These struggles that Marjane went through while living under a repressive regime during the initial stage of Persepolis taught her to be critical of political and societal rules instead of being naive, making Marjane more mature as she progresses to the next stage of Persepolis.
During the second stage of Persepolis, Satrapi illustrates Marjane’s struggles in her quest to maintain national identity to show Marjane’s development in her understanding of stereotypes. The second stage of Persepolis is marked by the time period during which Marjane lived independently in Austria. At the beginning it was easy for Marjane to tell people where she is from, she even had a friend called Momo who was “fascinated by death” and thought that seeing dead people was “cool” (Satrapi 167). However, Marjane soon encountered her first stereotypical experience when she ate noodles in a pot at the boarding house she lived in. The nun at the boarding house scolded her and exclaimed, “it’s true what they say about Iranians. They have no education” (Satrapi 177). Marjane was deeply offended by this as she took pride in her nationality and insulted back, as a result, she was kicked out. Negative stereotypes towards Iranians worsened as the TV constantly broadcasted news of bombings and warfare in Iran. This caused Marjane to feel insecure about claiming her nationality because “Iran was the epitome of evil and to be Iranian was a heavy burden to bear” (Satrapi 195). This forced Marjane to lie and tell others that she is French. Fortunately, Marjane’s grandmother’s line: “Always keep your dignity and be true to yourself” (Satrapi 150) was ingrained in her mind and resonated continuously until her guilt overwhelmed her. When Marjane heard that others discovered she was lying about being French, she finally exploded and yelled, “I am Iranian and proud of it!” (Marjane 197), which signified that she has matured into an adult who could accept being an Iranian despite people’s judging eyes. Through the struggles to maintain her national identity during the second part of Persepolis, Marjane realized that although stereotypes could be unbearable, it is important to stay firm and be proud of her origins. This maturity towards national identity allows her to be assured of herself and confidently move on to the final stage of Persepolis.
As Marjane transitions from the second stage to the final stage of Persepolis, Satrapi shows Marjane’s struggles in maintaining relationships to illustrate Marjane’s maturing beliefs on intimate relationships. During Marjane’s time in Austria, she was engaged in two intimate relationships. The first one was with a guy named Enrique. Her relationship with Enrique was platonic, but she wanted to lose her innocence. Her desire was not satisfied, however, and she found out that it was because Enrique was homosexual. Marjane moved on, claiming that “this chaste love affair frustrated me more than it satisfied me”, and that “I wanted to love and be loved for real” (Satrapi 214). Then comes her second boyfriend Markus, who she was deeply attached. She even exposed herself to danger by buying drugs while comforting herself that she “was doing it for love” (Satrapi 222). Unfortunately, their relationship ended in Markus’ infidelity, which enraged Marjane at first but she later on viewed the experience in retrospect with clemency, explaining that she “had projected everything onto him” and that it was “surely not easy for a boy of nineteen” (Satrapi 237). These two experiences made Marjane become circumspect towards engaging in romantic relationships. Nevertheless, in the final stage of Persepolis during which she returned to Iran, she met a guy named Reza who she even married. Although they were happy initially, their distinct personality eventually led to a divorce. Marjane admitted afterward that she “had always known that it wouldn’t work, but after my pitiful love story in Vienna, I needed to believe in someone again” (Satrapi 318). Although all three of her intimate relationships eventually came to an end, she learned from these experiences. Marjane realized that relationships cannot be forced. She could not have done anything to change the fact that Enrique was gay; she could not have foreseen that Markus would cheat on her; she also could not have acquiesced her dim future with Reza without marrying him. These experiences made Marjane realize the extent to which faith comes into play in relationships, which made her an even more mature adult as she moved towards the end of Persepolis.
Throughout the three chronological stages separated by Marjane’s childhood in Iran, adolescence in Austria, and adulthood back in Iran, Satrapi expressed Marjane’s struggles during her quest for identity as distinct lessons. These lessons taught her to be critical of political and societal rules despite living under a suppressive regime; to be proud of her nationality and stay true to herself despite the acerbity of stereotypes, and to accept faith’s guidance in intimate relationships instead of forcing incompatible love. Through each of these lessons, Marjane developed a deeper understanding of herself and finally grown to become a mature adult in the end of Persepolis. Satrapi left the readers pondering about what would happen to the matured Marjane as she set her foot down into the undocumented world beyond the novel.
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