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The autobiographical novel Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, depicts the life altering experiences she encounters from growing up during the Iranian revolution and war. Satrapi’s naive and minimalistic perception of war drastically changes as she becomes an adult, by witnessing tragedies and death of family members and friends throughout the novel. Moreover, she becomes more coherent and understanding of the social construct of Iran. Through Satrapi’s exposure to western culture and education, she grows up becoming more rebellious towards the Iranian government and her parents. Satrapi’s Persepolis, represents how the innocence of a child can be tarnished as a result of life altering experiences such as the Iranian war, these memories influence the later portion of her life as she gradually develops a deeper understanding of war and the Iranian society.
Dealing with the loss of people close to her, Satrapi understands that warfare will only bring upon darkness and pain. To explain, at a young age she suffers the loss of her beloved uncle Anoosh, which causes an immense amount of agony in her life, “And so I was lost, without any bearings what could be worse than that?” (Satrapi, 71). Satrapi conveys her feelings as if she is physically and emotionally lost by illustrating herself floating in space to oblivion. However, later on she also loses her close friend Neda from a bomb attack, initially Satrapi is heartbroken, but from previous experiences she finds a way to deal with the devastating loss.
“After the death of Neda Baba-Levy, my life took a new turn. In 1984, I was fourteen and a rebel. Nothing scared me anymore” (Satrapi, 143). Through this quote she expresses her fearless mentality towards the death of her friends and family. In contrast to a younger Satrapi, she copes with the passing of loved ones in a more mature manner.
Furthermore, Satrapi develops a thorough understanding of the war as she sympathizes with the people who have been affected by it. This relates to Mali’s family since they lost their home and all their belongings from a missile attack on their hometown. During Satrapi and Mali’s family visit to the supermarket, they hear prejudice remarks towards southern refuges. “Anyways, as everyone knows; Southern women are all whore”(Satrapi,93). These comments are especially offensive towards Mali’s family, since they have recently displaced from their homes and are seeking refuge themselves. From this experience, she empathizes with Mali’s family by saying “I felt ashamed for myself and felt so sorry for her” (Satrapi, 93). This encounter makes her realize the sorrow that emulates from the war, as Mali’s family has lost everything due to the bombing and are now subjects of prejudice remarks from her own people. Therefore, she realizes the challenges and discriminatory remarks refugees of war must endure.
In addition, young Satrapi does not fully comprehend the concept of war and the bloodshed that comes with it, for example she makes bold statements on how she will defend her country from the enemies. “The second invasion in 1400 years! My Blood ¬¬was Boiling. I was ready to defend my country against these Arabs who kept attacking us”(Satrapi,79). From the context of the quote, she expresses her feelings by passionately saying that she is ready to fight the adversaries of war. However, at this age she does not fully comprehend the mental strain and physical strength needed to battle in the war.
Later on, her maid, Mrs.Nasrine, explains how her fourteen year old son is being brainwashed by his school into joining the military. They persuade him by giving him a plastic golden key, which symbolizes passing into heaven. Mrs.Nasrine also states that the school told her son, “If they went to the war and were lucky enough to die, this key would get them into heaven”(Satrapi,99). Satrapi sympathizes with her maid, since she understands how mentally draining losing someone close to you can be.
Furthermore, she illustrates a white key to show how the children originally think, that it will bring them to a better afterlife. Later in the novel, she portrays a black key instead, to represent the children comprehending the darkness and traumatizing effects of war. Juxtaposing this situation to her younger self, she would have been supportive towards this idea. Since, at a younger age she has minimal concept of war and how; death and heartbreak, follow it.
Throughout the novel, Satrapi’s view and understanding of the Iranian society grows more profound. For instance, when Satrapi and her friends are separated from each other due to the cultural revolution, she follows it up by saying, “And that was that” (Satrapi,4). This quote displays how she does not consider or care about the changes the Iranian regime makes. Satrapi, also illustrates herself with a nonchalant shrug to further show how she does not ruminate with the alterations. Moreover, it represents how she does not have her own ideas or opinions towards political matters.
As Satrapi comes to age, she learns that people were politically repressed and tortured in prison. To elaborate, she meets Siamaka Jari who explains to her, what his friend Ahmadi went through in jail, “Ahmadi was assassinated. As a member of the Guerillas, he suffered hell. He always had cyanide on him in case he was arrested, but he was taken by surprise and
unfortunately he never had the chance to use it…so he suffered the worse torture”(Satrapi,51). At first, Satrapi misinterprets the significance of the message, by saying “Those stories had given me new ideas for games” (Satrapi, 53). This shows how she initially does not understand the
meaning of the story, however later she reflects on this and comes to the conclusion, “Back at home that evening, I had the diabolical feeling of power… But it didn’t last. I was overwhelmed.”(Satrapi, 53)This quote implies how she understands that torture is not something to joke about, as people are being killed by cruelty. Also, it shows that Satrapi understands the harsh tactics that the government is using, to suppress people who do not agree with their political views.
From a young age, Satrapi has the luxury of being able to learn about western culture through books, music, and fashion. However, after the Iran revolution, western culture is forbidden, and the Iranian women is forced to wear Veils and less revealing clothing. In the quote, “I put my 1983 Nikes on… And my denim jacket with the Michael Jackson button, and of course, my headscarf”(Satapi,131). Satrapi, intentionally states, she will put her headscarf on at the end, to show how unimportant it is to her compared to the other clothing. By wearing Nike shoes and a jean jacket, it goes against the Iranian regime, because they are trying to dispose of western culture in their country.
Due to her understanding in western politics, she has a strong sense of freedom. In a subtle way throughout the novel, she depicts herself wearing the veil not fully covering her hair. This shows how Satrapi is trying to retain her freedom, even though she may be risking her life. In the quote, “Go on get in the car we’re taking you to the committee” (Satrapi,133). This quote further demonstrates how she is rebelling against the law so that she can have freedom in her life.
Contrasting her rebellious actions to her younger self, there is a prominent change. For example, when she insist on going to the demonstration, her parent deny her and say, “You can participate later on” (Satrapi,17). After hearing this, she begs to her parent but to no prevail, at this age she is not as rebellious and gives up on attending the demonstration. In contrast, as Satrapi gets older she does not abide by her parents rule and acts in defiance to their wishes. She tells her maid “Tomorrow we are going to demonstrate” (Satrapi, 38). Even though, she is not allowed to go to the rally she does so anyways. Satrapi also draws herself with a determined face to show how not even her parents rules will stop her. These situations indicate the rebellious nature she develops towards her parents and the Iranian regime.
Satrapi’s Persepolis, explains the life altering experiences she confronts from growing up during the Iranian war and revolution. Her perception of war and death shifts tremendously, from witnessing the tragic death of friends and family members. Furthermore, her perception of the Iranian society deviates from her initial understanding as a youth. Satrapi’s exposure to western influence makes more rebellious towards the Iranian government and her parents. The novel Persepolis, epitomizes how childhood memories of the Iranian war can greatly impact a person’s way of life.
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