The Story of a Revolutionary Childhood

Marjane Satrapi. Persepolis. New York: Pantheon Books, 2004.

Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis invites readers on a journey back to her childhood in Iran in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. The book follows young Marji through her young years as an outspoken, free-thinking, defiant young girl in the face of extreme governmental censorship and persecution. With Marji we see the importance of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 on the society, working to do more harm than good in the unstable country. She explains that "the Revolution is like a bicycle. When the wheels don't turn, it falls...and so went the Revolution in my country" (Satrapi 10). Though these words evoke mental images of discarded bicycles, Satrapi supplements her text with a vivid graphic image of a tandem bicycle loaded with a sea of tangled bodies failing to ride it properly. The chaotic scene offers a precise image of the disorganization and ultimate disaster of the Revolution. Through the use of stark black-and-white images and poignant commentary, the reader actually sees the young girl’s family get threatened by officials and taken away inexplicably, sometimes never to return. The unstable nature of the era is reflected in Satrapi’s depiction of her young self.

While Marji recounts the tragic events of her youngest years as she grows, she highlights many significant events that will impact her life forever. In another haunting scene, Satrapi shows how "for the first time in my life, [she] saw violence with [her] own eyes" (Satrapi 76). The first of these critical events is her experience with protesting and demonstrations. Her parents actively protest the Shah , and Marji internalizes protest as an act of defiance. In lieu of this, certain imposed changes—such as her transition from a French non-religious school to a government-run one and the order that all women must wear a veil, or hijab —strike her as unjust from a very young age, and she actively seeks ways around these laws for several years.

Marji and her family also deal with the horrifying processes of control that the Iranian government took in order to suppress dissenters. As she grows, she learns the government is capable of permanently separating family and friends. The arrest and execution of many of her loved ones teach Marji about the fragility of life in the face of a controlling governmental force. Most markedly, the suspicious death of Uncle Anoosh impacts Marji in a life-altering way. After this event she is no longer a child; she is a fighting force in the resistance of a controlling government. She poignantly sums up the trauma of loss by explaining that "Nothing's worse than saying goodbye. It's a little like dying" (Satrapi 153).

Many horrific and unreasonable events follow the rise of the fundamentalist regime : universities are closed, dress codes are imposed, and dissenters are silenced. The Iraq-Iran War shakes the foundation of Marji’s world as she is forced headlong into a world of air raids, bombings, and fleeing friends and family. She sums up her future rebelliousness in the words of her youngest self. She states, "The year of the Revolution I had to take action. So I put my prophetic destiny aside for a while" (Satrapi 10). Donning a symbolic and imaginative military uniform in her earliest graphical representations, she continually rebels against the established order in many ways—from participating in a forbidden popular culture to helping her parents host secret parties and discuss banned topics, Marji’s world is in shambles. Ultimately, her parents are forced to act quickly in order to salvage young Marji’s future by sending her away to live, learn and grow in European society.

Through the medium of pictures, Satrapi weaves an important story in Persepolis that relies on images as well as text to convey the full weight of the period; readers can witness the anguish on the faces of the characters as they are visually represented on the pages, and feel the weight of the terror that lies embedded in images of the martyrs. As the book nears its final pages, Marjane's story is far from over. As she says goodbye to her parents at the airport, her father reminds her, "Don't forget who you are and where you come from" (Satrapi 152). With these words as the driving force behind the story's retelling, Satrapi concludes this chapter of her life with a haunting image of her mother, collapsed with grief in her husband's arms. Without the pictorial representation of such emotional moments, the reader would never fully ascertain the weight of this final moment. Satrapi's graphic novel style, albeit black-and-white, adds depth to the understanding of Satrapi’s work, allowing the reader to read between the lines as well as between the images in order to ascertain the gravity of this chapter of Iran’s tragic history.

Source: Image

Recommendations For Teachers:

Role Playing: Have your students get in small groups and choose a scene they would like to act out. Have each student take turns playing the different characters (i.e. Marjane, her parents, the teachers, revolutionaries, etc) After taking turns role playing for the classroom. Have the students discuss new insights after having watched the a few versions.

Illustration: With many political current events going on in our own country as well as around the world, have each student create their own comic strip of an event that affects them directly or indirectly. This activity will help the students understand the text- to- world connection or as Jeffrey Wilhelm calls it ‘Literature to Life,’ which this book has to offer.

Another illustration idea would be to have the students create a character web. For each character they can write how they came into Marjane’s life and if they are alive or dead. If they are dead they should write the reasoning. After completing this character web have the students discuss how it must have felt to have so many people in her life die and how they might deal with something like that at such a young age.

Technology: Have the students create a public service announcement using a free step by step program such as Microsoft Photostory 3 about one of the events that Marjane goes through, a current event, or both.

Compare and Contrast: Marjane witnesses the fall of the Shah, the early regime of Ayatollah Khomeini and the first years or the Iran-Iran war, how are these events similar to the war in the Middle East now? Do you think children suffer like she did, or perhaps even worse? There are many discussions that can erupt from through compare and contrast of past and present or U.S. and Iran. Students can discuss in small groups, on paper, or it can be a classroom discussion.

Writing: Have the student’s free write about a time where they felt like Marjane. They may have felt over exposed at a young age, lost a loved one, felt the need to protest for what they believed, etc. By putting these thoughts down on paper they will be able to see that they can relate to Marjane in many ways and may help them understand the novel to a greater degree.

Discussion: Begin the class by having the students make a simple list of the ten material things they prize the most. It could be a clothing item, their computer, etc. Then bring these items into the discussion on the basic freedoms we have in America and have them discuss in small groups how they would react if their freedoms were taken away from them. This discussion can also be directed towards them having to wear school uniforms and relate it to wearing the Veil.

MARJANE marjane-satrapi.jpgSATRAPI

By creating an autobiographical graphic novel that recounts her everyday life growing up in Iran, Marjane Satrapi has become an acclaimed graphic novelist and illustrator. As an only child of secular, Marxist parents, Satrapi witnessed the fall of the Shah, the early regime of Ayatollah Khomeini and the first years or the Iran-Iran war. She participated in protests and remained active through the politically changing times despite the fact that her rebellion often got her into trouble. She accounts for the everyday consequences through her witty, tell-all novels told from a child’s point of view in Persepolis and Persepolis 2. At the age of 14, he parents moved her to Vienna to escape the dangers of the Iranian regime and to live in a freer society. Currently, Satrapi lives in Paris where she continues to write and illustrate. She publishes in many newspapers and also has many children’s novels, although her most prominent works that blossomed her career are Persepolis and Persepolis 2. Besides using her graphic novels to express the calamity of living under the Iranian rule she is also a spokeswoman for freedom and speaks against war for cross cultural understanding. Marjane Satrapi has received numerous awards for her novels along with the accomplishment of international success of the movie version of Persepolis in 2007.

"I really didn't know what to think about the veil. Deep down I was very religious but as a family we were very modern and avant-garde. I was born with religion. At the age of six I was already sure I was the last prophet. This was few years before the revolution."
— Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis: The story of a childhood

Sources: World Biography Image

Multimedia (Video)
This video is of Marjane Satrapi talking about her experiences with graphic novels as well as her relationship with her family. She begins by talking about her early experiences with comics and how she felt about them, which wasn't too favorable. However, Satrapi explains her experience with Art Spiegelman's Maus and how the novels changed her outlook on GNs. This later started her career in Graphic Novel authorship. Additionally, Satrapi explains her grandmother as well as her parents. The greatest message that Satrapi makes, at least for me, is about the morals her parents taught her. They made her believe in herself as a human being, and they created her perspective as one seeing the world neither as black or white, but as a product of those who inhabit it. As well we have provided a trailer for the movie Persepolis. The movie, to be quite honest, pays due homage to the graphic novel, in fact it seems like it is the graphic novel as if it were a flip book of sorts. A teacher might want to have the students compare the graphic novel with the movie or a section of the movie as a way to see if the book is done any justice by the movie (ie. whether or not the characters produce the same mood, or whether or not the dramatic effect of the events is translated correctly into the the movie).

This video is the trailer for the movie version of Persepolis. Winner of numerous awards, the French film covers the events of Persepolis as well as its sequel, Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return.

Additional Resources:
USA Today News article regarding Persepolis and Iranian Children/ This link gives a brief overview of Persepolis as well as a very brief overview of Iran.
Rotten Tomatoes Movie Review of Persepolis/ Provides numerous critical reviews on the movie.
Marjane Satrapi on IMDb/ A link to the different videos Marjane has appeared in as herself.
An interview with Marjane Satrapi on NPR (20 minute podcast)/ Being that the story is autobiographical, this podcast helps to put a real voice behind a real life story.
Amazon Book Review/ Various reviews by various readers.
New York Times: Persepolis 2/ A quick blurb on the the sequel to Persepolis.
Other Works by Satrapi If you enjoyed Persepolis, maybe you might like Satrapi's other works.
Another Interview With Satrapi ( A more liberal and gritty interview with Satrapi.
Historical Timeline of Persepolis Helps establish a quick history of Persepolis.
For additional links see summary

Reviewed by:
Kristen Dyksterhouse
Bethany Sluiter
Chad Patton