Marjane Satrapi wrote her autobiographic novel Persepolis in the form of a graphic novel by using frames of drawing accompanied by minimal text. The book follows Satrapis own visual childhood memories and represents a childlike understanding of the world through the chosen by author black and while minimalist manner of drawing. On the background of the struggle between fundamentalism and modernity, the author depicted emerging modern social values of her parents such as human rights, liberal education, and belief in the rights of women as integral components of a persons dignity and identity. Moreover, throughout the novel, Marjane thinks of herself as a symbol of tolerance and love considered genuine feminine characteristics. While reading the novel, the reader becomes increasingly aware of how Satrapi emphasizes deficiencies in society in regard to unequal gender opportunity. The idea of female liberation translates into rethinking of the role of women in Marjanes understanding and views of the world. In a childlike way of thinking, the main heroine disapproves male domination in Iranian society. Therefore, the analysis of the main characters gender-related reflections about traditional culture, marriage, and opportunities in life shows that Persepolis is a feminist text that claims that women should have equal rights and opportunities with men in their personal choices regarding self-expression, clothes, life choices, and careers.
Analysis of the Novel
The Particular Genre of the Novel
Besides being a graphical novel, Persepolis adheres to the requirements of the literature genre of the bildungsroman. In accordance with the genre, the main heroine undergoes a process of intense psychological and moral transformation, self-actualization, and growth. As per bildungsroman requirements, the main character progresses from childhood to adulthood, leaves home to make a journey, and develops a more mature understanding of herself. Another bildungsroman feature of the book is the conflict between the main character and society that takes place in Satrapis novel, and one manifestation of this conflict is inner resistance to the acceptance of traditional society values and traditional role of a woman. At the beginning of the book, Marjane is portrayed as a child and by the end of the novel she demonstrates her independence from her father and mother through the symbolic smoking of a cigarette. Her parents insist that she leaves her home and a troubled country for her safety sake. Departure from her home country begins the journey. Throughout the novel, Marjane continually reconciles her personal beliefs and understanding of the world with the strict laws and traditions as well as oppressive cultural and social regulations of the Irans Islamic regime.
Manifestations of Feminism in Persepolis
Gender Assigned Roles
In her novel, Satrapis reflections about gender-based roles and restrictions in Iranian society take a significant part of the book. The author depicts various women such as her mother, grandmother, neighbors, maid, and schoolteachers who are bound to play their gender-prescribed roles. It appears that Iranian gender-related cultural expectations are much more stringent than those expectations of the Western world. Additionally, Iranian gender relations and norms are heavily influenced by politics. Apparently, this fact has put additional pressure on women to adhere to their gender roles since refusal to comply was considered culturally inappropriate and offensive, and unwillingness to abide by enforced norms has been considered politically unacceptable and related to treason. It seems that the Iranian government used the full weight of its authority to transform women into yielded and submissive members of their families and society at large. However, a childs inquisitive mind expresses feminism by challenging both effectiveness and justification of gender-assigned roles.
The author dedicates special attention to the heavily gender-influenced subject of the veil. After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, wearing of the veil became mandatory for schoolgirls. In Marjanes young mind, the issue of pros and cons in regard to veil translated into a bigger issue of freedom versus the veil where veil symbolized restrictions, limitations, and denial of basic human rights to Iranian females. At one point, Marjane stated, I wanted to be an educated, liberated women. The heroine perceived education as a tool for achieving personal freedom to guide and direct her own life. Marjanes mother corroborated her daughters aspirations to study by saying, She should start learning to defend her rights as a woman right now!. Therefore, although Marjane understands the need for women to play a more significant role in countrys decision-making processes and influence the nations culture, the veil forces her and many other women to subdue their aspirations for a better country that is freer and with equal opportunities for all. Therefore, the veil serves as a symbol of Iranian womens captivity and illegality of their dreams of a better life, equal opportunities, and free expression. The veil is a physical manifestation of laws that stifles women and prevents them from being completely free. The ultimate manifestation of feministic ideas can be found in following words, You say that our head-scarves are short, that our pants are indecent, that we make ourselves up. You dont hesitate to comment on us, but our brothers present here have all shapes and size of haircuts and clothes. Sometimes they wear clothes so tight that we can see everything. Why is it that I, as a woman, am expected to feel nothing when watching these men with their clothes sculpted on but they, as men, can get excited by two inches less of my head-scarf?. Thus, the reader can witness in a novel another demonstration of feminism in the form of rebellion against the veil as a tradition that suppresses womens rights.
Marjanes Upbringing and Family Influences
According to the description of Marjanes life, her mother and grandmother, as people who greatly influenced her life, promoted and instilled in Marjane what can be considered feminist ideas. Her mother was raising Marjane to seek education and think for herself, while her grandmother encouraged her to seek independence and pursue personal satisfaction. For example, during the wedding the mother feels sad because she did not want for Marjane to get married at a young age but preferred to see her daughter enjoying freedom and independence. However, the mother happened to be right and soon after the marriage Marji felt trapped in the role of a housewife and realized that this was not what she wanted in her life. The grandmother is another symbol in Marjis life that represented independence and identity and fostered these qualities in her granddaughters character. When Marji decides to divorce, her grandmother speaks in favor of a divorce and encourages Marjane to pursue a life of independence. The grandmother shows her that the decision to divorce is another step towards justice and equality of rights. Therefore, family influences facilitated the development and manifestation of feminist traits in Marjis pursuit of personal happiness and decision-making.
In the novel, as Marji reflects on ideas of liberation and rethinking of the role of women, she is compelled to reexamine gender-based traditional culture, marriage practices, and opportunities in life. As the main heroine of the book analyses the environment of her home country, she comes to the realization that women should have equal rights and opportunities with men in their decisions in regard to self-expression, clothes, life choices, and careers. Considering that a significant part of the book is dedicated to the themes of women discrimination such as inferior social status, family life arrangements, the veil and life opportunities, the description of Marjis rebellion against injustice and pursuit of independence makes Persepolis a feminist text.