The Political and Cultural Orientation of the Middle East in the Comic Novel Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
The essay examines whether the story takes a Western or Eastern perspective in presenting the narrators view as a child, shows why the author chooses this age, and the effect of employing young-age strategy in presenting the story. The essay also examines the connection between the narrators faith and the worldviews with her decision to move from her parents and Iran after returning home. The narrator, Satrapi Marjane, grew up in her country, Iran, specifically in Tehran. As a child, Satrapi observed the escalating loss of civil freedoms in her country of origin. At the tender age of fourteen, the narrators parents sent her to Australia to escape the ongoing turmoil in Iran. After returning to her home country for a brief visit as an adult, she went to France to work as an author and illustrator of young peoples literature. The main aim of the author is to present her personal view on the political and cultural orientation of the Middle East using a comic novel Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, in which she is the narrator.
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In the novel, the narrator portrays her ignorance in the political and cultural make up of Iran. Some readers and scholars criticize the novel and argue that it does not paint a true picture of Iran as an Islamic culture and regime. However, the main idea is that the novel is neither a sociological study nor a historical book. Marjane translates the factual phenomenon into reality and tells the story through the eyes of a child in the form of a graphic memoir (Satrapi 4). Satrapi Marjanes novel is a comic book, whose presentation is done in a graphical manner to make the readers understand it easily. At the time when the country comes to terms with the Islamic Revolution, Satrapi is nine years old. Politics interposes and engrosses Marjanes childhood. The novel depicts how Satrapis three-generation family goes through struggles in life. In the novel, the audiences attention is drawn to a history punctuated with revolution, suppression, rebellion, dependency, turmoil, and dictatorship.
The novel poses some critical questions to the audience concerning the Islamic regime and the Islamic Revolution. In one of the scenes in the novel, the narrator demonstrates how one of the family members of Marine requires immediate surgical operation abroad. To the surprise of the reader, the family member does not get the permission to leave the country to seek further treatment abroad. There is no logic explaining the reason for this refusal, and this is demonstrative enough of the kind of dictatorial life in the country. Therefore, it is reasonable to say that the fate of the Marines family member rests absolutely on the will of God. In this scene, there is complete prejudice and ignorance of science and medical issues, and peoples interests are not taken into account at all.
The novel does not essentially portray Satrapis self-actualization process but conversely expresses the boldness she does have in expressing her political and ideological views in a comic and animated manner. The childhood autobiographical memoir is only an outline of the narrators view of combating the unjust and restrictive Islamic laws in the Middle East. Throughout the novel, the author expressly exposes the crimes perpetrated in the Islamic Republic. The role played by Britain in the wake of the revolution that mounted the father of Shah to power is eminently portrayed. There are several indicators of this state of affairs in the animated piece of literature such as oil plundering, the training of SAVAK tormentors by the CIA, and the sale of firearms by the Western nations. The animated comic novel illustrates how Iran is not a single and isolated entity but rather an integral part of a worldwide system. When the reader of this comic book introspects about the behavior and thoughts of the author, several things emanate. For instance, the narrator portrays how cruel and unjust the Islamic world seems to the Western countries.
In her journal Women in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Legal Status, Social Positions, and Collective Action, Valentine Moghadam argued that the Islamic women were the first group to lose during the Revolution era (para 1-2, 1). The females witnessed a dramatic decline in their social and legal status in the wake of what the Islamic fraternity of the Middle East had termed as a religious revival. The author continued that this arduous time for the female of Iran was marked by the temporary marriage, polygamy, unilateral divorce, economic marginalization, the elision from political power, proscription on women singers, and compulsory veiling (Moghadam 2). When the Shah mounted to power during the Iranian Revolution, women became the greatest antagonists for about two years. They protested against the compulsory identification with the Islamic faith, political repression, and economic deprivation that the Shah regime had fostered (Moghadam 2).
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This revolt and antagonism were punctuated by the massive contingents demonstrations to express their resistance towards the Westernized decadence or the Pahlavi bourgeois. As a symbol of protest, the working-class and middle-class Islamic women wore their veils. The women opposed what the Islamic fraternity had termed modest dress or hejab that was compulsory for all the Islamic women at that time. With the continued protests, the imposition of the modest dress code was temporarily rescinded but it was later on reemphasized when the Islamists had defeated the liberalists and the left-wing political arm in 1980, at the time when Marjane Satrapi was born. The women who had defied the unjust and restrictive Islamic laws during that era were subjected to arduous punishments.
At the same time, Hillary Chute in her article The Texture of Retracing in Marjane Satrapis Persepolis, has launched an argument within the very first line of paragraph two on page 94, claiming that the novel Persepolis: The Childhoods is told from an antiracist explicitly perception of feminists. The author says that the animated comic book is rooted in childhood chronicles and articulated through traumatic and momentous historical occurrences (Chute 95). The reason for telling the Middle East story from a childs point of view is to ensure that the narrator does not forget the events in her life (Chute 95). Children do not easily forget what they visually and verbally witness in their life.
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Therefore, telling the story from the eye of an innocent child implies that there is accuracy and faithfulness in narrating the traumatic and momentous cultural and political events that take place in the Middle East. It is also important to note that a story told from the viewpoint of an innocent child is marked by unbiasedness and unforgettability. The feminist point of view is further evident in the way the narrator, as a child, is the protagonist and she tries to strip bear the unjust and restrictive Islamic laws and culture. The author graphically illustrates a veiled unsmiling young girl in her animations sitting with crossed arms. The pictorial representation illustrates the narrator at a tender age of ten years in 1980 (Chute 95).
Ashley Dallacqua in Students as Critics: Exploring Readerly Alignments and Theoretical Tensions in Satrapis Persepolis further argues that by telling the story from the perspective of a child, the memories of the events of the Middle East would go beyond the exiles from Iran and herself (6). The argument is that the Iranian exiles and the narrator are the implied and authorial audience in the novel. In other words, the younger audiences have the opportunity of connecting with their age-mate who, in this case, is the narrator. The areas that bring this connection include the adolescent struggles such as breaking rules, wearing clothes of preference, and maintaining friendship. A glimpse of this scenario appears where Satrapi gets to know that the book that she esteemed most in terms of adolescent trials had been removed from the classroom in Chicago, following the ill-famed images therein. Satrapi helps the young audiences of the graphic novel to remember her narration irrespective of their experience and age (Dallacqua 6). She educates the audience on the history that she values in a way that invokes the readership of the audience and aims to continue her culture of remembering. The young audiences find this piece of literature to be real-life, and exploring its pages invites a theoretical approach in a reader-response manner.
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With her article “The Otherness in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis: The Autobiography and the Graphic Novel as a Subversion of the Western Gaze, Thayse Madella argues that the novel is written in a manner that it opposes the imperialist Western way of life (2). The Middle East political and cultural events are put into a perfect dichotomy with the Western imperialism. Madella quotes Chutes article and argues that Chute in her article, emphasizes Marjanes diasporic experience. The author further asserts that this experience accords the narrator with an authoritative platform to comment on the dichotomy between the Western and the Middle East political and cultural approaches (Madella). Evidently, the novel fails to be involved in depicting Satrapis self-actualization (Madella 3). Contrarily, it does expose the political and cultural events that go on in Iran during her childhood. There are some concerns that this essay seeks to address, specifically the criticisms that are directed to the novel. The novel by Satrapi Marjane has been criticized for portraying Iran from a single point of view. The novel highlights the political, cultural, and historical issues of the neo-Middle East. In the novel, the narrator undertakes to represent the Islamic regime that operates in Iran after the Revolution. Other than the Middle East culture that comes out in the novel, Satrapi also depicts the Western culture that dominates the country. On one hand, the narrator seems to embrace the Western way of life such as politics, education, and culture. On the other hand, she depicts the Middle East way of life while being in that environment. This explains why Marjane disparages the people who seem to be unjust and dislikes the conservative Islamic rules (Madella 3-4).
When it comes to the religious and political issues highlighted in the novel by Satrapi, it is unfair to criticize her. A close and careful reading of the novel reveals that it goes beyond being a religious commentary. In fact, the novel has more to do with the political issues affecting the Middle East. Some of the critics argue that Marjane does not accord due consideration to the Islamic restrictions and rules in a more serious sense as it ought to be. This is attributed to the fact that throughout the novel, she appears in more than one culture.
At one time, Satrapi is in her native land, Iran, and in another instance, she is portrayed to be in Europe. Interestingly, life in Europe is quite different from that of her native land. A perfect example is the way, in which the veil that constitutes part of her dressing is portrayed. In the Middle East, the veil is considered as part of her identity, religion, and culture. Therefore, the reader is should understand how Satrapi grapples with her identity throughout the novel, and this appears to change periodically with a couple of uncertainty and confusions. The essence of the Middle East veil is to separate an Islamic woman from the world. It is important to underscore the fact that Satrapi depicts her Middle East culture. Her intention is to illustrate the importance of being independent and the need to feel free.
In summary, the main objective of Satrapi Marjane in the novel is to argue her case about the political and cultural injustices of the Middle Easts Islamic regimes by using her graphic and comic novel that she narrates as a child. Therefore, the novel does not concentrate on illustrating Marjanes self-actualization, but rather, it narrates the dichotomy that exists between the cultural approaches of the East and the West. This is seen when Satrapi moves between Europe and Iran. The events of the novel are narrated through the eyes of a child because of the innocence that comes with childhood. Children are honest and they can memorize the occurrences of the story even in the future. Additionally, children are accurate in presenting events since they do not forget easily. The aim of the narrator in the novel is to unearth the Islamic injustices and restrictions imposed on the females. The Islamic regime of the Middle East compels the women to put on a type of dress that is regarded as modest dress code commonly called hejab.