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Persepolis - The Veil

IB preparation WT2
by

Anna van der Vlies

on 8 September 2015

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Transcript of Persepolis - The Veil

Persepolis - The Veil
Context
In an interview by MovieWeb that was uploaded on YouTube 19 September 2010, Satrapi explained that she was inspired to write
Persepolis
because of the many misconceptions that exist, especially among Westerners, about Iran and its people. Tolstoy, a highly acclaimed Russian novelist once stated: "If you want to talk to the world, write about your own village." This is exactly what Satrapi had in mind when she started writing her graphic novel. She wanted to provide an alternative perspective on the Iran of her childhood (Part I) and early adulthood (Part II), spanning over more than a decade of social, religious and political upheaval.
Characters
The protagonist, Marjane, introduces herself as the veiled avatar in the very first panel that represents a class photo: "This is me when I was 10 years old. It was in 1980 (3)". She also familiarises her readership with other recurrent characters who figure in her close circle, such as her parents, her grandmother and God. Her parents are introduced as being "modern and avant-garde (6)" and are politically active as they partake in demonstrations against the veil which the picture taken of her mother at one of the demonstrations in a panel on page 5 evidences. Although Marjane's parents' presence is constant throughout the novel, Marjane turns to others for advice and support. Both God and her grandmother function as confidants and sources of support. In this chapter, for instance, she lies about her aspiration to becoming a prophet and tells her parents she wants to become a doctor, a pursuit clearly envisaged and approved of by her parents as displayed in a panel on page 9. It emphasises the conflicting visions and values within the family which is depicted on page 6 where Marji's avatar is divided into a religious self and a perceived ideal. Equally defining her character is the fact that Marjane's religious stance seems to be based, not on Muslim teachings, but on a eclectic mix of Zarathustrian, i.e. belonging to an ancient Persian belief system, and Communist ideas, such as the opposition to feudalism and capitalism that is suggested in the bottom panels on page 6. In these panels, Marjane, the future prophet who wants to be "justice, love ant the wrath of God all in one (9)", exposes her motivation to becoming a prophet, namely "because our maid did not eat with us" and "because my father had a Cadillac (6)".
Narrative Technique
When considering the narrative technique one usually examinines style, perspective and plot. In Persepolis a low register is deployed, both in narration and dialogues, which is exemplified in the first panel. It is in keeping with the simplified iconography and the perspective used to narrate the story.
Persepolis
is basically told from a double perspective: the older Marjane who mostly captions the panels and provides historical, cultural and ideological information, and the younger Marjane who takes on the narrative from within the panels. This double perspective is clearly illustrated in the top panel on page 8 where a young Marji talks to God through the use of a speech bubble while at the same time she captions the frame.The mechanics of the graphic novel allows for total freedom of sequencing time and space without disrupting the narrative as is clarified in the panels in which Marjane explains the origin of the veil. Time and space of the narrative alternate between 1979 and 1980 twice in this sequence of only four frames on page 3. This alternation echoes the irregularity of sequencing events which is a commonality in storytelling by children.
Themes
Focus
The opening chapter of
Persepolis
describes the implementation of the veil policy in Iran, depicting its restrictive and repressive effect from the perspective of an ignorant, young girl, Marjane, on Iranian society and her personal world.
The aftermath of the populist 1979 Islamic Revolution proves extremely challenging for Marjane's family as they have to strike a balance between personal freedom and self-expression and the strict rule of an increasingly religious and oppressive regime.
Structure
Persepolis
consists of two parts, the first part "Story of a Childhood" recounts her childhood in Iran, whereas the second part "Story of a Return", set predominantly in Iran, but also in France and Austria, treats her early adulthood. Both parts are divided into chapters, each chapter named for a central symbol. Although the events seem to appear in chronological order, the chapters are not numbered. It could imply that the events are equally important to Marjane's narrative. As such the structure doesn't rely on a dramatic plot inasmuch the plot is structured by a thematic grid shaped by collective histories and individual stories.
Symbol
In the introductory chapter the veil is introduced as a vital piece of clothing that visualises the acceptance of and compliance with the moral code of the Islamic regime. It markedly disallows individuality and curtails freedom of expression, creating an enormous schism in society between those who embrace the Islamic regime and those who oppose it. For Marjane and many other women in post-revolutionary Iran the veil becomes the key symbol of exclusion and repression, particulary of women. The veil has become the fabric of obedience but the contrary holds true as well for the veil masks true personalities and real beliefs and has become a means of survival in a fraught landscape where execution, torture or imprisonment pose real threats.
Tone and Mood
In the graphic novel meaning is constructed through a complex interplay between text and images. In
Persepolis
the avatars are simplified, abstracted representations of real persons. The childlike abstraction not only draws the attention to the universally intelligible expressions & postures of these characters, its rendering in black and white also support this idea. The second panel, for instance, sketches a class photo of four veiled girls. Their faces express sadness and defeatism and this is in contrast with the caption that reads that "this is a class photo" (3). A class photo should, at least in modern Western perception, capture the characteristics of the individual not a collective of characteristics. What's more, the caption further reads that the protagonist, who is introduced separately in the first panel, can't be seen as she "is sitting on the far left" (3). From the outset, these panels set a mood of exclusion, an emotion that permeates this chapter. On page 4 this emotion is described in the caption : " We found ourselves veiled and separated from our friends." Tapping into this mood is the use of the imperative, modals and the passive, such as "it was called (3)", "became obligatory (3)", "[w]ear this (3)", "must be closed (4)", and "found ourselves separated (4)". It deepens the mood by adding a feeling of helplessness, of submission as the actions and events described seem to be forced upon her by the Islamic regime and Marjane has but to undergo them, as is voiced in the final panel of page 4: "... and that was that.". This feeling, however is not only restricted to her public life though as this feeling of exclusion or from Marji's perspective, isolation also extends to her private life. In the top panel of page 6, for example, Marjane is torn between between her religious self and her parents' expectations, resulting in Marjane feeling that, apart from her grandmother, nobody believes in her. Another example of not belonging, being isolated is on page 8 when Marjane voices her wish to becoming a prophet in class which is met with the scorn of her class mates and the contempt of her teacher, the latter depicted with her mouth curled down at the corners and her arms crossed across her chest.
In the first panel on page 6 Marjne defines herself as religious, which introduces one of the main themes of the novel, such as family, gender, politics, moral uncertainty, freedom and confinement & coming of age. In fact, at the very beginning of the story, religion provides an outlet for Marjane to escape the pressure brought on by her parents. She has this fantasy about becoming the last prophet in line, and a female one for that matter. Her ideas, collected in a holy book "like all [her] predecessors (7)", are an eclectic mix of Communist, Muslim and Zoroastrian and even Christian ideas, as the embodiment of this input on page 6 illustrates. In Marjane's mind modernism and religion can exist alongside each other. In her own "holy book (7)", for instance, she even adds the commandment that everybody should have a car (7)". The Islamic regime soon passed laws that rigorously regulated all behaviour on strict religious grounds, which excluded all Western ideas and practices. The veil policy and the segregation of schools by gender, for instance, are among those measures introduced in the first chapter. Its restrictive and repressive implications are totally lost on Marjane, who disliked the veil "because [they] didn't understand why [they] had to (3)". Marjane expounds her doubts about the veil as voiced in the first sentence of the caption on page 6: 'I really don't know what to think about the veil ". In fact, it initially only symbolises the schism between her and her parents . This moral uncertainty will permeate as a theme throughout the novel, albeit that the issues involved will also incorporate political and familial matters as well as matters of the heart.
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