Sunday, August 2, 2015

Justice, Connection, and Reinvention

Persepolis tells the us the story of Satrapi’s youth, and the story is diverse and expansive. But while the Satrapi covers many topics and events, her storytelling is very clear in what she is trying to express, and there are three main themes that encompass her story.

The first theme Satrapi introduces to the reader is the theme of justice. This is the theme that preoccupies Marjane most as a child. Her political activism, her rebellious attitude, and her emotional reactions are all tied to her concept of justice. The importance of this theme is clear from the very first page, where Satrapi discusses the injustices brought about by the Islamic Revolution, with regards to the wearing of the veil and the separation of boys and girls in schools. Early in her childhood, Marjane’s mother reinforces the theme, first by telling her that one should forgive rather than seek justice, but then later on, teaching her that sometimes forgiveness is is dangerous, and that justice exists and people who are bad will pay (Satrapi, 53). Marjane experiences many instances of injustice perpetuated by people in positions of power, and what can be seen as her rebellious attitude is more aptly linked to her need for justice. She often talks back to people in charge at inopportune times, and although she faces many consequences for this, including being expelled from school and kicked out of several places of residence, her need for justice is stronger, and she never backs down. She even defends herself in dangerous situations, at one point yelling at the Guardians of the Revolution, officers who were known of be ruthless towards anyone they considered was acting “immorally.” The only instance in which Marjane perpetrated an act of injustice, when she had a man arrested by those very same officers in order to save herself, she was harshly reprimanded by her grandmother, and she decided to never act that way every again. 
Marjane seeking the advice of her mother, after
trying to forgive.

The concept of justice is the core of revolutionary ideals, therefore it’s not surprising that the theme of justice should permeate in a novel who’s main character is a passionate political activist. Even in recent years, modern revolutionaries and political activists fight for ‘social justice’, a phrase that has become extremely prevalent. This article on Your Middle East lists five such activists who are all Middle Eastern women fighting for justice.

The second, and the most prominent theme in Persepolis, is the theme of interpersonal connections. While the graphic novel is of course about Marjane herself, a main component of Satrapi’s storytelling is the stories of the people she knows and meets, and how those stories effected and changed her. These connections range from her childhood friends who she plays with in the street (like her friend Kia, who she later reconnects with), her family members, and her adversaries (like her landlady Frau Doctor Heller, who evicts her without cause). Each person that is introduced in the story has a purpose and an effect on Marjane, and it is through these interactions that she grows as a person.

Finally, a smaller, but consistent theme throughout the graphic novel is the theme of reinvention. Marjane is very conscious of her personal growth and changes throughout the story, and she often seeks to reinvent herself, either mentally or physically. Each time she feels this need to change an reinvent herself mentally, she always turns to reading, believing that to change, she needs to educate herself. Even at a young age, when she felt unsatisfied due to her lack of understanding in politics, she read, saying that she “never read as much as [she] did during that period.” (Satrapi, 33) She continues this habit through to adulthood, sometimes changing out of a desire to fit in with her peers, and sometimes to improve her quality of life. Her mental changes occur more frequently than her conscious physical reinventions, however those are more drastic, and are always also accompanied by a mental change. After her two attempted suicides, she completely reinvents her life, physically and mentally, and becomes an aerobics instructor. Each of these reinventions signify a new part of her life, and although each reinvention is a big change, and is very different from the last, there is always an element from each phase that remains with her, be it her political ideals or her smoking habit.

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