Never in my life did I think that a graphic novel, like Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, would develop themes like maturity and femininity so effectively and profoundly. It was unfathomable to me that a comic book, with black-and-white drawings, speech bubbles, and varied frame widths would represent themes so deep and challenging. I always held this preconception that comic books, graphic novels, and literature with illustrations were simple: plain, curt and immature. Persepolis challenged all of those notions and left such a deep impression that I felt obligated to share its successes with all who were interested.
The book was written in a way that the words and diction match the developmental progression of the novel’s main character, Marji. The speech at the beginning of the first chapter is short and underdeveloped. Marji’s conversations with other characters in the book generally reflect the traditions and conservative culture of revolutionary Iran, where the novel takes place in. Her mannerisms, speech, and thoughts mirror the fundamentalist Iranian views on society, femininity, religion and sexual practice. It’s almost as if the author, Satrapi, carefully crafted the young Marji to live up to every societal expectation handed down to her to be followed. As the novel progresses, however, the sentences start to become more varied in length, style, and diction. They represent the change and development that character Marji experiences as she progresses from a young age to her relatively rebellious teenage years.
As Marji grows older, she begins to experience a change in personal views. She starts to question her faith, deconstruct it and reconstruct it to match her values. She experiments with her femininity, actively disobeys societal restrictions on her actions and character, and lets her intellect control her independently, much to the chagrin of her fundamentalist neighbors and peers. Most importantly, however, Satrapi used Marji as a symbol; she showed the (primarily western) readers that Iranian youth were, like us, rebellious, experimental and questioning. She explains that Marji had crushes, wants, and obsessions. She shows that youth, no matter where they are, grow up in similar manners, and tend to push the cultural expectations handed down to them as they become independent. Perhaps more importantly, she shows that a young woman from halfway across the world could be just as individualistic, challenging and amazing as anyone from right here at home.
This point is important, as Satrapi is able to effectively build a bildungsroman, but implement and integrate additional themes that are so often overlooked in contemporary literature. She pushes the boundaries of what a graphic novel can and cannot develop. More importantly, she bridges the gap between the western world and the eastern one; the progressive and the traditional. And on top of that, she develops the emotions, mood and tones that carry on throughout the book, leaving the reader unsatisfied, pensive, and hungry for more. Effectively, she creates a novel so irresistible, that the reader cannot help but feel sympathetic to Marji’s life, but at the same time, view it as completely foreign.
As the book closes, the mood becomes more developed, and themes of sadness and homesickness are developed as well. We begin to see Marji’s progression as a character through the trying bombings that she experiences as a result of a war near her hometown, the limitations of an orthodox, traditionalist culture regulating every aspect of her life, and the anonymity of life as a woman in 1970s Iran. The book begins to develop this theme of sadness until the conclusion, where Marji is sent to Austria, as she failed to integrate effectively into Iranian society due to her individualism and intellectual depth. The reader is kept wondering, thinking and mulling over the events of the novel, while questions continue to loom in their mind. At the end of the day, Persepolis creates a fantastic image in the mind, with well-developed themes and values that are not only effectively portrayed by the book’s graphic novel format, but instead amplified by the dialogue and illustrations provided. This book, which is merely the first in a duo of fantastic novels centered around Marji, is a fantastic coming-of-age story written by a brilliant author, Marjane Satrapi.
You can buy the book on Amazon here.