The Molding Hand of Oppression: Forming an Identity in Persepolis

Ruby Instructor Bachman Writing Across the Arts (Porter 80A-21) 2 November 2012 (1278 words) The Molding Hand of Oppression: Forming an Identity in Persepolis Every person is unique. However, there are many similar parts that go into creating every person’s identity. Of course, there is the biology, the genetics. Then there are outside forces, the nurturing of a person. When trying to form an identity, there are numerous outside factors that contribute, such as gender, culture, and environment.

For Marji, the protagonist of the Persepolis series, being an Iranian woman is absolutely a factor that featured prominently in the shaping of her personality. She was not allowed to experiment with her identity by her clothing or style, because the government controlled what women were allowed to wear. She had to have some sort of connection with religion, because the government forced the religion upon its subjects. She also experienced hardships, like the death of family members, because of war against the tyrannical government.

Growing up under the oppressive hand of the Iranian government has formed Marji’s strong identity. Clothing, a big form of self-expression, was predetermined for Marji, so that she had a few options of how to proceed. The first thing Marji introduces in the story is the veil, which is a headscarf that women are required to wear for public decency. Marji does not like the veil since she does not understand why she has to wear it. When Marji is young, she says, “I really didn’t know what to think about the veil, deep down I was very religious” (Persepolis 1, 7). Since she is so young, she is unaware of the real point of the veil.

It is forced on because the government wants to hide the potential power women have. Later, Marji finds out that the restricted clothing has constrained her freedom by not allowing her to express a part of her individuality. After her parents come back from a trip to Istanbul, Turkey, she gets gifts such as 1983 Nike Shoes, a denim jacket, a Michael Jackson button, and posters. She puts on her new shoes and her new jacket with the new button on it to go out and buy some music tapes. However, the guardians of the revolution, the women’s branch who arrest women who are improperly veiled, catch Marji.

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She luckily gets away. Through this experience, she realizes that she does not even have a minimal amount of freedom to show her individuality as a rebel. Clothing allows people to express their individuality, but forcing women to wear the veil not only prevents women from showing their own personality but also eliminates their freedom. If a woman wears a veil, then all the women will look just the same, and there is no opportunity for individuality there. Marji travels to Europe, and while there, she is finally able to express herself and experiment with her personality.

When Marji becomes sixteen, she tries new stuff, coating her hair with gel, adding a thick line of eyeliner, and using safety pins as earrings (Persepolis 2, 36). As you see in the panels, she experiments with her hairstyles, which would not even be seen under the oppressive Iranian regime. Each new style is in a completely separate panel, showing the time passing between each event (McCloud 101). It takes time to develop an identity. She is allowed to express herself in Europe, and because of this, she is able to develop her personality in a way that she could not have been able to if she had been back in Iran.

The government keeps Iranian women on a tight leash, so the lack of expression through clothing that Marji experiences in Iran, and the amount of expression she experiments with outside of her country, helped her develop as a person. Iran has a very strong connection between religion and state, which is reflected in Marji’s spirituality. Marji says herself that she was born with a religion, and she believes her path is to be a prophet. Religion becomes a part of her character. Because she wants to be a prophet when she is ten, God sometimes appears and becomes her companion.

Whenever Marji is having a personal conflict, God appears to help her work through it. For example, Marji takes a long bath in the water tub to feel like to be in a cell filled with water, when God appears to her. She is trying to experience what it feels like to be tortured, like her captured relatives and countrymen. God just randomly appears to her to ask, “What are you doing? ” (Persepolis 1, 25). In that panel, The main color is white. White is a color like purity and spirituality, which makes sense, because God is in it. However, in the next panel, the background is entirely black.

This panel does not have God in it. Instead, it is just Marji almost connecting to the pains of her grandfather. So the simplicity of the black background helps show the beginning of her internal conflict (McCloud 192). Marji is learning about how cruel the government truly is, and even God cannot help her understand why. Because Iran was very connected to religion, she always has a spirituality about her. The government forced a certain religion on Marji. Even though she did not always believe in that religion, she was still shaped by her conversations with God.

Even though God doesn’t appear later on, believing in a religion as a child was able to lay the foundation for a spirituality that would last her the rest of her life. Living through war is very difficult. Because of war, many of Marji’s families and her neighbors met death. Satrapi’s graphic style, which is mainly composed of black and white, depicts violent moments with a simple description. For instance, when Satrapi depicts the bombing of her neighbors, the black and white frames, along with the gutters, portrays how terrified Marji feels (Persepolis 1, 142). For example, there is a panel where Marji is covering her eyes.

Then it cuts to a panel that is just completely black. It shows just how emotional the scene is (McCloud 150). Because Satrapi’s style is so simple, drawing the character to explain the horrible emotions would be out of style. It is much more expressive just to keep the panel completely black. Since those dreadful incidents happened to her when she was young, she grew up as a strong-hearted and caring Iranian who knew the difficulties of war and came out stronger for it. Even though she disagrees with the lack of freedoms in her country, she is very proud to be an Iranian woman.

She actually says this when some students were talking at a restaurant and were not respecting her. She stood up and said to them, “You are going to shut up or I am going to make you! I AM IRANIAN AND PROUD OF IT” (Persepolis 2, 43). The war and demonstrations due to the revolution has built her a strong identity as an Iranian. Marji is definitely shaped by her outside environment. The fact that she is Iranian during such difficult times is absolutely a big environmental factor. Not being able to wear whatever she wants limits her self-expression, so she has to work around that. The government forces a religion on her.

She is also thrown into the middle of a war. All of these things should limit how her identity grows. But despite all the obstacles that being Iranian created for her, in the end, she still has a very strong connection with her Iranian culture. She obviously connects as an Iranian woman. Her own culture suppresses her, and in doing so, makes her stronger. Works Cited Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. New York: Pantheon, 2003. Print. Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return. New York: Pantheon, 2004. Print. McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics. Northampton, MA: Kitchen Sink, 1993. Print.

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