How would you describe Marjane's interaction with Western culture?
Though she is born and raised for much of her life in Tehran, Marjane Satrapi is as much a product of Western culture as of Middle Eastern culture. Her parents both ascribe to Western political viewpoints and are not reluctant to let their daughter indulge in Western popular culture. One of the major reasons that Marjane is sent to Europe at the novel's end is because her parents feel as though she can no longer sustain the Western style of education that her parents want for her.
Whom do you think is described as the bigger enemy in the novel -- the Shah or the Islamic regime that takes control after the Shah?
Both the Shah and the Islamic fundamentalist regime are characterized as bad rulers of the Iranian people and it is difficult to say which was worse for the Iranian people. Satrapi seems to say that each regime is one side of the same coin. The Shah was brutal to his people, imprisoning many of the political dissidents, in his attempt to maintain power and to serve Western interests. The Islamic regime used the same brutality for the same reasons in order to propagate a pure Islamic state.
Discuss the theme of matriarchy in Persepolis.
Satrapi's novel is written from a feminist perspective, and thus the matriarchal side of her family features prominently in the story. Marjane's grandmother, as represented by her strength in caring for her children and her wisdom of peace and forgiveness, is the novel's chief matriarch. The end of the novel is a poignant scene in which Marjane falls into her grandmother's bosom and is sent out into the world with the mantle of matriarch now upon her.
Do you think that Marjane's father was a "resigned" individual, as Marjane claims in the novel?
Marjane has a complex view of her father throughout the novel. In many instances, one can see how she truly looked up to her father for holding controversial political views and for risking his safety in protests to overthrow the Shah. Marjane also sees her father has having the personality of "resignation," something she calls a Persian trait. He adamantly proclaims that he will not fight against Iran in the war and Marjane is disappointed that her father is not a tortured political hero as were Siamak and Mohsen.
How does the social class of Marjane's family conflict with their political views?
Marjane's family is a member of Iran's middle class. Her father has a good job as an engineer and they are able to keep a maid for the house, drive nice cars, take vacations, and give their daughter an excellent education. This privilege would seem to conflict with their political views, however. The family maintains a long familial heritage as leftist political activists. Many of Marjane's family members were imprisoned or killed for their beliefs. This dissonance between political belief and practice is a central tension of Marjane's childhood.
Discuss the symbolism of jewels and jewelry throughout the novel.
In several scenes of the novel, jewels represent the feminine. They are precious objects of great value. However, they are also easily bought and sold, as in the case of Mali and her family. Mali's jewels are sold in order for the family to survive their great loss in the Iraqi bombings. At the same time, Mali's life is seen as devalued by the other women Tehran because she is now a refugee. The loss of value of such beautiful, rare objects is mirrored in the devaluing of female identity under the Islamic regime.
In the novel's first scene, Marjane shows a photo of her elementary school class. She, however, is cut out of the picture. Why does Satrapi begin the novel with this imagery?
Persepolis can be read as one young girl's journey to find her own identity in the war torn, repressive Middle Eastern culture in which she grows up. By beginning the novel with this scene of a school photo, Satrapi is representing the fact that her Western self (the perspective from which she writes) is only half of her identity. The other half of her identity is found in Iran, a country that literally and figuratively attempts to hide away the identities of its women. Marjane's full identity, therefore, cannot be fully understood as long as a repressive fundamentalist spirit rules the country.
Some critics of the novel have claimed that Satrapi's view of Iran is too one-sided. Why or why not do you believe this is true?
Satrapi has been criticized for writing Persepolis from a Western perspective. In these critic's estimation, Marjane is as much a product of Western culture - Western education, Western politics, Western popular culture - as she is a part of her Middle Eastern milieu. This leads Satrapi to be overly critical of all who would ascribe to conservative Islamic practice. Her viewpoint, thus, correlates all conservative Muslims with the brutality of the Iranian fundamentalist regime. This criticism can be seen as unfair, however, if one reads Satrapi's novel chiefly as a political novel and not as a commentary on religion.
What symbolism does Satrapi give to cigarettes in the novel?
For Satrapi, a cigarette is first a symbol of adulthood and the freedom and independence that comes with being able to smoke. Marjane secretly sneaks away to her basement hideout to smoke a cigarette that she had stolen from her uncle. This, she claims, is her first act of adult independence. Her Uncle Tehar's smoking habit, however, represents the fact that both smoking and adulthood come with serious problems and consequences. Tehar is emotionally torn by his decision to send his son away to Holland while he is physically torn from the damage that smoking has done to his body.
Why does Satrapi think that the Islamic regime was able to gain control of Iran after the 1979 Revolution?
Through the characters of her father and uncle, Satrapi explains that the Revolution had been the product of a vocal minority while the majority of Iranians needed some kind of symbol to guide them and lead them. This allowed the Islamic religious leaders to take control of the country. Satrapi blames this on the people's lack of education. The people have faith only in religion, not in political ideals. Satrapi's uncle believes in the novel that the religious leaders will have no interest in leading the nation, yet this proves not to be the case.
Essay Assignment #2 - Persepolis
November 24th. I've also included some tips on constructing a thesis statement. We will discuss essay topics in class. Thanks and looking forward to reading your essays.
Possible Essay Questions for Persepolis
1. In an Associated Press interview, Satrapi said, “The only thing I hope is that people will read my book and see that this abstract thing, this Axis of Evil, is made up of individuals with lives and hopes.” And in her introduction to Persepolis, she explains that she wrote this book to show that Iran is not only a country of “fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism.” How does Satrapi go about challenging this myth? How does Persepolis dispel or confirm your views on Iran? In what ways does reading this book deepen your understanding and knowledge of Iran, and the current situation in Iraq?
2. “Every situation has an opportunity for laughs.” (p. 97) Give some examples of how the ordinary citizens of Iran enjoyed life despite the oppressive regime. What made you laugh? How does Satrapi add comic relief? How are these scenes relevant to the story as a whole?
3. What kinds of captivity and freedom does the author explore in Persepolis? What stifles or prevents people from being completely free? How do they circumvent and defy the rules imposed on them and attempt to live ordinary lives despite revolution and war? Give some examples of their small acts of rebellion.
4. What is the role of women in the story? Compare and contrast the various women: Marji, her mother, her grandmother, her school teachers, the maid, the neighbors, the guardians of the revolution.
5. In what ways is Persepolis both telling a story and commenting on the importance of stories in our lives? What does the book suggest about how stories shape and give meaning to our experience? Discuss some of the stories in Persepolis—Uncle Anoosh’s story, the stories propagated by the media – both interior and exterior to the Iranian government, and .
6. What is Satrapi suggesting about the relationship between past and present, and between national and personal history? What role does her family history, and the stories of her relatives, play in shaping Marji?
7. What does Satrapi say regarding disparity between the classes before and after the Iranian Revolution? Discuss some examples that Marji witnesses and contemplates.
8. Marji has a complicated, shifting relationship with her parents. What is important to Marji’s parents? What environment do they create for their daughter despite living under an oppressive regime and through a brutal, prolonged war? From where do they get their strength? What are their expectations for her and how - if at all - do these expectations shape her?
Thesis vs. Topic
As you begin to formulate a thesis for your essay, think about the following distinction between topic and thesis. A topic is a general area of inquiry; derived from the Greek topos (place), "topic" designates the general subject of your essay. For instance, Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis (2003) “shows how a totalitarian state oppresses women” would be a weak thesis but a very good a topic for an essay. From a topic, many specific theses can be extracted and developed. A thesis is more specific and delimited; it exists “within” your topic. In your essay, you need to use an argumentative thesis.
In argumentative writing, the writer takes a stance and offers reasons in support of it. Crucial to any piece of argumentative writing is its thesis. The thesis arises from the topic, or subject, on which the writing focuses, and may be defined as follows:
A thesis is an idea, stated as an assertion, which represents a reasoned response to a question at issue and which will serve as the central idea of a unified composition.
If we've selected as a topic the notion that Persepolis shows the power of unions we need to ask, "So what?" How does Persepolis depict oppression? How does the regime maintain its power over those it oppresses? In other words, does the graphic novel show the mechanisms by which totalitarianism gains control and, in so doing, show how it might be resisted? In sum, what does focusing on this theme tells about what the Persepolis might mean? One possible thesis is:
Although Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis (2003) depicts the growth of a totalitarian state through different subjective responses, including both Marjane the child and Marjane the adult, Persepolis confronts power head-on, challenging the "righteousness" of the regime through these subjective responses by dramatizing how it hurts the people who must live under it.
This thesis could, of course, be different. Indeed, one could construct a thesis that challenges the above thesis. And that's one of the reasons we know that the above thesis works: it's contestable!
When you compose a thesis statement, think about how it satisfies the following tests:
1. Is it an idea? Does it state, in a complete sentence, an assertion?
2. Does it make a claim that is truly contestable and therefore engaging?
(Yes, because one could also argue that in fact the force of both novels resides in how they dramatize the deleterious effects of a totalitarian regime.)
3. Are the terms you are using precise and clear?
(Key terms here seem to be: "totalitarian state," "resistance," "power," and "confronts head-on.")
4. Has the thesis developed out of a process of reasoning?
Once these questions have been satisfactorily answered, use the resulting thesis to organize your evidence and begin the actual writing. As you do so, bear in mind the following questions:
1. What is my purpose in writing? What do I want to prove?
(Notice the explicit purpose in the thesis statement: it does not merely point out that both books show the how totalitarian states oppress women. Instead, the thesis takes a position on this topic, and then answers the question "So what?")
2. What question(s) does my writing answer?
3. Why do I think this question is important? Will other people think it equally important?
4. What are my specific reasons, my pieces of evidence? Does each piece of evidence support the claim I make in my thesis?
5. Where does my reasoning weaken or even stop? Am I merely offering opinions without reasoned evidence?
6. How can I best persuade my reader?