Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir of her life in pre- and post-revolutionary Iran, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, depicts the radical transformations in Iranian society that followed the 1979 revolution. These transformations occur at the outset of Satrapi’s book, with the author illustrating the repressive atmosphere that gripped...
Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir of her life in pre- and post-revolutionary Iran, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, depicts the radical transformations in Iranian society that followed the 1979 revolution. These transformations occur at the outset of Satrapi’s book, with the author illustrating the repressive atmosphere that gripped her country in the aftermath of the Shah’s removal from power and his replacement with a fundamentalist autocratic regime. The opening illustrations and text in Persepolis show a ten-year-old Marjane unhappily wearing the veil on her head that was required by the Islamic clergy who now ruled Iran. In one of these early panels, Satrapi accompanies her illustration of the transformations that engulfed Iranian society with the caption “The Year It Became Obligatory to Wear the Veil at School,” the drawing depicting a female instructor handing the young elementary school girls the head covering that was now required.
As Persepolis proceeds, Satrapi continues to depict the changes imposed from the country’s new dictators, including the segregation of genders and the risks heretofore inherent in socializing outside the austere parameters of revolutionary Iran. It is in elementary school where the author experiences these social transformations most directly, both with the sudden segregation of boys from girls and with the banning of the study of foreign languages, described by one of the new instructors as “symbols of capitalism . . . of decadence.”
The transformations Satrapi describes go well beyond the strictures imposed on children. Satrapi also depicts the effects of the revolution on the adult members of her family and relatives, such as when they discuss the new policies put into place and the merits of denouncing Western-style economic systems. In a chapter titled “The Sheep,” Satrapi depicts adults lost in a society that has suddenly and violently undergone such dramatic transformations, with her Uncle Anoosh a victim of his failure to adequately appreciate the depth of animosity held by Iran’s new rulers towards any ideology or perspective not fully in line with the clergy’s interpretations of Islamic texts. Anoosh’s imprisonment and execution by the ruling clerics, despite his record as having been imprisoned for opposing the Shah, is a painful lesson for Marjane and her family regarding the repressive atmosphere in which they now live.
While the Shah of Iran had been a brutal dictator who imprisoned and tortured his political enemies with wanton abandon, many Iranians were ill-prepared for the major transitions they would experience following the revolution. The Shah had been committed to modernizing Iran and making it a model of political and economic stability in a turbulent region. The revolution resulted in his ouster. His replacements imposed a level of austerity unanticipated by many Iranians. Persepolis depicts the changes from a personal perspective, and those changes were far-reaching.