Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

by Marjane Satrapi

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How is language persuasive in Persepolis?

Language is persuasive in Persepolis by conveying big ideas about the moral ambiguity and complexity that define adult life and our understanding of history through a deceptively simple voice. For example, Marji speaks with pride that stems from her family histories of political resistance and survival on one hand, and from the patriotic fervor aroused by the Iraqi invasion on the other.

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Marjane Satrapi has stated that her primary goal in writing Persepolis was to revise the persistent cultural, religious, and gender stereotypes about her country, which in the Western imagination has been reduced to a monolithic, oppressive breeder of terrorists and religious fundamentalism. By using a stripped-down, monochromatic graphic approach, she wants her readers to see beyond their assumptions and mystification into the richness, complexity, and variety of the Iranian people, their proud culture, and their magnificent ancient history.

As the tile suggests, she chooses to narrate Persepolis from the perspective of a girl maturing into adolescence and independence whose voice expresses equal parts angsty sarcasm and youthful wonder. This is an effective persuasive element, as it’s easier for any reader to relate to a young person’s pain, rebellion, and disillusionment. Satrapi’s emotional journey from a frightened and fanciful little girl into becoming her own person made by her unique and terrible formative experiences, family influence, and Iranian heritage represents universal rites of passage and the pathos of growing up that almost every grown-up has gone through in some relatable form.

Another effective choice using language is Satrapi’s deciding to leave the Persian script that appears throughout the novel intact, despite translating the other non-English text herself. Though her first language was Farsi, Satrapi wrote Persepolis in French and lived in Paris after having earlier lived in Austria, as depicted in the story. Leaving that script untranslated creates a juxtaposition, like the black and white ink, between the language and culture of her turbulent childhood and those of her exile and new international, multicultural existence. This suggests an unbridgeable barrier between her past and present, despite the warm memories and vivid oral histories, forcing the reader to consider how identities are formed through language.

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