The Use of Illustrations in Marjane Satrapi’s Graphic Novel Persepolis

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is a graphic novel that revolves around the adolescence of the narrator and protagonist, Marjane Satrapi. Growing up in Iran in 1979 around the Islamic Revolution, Marjane is subjected to the extremities going on at the time, such as the political upheaval and the many protests for and against the Islamic revolution, sexism, and civil disobedience, resulting in a loss of innocence for many children exposed to these issues. The author Marjane’s composition of the novel as a graphic novel relates to the novel as a whole in the way that the composition of the novel shows the different ways in which the illustrations add to the meaning and quality of the work. The graphic novel format serves as a learning aid for readers, illustrates the naivety and fantasy in children’s thinking, shows a connection between the past and present Iran, and overall serves as a form of protest.

The fact that the work is a graphic novels allows the readers to have a visual guide in addition to the text. This added visual aid may appeal to some readers more than others, but it can aid the understanding of any type of reader; from the open-minded to the not so open minded readers. Whether the reader is a visual learner or not, visuals can add a great deal of information to the text. Along with serving as a visual guide, the pictures might make the novel more memorable because the readers have something tangible, an actual picture to remember, as opposed to just words on a page that can flow past a reader if they are not actively paying attention. One can see the effectiveness of having a visual aid first hand from doing everyday activities such as studying for tests or watching a movie. One can often times find it easier to remember something if they also have a visual that they can pull up in their mind.

Visuals can also be processed instantly, versus text that needs to be read and understood. The visuals can also add to the enjoyment of the novel, especially to those who don’t particularly enjoy reading, since they’ll be processing the novel in a different way than the traditional only text format; and actually enjoying what one is reading is another way to aid learning. Overall, visuals greatly add and aid our learning experience in everyday life and the same concept can apply to the visual illustrations in Persepolis.

The author employs a minimalist illustrating style in black and white. This style and the fact that the novel is a graphic novel or “comic book’as some children might call it, adds a personal touch to the work since the visual illustrations in the novel wer actually drawn by Marjane Satrapi herself, thus presenting the work sort of like a personal journal. Furthermore, because adding pictures to a book is something that is more likely to come from a child, the format is appropriate since the novel is written in the viewpoint of a young girl. Each page of the novel also contains about six-eights panels of illustrations and text, which along with the minimalist style, conjure up a representation of the naïve and limited viewpoint that a child possesses in the transition from childhood to adolescence.

A child may not understand conflicts of the world, because the frontal lobe of a child is not fully developed yet and children have less experience than an adult would have had. This innocence of a child is exemplified as stated by Marjane in the novel, “I didn’t know what justice was.” Her child-like beliefs are also shown with her and her friend’s idealized thinking of becoming revolutionary heroes like Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. This also extends to Marjane’s communication with imaginary entities whom she regularly has conversations with and who could be considered her imaginary friends, which is not uncommon among children. Along with her belief that she will be the last prophet, as stated by her when asked what she will be by her teacher she proclaims “I’ll be a prophet.”, or her belief that she could be the next famous scientist like Marie Curie. All these instances reinforce the idea that Marjane is young and represent the type of thinking a regular child would have. It may seem that Marjane is a grown up because of the things she experiences and the brave actions she takes, but in the end she’s still a child.

The black and white medium of the illustrations may also have a symbolic meaning to the past and how the Islamic revolution has robbed Iran of it’s colorful culture, leaving behind instead chaos and uncertainty for those living in Iran. This demonstrates a relationship between the past and the present as what was once a vibrant culture had turned into mass protests, an increase in assaults (as experience by Marjane’s mother), hostility, violence, and unrest. In addition, traditionally in Islamic culture, it is forbidden to have iconic representations of the Islamic regime, which makes the novel a rebellious work of literature; reflecting Marjane’s rebellious view about the Islamic regime that she has held throughout the entire novel.

Such as Marjane wanting to go to the revolutionary demonstrations against her parents wishes, and eventually went on to doing so with the maid, Mehr; adding that afterwards her mother hit them across the face for doing so, “It is really our own who had attacked us.” Marjane goes on to attribute her rebelliousness to the education she received, saying: “I think the reason we were so rebellious was that our generation had known secular schools.” However, I believe that this rebelliousness also contributed to her beliefs and eventually this book, because another young girl at this time may simply follow the rigid rules of the time and never even have the idea to go against convention or even write a book.

In conclusion, the novel Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, employs the use of illustrations as a way to convey further meanings in the novel. Meanings that perhaps are not seen the first time around or would otherwise not have existed if it wasn’t for the formation of the novel being in a graphic novel form. From giving the reader an aid for understanding. to illustrating the fantasy-like views and rebelliousness of a child, to showing the connection between the past and the present, and serving as a piece of resilience in the face of opposition by being a novel as well as a protest.

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