The graphic novel “Persepolis” written by Marjane Satrapi depicts the life journey and thoughts of a young girl called Marjane growing up in the years political and religious turmoil in Iran. She battles through the loss of her beloved uncle while also living in poverty. The protagonist Marjane is a headstrong independent character who from young age wanted to solve all of the social inequality issues. Satrapi portrays the development of Marjane and her family’s struggle with identity and power through the usage of language and characterization.
Marjane has the characteristics of a very headstrong individual; however, her identity is held back due to her status and her young age. Her first interaction is with her grandma where she asked her if: “Grandpa had been in prison”. Based on the question itself it could be portrayed that due to her naïve identity and her child like ignorance she is unable to see that the question that she asks causes the grandmother great pain and remorse as shown from her expression. This contrasts the following question that Marjane asks her grandmother, which was, “Can I help you?” when the grandmother showed discomfort in her back. This portrays the identity of the protagonist as a selfless individual who was willing to help those in need. This helps justify her identity as a young ignorant girl. Satrapi further develops this idea of her ignorance through the following panel depicting the mother boiling water. Her family was so poor that her “mother had to pretend to cook so that the neighbor wouldn’t know anything”. When Marjane was walking and noticed this, she exclaimed hopefully that “mom is cooking something good”. Her naivety helps her imagine and stay hopeful, further depicting her identity of a poor ignorant child.
Throughout the novel and through the two selected pages of panels, the theme of power consistently shows up in many forms. The first form of power shows in the form that Marjane’s family is poor thus they don’t have a lot of social power. The mother has to “boil water” to pretend that the family is economically stable when the neighbors are watching. This initially signifies the idea of power even on the scale of the local neighborhood. The liquid “water” represents bland emptiness with no taste or flavor, thus showing that the family has nothing and is struggling. Furthermore, the water’s transparency symbolizes the idea that all the neighbors and family members can see through the façade that the mother is attempting to put on. The second form of power presents itself in the form of political power. The majority of the panels on the second page depicts the political issues and struggles. At the time Iran was going through a period of turmoil, this is greatly caused by the leader who “kept none of his promises”. The form of power that Marjane had to struggle was through the loss of her family members due to the reigning family at the time. Furthermore, the contrast in language between Marjane’s family and The Shah extends the idea of power differences. The Shah utilizes vivid diction such as: “splendor” or phrases such as “light of the aryans” to symbolize his education and thus suggesting his power in social status.
The struggle of Marjane and her family regarding identity and social and political power are represented through the characteristics of the mother creating the façade that the family isn’t poor, the grandmother’s sadness when answering Marjane’s question of the grandfather, and lastly Marjane’s childlike ignorance when it comes to acknowledging certain aspects of her family. The turmoil that took place is Iran segregated the poor from the affluent and family like Marjane’s suffered the consequences of such unfaithful leaders.