Understanding the World, or Losing Innocence?

Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis gives its readers an up-close and personal look at the struggles of Iranian citizens during the Islamic Revolution of the 1970s. As a young girl growing up in Iran, Marjane is exposed to the harsh realities of her nation through talks with her family, life at school, and even when spending time playing with her friends. Reading through Marjane’s memoir, one can only question whether the explicit exposure to politics is beneficial for a young girl, or if it only contributes to a loss of innocence that limits the joys of childhood.

Looking at one chapter in particular, “The Heroes” illustrates the painful truths that Marjane and her family must experience. The political prisoners of the revolution have been liberated, including two friends of Marjane’s family, Siamak and Moshen. Based on what Marjane has already learned of the revolutionaries from her parents, friends, and the media, she tells Siamak’s daughter Laly that her father is probably dead. Although this later proves not to be true, it is clear that at the age of ten Marjane has already begun to lose the innocent thoughts of a child, expressing that “nobody will accept the truth” (p.48)—her knowledge of “the truth” proves that her environment is forcing her to grow up quickly.

Later in the chapter Marjane’s graphics depict the gruesome images of the tortures being described by the former prisoners. Being exposed to the details of the violence shocks but also excites Marjane—she even makes the games she plays with her friends more violent after hearing the stories.

There is no doubt that the oppression and violence that Marjane is seeing is going to have an impact on her social development. Coming from a very affluent and involved family, Marjane is well-informed of what is happening in her country, and this helps her to gain a better understanding the lives of her classmates and others around her. However, it is clear that some information (Anoosh’s stories, books about revolution, etc) sparks excitement inside of her—excitement that may become dangerous if taken too far by a child.

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3 Comments on “Understanding the World, or Losing Innocence?”

  1. lukewalsh says:

    The idea of Marjane’s loss of childhood innocence that you touched upon in your blog post is even more evident in the second half of the graphic novel. Once Marjane realizes that she has the ability to go against the authority figures in her life, she begins to rebel. This rebellion and loss of childhood innocence is very prevalent in the story “The Cigarette.”

    In this story, Marjane does a few things to rebel against authority figures in her life such as her teachers and parents. Marjane chooses to skip class and attain food at “Kansas” on Jordan Avenue with her older friends. To get to this avenue on the nicer side of Tehran, Marjane and her friends had to discretely climb over a wall. The effects of the war on the mind of Marjane can be seen in the contrast between Marjane’s conforming attitude toward life in the beginning of the story and her new rebellious and fearless attitude present in this story. The girl we meet in the beginning of the story is not the same fearless girl who is skipping class and sneaking into parts of town in the second half of the story.

    The defining moment that displays Marjane’s loss of childhood innocence is seen in her reaction to the sirens going off while she is in this new neighborhood. Everyone was taught to lie down in the gutter if a bomb went off while they were in the street. Most children would have followed the rules and guidelines they had been taught regarding this procedure. Marjane however, free of her childhood innocence, simply laughs at the two men jumping into the gutters and acts as if she is too good to jump down into a gutter to save her life. This action not only shows her loss of childhood innocence but also that violence not only shocks Marjane, but provides a sense of excitement for her too.

    • ally.tschinkel says:

      After listening to discussion on Tuesday, I conclude that, while Persepolis is an informative graphic novel, it also is a story of Marjane’s loss of innocence. We discussed in class on Tuesday the possibility of Marjane being an unreliable narrator with an over dramatic personality, but I believe that she was simply acting as a child. The second half of the book further supports my opinion, as we watch her lose innocence to the extent that she is sent to live on her own.

      In the beginning chapters of the novel, Marjane is being a curious child. She is asking questions with the belief that there is only one answer. Marjane is consistently confused and is doing anything in her power to answer the never ending list of questions in her mind. While her questions may seem aggravating to the reader, I think that they really take us along the discovery process with her, as I had no previous knowledge about the Islamic Revolution previous to this novel.

      In the second half of the reading, we see her lose innocence. Specifically, when Marjane smokes a cigarette for the first time at the age of thirteen, both the reader and Marjane herself realize that she is no longer considered a child. This transformation is further supported when Marjane’s parents send her to Austria to live on her own.

      As readers, it is difficult to believe a child narrator because they can easily over-exaggerate their memories, but that is the beauty of the novel. Not only do we physically view the images through a child’s mind, we are able to watch her develop into a young adult and grow with her throughout the novel.

  2. sarahwhite says:

    Because this story is told from a child’s perspective, we are called to question the accuracy and reliability of Marjane’s memories. How do we know if we can truly trust her? As the story progresses, Marjane grows older, and it becomes increasingly important to note the way she expresses herself through both her diction and the graphic images.

    In the beginning of the story, her view was narrow and limited because she did not understand much of what was happening. Her knowledge grew with each panel, though, and soon she did not seem like a ten year old anymore. She thought like a young adult, and she was not afraid to show it. She begged her parents to participate in rallys, but because she was so young, they did not allow it.

    She meets her uncle in the middle of the story, and despite the fact that she is still only ten years old, she is able to form a complex relationship with her uncle in which she is able to learn things about the fight of her country that no one else will tell her. He treats her as more of adult than a child, and at this point, the transformation begins to take place. When he is arrested and executed, the transformation is complete. Marjane is no longer a little girl.

    She begins to participate in the protests, but I believe that Marjane remains a naive young girl at heart. She writes love letters for her maid because she is unwilling to accept the impossibility of love between different social classes. She chooses not to see the truth when her parents send her to Austria. Marjane may develop into a more mature child during the story, but it is merely because external forces make her. When it comes down to it, she acts as any other girl would, wishing to wear a denim jacket and Michael Jackson button.

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