Persepolis' Marjis Rebellion Essay

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Throughout Western education, the concept of the winner writing the history books is truly embodied as great tales are spun about the accomplishments of the British Empire or American Veterans recalling the trauma of World War II. However, the Third World, which occupies four-fifths of the planet, is very much brushed to the side with the broad umbrella teachings of being poor, uneducated, uncivilized and ultimately needing to be saved by the West. The past fundamentally affects how we act in the present as we learn from our mistakes and to only critically analyze a select portion of history based on how well the West will be perceived by it is a great injustice to the sufferings of a majority of the world. This is the main concept that can be read from Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and Parade by Patricia Grace as both present very simple stories of women in Iran and New Zealand respectively. Both of these women live in cultures that are being marginalized or forgotten by their governments and detail how these women react to the rebellions that they witness. To further understand the importance of these texts, I will be applying Marianne Hirsch’s theory of postmemory and Assia Djebar’s theory of anamnesis to the main characters. The effects of postmemory enfold in different ways in these texts as it becomes clear Marji needs to move on from the influences of her postmemory that is continuing to hold her back while the narrator of Parade ultimately embraces how postmemory affects her to feel connected with her family again. Furthermore, the struggle with past and present can be seen in the simple choice of language. The authors of these texts, much like the characters within them, struggle with conveying their culture the way they want it read while also having to write in the language of their colonizers. Ultimately, both of these texts portray how colonizers have slowly been wiping away other cultures and how these effects can not only go completely unnoticed but how they can continue to affect later generations.

In Marianne Hirsch’s The Generation of Postmemory, she details how trauma can be passed down from one generation to the next specifically concerning children of Holocaust survivors. She argues that this generation, who did not directly experience the trauma, still inherent the effects as their own due to “these experiences [being] transmitted to them so deeply and affectively as to seem to constitute memories in their own right” (Hirsch 106-107). Since these events surround the generation from a young age, the memories or trauma become part of their identity and possibly clash with any identity they can create for themselves. Hirsch further explains that “To grow up with such overwhelming inherited memories, to be dominated by narratives that preceded one's birth or one's consciousness, is to risk having one's own stories and experiences displaced, even evacuated, by those of a previous generation” (107). This ultimately results in an internal crisis between past and present within each member of this generation.

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Throughout Persepolis, Marji is surrounded by memories and stories of Iranian wars, corrupt governments, and rebellions. However, we get the unique perspective of watching how the narrator grows up and discovers her past slowly. There are three key scenes where I will be using post-memory to further analyze Marji’s interaction with her past; Chapter Three The Water Cell, Chapter Four Persepolis, and Chapter Six The Party. These three chapters signify when she begins to want to understand her relatives’ sufferings, when she actively begins to educate herself on the influence postmemory has on her, and when her mother tells her not to let the actions of relatives affect the present.

In The Water Cell, Marji hears the story of how her grandfather was imprisoned and tortured by being placed in a water-filled cell. Up until this point and for a majority of the rest of the text, Marji has been idolizing martyrs and rebels such as her Uncle Anoosh. Once hearing the story of her grandfather, the rightful ruler of Iran, she engages in the concept of post-memory by absorbing this story as part of her past and attempting to replicate the feeling of terror or trauma that her grandfather would have felt in that cell. Postmemory explicitly is in effect as we see how a past event has now pushed Marji to try and understand and embody these memories that are not hers. In Persepolis, Marji’s father explains recent events in the demonstrations against the government but Marji is unable to fully comprehend what is being discussed. This scene is interesting because Marji is being kept away from owning her post-memory since her lack of understanding is what is keeping her on the outside. She is being kept from what she sees as rightfully her past or memories and decides to begin reading to stop it from happening again. Her need to own her family’s narrative drives her to defy the government and risk her life. Another motivating factor is possibly her fear of these memories or opinions against the government dying with her parent’s generation. Marji barely remembers a time before the wars and if she fails to embrace her postmemory, the rebellion’s drive to restore Iran to how it was will die with the older generation. In The Party, Marji’s mother stops Marji from attacking the son of a man in the Shah secret police by telling her “His father did it. But it’s not Ramin’s fault” (Satrapi 6.34). This opposes the entire concept of post-memory and for the rest of the text, Marji slowly becomes more critical of the entire political climate in Iran on both sides as she sees that she had been operating on the premise of the present merely representing the past rather than being its entity.

In Parade, the culture and memories of the narrator’s ancestors are incredibly prevalent in her attitude towards the entire parade as she seems detached however also states “It was like seeing myself as I had been not very long ago” (Grace 900). The text is a very focused look at the Maori people’s culture as well as how it is perceived by the outside world. The narrator, who is only referred to as “Dia” so will thus be called Dia, is invited back to her home to take part in their annual carnival celebrating their culture. However, her time away from home has affected the way she views this show of patriotism. Throughout the text, she makes it clear that she feels like “animals in cages to be stared at” (Grace 901) only to then wonder if, to the outside world, this entire event appeared to be “a traveling circus, a floating zoo” (Grace 902). How post-memory affects Dia is displayed in bright colors, dancing down the streets, and, unlike Marji, Dia does not rejoice in the struggles of her ancestors or join the expression of her culture. She critiques how it could be perceived after seeing how misunderstood it is to the outside world. It is not until her grandfather instructs her that “it is your job, this. To show others who we are” (Grace 903) that she finally sees the beauty in the celebration and joins in the festivities. Another point where Marji’s interaction with her postmemory differs from Dia's since Dia is now being actively encouraged to join in their version of a rebellion. This parade is how the Maori people resurface their past that their colonizers tried to steal from them. Whereas Marji’s family is rebelling against the current colonization and removal of culture on a much more violent scale. The entire text starkly puts into the contrast how Dia’s interaction with Western or colonizers’ perspectives on ‘primitive cultures’ can easily sway her into believing the argument that Westerners are giving culture to the savages. However, Dia was raised in this culture and knows well that her culture is dying out with the older generation much like memories of how Iran once was in Persepolis. Postmemory overpowers her newfound education on how her culture is perceived as the preservation of her ancestors’ stories was placed on her shoulders by her grandfather.

Assia Djebar’s Anamnesis in the Language of Writing has similarities to French feminism as she also debates poetic styles of language as well as its importance in expressing experiences. French feminists explored language as a way of redetermining society or refocusing perspective to investigate why society functioned the way it did. Djebar delves into similar themes but isn’t classed under French feminism as she struggles with using the language of her colonizers when her ancestors not only could not speak this language but could not even express themselves in their language as the colonized population. Even more telling is when she asks “What can I say about “my” French language” (Djebar 187) clearly distinguishing that she feels no connection or ownership over this language that she speaks and writes in. This is also possibly to clarify that it is neither the original language of her ancestors nor the predominant language she would have chosen for herself to be using. Djebar goes on to explain that she feels the responsibility to bring her ancestors or “the voices of invisible, illiterate women” (188) with her by representing them in this new respected language as their language is now “muzzled sounds […] behind my French” or “muted languages” (188). It is only through language that she can affect change in society and their perspective on her ‘primitive’ culture.

Marjane Satrapi, originally a Persian speaker, wrote Persepolis in French which was considered by many to represent an elitist and Westernised education by much of Iran. Satrapi’s intention for the novel was indeed to provide the West with an accurate portrayal of life in Iran. Similarly, Patricia Grace wrote Waiariki, the collection Parade features, in the colonizer’s language, English, instead of the Maori language to provide Westerners with an insight into a culture that is often misunderstood. Both of these women’s choices can be directly compared to Djebar’s struggle with using French. Satrapi and Grace both feel the responsibility to accurately portray their ancestor’s stories, struggles, and rebellions against the patriarchy much like Djebar wanted to give a voice to her illiterate ancestors. However, to be understood and respected, all of these women needed to step away from their culture and use the language of their oppressors. This act encapsulates the importance of language in modern discourse as each of these women knew that writing their stories in their native languages would doom them to being as forgotten as their cultures themselves. Using their colonizers’ language was the ticket to introducing the culture into Western society.

Persepolis and Parade both feature extremely different societies trying to challenge extremely different forms of oppression. Marjane Satrapi is trying to convey the horrors endured by Iran during the war while Patricia Grace is trying to convey the simple and implicit removal of her society. Both of these women’s stories feature characters weighed down by the importance of telling their ancestors’ stories and the use of language is as important as the content within the texts. Marji shows us the journey of freeing herself from the influence of her postmemory by slowly educating herself on Iran and ultimately learning that the past doesn’t need to always control the way we act in the present. However, Dia displayed an indifference to the importance of post-memory until her grandfather placed her ancestors’ lives and legacies on her shoulders which drove her to rejoin in the celebrations of the parade. Both of these women’s stories are told to us through the language of their oppressors to make their oppressors understand their pain on a deeper level than poverty or war. It is an incredibly powerful decision by the authors and also another way of communicating how pushed into the margins these cultures were and how desperate they were to bring themselves back into the light. It is only through understanding all of one’s history that you can decide how you want to react to it. Whether that be moving on to be happy or embodying it to revive it.

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