Persepolis' Oppression Essay

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Persepolis is a black-and-white graphic novel written by Marjane Satrapi during the late nineteen seventies, a period marked by the civil war between Iran and Iraq. This autobiographic novel takes place in Tehran where the Iranian government, interrupted by an Islamic revolution, inducted a tumult among the population. Indeed, this theocracy led to a form of oppression against women and put them on a low pedestal. Marji, the protagonist of this graphic novel will serve as a witness of the tyranny carried out on women. Thus, one can assume that Marjane Satrapi used Marji as a symbol to characterize the oppression undergone by women in Iran.

First of all, Marjane Satrapi uses Marji as a symbol to characterize the oppression undergone by women in Iran through the symbol of the veil. In fact, during the first chapter, the reader is confronted with the first move of the Islamic Revolution. At only ten years old, Marji and her classmates are obligated to wear the veil, a sign of religious belonging. This deed constituted a barrier between young girls like Marji and freedom. For example, on the first panel of page 3, one can notice Marji’s irritated facial expression and her crossed arms. This shows her discontentment and her refusal to wear the veil. Moreover, the author’s choice of putting the veil in black highlights the evil authority and the aggression done to the young girls and their fear of rebellion. In addition to that, on the last panel of page 3, Marji states “We didn’t like to wear the veil, especially since we don’t understand why we had to.” The young girl emphasizes the general confusion and is an interpretation of the young girls’ thoughts. The reader sees that indeed; the young girls use the veil as a means of amusement. Furthermore, Marji’s mother declares that she has been verbally assaulted by “two bearded guys” (page 74 – fourth panel) because she did not have the veil. Marji’s mom, being a young modern woman who previously protested against the obligation to wear the veil, later decided to wear the veil to live in safety on the fifth panel of page 74. This incident questioned her true nature and made her go against her societal norms. Through this incident, one can notice that one more time, Marji is a witness to the women’s oppression and allows the reader to visualize the injustice endured by women. Further, on page 76, one notes that Marji is very enthusiastic at the idea of participating in the “opposition demonstration” with her mother. Thus, Marji represents women’s determination to obtain their rights. However, during the protestation, a group of men shouted “Scarf or beating” while injuring the women who were on their way. This again highlights the lack of consideration from men and the pressure on women. Additionally, on the two last panels of page 147 of Persepolis 2, the reader witnesses an unfair scene. While Marji was running to catch her bus in time, a group of policemen arrested her and stated “When you run, your behind makes movements that are…how do you say…obscene.” Still, Marji did wear her veil properly and respected all the dress codes. However, the policemen still found a way to get her into trouble. Another example is on page 156 when the policemen interrupted Marji and her friends ‘party and forced them to wear their veil back by calling them “whores” and putting them in jail. All of this links to one of the main purposes of the graphic novel which is to show the oppression and entrapment of the Iranian women during the twentieth century.

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Secondly, Marjane Satrapi used Marji as a symbol to characterize the oppression undergone by women in Iran through the symbol of Western decadence. One can see that when Marji received her gifts (tapes, posters, t-shirts, jacket) from her parents who returned from their sojourn to Turkey, she immediately decided to wear her new clothes and shoes. The reader notices that Marji identifies herself through modern clothes and rejects the veil in all its forms. This trait characterizes most of the Iranian women who feel trapped by the veil and are prohibited from expressing themselves through their clothing. On pages 133 and 134, Marji has been arrested by the “Guardians of the Revolution, the women’s branch” and has been insulted and mistreated by those women. For example, they pronounced “shut up”, “punk” and “whore” to designate Marji’s way of dressing. This event highlighted the judgmental skills of the Iranian population. Afterward, on page 116 of Persepolis 2, the reader meets Marji and her friends talking about her experiences in Austria, more precisely in Vienna. However, when Marji stated that she had already had sexual relations, her friends immediately judged her and called her a “whore.” In addition to that, on page 149, Marji confessed to having sexual relations with her boyfriend and getting judged by her teacher and classmates. Marji related “That day, half the class turned its back on me.” In that way, these two examples once again highlight the judgmental skills of the Iranian population whose behaviors toward women depend on their moral status. Furthermore, this emphasizes the fact that men had more rights than women. Indeed, they were allowed to wear trousers and T-shirts. As an example, on page 142 of Persepolis 2, the administration organized a lecture concerning women’s way of dressing by stating that they should “wear less wide-trousers and longer head-scarves” and cover their “hair well” and “not wear make-up.” However, no comments were made to the men. Marji, aware of the gender discrimination, decided to represent the voice of all women by stating: “Our brothers present here have all shapes and sizes of haircuts and clothes. Sometimes, they wear clothes so tight that we can see everything.” In her speech, Marji underlines the differences in treatment between men and women. Furthermore, on page 145, one can see that even in the domain of arts, women’s way of expressing themselves was restricted. Marji’s anatomy teacher introduced them to a woman who was all covered and asked them to draw her. Nevertheless, Marji and her colleagues were unable to give the best of themselves as soon as they did not have the necessary inspiration for the success of their paintings. Thus, this links to the main purpose of the graphic novel which is to show the oppression and the entrapment of the Iranian women during the twentieth century.

All things considered, one can say that Marjane Satrapi illustrated perfectly the Iranian mindset during that period. Through Marji’s character, the reader is informed concerning the oppression suffered by women and the hardness of the Islamic Revolution. Moreover, the author used symbols such as the veil and the western decadence to facilitate the reader’s comprehension and thus achieve artistic unity.


    1. BournCreative, Jennifer, and Digital Strategist · WordPress. “Meaning of the Color Black |.” Bourn Creative, 4 June 2016,
    2. Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return (Pantheon Graphic ...
    3. Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis 1: the Story of a Childhood. Pantheon, 2003.
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