What Does the Veil Symbolize in Persepolis: Opinion Essay

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Our lives in this world are like living through our own stories and experiences that build up who we are. We tell our stories to others for various reasons and in a way, it's like remembering our past selves to understand who we are in the present. Our stories start off with building our identity. Many people's identity starts off with simple physical traits like their family, religion, ethnicity, nation, culture, gender, etc. In the 1980s, Iran made it mandatory for all women to wear a type of “veil”, a piece of cloth that covers most of the body of women and symbolizes solidarity as clothing is something important in Iran. In Marjane's Satrapi's, Persepolis, the main protagonist, Marji, lives out most of her life trying to find her own identity and what she can really be. Marji does things like question who she is and her traditions by noticing where she belongs in her nation. Marji realizes that no matter where someone lives, the desire to fit in can be overwhelming. In Satrapi's Persepolis, Satrapi uses characterization, religious imagery, and conflict and uses language to bridge cultural barriers to tell the story of Marjane in her internal conflict with self-identity.

Throughout Persepolis, Strapi uses the veil as a symbol of traditionalism. Women are forced to wear a veil to show their cultural identity as Muslim women in Iran. In a way, in Iran, a veil can be used as a symbol to compare good Iranian women and unveiled women to uncultured western women. The vein shown in Persepolis is used as a symbol of patriarchal culture in a viewpoint of femininity that is marked on their body. The veil is a symbol that controls women controls what they wear and how they live their life. It in a way represents people's personal identity and by wearing one it shows that women lack the control that chooses what they look like. Strapi shows the use of metaphors when on page 1, Marji talks about the veil and the government and religious influence on it. Marjane says “I really didn't know what to think about the veil. Deep down I was very religious, but as a family, we were very modern and avant-garde.'' (Strapi) Marjane also says that after the veil requirement in Iran “ to protect all women from rapists they decreed that wearing the veil was obligatory (Strapi). It meant that it was the women's fault for having attractive qualities and just believed that men were not able to control themselves.

Often in your teenage years, it is common for teenagers to rebel against people with authoritative power, like their parents, but in Marji's case in Persepolis, she is rebelling against the society she lives in. Marji can be labeled as a rebel because she fights and protests for what she believes in and doesn't care about the consequences after it. Throughout the story, a symbol of rebellion was that characters would represent their beliefs and ideas through what they wear. A great example of this is Marji adopting a punk style that has been banned in Iran. Marji goes and wears denim jackets, and tennis shoes, and starts listening to various western artists. However, there was a group of nationalists that did not show to agree with western culture. Marji has said “They were guardians of the revolution, the women’s branch. This group had been added in 1982, to arrest women who were improperly veiled… their job was to put us back on the straight and narrow by explaining the duties of Muslim women.”(Strapi). The guardians of the revolution stop her and tell her that she should not be dressed like how she is. Many symbols of rebellion and image that Strapi shows is that Jewelry and jeans are banned and because of that people would secretly wear some accessories to differentiate themselves from the people in power. Many women would show some strands of hair outside of their veil to show that they are modern and some men would shave their beards, as the majority of the men in Iran had beards, and would tuck their shirt in and wear a tie to show that they are progressive. Although Marji would get scolded for doing things she wasn't supposed to do, she would still do things that show acts of rebellion. This shows that Marji isn't scared of authoritative figures and would rather fight than give them satisfaction.

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Marji's ignorance shows many times in her childhood that teaches her many lessons in life. While Marji's frankness gets her in trouble often, it's also the thing that lets her become strong and helps her keep moving forward in times of action. Her innocence is what builds her adult identity. As a child, Marji would often feel a conflict between herself and her spiritual and religious feelings. Marji would sometimes talk to god at night and believed that she could become a prophet at a young age. Marjane wanted to get rid of social classes, help her grandma who was in pain, and want everyone to drive a Cadillac, but this was also ironic as she was living an elite class lifestyle in Iran but fighting for the other social classes in Iran. During that time the Islamic revolution of Iran was going on and it led to Marji dealing with other things and slowly letting those ambitions disappear. As a child, Marji would dream about becoming a hero and wanted her parents to become heroes as well. But as time goes on her connection with god becomes strained and slowly finds fewer things to talk about. Strapi often uses personification of the idea of god many times throughout the story, showing god to be an old-grown man. One day she finds a new hero, her uncle Anoosh, a communist who had spent time in prison during the Shah regime and had been recently freed. Marji spends some time with her uncle, learning that rebels are in her family history. She learns various stories about her uncle's journey but sadly when Islamic fundamentalists come into power, they hunt down her uncle and kill him. Hearing the news Marji becomes sad and completely leavers her faith in god and asks more questions about the propaganda surrounding her country.

Later throughout the story, Marjane shows that she has lost her idea of innocence through Persepolis when she takes the cigarette from her uncle. She says “I sealed my rebellion… by smoking the cigarette I’d stolen from my Uncle 2 weeks earlier… with this first cigarette I kissed childhood goodbye” (Strapi). This line shows how much it can affect people and often even make kids grow faster. The cigarette also shows symbolism as it portrays adulthood and from the perspective of children, it also symbolizes power. The cigarette represents a way for Marjane to rebel in what she feels is a war in her own house against her mother and her strict rules. Another example of Marjane's loss of innocence is the photo of spoiled milk. The spoiled milk can symbolize Marjane because when the milk first gets made it's fresh and clean but over time it becomes impure and dirty, just like Marjane. As a child, she was obedient and followed the rules of Islam and the rules her parents made, but as she grows older she slowly starts to lose her innocence and grows to be someone rotten. Someone who doesn't listen to their parents, or their religion, and causes trouble. She is just like the milk as her life starts off good but over time becomes rotten and sinful in a way.

Persepolis is a book about the coming of age of Marji due to her life experiences and her loss of innocence occurring through the story, which showed her a whole different world and is what caused her to change and rebel. Marji was affected by what was happening around her and Satrapi's use of religious conflict, imagery, and symbolism demonstrated Marjane's identity transformation and helped her gain a new perspective on the world.

Bibliography

  1. Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis. L'Association, 2014.
  2. Mondello, Bob. “Story of Growing up in Revolutionary Iran.” NPR, NPR, 25 Dec. 2007,
  3. https:www.npr.orgtemplatesstorystory.php?storyId=17597762.
  4. (www.dw.com), Deutsche Welle. “Why Iranian Authorities Force Women to Wear a Veil: DW: 21.12.2020.” DW.COM,
  5. https: www.dw.comenwhy-Iranian-authorities-force-women-to-wear-a-veil-56014027.
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