Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood


Persepolis is a non-fictional graphic autobiography, or a graphic novel based on Satrapi's life. The genre of graphic novels can be traced back to 1986 with Art Spiegelman’s depiction of the Holocaust through the use of cartoon images of mice and cats. Later, writers such as Aaron McGruder and Ho Che Anderson used graphic novels to discuss themes such as Sudanese orphans and civil rights movements. According to Hamid Naficy, this genre has “become an acceptable medium for discussing serious matters,[4]” by using illustrations to discuss foreign topics, such as those discussed in Persepolis.[4] The “graphic novel” label is not so much a single mindset as a coalition of interests that happen to agree on one thing—that comics deserve more respect.[5] It is part of a "new wave of autobiographical writing by diasporic Iranian women."[6] Satrapi wrote Persepolis in a black-and-white format: "the dialogue, which has the rhythms of workaday family conversations and the bright curiosity of a child's questions, is often darkened by the heavy black-and-white drawings".[7] The use of a graphic novel has become much more predominant in the wake of events such as the Arab Spring and the Green Movement, as this genre employs both literature and imagery to discuss these historical movements.[3] In an interview titled "Why I Wrote Persepolis",[8] Marjane Satrapi said that "graphic novels are not traditional literature, but that does not mean they are second-rate."[9]

An article[10] written about teaching Persepolis in a middle school classroom acknowledges Satrapi's decision to use this genre of literature as a way for "students to disrupt the one-dimensional image of Iran and Iranian women. In this way, the story encourages students to skirt the wall of intolerance and participate in a more complex conversation about Iranian history, U.S. politics, and the gendered interstices of war."[10] The Modern Language Association of America published an article in 2017 that discusses how Satrapi “works through a perpetually dual vocabulary of image and text,” representing Iranian and European culture through drawings and language.[3]

Persepolis uses visual literacy through its comics to enhance the message of the text. As defined by the Encyclopedia of the Social and Cultural Foundations of Education, "Visual literacy traces its roots to linguistic literacy, based on the idea that educating people to understand the codes and contexts of language leads to an ability to read and comprehend written and spoken verbal communication."[11]

"Visual literacy is based on the idea that pictures can be "read"".[12] For example, on page 77, Satrapi writes: “Things got worse from one day to the next. In September 1980, my parents abruptly planned a vacation. I think they realized that soon such things would no longer be possible.”[13] The accompanying image includes a female figure rising within gusts of wind and above are Marjane and her parents flying on a carpet—an example of the imagery of this novel adding and enhancing the message of Satrapi's text.

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