Marjane Satrapis autobiographical novel “Persepolis” explores such complicated issues as culture shock and the loss of cultural identity. The book is a unique combination of autobiographical prose and comics. The author successfully shows the world through the eyes of a young girl, the task, which is very difficult to perform, because adults are often unable to recreate their childhood experiences.
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The process of growing up is also one of the dominant motifs in “Persepolis”. The narrator is trying to be a part of teenage culture and that causes her pain because she rejects some of its elements. Marjane Satrapi proves that the desire to conform can be very dangerous; because a person can lose one’s personality and uniqueness.
The phenomenon, which the author describes in her novel, is the clash of cultures, Eastern and Western. Their incompatibility is the main cause of the girls problems. She experiences the feeling of estrangement, because of the inability to accept some elements of European culture.
Another issue that Marjana Satrapi focuses on in her comic book is the loss of identity. The main point is that when the girl (the author) returns to Iran she also feels alienated. Life in her own country seems intolerable to her, especially in contrast with European liberalism. Overall, her feelings can be called the “the shock of re-entry” or reverse culture shock. The problem of re-integration is one of the crucial motifs in the novel. It gradually transforms into tragedy. Regarding her relationships with her family, we should say that Marjana Satrapi is often misunderstood by her near and dear ones. Some aspects of her behavior seem rather unusual to them, to say the least.
In this essay, we are going to analyze the behavior of the main character within the context of such phenomena as cultural shock and the clash of cultures. It is of crucial importance to show how these concepts are reflected in the novel not only in terms of the plot development but also graphically. Additionally, we have to show Marjanas inner struggle. She is trying to develop a natural equilibrium between two cultures, but she fails to do it.
As far as her life in Vienne is concerned, we should mention the following aspects. First, the girl does not speak German, and in the beginning, it is very frustrating for her to feel like a white crow. Secondly, she comes from the country, which is terra incognita to the overwhelming majority of Europeans. People often tend to call such countries “the third world”, just because they do not anything about it. This derogatory connotation produces a very depressing impression on the main character. Besides, she does not know anyone in her school; she is usually referred to as “the Iranian girl”. In addition to that, she desperately needs to communicate with her own culture, therefore she seeks contact with her compatriots, but this quest for her own culture seems to be fruitless.
Regarding the feelings that Marjane Satrapi experiences, it seems to her, that she is betraying her own country. That is how she describes her emotional state “The harder I tried to assimilate, the more I had the feeling that I was distancing myself from my culture, betraying my parents and my origins, that I was playing a game by somebody else’s rules. Each telephone call from my parents reminded me of my cowardice and my betrayal”. (Satrapi, 39). This feeling of anxiety is typical to people living in a foreign country. One should also bear in mind that she lives in Austria without her parents, people who can help her.
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If we analyze her relationships with other teenagers, we can see that they live in an atmosphere of mutual misunderstanding. For example, some of her so-called friends take interest in her, just because she is from Iran, the country; they know nothing about, whereas her personal qualities are of no importance to them. For instance, Momo spends time with her, just because Marjana has seen war and death. This idea seems “fascinating” to this teenager, but he does not realize that these memories are painful to her. Thus, instead of helping Marjana, he only makes her fall into depression.
Sexual promiscuity of other girls (Julie) astounds her; initially, Marjana believes that such behavior is something inconceivable, (one should bear intake into account the authors cultural background). Although as time passes, she gets used to it and begins to take it for granted. The conflict between freedom and dissoluteness is very acute. It seems to the young girl that they can be related as the part and the whole. However, later she rejects this idea.
Trying to adapt to the new culture, Marjana almost becomes addicted to drugs. Drugs also “help” her to alleviate the sense of loneliness, although they only aggravate her.
The author shows the genesis of the main character by graphical means. We can see that the girls hairstyle and clothes change with time passing. They are becoming more similar to those of European teenagers. In this way, Marjana Satrapi shows the process of integration into a new culture. Moreover, she stresses the fact that the main character is trying to conform, she wants to look like other teenagers.
As it has already been mentioned earlier, the narrator seeks contact with the representatives of her own culture. Certainly, Zozo and his wife Housah attempt to help her, but they are too absorbed with their financial problems, these people are trying to become Europeans in terms of social status. It does not seem that they are genuinely concerned with the girl.
Marjanas love affair only makes her feel more frustrated, her boyfriend is not faithful to her, and after this failure, she wants to return to her homeland. The problem of growing up is also one of the key themes of the book. A teenager always tends to exaggerate; every failure seems to him or her as some kind of tragedy. The same rule can be applied to Marjana, her boyfriends cheating seems to her a disaster, the ruin of all her hopes, though, in fact, such “failures” are an inseparable part of growing up.
When the main character returns to Iran, she experiences another form of culture shock. The rules, established in the Iranian society seem abhorrent to her, especially if we are speaking about the position of women. Her liberalism seems odd to the members of her family. After her marriage and subsequent divorce, she leaves Iran.
Thus, having analyzed the book “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi we can conclude that this book gives a thorough insight into the inner world of a teenage girl, living in a foreign state. The author shows how easy it is to lose one’s personal and cultural identity if we always try to meet the demands and expectations of other people. Additionally, Marjane Satrapi analyzes the relationships between Eastern and Western cultures. Her novel proves that it is very difficult to find a golden mean between them. “Persepolis” is about the person who attempts to do it (though unconsciously) and the obstacles that she faces.
Marjane Satrapi. “Persepolis. The Story of Return” Random House, 2004.