The book Persepolis I and II, reflects on the life of Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian girl who fled to Vienna in Australia after the Islamic revolution in 1979. This occurred after the Iranian warfare augmented the government’s authority over its people. Satrapi’s parents saw the need to send their little daughter away from these trials and tribulations where people murdered their own country men in cold blood every single day.
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Marjane was only 14 years old when she moved to Australia, she had a long way in developing an identity in the ever competitive cultural influence. This young girl was expected to make an impact in her society, both in Iran and her new found home in Australia. This was going to be a very difficult thing for the young Satrapi to achieve because she now lived in two different worlds and each world had different cultures. This was evident by the way people lived at home and away from home. In Iran, women are not allowed to take drugs, apply make up or even run in public. However, people in Vienna live a don’t care type of life, women are allowed to take drugs, make friends with people from the opposite sex irregardless of their religious background, unlike in Iran where women are only allowed to befriend Muslim men.
Like any other Iranian refugee, Satrapi felt the prejudice directed to other refugees in a more personal way, this came out clearly after the superior nun of a boarding house expelled her because of unknown reasons.
The nun claimed that Satrapi was like any other Iranian who was uneducated and uncivilized, in her insult; the senior nun said “it is true what they say about Iranian. They have no education” (Satrapi p 23), Satrapi felt very lonely and isolated while she lived in Vienna, she was now a teenage girl in her adolescence and therefore needed to identify herself with her peers by making friends. This was a big problem because of cultural differences; the young girl had to reflect on her grandmother’s advice of remembering who she was and always respect her heritage. Her grandmother, who was a big influence in her life, reminded her to keep her dignity and remain truthful to herself (Satrapi p149).
For the four years Satrapi attended school in Vienna, she managed to make friends who changed her life completely; she found it very hard to keep her identity and stick to her culture. Many of her friends disagreed totally on many of her principles; she found it hard to become who she wanted to be by doing things that pleased her friends. She risked loosing these friends if she continued to hold on tightly to the principles instilled on her by her parents and grandmother.
Most of her principles were related to the Islamic culture where one was expected to respect her body; she went against this principle by changing her physical appearance, she changing her hairstyle with a new punk hair cut just to fit in with her friend. Abusing drugs was an abomination for Iranian women but Satrapi went against this principal, she attended wild parties where the youth drunk themselves crazy and abused all sorts of drugs just to feel high. A person’s nudity was something Satrapi never imagined that one day she could see; unfortunately she was forced to see some of her male friends in their underpants. These events worried Satrapi so much that she wondered what her parents would take her for; she was no longer their dream child (Satrapi p 39)
The friends Satrapi made considered themselves rebels and accepted Satrapi’s friendship only because they believed that she was familiar with death. Afraid of being lonely again, Satrapi agreed to incorporate into this group as best as she could. She was expected to attend parties which were very different from the ones held back home in Iran. There was no dancing or eating, things had to be done the Australian way where teenagers were expected to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes and just feel high (Satrapi p31).
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With time Satrapi decided to indulge into drug abuse so that she could maintain her clique of friends although she felt very guilty because she was going against her Islamic culture where no one was allowed to indulge into drug use. Abusing drugs was now part of her life; she was forced to use the drugs so that she could deal with her miserable condition. This guilt and shame were part and parcel of Satrapi’s entire stay in Australia (Satrapi p68).
Marjane reached a point where she needed love, however the Iranian culture does not allow Muslim women to associate with non-Muslim men. This was another major huddle Satrapi had to overcome.
Fortunately Satrapi was able to hook up with a guy named Marcus, She was now able to confided everything about her to Marcus who was now her soul mate and friend, this made her feel at peace and complete. However, this relationship never lasted for long and soon poor Satrapi found her self in the cold again.
Detached and miserable, Satrapi secluded herself from everything she had known; she started behaving abnormally by boarding busses with nowhere to go. This detachment led to further decline of her past identity and culture; hence her pointless wandering from one place to another became a normal phenomenon in the streets of Vienna. These actions drained her completely both emotionally and physically, Marjane fell very sick and by sheer luck she ended up in a hospital.
Later Satrapi decided to go back home for a heart wrenching four years where she was expected to re-configure her lost identity. Back home Satrapi, who was now a grown up lady found things very different as compared to Vienna. Women were expected to wear veils which completely hid your hair, no woman was allowed to wear makeup or even make unnecessary runs in public. She came face to face to her identity which she had left behind several years back when she had gone to Vienna (Satrapi p97). Her home town looked like a ghost town with murals of martyrs erected all over the place, every place she went smelt like death.
However the good attitude Satrapi had from the first day she went back home helped her a great deal in dealing with the challenges that were going to face her in the future (Satrapi p96). She decided not to tell anybody about her antagonizing life in Vienna because she felt it was a shame to her and her family, who believed she had lived a moral life back in Australia.
Interacting with her child hood friends was a problem because her behavior was very different from theirs; life in the foreign country had transformed her completely. The fact that nobody was able to interact with her anymore took a heavy toll in her life and neither a therapist could help her, at this point poor Satrapi attempted suicide. On realizing that these things were affecting her life, Satrapi decided to take control of her life. She started doing things her own way and never worried about who would question her in whatever she was doing, the oppressing laws in her native country could not hold her back in achieving the desires of her heart. With this in mind Marjane found the courage to transform her identity into something momentous and firm, the times of relying on other people for happiness were over and she decided to find her own happiness. Time had reached where the two culture were to be incorporated, remove unnecessary practices and form a culture that is suitable to everybody, a culture where everybody feels free to do whatever she/her desires, a culture where women are respected and treated as human beings, a culture where the whole world is an all round place where anybody can live and make friends without being viewed as an outsider and a culture where a person is not afraid to share his/her beliefs openly without being discriminated.
Marjane defines belonging as the feeling one gets when he/she is not interfered with in any way, a person is allowed to live at peace and enjoy life in his/her own way.
Although much is lost, Marjane’s works have made a big impact all over the world; however France seems to represent Marjane’s solutions, this country accepts people from all walks of life. There is no racial discrimination and both immigrants and refuges have rights which are highly upheld by the government. This is very clear because Marjane has an office in the heart of Paris which is uncommon to many countries including Vienna. France clearly represents the middle between Iran and Australia; nobody has to worry about his/her background as long as he/her observes the laws of the country. Authors like Satrapi are allowed to air their view freely without interference from the government as long as these critics don’t undermine the constitution of the country.
Marjane Satrapi. Persepolis: Pantheon. 2003: (pg 10-150)