Understanding the context of a literary text involves understanding the text as it was meant for the first or immediate audience. In Persepolis, the writer and text is heavily influenced by the place in which the writer lived, their family and their life experiences in general. As it is an autobiography, it is true to say that in order for readers to fully understand the text; they need to understand the context within which it is written. It is easy to understand the context in Persepolis as it is an autobiography and clearly illustrates the context that affected the composition of the author. Marjane Satrapi wrote down her life journey up until her early adult years when she lived in Iran during the Islamic revolution. The choice of a graphic novel helps improve the understanding of the literature. Satrapi uses images as well as text to tell her story. This makes telling the story better as images provide a better and vivid view of the story further helping the reader’s imagination in picturing the events. Writing an autobiography revolves between writing in a chronological order and remembering some old memories in between. The use of images and text allows her to focus on a certain emotional scene that is important whilst still considering others. It provides a good way for her to deliver information that is complex to her audiences. She also uses a cartoon format. This context of her writing helps the readers differentiate between Marji the character, and the author –Marjane- looking back at her life.
Satrapi was born in Iran and in the course of her life, Iran undergoes the Islamic revolution. This is all confusing for her as she comes from a religious but still modern family. As she grows to an age where she can understand things, she hears stories of her great grandfather who was imprisoned as her western educated grandfather took to the throne. This context helps us understand the decisions that the narrator later makes in life. The setting is in Iran which up to date still experiences violence and suppression of women. She states that she does not understand the veil that she had to wear after the revolution (Satrapi 3). From a young age, she is exposed to a lot of rebellions and revolutions between the government and rebels. She saw the transformation of her country from a liberal country that was pro-western into a fundamentalist religious country. This context helps us in understanding her rebellious nature which developed as she grew. This led to her relocation to Europe by her parents who feared for her safety. Her safety was an issue as she was a rebellious girl in a country that was anti-rebellious and also had very moral expectations of its female population.
Persepolis is also structured in a historical context. Persepolis was the capital city for the Persian empire and is now the present Iran’s Takht-i Jamshīd. The city was the center of the empire before Alexander the great attacked it and left it in ruins. The use of Persepolis as a title for the autobiography is a reminder for the Iranian people of a time when the city was burnt to ruins. Satrapi uses the Iranian historical context to clearly explain the Iranian revolution which had previously not been widely understood by many people. The oppression of the Iranian citizens by government is clearly seen in Marji. When she first goes to the boarding school, we see how she experiences through a simple act of buying her own food. After the Iranian revolution, various rebellions were planned and the government only maintained power by suppressing and oppressing the citizens. This was often done through limiting their freedom. The government also controlled the syllabus. The children were taught that the King was appointed by God and they should fear him. This manipulation of the education system further shows the oppression of the people. The text’s context clearly illustrates fear and loss which is the situation in a country where the government denies its citizens their freedom. The context in which it is written shows us how Marji and her friends would hold secret parties in each other’s houses for fear of being caught by the guardians. On the unfortunate day that they got caught, they lost one of their friends Farzad as they were trying to get away from the guardians using the roofs. Marji can also not be able to paint any men even as she tries to take more art classes. She is only allowed to paint women who are wearing their veils and she can only see the faces. In order to gain her freedom, Marji had to leave Iran for good and ends the book with the quote “freedom has a price”.
The context behind the writing of the book helps give readers a new perspective of Iran. Rather than form a generalized concept of Iran being a violent country with constant civil wars, one is challenged to think further and understand what the citizens of the country go through under the government. Understanding the context of Satrapi’s life provides the reader with a better understanding of the Iranian revolution and the present day issues in Iran.
Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis. Paris: Pantheon Books, 2002. Web.