The Theme of Symbolism and War in “Persepolis”

Every war has millions of stories, and people who lived through it all tell the best ones. Persepolis refers to the ancient capital of the Persian Empire, published in the United States in 2003, is a graphic autobiography novel by the Iranian author, Marjane Satrapi. Satrapi details her experience and life before, during and after the Iranian Revolution and the Iran and Iraq war. Satrapi also includes political and cultural events that helped shape her into the women she is today. The novel begins after the Islamic revolution had started, when Satrapi is only 10 years old. Women were forced to wear the Veil, girls and boys were placed in separate schools, and entertainment activities such as music, playing cards or even having posters of singers were banned. Satrapi, goes by Marji in the book, and her family weren’t happy about all the changes. Her family was considered modern and secular. Satrapi got in trouble many times throughout the first chapters because of her rebellious acts so her family sent her to Austria. After going through tough times in Austria, Satrapi went back to Iran. She got married and shortly after getting divorced then moved to France for good. Satrapi’s Persepolis is a fascinating book that illustrates many rhetorical strategies, but the four that affected me the most were her use of imagery, syntax, irony and symbolism. The use of these devices made her story come to life.

Imagery in Persepolis

One of the many rhetorical devices Satrapi uses is Imagery; she uses both visual and verbal imagery. Satrapi uses many visual imagery examples throughout the story since it’s a graphic novel but the strongest example is when her hometown, Tahran, got bombed. Satrapi was out with a friend shopping when she heard it on the radio. She ran as fast as possible to get home and make sure her house and family were okay. When she made it home, she found out that her mother was home alone at the time and the bomb didn’t hit their house. Her mother told her that the bomb destroyed their neighbor’s house, Baba-Levy’s. While walking home with her mother, Satrapi looks at the destroyed house and sees an arm with a purple bracelet under a pile of bricks. Starapi immediately remembers her neighbor’s daughter Neda and looks away, then says, No scream in the world could have relieved my suffering and anger. (Strapi 142) Starapi chose to draw this panel with nothing but a black image to describe her overwhelming pain and sadness. An example of verbal imagery is when Satrapi’s parents come home after a long day of protesting against the shah, she describes her parents by saying, After marching and throwing stones all day, by evening they had aches all over, even in their heads.(Satrapi 18) This quote shows how worn out and exhausted her parent were due to all the horrible changes in their country.

Syntax in Persepolis

A second rhetorical technique Satrapi uses is Syntax. Syntax is the grammatical use of words to make well-formed sentences. An example of syntax in Persepolis is when Satrapi was a young girl and realized the differences between the social classes, she said, The reason for my shame and for the revolution is the same: the difference between social classes. (Satrapi 33) Satrapi uses a colon to make her readers feel as if they have made the realization with her. Another use of syntax is when Satrapi was explaining how Iranian felt about the shah, she wanted to create a playful tone by using a colon, she said, The people wanted only one thing: his departure! So finally.. (Satrapi 41) then we see a picture of the Shah, his soldiers and protesters indicating that he left.

Examples of Irony in Persepolis

A third rhetorical device Satrapi uses in Persepolis is irony. Irony is used to describe how things seem and how they really are. There are three different types of Irony, verbal Irony, situational irony and dramatic irony. An example of dramatic irony in Persepolis is when the shah gets dethroned; the United States refused to give him a shelter when they were his biggest supporters when he was still a ruler. Satrapi also uses situational irony when she told the story of her parents and wine in the The Wine chapter. She explains that during the Islamic revolution, people were not allowed to party or drink but her family and friends still did it. One day, her family went to celebrate her newborn cousin. On the way back home, the police stopped them and asked them if they have been drinking, Satrapi’s father denied it. The police decided to follow them home and search it for any banned items. So when the family got home, Satrapi and her grandmother ran upstairs and got rid of all the wine. Satrapi’s father ended up bribing the police officer and made him leave. After the police had left, Satrapi’s father wanted alcohol badly but ironically, Satrapi and her grandmother got rid of it all. Another use of situational irony is in the The Passport chapter. Satrapi and her family went to visit her aunt. While they were there, her aunt’s husband started smoking so his wife got mad at him and asked him to stop smoking because he has had two heart attacks in the past, but her aunt’s husband said, The stress I get from every gunshot I hear is much worse for me than the cigarettes. (Satrapi 118) Ironically, he gets hospitalized few days later due to his fear from a grenade that his neighborhood and dies.

Symbolism in Persepolis

The last and the most important rhetorical device Satrapi uses in Persepolis is Symbolism. Symbolism is the use of symbols to illustrate ideas by giving them important meanings that are different from their natural or exact definition. Starapi uses many examples of symbolism in her novel. One of the most important symbols is her bed. Satrapi mentions her bed many times throughout her story. It’s where she does most of her thinking in the novel. We see it through her moments of change and maturing. The bed could symbolize a better world for Satrapi as well as her mind and thoughts. The cigarette in the The Cigarette chapter is also a great use of symbolism. In this chapter, Satrapi makes new friends and ends up skipping class with them. Her mother finds out and gets mad at Satrapi. Satrapi being upset goes down to the basement. While Satrapi is in the basement thinking about all the horrible things going on in her country; she finds a cigarette and smokes it then she says, With this first cigarette I kiss childhood goodbye. (Satrpai 117) The cigarette symbolizes Satrapi’s independence but it also symbolizes her own act of rebellion against what’s going on in her country as well as against her mother who thinks Satrapi was a child still.

The Veil in Persepolis

Another important use of symbolism in Persepolis is the veil. We are introduced to the veil in the very first chapter The Veil. The chapter explains how women and young girls were forced to wear the veils. Satrapi as a young girl, and her friends didn’t like wearing the veil simply because they didn’t understand why they had to wear it. Wearing the veil wasn’t a choice, it was obligated and a set law by the government, all females had to wear it. Satrapi’s family was modern and didn’t like to wear the veil. Satrapi and her mother would only wear it when they go out to avoid getting in trouble, but would not wear it at home. She 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. (Satrapi 6) As time went by, the veil became even more of a big of a deal to the government. Satrapi’s mother went through an awful and terrible experience because of it. Satrapi’s mother’s car broke down, while waiting for Satrapi and her father to come and get her, she was stopped and insulted by two men because she wasn’t wearing the veil. Satrapi’s mother said, They insulted me. They said that women like me should be pushed up against a wall and raped then thrown in the garbage, and that if I didn’t want that to happen, I should wear the veil. (Satrapi 74) The veil in Persepolis symbolizes the abuse and persecution of women and covering their freedom and voice. It also symbolizes the oppressive Iranian government.

Satrapi’s Persepolis is a great book filled with cheerfulness, sorrow and moments of childhood in a world where children were forced to do things they didn’t want to do and didn’t understand why they had to do it. Where kids had to grow up sooner than the rest of the world. War is a hard subject to write about, but with Satrapi’s great use of rhetorical strategies, such as imagery, irony, syntax and symbolism, it gave the novel a playful and cheerful tone.

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