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Historical Context

Revolution and Post-Revolution

Persepolis is the story of two sectors in fluctuation, the social and the personal. The story is the best way for the reader to find out about Marji’s coming-of-age due to it being written by her, but the social change is documented too simply to be able to be read as a profound insight. To look at the social context simply first, Satrapi’s graphic novel takes place immediately after the 1979 revolution and contains also a scant amount of flashbacks to under the previous regime. In 1979 a revolution led by many different groups of Iranian people ousted the Shah, who had been involved in Iran for centuries, and replaced them with the Islamic Republic that still rule the country today.

The foundations of trouble in Iran started many years before 1979 as Ervand Abrahamian puts it, ‘The roots of the crisis reach back not to 1963, when Ayatollah Khomeini first raised his voice, nor to 1953, when the CIA deposed Premier Mossadeq, but to 1949 when the Shah began the long process of creating an autocratic state that would stifle all opposition […] and attempt to remold society in his own image’1 Nonetheless, 1978-79 was when the revolution occurred and on the 1st of February the formerly exiled cleric Ruhollah Khomeini returned triumphantly to rule Iran. Khomeini was a popular choice to rule ‘because of his uncompromising attitude to the shah, his anti imperialist and popular rhetoric, his simple lifestyle language and language, and his religious status.’2


To begin with the people were satisfied with ousting the Shah and the country was united in its embracing of Khomeini. Khomeini himself originally gave off universal, liberal views of how the country should be run. In 1978 he said ‘In Iran’s Islamic government the media have the freedom to express all Iran’s realities and events, and people have the freedom to form any political party and gathering that they like.’ 3 This was backed up on the surface by the government that he built up. Mehdi Bazargan, a liberal thinker, was the first prime minister of Iran in an interim government.3 But during this time Khomeini was supporting the growth of cleric rule and soon Iran became the ‘first mass revolutionary movement in the modern age that led to the establishment of a theocracy’4. This was allowed to happen due to many things such as an anti-US sentiment. The Carter government wasn’t very popular and the leaking that ‘Carter interrupted the Camp David summit to telephone his good wishes and support to the shah- just after the Iranian army had machine-gunned and killed hundreds (some say thousands) of unarmed supporters of Khomeini In Tehran’5 just strengthened the views that the Shah and US were both enemies f the people of Iran. A view that Anything was better what they had been through before was held.

Another reason that Khomeini was allowed to stay in power despite going back on his earlier promises (‘Those who are trying to bring corruption and destruction to our country in the name of democracy will be broken… they must be hanged.’)3 was the disorganisation of the left. The Provisional Revolutionary Government was made up of a mixture of groups such as Freedom Movement (co-founded by a number of people that included Bazargan) and Muslim People’s Republican Party amongst others, but this government was seen by the people to not be different enough from the previous regime and people wanted something completely different. But the left had no economic support or strategy to be able to do anything of significance post-revolution and so Khomeini’s position of power was to some degree given to him by default.2

With Iran’s new ideology in place tremors were felt around the surrounding area and a war with Iraq was soon on the horizon ‘on one side, [was Iran] an ambitious regime which threatened its neighbour while at the same time letting its military capabilities languish [against] an ambitious neighbour sensing genuine threat from this new regime but also sensing political gains by defeating it’6. This change in mindset by Iraq was brought upon directly because of the aftermath of revolution when Iran wanted to ‘take the Islamic revolution to its territory’6 The war was also used to strengthen the Islamic rule at home. The war acted as an ‘alibi in the economic sphere’6 for failings and the state of emergency distracted those that were against Khomeini from focusing their energy upon him and his regime.

1. Abrahamian, Ervand. Iran in Revolution: The Opposition Forces. MERIP Reports, No. 75/76, Iran in Revolution (Mar. - Apr., 1979), pp. 3. MERIP, 22 May. 2014. Web.
2. Keddie, Nikki. Modern Iran Roots and Results of Revolution. Yale UP, 2006. pp.244, 243 Print.
3. Alavi, Nasrin. We Are Iran. Portobello Books, 2005. pp. 47, 50. Print.
4. Boroujerdi, Mehrzad. Iranian Intellectuals and The West. Syacruse UP, 1996. pp 156. Print.
5. Falk, Richard. Khomeini's Promise. Foreign Policy No. 34 (Spring, 1979), pp. 28-29. 22 May 2014. Web.
6. Chubin, Shahram. Iran and Iraq at War. LB Tauris, 1991. pp 31,33, 71. Print.

Representation of the Veil in Persepolis

The representation of the veil in Persepolis is a vital issue for understanding postcolonial feminism. The gendering of acceptable norms between males and females, particularly within Islamic society is prevalent within this text.

Marjane Satarpi depticts issues relating to the ideologies of the Islamic leaders during and after the Iranian revolution of 1979. Satrapi originates from an avant garde, Zarousthian family with very liberal views. Intersestingly,the Zarousthian religion is quite different from the Islamic faith; and yet we are shown in this graphic novel how the fundamental Isamic ideologies are imposed upon her and her family. Particularly,by enforcing the wearing of the veil.

The veil which is the covering for the head, or the hijab which is the full covering of the whole body is worn by many women who follow the Islamic traditions. However, it is interesting to gain an understanding of where this tradition has originated from. As further explorations state that rather than a religious understanding, this is a indoctrination that has possibly been developed by misogynistic thinking to ensure an in-equilibrium of power between the genders.

In Persepolis, Satrapi struggles with the dichotomies of modernity versus tradition. We gain an impression of the internal revolution that occurs for young people during the formation of the identity in the developmental process, as they choose what to reveal and what to keep veiled. These struggles are ever present for many young people , particularly those growing up within two very different cultures. The western and eastern cultures, which have very differing value systems , become difficult to entwine within the tapestries of an emerging identity. Indeed, Professor Leila Ahmed writes of an Egyptian University, where female academics started wearing the veil as a protest against the stereotypical homogenizing by the western mind. A viewpoint which suggests that veiled women are victimized, passive and oppressed , and subscribe to monolithic thinking. However, this is not exactly always the case, as depicted in the graphics of Satrapi’s Persepolis. We see in the simplified cartoons, that despite the girls all wearing veils, they each have very different expressions, and on closer inspection the eye shapes are different, as are the shapes of the hairstyles beneath the veils. Affirming, the individualistic personality of each female.

The juxtaposition of modernity versus tradition causes the questioning of the hegemony of the veil. Although, a veil may be seen a symbol of respect towards religion, the hijab is representative of indoctrination of gender injustices. Thereby, suggesting that females who subject themselves to the interpellation of Islamic ideology by acquiescing to wearing the hijab, at the same time choose to undermine their identity with the uniformity of anonymity