metaphorical use of the revolution

“The revolution is like a bicycle. When the wheels don’t turn, it falls.” (10)

In the book Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, the author describes her life growing up in Iran during the political turmoil that begins in 1980 and lasts for years to come. Marjane’s mother and father often attend political protests, yet they chose to protect their daughter from the violence that is present at the protests. The author cleverly uses comic like images illustrating the events that happen throughout her life.

Towards the beginning of the book, the author discusses to her friends the importance of the involvement in protesting for the revolution. Marjane is illustrated explaining this concept to her friends while on break from protesting in the garden, with guns on the ground. When Marjane said, “the revolution is like a bicycle”, she is using the bicycle to serve as a metaphor for the revolution in Iran. In order for a bicycle and a revolution to move anywhere, they both have to start momentum and progress. When someone is riding a bicycle, they must start slow and must peddle at a faster rate to get move quickly. The faster they peddle, the sooner they will get their destination. When someone stops peddling on their bicycle, and “the wheels don’t turn, it falls.” Likewise, during the Iran revolution, it took a group of people to come together to protest. The more time that was spent protesting, and the more people that became involved in the protest, it helped to build up the momentum of the revolution. Overtime, with much involvement, the protesting continued to grow. Yet if the protesting slowed down and came to a complete stop, then the revolution would not be able to occur. The Iran revolution manages to happen, due to all of the protesting that happens and the issues that it causes with the government. Marjane discusses the revolution in Iran in Persepolis and how it relates to her life.

Influence on Children

“I think you are old enough to know certain things… (26)”

In Persepolis, Marji deals with a very confusing time that is a period of change and uprising in her country. In the beginning, she is at such a young age that she really doesn’t understand it all and only goes along with what she thinks she knows and what she is taught in the classroom. It’s interesting to think about how important and influential teachers are in the lives of their pupils, as Marji clearly demonstrates it when she surprises her dad with what she thinks the truth it. The government played a role in her education, and thus she’s taught in a way to favor the economy, even if that means bending the truth a little.

When her father sits her down to tell her the truth of the situation and how her grandfather was the one overthrown and sent in jail, this marks an important change in Marji with her views on the overthrow and education. There’s a graphic on page 29 where she sits in the tub because she wants to experience what her grandfather did when he was stuck in the cell of water. The very last image is striking as it’s her naked after the tub, simply looking down at her wrinkled hands, attempting to understand even a fraction of what he could have suffered.

The graphic itself is pretty small, but visually shows a very important message. Overall, the style of animation in the entire novel is simplistic and uses a lot of lines to convey meaning and visual appeal. The darkness and majority black background in this small square brings a lot of attention to it and the very simplistic image of Marji naked and looking down, very small compared to other images leaves an impact on how small she is in comparison to the idea of what’s going on in her country.

I think it’s interesting to think about whether this was good or not for the dad to tell this all to Marji? On one hand, it was good for her to realize she needs to form her own opinions and not just listen to the teachers because while they are important, they can just be spreading propaganda and influencing the thought of the children. On the other hand, it could be too early in her life and could just seem too confusing for her to handle.

The Child of Paradox

Don’t you think I look like Che Guvara?

Maybe I’ll be even better as Fidel Castro! (16)

Marjane looks at the world with a child’s logic: She is extremely trusting but, almost paradoxically, easily navigates the hypocrisy of Religious radicalism and Classism. In the quick outline of the cultural revolution, she shows a disgruntled understanding of the powers that be when she states “We found ourselves veiled and separated from our friends and that was it.” (4) and in an even more childishly perceptive moment, she talks about wanting her maid to sit at the dinner table with them and how she is in love with their neighbor who immediately gives her up when he learns that she is, in fact, a servant and not Marjane’s sister. Her father, the communist and the man responsible for the breakup gets his own (probably knowing) hypocrisy shoved in his face when his daughter cries “Dad are you for or against social classes”. Again, on page 53, Marji’s mom cries “the torturers should be massacred!” (53) after previously telling her not to put nails into a boy for what his father had done (killing a million people) twenty pages earlier.

While being able to navigate some forms of idealism while ignoring nuance with a beautifully simple worldview, Marjane lets her innocence play to her detriment. The way she uses her uncle who is a “hero” to make herself equal with others children who almost boast about what their relatives have gone through in prison is exactly what one would expect from a young child. “There are lots of heroes in my family. My grandpa was in prison, my uncle Anoosh too:”(61)

(thought bubble of Marji’s companion) “too much” (61)

The reason for her lack of understanding is due to her upbringing in a household of self-professed morally absolute ideologues. To Marji, on her journey of personal growth that moves in tandem with the revolutions of her country, the absolutism breaks down when it clashes with the morally ambiguous world. She herself believes the media and what she is told as an absolute and often waffles wildly. On page 46 Marji apologizes to the young man who she tried to stick nails in who, in turn, tells her that his father did a service to the country of Iran because “He(the father) killed communists, and communists are evil!” (46). Marji tells her mom this, in turn, and the mother is shocked and appalled. In another instance, on page 62, her father loses his cool when his daughter repeats a lie that she heard on television.

Due to the perceived philosophy of her parents, she craves moral absolutism but can never quite achieve it. She looks for it in god and the government, which, ironically, cause moral ambiguity in this story more than anything else (i.e. the revolutionaries being persecuted when the cultural “revolution” takes). Finally, on a much greater scale, her parents and Anoosh, staunch communists, have rubbed off on Marji in such a way that she dresses like Che Guvara and Fidel Castro and idolize stahlin (especially as Anoosh lived in russia and studied communism there). At least two of the three previously mentioned leaders have well documented genocidal tendencies. A communist revolution with the end goal of peace is being led by people who refuse to acknowledge the fact that their idols are just as despotic as the shah was;  Marji is much too young to tell the difference or realize that when she dresses up as Che Guvara and praises Stahlin, she is supporting a despotism just as evil as the shah’s.

Rich and Rich or Poor and Poor

“The reason for my shame and for the Revolution is the same: the difference between social classes.” (pg. 33)

Marjane comes to this conclusion when she is reading one of her books. She sees these characters in the book she’s reading, around her age, that are working full time jobs washing cars and doing other laboring jobs while she is living comfortably in her wealthy home. She sees this as a big issue and feels ashamed of herself. This story’s setting reminds me of Medieval times, where there were rich kings, lords, knights accompanied by middle class merchants, business owners, concluded with lowest class peasants and workers. A person would generally associate with a person in their own social class and normally wouldn’t socialize with someone outside their class.

How does this cause a revolution though? The answer is simple, people who are at the lowest level of a social class want to be given opportunities to advance to the middle and upper class, but are denied these opportunities by those above them. That is usually how the story goes. From Medieval Europe to Persepolis, the circumstances are no different.

Even though I can read this story and understand what’s going on, I always ask myself this question: will people ever learn from there mistakes? If revolutions has occurred in the past due to social class inequality, but can’t people change the way in which social classes are structured today to try and prevent something as disastrous as a revolution.

Forgoing Forgiveness

“…it is not for me and you to do justice. I’d even say we have to learn to forgive” (45).

“Bad people are dangerous, but forgiving them is too. Don’t worry, there is justice on earth” (53).

In the first portion of Persepolis, Marji struggles to understand the war waging around her.  In all of the chaos, she tries to be involved and informed, but the more she learns about the world, the less she understands.

Her parents, protesters in the revolution, are hesitant to give her full details about the actions taking place in their city. As the revolution comes to a close and the Shah is overthrown, Marji is more and more exposed to the terrors that have taken place. In one instance, she hears that the father of a child she knows, a boy named Ramin, killed “a million people” (44). She and her friends then try to punish him with makeshift brass knuckles, but are stopped by her mother. After explaining her actions, Marji’s mother tells her that the actions of Ramin’s father are not Ramin’s fault and that she needs to learn to forgive. It seems as though she understands and she apologizes to Ramin shortly afterwards . As Marji works on following her mother’s advice, she, “has the feelings of being someone really, really good” (45).

Just a few pages later, however, Marji’s good feelings disappear. After hearing about the torture two newly released prisoners experienced in jail, Marji’s mother tells her that “bad people are dangerous, but forgiving them is too.” While her mother tells her that “there is justice on earth,” it is not their responsibility to see that justice is served.  However, after receiving two conflicting pieces of advice from her mother, Marji finds herself lost, as she states, “I didn’t know what justice was” (53). Is justice punishing the “bad people?” After all, her mother is the one to exclaim “All torturers should be massacred!” (52). But if it is not their duty to see that justice is obtained, who is supposed to carry out such a massacre? Wouldn’t killing the torturers just make those people murderers too?  The ambiguity of the words “bad people” adds to the confusion that seems to surround Marji. She thought that Ramin was a bad person because his father killed many people, but her mother told her that was wrong. Who decides who is “good” and who is “bad”?

The string of questions above is just a snapshot of what I imagine went through Marji’s head after speaking with her mother. I could continue to throw questions at the concepts of forgiveness and justice introduced in the first portion of the book, but for the sake of making this post a reasonable length,  I’ll stop there. The point of all of the questions above is to emphasize the moral dilemma Marji and the others living in the city faced during and immediately after the revolution.  Where is the line drawn between good and bad? What makes forgiveness, something that made Marji feel “really, really good” become something dangerous?

In Response to “Understanding Heritage” by Jack

I agree with Jack that “Everyday Use” is a story based on heritage and roots. Dee does not believe that Mama is aware of her roots and her heritage and she desires to take the quilts passed down from their ancestors. I thought that it was interesting when Jack made note about the question of heritage, and whether or not it is based on culture or relationships between family members.

I think that heritage is based on both the relationships shared between family members and the culture that is passed down within the family. This last section of the story relates to the close relationship between Maggie and Mama and how heritage can be seen as two family members spending time together, “After we watched the car dust settle I asked Maggie to bring me a dip of snuff”. And then the two of us sat there just enjoying, until it was time to go in the house and go to bed (59)”. I also noticed how Mama wants Maggie to bring “a dip of snuff”, which was a cultural past time in the United States. This activity was likely passed down from Mamas mother to Mama; Mama passed the habit down to her daughter Maggie. I think that the family’s heritage in “Everyday Use” is based off of the passed down culture and the relationships between family members.

Well, that was depressing…

“The Depressed Person”

This is the title of the story and what I’ve found most interesting about it. We have a character so miserable that she isn’t even given a name, just a label. Actually, I should take a step back; I shouldn’t say that this is a story, but instead it is a lesson. We learn that this depressed girl has gone through during her lifetime, from struggles with her parents to school, and what they turned her into; a person calling her friends complaining about how much her life sucks.

The lesson that I took out of the ending, which seemed to make everything more joyful, is that no matter how bad something might be in one’s life, if you don’t try and change it, then how can you possibly expect anything to improve? We as people should be discouraged by external or internal problems to the point where they have to ruin our entire lives, but if we don’t try and fix them, than they will do just that. This short story is by far one of the most teaching that I’ve encountered thus far, not just in EN125, but in all written material.

Also, because of the positive outcome of the story, I have decided to become a hero and give our depressed character a name!! She will now be known as Joy. Rather fitting for the turn of events in this story.