In Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi uses the veil to represent the changes that occurred as a result of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. In Satrapi's young mind, the veil acts as the only material and symbolic reality aspect of the revolution. The story unfolds with condensing, yet loaded images. Satrapi uses the playful images of young girls as a way of foreshadowing her later thoughts of the changing times in Iran. Satrapi's feelings towards the veil are similarly contrasting. Her upbringing allows her to think freely, yet her surroundings force her to think a certain way about religion. The new Iranian government attempts to use the veil as a representation of modesty, however, Satrapi indicates that the veil truly represents a government's oppression on her people. Looking through a veil, for instance, means that one sees only a limited picture of reality, and one is not seen as a person in reverse. This is particularly true since Marjane is a child, which a perspective of a child, and thus sees through the nature of control based on the veil (Satrapi).
On the opening page, Satrapi displays the effect that the veil has on her and her young schoolmates. One panel in particular transcends the overlooked innocence of the girls as they react to the veil. The panel depicts how each girl felt about the veil. One girl refuses to wear it because it is too hot. Another one uses her veil as a horse reigns as she rides on her friend's back. The panel appears benign, it could be a typical schoolyard scene, however, other images in the panel are not so amiable. It also shows a girl using the veil to be the "Monster of Darkness." Beneath this girl's silliness lies the notion that the veil represents a sense of evil. Another image shows a girl pretending to choke her friend because she is not wearing her veil. The caption reads, "Execution in the name of freedom!" This shows that some of the girls understand issues that extend beyond the veil. They understand that death has become a consequence of freedom, as they know it. However, the most disturbing image depicts a girl jump roping with two veils tied together as another watches. The image itself represents typical schoolgirls. However, the dialogue between the two girls signifies a conflict that goes beyond the schoolyard. The girl watching says, "Give me my veil back!" To which the other girl responds, "You'll have to lick my feet!" These two girls show how the veil creates a conflict among individuals. One girl wants to oblige by the rules, whereas the other wants to make a mockery of them. To demand a person to perform a demeaning act, such as licking feet, shows little respect for that person and what they stand for. Satrapi uses the image of these little girls as a mechanism of foreshadowing her later thoughts of the revolution.
One interesting way of looking at cultural, historical, and sociological trends is to extrapolate the individual into society and vice versa. Trends that occur within the individual -- birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, illness, old age, dementia, and death -- also occur within society, albeit at a different pace and severity. The pathology of an empire, for example, the Persian Empire, can be compared to more modern interpretations of the stages and psychopathology of the individual, and not only trends examined and compared, but a clear relationship between the way Persia declined from within, eventually to merge into something quite different, and ways of looking at individual self-destructive behaviors. The struggle between classes, between actualization and fading into the population, shows us that Satrapi's view of the state is similar to that of authors like Durkheim, who saw society as a reflection of the individual, and therefore capable of sickness or health. As society changes, its character changes as well -- and in the case of Iran, might be seen as bordering on the suicidal in the radical and violent nature of the revolution and its paranoia (See: Jones).
Satrapi also uses the veil to personify Iran's desire to eliminate Western expression. The veil's impact on women's lives was enormous. They became more sheltered and relied on their husbands and fathers more to direct them. Some women were involved in demonstrations during which they could get beaten for not wearing a veil. If a woman was seen without a scarf, she could be beaten and raped, or arrested and tortured. Women became terrified to leave their homes without their veil on, and they'd even wear it to go into their yards. The veil is a way to make women feel as though they are just another face and veil in the crowd.
Through the guise of the Iranian revolution, albeit from the eyes of a child growing up, we see the individual's lack of actualization that causes a form of suicide -- the death of the individual, the death of hope, the death of culture -- alienation from society. While social facts seems to have an independent existence outside of Marji's world (the individual), coercive power (first the Shah, then the Islamic fundamentalists), the forces of this coercion move towards some who can handle the pressure, but most who give up their power because they are psychologically unfit to handle the resulting pressures thrown at them from every aspect of society. We can view the individual as the micro, and society as the macro form of the body -- both of which can flourish or decay based on the ability to create something, to overcome obstacles or attrition, and to use conflict to actualize into the future. The ability to recognize, and thrive, in this external conflict tends to move both the society and individual into a stronger, new paradigm, quoting Nietzsche, "What does not destroy me, makes me stronger." Clearly, this is true for Marji, since she rebels from conformity at almost every stage of her life, and regardless of her situation, is unable to maintain or mediate her need to actualize. Indeed, Marji does not know what to think about the physical nature of the "veil," yet she notes, "I was born with religion." In many ways, this conflict between the symbol of personal and cultural identity to the conservative Muslims and her own view of correcting society by becoming a Prophet is somewhat symbolic of the process of maturation -- of lifting the veil from one's eyes and finding reality. In this, Marji evolves an is frustrated because her culture refuses to evolve with her (Davis).
Overall, the alienation theme in Persepolis is rampant -- from Marji and her family to Iranian society as a whole. It runs the gamut of cultural, sociological, psychological, religious, and even political since each one of these aspects takes predominance during a part of the film. Because literally, every scene in the film expresses some aspect of alienation and subjugation (micro, macro, covert, or overt), it is valuable to characterize these themes thus:
Sources Within Film
Quotations from Film
Marji doubts herself on many occasions, even to the point of attempted suicide
Must talk to God to find meaning and the potential of actualization
Tries vainly to adapt, cannot
Accepting but not accepted
A banal love story nearly killed me
Everyone must be good -- what is good?
Marji's clothing, musical tastes, etc. are all deviant against the Islamic Republic
Marji does not identify as Iranian or French
Impossible to be human in new society
Nothing can ever be like it was before
I was a stranger in Austria, and now I am in my own country
You must first be true to yourself, then your family.
Shah against society (Western Puppet)
New Islamic Society
Shah had 3,000 prisoners, new regime has 300,000
A million dead for nothing (Iran/Iraq War)
We didn't dare discuss politics
Freedom always has a price
Females taught different from males with different expectations -- actualization impossible for women
Thrown out of the professor's house for being a thief
New Iranian society sets up psychological deviance -- everything is deviant
The age of great ideas was over
Grandmother says, "Integrity, does that mean anything to you?"
Society becomes split- religious doctrine merges into political doctrine -- neither work
Catholicism rigid, too -- rules and expectations
You should avoid being together in public
The only law is Islamic law
Middle Eastern to Western
Gender Roles and Expectations
Islamic culture is not really Iranian culture
What cultural dysfunction does Marji learn from family?
That's all the families have left -- street names
They were so eager for happiness, they forgot they weren't free
The power of Persepolis is multifaceted: Marji's story is universal and without time constraints. Her struggles could happen in any country and at any time. In the 20th century alone, we can see so many parallels with the rise of fascism in Germany…