There are a plethora of similarities that exist between Marjane Satrapi's The Complete Perseopolis and Edwidge Danticat's "A Wall of Fire Rising," one of the short stories in her collection of tales known as Krik? Krak!. Each of these respective works revolves around cultural conflicts between the main characters and their surroundings. Also, the setting for both of these pieces of literature takes place in the background of a revolution. There are constant references in Danticat's story to the Haitian Revolution, while the essential premise of Perseopolis is the dramatic cultural changes that take place in Iran as a result of the Iranian Revolution. Conflicts that stem from the forced merging of cultures and values are at the forefront of each of these stories, and allows for much of the dramatic action that takes place within them. However, a detailed examination of the text of each of these tales underscores the notion that when cultures clash, there is an inherent loss of identity for those who are shaped by the disparities between traditional and foreign cultural values.
The principle conflict of cultures that is presented within Satrapi's autobiographical graphic novel is primarily that between the Muslim and non-Muslim influence of the new regime of the Ayatollah vs. The relative liberty of the preceding regime of the Shah. This conflict resounds both within the nation of Iran and outside it, as well as within the mind and disposition of the protagonist, Satrapi, and those closest around her (such as her family). The central problem is that once the revolution took place, the Muslim influence of the usurpers threatened to take over the personal and public existence of the Iranian civilians. The difference in the perception of these two regimes is greatly pronounced, as the following reflection from Satrapi about her reception as an Iranian citizen both before and after the revolution reveals.
I remember the days when we traveled around Europe. It was enough to carry an Iranian passport, they rolled out the red carpet. We were rich before. Now, as soon as they learn our nationality, they go through everything, as though we were terrorists. They treat us as though we have the plague (Satrapi 79).
This quotation shows the inherent clash in cultures regarding the Iranian Revolution from those who are outside it. The European airline workers now regard Satrapi and her family as "terrorists," a direct allusion to the common perception (even back in 1979 when the Revolution took place) of Muslims as being violent, subversive, and prone to start trouble. This regard for Satrapi and her family, which is exacerbated by a prolonged search of their possessions in which the airline employees examine "everything" is contrasted with the cultural values of excess and affluence that characterized the former regime of the Shah. The author recalls that she and her loved ones were "rich before." The disparity between the treatment Satrapi receives from people before and after the revolution alludes to a loss of innocence and personal liberty that is represented by the differences in the cultures of the present and former regimes.
There are numerous examples of the clash of cultures that is an intrinsic part of "A Wall of Fire Rising." The central conflict within this story pertains to the mores and values of traditional Haitian culture compared to the influences around it, which are predominantly European but include other nationalities as well. The Haitian revolution was fought in the late 18th century to abolish slavery and the French influence that propagated it. Although Danticat's tale takes place long after that, the influence of foreigners upon the native Haitian people's ideology is still significant, which the following quotation, in which little Guy recites lines from a play representing a speech from Boukman, one of the most revered of Haiti's revolutionaries, proves.
It was obvious that this was a speech written by a European man, who gave to the slave revolutionary Boukman the kind of European phrasing that might have sent the real Boukman turning in his grave. However, the speech made Guy and Lili stand on the tips of their toes from great pride…they felt as though…they had been given the…pleasure of hearing the voice of one of the forefathers of Haitian independence…(Danticat 56-57).
There is an inherent loss incurred by Guy, Lili, and even by Little Guy, at the fact that the speech that Little Guy gives which is representative of "Haitian independence" has been written, colored and "phrased" by a European. This European could have been one of the same Europeans or one of their descendants who Boukman was revolting against. The fact that the author describes Boukman as "turning" in his final resting place, the grave, at this indiscretion and conflict of cultural interests emphasizes the fact that despite the jubilant effect the speech has on the listeners, it is really symbolic of the clash of cultures between Haitians and outsiders which makes this particular Haitian family lose the experience of being able to enjoy their own culture in its original, unadulterated form.
The shift in the cultural ideology that exists between the regime of the Muslim Ayatollah and that of the preceding reign is most dramatically evinced in Satrapi's work through the its effect upon women and their dress. The repression of Muslim women in terms of their liberty and right to expression is demonstrated by the fact that shortly after the revolution, the author and all females in Iran must wear veiled clothing in public. The distinct loss of personal liberty that descends from the aforementioned cultural conflict is directly alluded to in the following quotation.
The regime had understood that one person leaving her house while asking herself: Are my trousers long enough? Is my veil in place? Can my makeup be seen? Are they going to whip me? No longer asks herself: Where is my freedom of thought? Where is my freedom of speech? My life, it is livable? (Satrapi).
These rhetorical questions suggest how much the disparity between Muslim cultural values and those of the secular world has cost women in Iran following the revolution. The drastic dress code has circumscribed women's liberty of "thought" and "speech," and even led them to consider whether or not their life is worth living. The consequences for not being appropriately attired and completely covered up -- which are suggested by the reference to whether or not authorities will "whip" a woman, definitely underscore the fact that one of the key problems resulting from the conflict of culture in Persepolis is that woman have lost a number of their rights -- and quite possibly their very reasons to live.
This loss of the will or the reason to live is also addressed in Danticat's story via the means of the conflicting cultures between native Haitians and those outsider nations who have considerable influence in the former's land. Whereas it is possible for these outsider nations, whom Danticat describes as "Arabs," Haitians of Lebanese or Palestinian descent who had been in the country for generations" (60), to own land and territory, many native Haitians, such as Guy, cannot even get a job working in the prosperous businesses such outsiders own on Haitian soil. Guy's frustration at this fact and the culture of poverty that is native to many Haitians is demonstrated in his stealing of a hot air balloon from the wealthy family of a sugar plant, and dramatized by his leaping from it to his death. The cultural significance of this fact is shown in the following quotation, which occurs just after Guy has killed himself.
…young Assad still knelt examining the corpse…Young Assad got up and raised his head to search the sky for his aimless balloon, trying to guess where it would…