Persepolis is a French-language autobiographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi depicting her childhood in Iran during and after the revolution. The title is a reference to the historical town of Persepolis.
In her graphic novel Persepolis I, Marjane Satrapi chronicles her experiences as a young Iranian girl following the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Having felt as a child so secure in her faith that she wanted to become a prophet, Marji soon struggles with her beliefs and her sense of identity when her more liberal social views and knowledge of the world clash with the fundamentalist regime’s rigid interpretation of Islam. With the irreverence expected of a rebellious, strong-willed child and the pathos of an adult, this novel entertains as well as it forces readers to see beyond the Middle- Eastern stereotypes they are likely more familiar with. The book pairs well with any other bildungsroman. It deals with issues of social class, capitalism, and imperialism, and with its drawings offers opportunities to discuss visual versus textual representation.
Drawn in black and white, the graphic novel found great popularity following its release, and has been translated into English.
Note that in the English printings, there are three texts: Persepolis, Persepolis 2, and The Complete Persepolis.
Instructors’ Teaching Experience
Persepolis was particularly useful during the beginning of the semester. We were able to use the graphic elements of the text to give us a very tangible handle on ideas of interpretation and close reading. The cultural, political and historical contexts allowed valuable entrances into a text that narrated a very clear coming of age story. The issues of identity and gender that Marjane explores in her memoir are clearly and poignantly set against a conflicted, war-torn nation. Because the memoir explores the experience of childhood, the development of the self is a very conscious element of the text, and my students felt empathy, interest and allegiance to this story that in many ways collides with their own experience of childhood. Class issues were also illuminated and easily explored, and themes in Persepolis tend to overlap in each frame. The juxtaposition between frames and within each express the complications and contradictions of growing up in a nation that is experiencing tumultuous change. We were able to confront issues of form—how the graphic nature of the text can tell a complicated story in simple terms, how another form (or a fictionalized version of the text) would change our experience, and how image versus text expands our interpretive abilities. [Chelsea Cox]
There are some useful resources for developing your lesson plan on Persepolis here. It actually has a whole multi-session lesson plan, but I basically just used the handout on “Graphic Novel and Comics Terms and Concepts” to help my class with language to discuss Persepolis. They also offer some good questions to prompt in-class discussion.
There is also a blog entry posted by an educator, Laura Reznick, with some excellent questions to prompt discussion or essay topics, as well as a pretty great general description of the difference between a topic and an argumentative thesis statement that is included to help students develop essays on Persepolis. [Mieke Eerkens, email@example.com]
Video of Satrapi interview on The Colbert Report from the time of the film’s release
The UK paper The Guardian has a resource page of their coverage on Iran, both current and archive. The archival material includes newspaper coverage from 1979 and a great slideshow with short historical narration of Iranian history from the 70s through 2009. [Jennifer Shook]