December 11th, 2014

Persepolis is the story of a young girl’s tumultuous journey through the Islamic Revolution in Iran and all of the cultural implications that this transition carried. Perhaps most memorably, she writes a section about the veil in which she discusses the way that she and her friends were forced to wear the article in school and separated from the boys, but that there was a general conclusion of not understanding exactly why this had to be worn. While Marjane, the young girl, and her family’s opinions are made known throughout the comic, the feelings of the perpetrators of this cultural shift appear only to yell on televisions or from behind podiums. Where did these men come from, and why are they demonized in this work?

It’s simple to understand that Sartrape, the author and illustrator, would harbor resentment toward the men that set her back from school and forced her to wear a restrictive piece of clothing that she did not understand, but while reading this, I couldn’t help but consider the thoughts and feelings of all the men that enforced these rules. No young people, inspired by their youth and perceived power to make a difference in the world, use that motivation to consciously do bad things: Who says they want to grow up to be an oppressive dictator or hated militiaman? Certainly there are a few, but for the number to exist that would have sustained such a culture-wide movement in Iran, young people would have to be significantly more – well, evil, than they are. Thus, what did some of the well-intentioned members of this regime think about the change?

In my reproduction of the first page of this comic, I attempt to address this question, highlighting the ways that even those advantaged by this society – the men in the regime and nearly all boys – were harmed by it. I recreated the page in Sartrape’s black and white style, even copying exactly her portrayals of the men behind the podiums to represent the journey into the actual life and opinions of that individual. I create a scenario in which the man, who fought very strongly for the revolution, becomes a teacher following it and must enforce the beard among the teenage boys that he teaches. While the man supports the revolution and its cause, he has qualms with enforcing rules regarding the beard, noticing when this rule hurts the students that he teaches and feeling sorry for those affected. I only included the first page because of my comprehension of the group mentality that was likely present in this situation: I felt that I could represent only the first page accurately: After that, the pressures of the government’s opinions regarding “Islamification” and the need to fit those goals in order to continue living with relative freedom under the regime may twist the man’s behavior past basic human kindness and empathy. Thus, I deliver only the introduction to the man’s situation, before it can be argued that he has fundamentally changed due to the group to which he belongs.

While this is no excuse for oppressive action, it allows us to consider the dimensions of a character that is otherwise portrayed purely as evil. This multi-dimensionality highlights a theme of the course insofar as it discusses the ability of Islamic identity to coexist with other opinions and behaviors in one person. Though this person may support the Islamic Revolution, this is not the whole of his identity, and the empathy he feels for his students, though contradictory to the declared goals of this regime, are necessary to fully understanding the character in his complexity.

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