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Week 7--Salty Persepolis?

Anne Dalke's picture
Welcome back from break! This week we finish The Book of Salt and begin Persepolis. Final thoughts about the first novel? Initial reactions to the second? And/or musings about the ways in which the two intersect--or fail to...and so enlarge/refine/complicate/simplify your senses of feminisms?
Hilary Polak's picture


I really love reading Persepolis. I think it is such a unique approach to literature. Satrapi is attempting to take on a huge task: describe the childhood and adolescence of a girl, portray the history of a country many believe to be filled with religious extremists, address feminism and even be humorous. And somehow, she manages to do it flawlessly.
Something interesting I found while reading the book was the Baba-Levy family, who lived on Satrapi's street in Iran. They are a Jewish family living in Iran, and while many other Iranians are fleeing the county, they stay because it is their home. The father explains that his ancestry in Iran dates back for 3,000 years and he doesn't see why he should leave now. I find this interesting because my best friend's parents are from Iran, and they are also Jewish. They have the same background as this family, and most of their relatives still live there. My friend's parents escaped Iran during this time to move to the United States. Aside from the adolescent situations Satrapi describes in this book that I, like most other young girls, can relate to, I found it exciting that I can also draw a parallel to my life with this small detail.

rchauhan's picture

I wasn't a huge fan of the

I wasn't a huge fan of the Book of Salt. However, I really enjoy reading Persepolis! I like the idea that she uses a graphic novel to tell her story. She talks about serious topics like war, religion, and Iraq's history, but by telling it through a comic like way, she makes these topics easier to read. There's something about comics that makes the story humorous and almost relatable. If this were a novel, the material would be serious and would have a different effect on the reader. Also, by showing pictures, the author shows the reader what she wants to convey. I could see the Marji's and the other character's feelings through the pictures. The reader gets the exact meaning. I remember someone in class mentioning that she does not know much about Marji's culture, and she would've had a different understanding of the story if this were a novel instead of a graphic novel. 

 I can see the theme of feminism in this novel because Marji wants to be a liberated and educated woman in a society that changed to a more conservative lifestyle. She lived through the transition of her culture from being liberal to conservative, and she wants to be able to go back to the liberal lifestyle.  

Charlie_C's picture

The Miracle Fruit

Another article, haha. While this is more related to The Book of Salt and taste being sensual, I thought you would all enjoy it:

 A Tiny Fruit that Tricks the Tongue

lrperry's picture

This story caught my eye

This story caught my eye after our readings this week:

U.S. officials are looking into the arrest of an Iranian-American student who was working on her thesis project on women's rights in Tehran. Esha Momeni, a grad student at Cal State-Northridge, was arrested on Oct. 15 for unlawfully passing another vehicle while driving. She is being held in a section of Tehran's notorious Evin Prison, which houses many dissidents and political prisoners. At first, officials promised Momeni's family that she would be immediately released if the news of her arrest was not published, but when her parents went to Iran's Revolutionary Court five days later, they were told not to return until the investigation into her case had been completed. More information about the campaign for Momeni's release is available on the blog Free Esha. [CNN]



EG's picture

Persepolis was immediately

Persepolis was immediately very jarring for me.  How could murder, oppression, rape be shaped into a form that I am used to laughing at?  And how is it feminist to present atrocities in a way that challenges conventions?  And then I wondered why I became so hooked, so quickly.

 The graphic novel brought to mind Art Spiegelman's Maus series, detailing a Jew's story Nazi Germany.  Again we are met with a juxtaposition of jest (the art) and tragedy (the words).  And so to respond to skumar, somehow, in both cases, the personal story and the political/historical atrocities gained meaning when put alongside the drawings.  In Persepolis's case, we are lucky enough to gain access to the imagination of a kid.  If we were handed just the words, I think something would be missing in this regard.  With just the pictures, I think we would lose something in the seriousness of it all.

ssherman's picture

While I enjoyed Book of

While I enjoyed Book of Salt, I so far really enjoy Persepolis.  This is the first book we've read that I can say right from the beginning, I know why we're reading this in a feminist studies class.

I think graphic novels are great, because the story is basically told twice at the same time.  The words are still telling the story, but the pictures just add to it.  I love putting my own images to the text I'm reading, but sometimes, when there's a lot of dialogue, I'm not sure if I'm understanding the emotions correctly.  I love graphic novels because I understand how the dialogue is meant to be felt.  Also, in my opinion it is so easy to feel a connection with  Marjane, because the way she acts reminds me of any child.  And its fun to watch her grow up.

skumar's picture

Surplus of Images, Shortage of Words

I like that Sarina brought up the dynamic of Book of Salt and Persepolis. I , unlike Sarina, did not throughly enjoy reading the Book of Salt. The language in the novel was alluring, however, nothing else about the book resonated with me.This is because I thought the book was centered too heavily on GertrudeStein and Alice B. Toklas (western icons of feminism) and did not effectively delve into the homosexuality of Binh (an international icon of feminism?).  While Binh served as a narrator, his voice was suppressed. Binh had an entire book, all to himself, and he writes on... GS and ABT?  Then, reading Persepolis I found that there were too many images, too many illustrations of the setting and too little dialouge, too little descriptive and informative words.

To me, reading Persepolis and reading The Book of Salt was like reading "Lifting Belly:" entirely confusing. I think Sarina was the one to mention that she likes to know what the author is trying to convey. In the same fashion, I could not translate what Satrapi and Truong were trying to tell me about feminism. My frustration led me to consider the function and strucutre and not the content. Thus, I did what we did in class with "Lifting Belly;" I attempted to better understand the function.

I intrepreted the surplus of images and shortage of words in  Persepolis to mean that there are several "pictures", or faces, of feminism. Additionally, The lack of self-narration in The Book of Salt demonstrates that international voices do not have a say. Western thought of feminism, western images of feminism (ABT and GS) prevail.   Just a guess. Any thoughts on this?



jzarate's picture


            When considering the power of images verses words, I really feel that it is all about the attitude taken when considering an image or a written work. If a person takes a rigid approach to analyzing a work, visual or literary, they are limited to a strictly defined composition, content, construction etcetera.  While this extremely precise evaluation may be useful for scientific observations, this emotionless consideration of words and images is difficult for humans who base their knowledge on life experiences. When emotions, memories, and imaginations are allowed free range with an image or a written work the potential reactions from the reader are endless. The thing that hinders my decision about which is more powerful is the fact that they are so complementary. Words draw illustrations in the mind, but at the same time an image can inspire a story. But if concretely considering the division between words and images, there is still ambiguity in my mind because aren’t letters themselves images? I find Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese letters (characters) and words beautiful. Perhaps the emotions inspired from an unknown written language are similar to the connections created from listening to an unfamiliar language.             

When considering the power of words, I think that titles for papers can allow the author to create a hierarchy of the ideas in the paper, but also a title can simply act as a reference. I think it was Amanda who brought up the idea that titles are more similar to names. I imagined getting rid of the titles of all novels, articles, textbooks, etcetera. It would be terribly confusing! The only reference we could use would be the author and maybe the subject of the writing, but then describer is the one in control of creating the hierarchy of the ideas based on the details they chose to highlight.             

The idea that The Book of Salt is extremely progressive because it focuses on Bin as a person rather than an object of his sexuality makes me wonder if the creation of this work is a reflection on the progressiveness of the author or the society. The creation of the novel its self seems to be a reflection on the author, while the response to the novel is a reflection on the society.

jlustick's picture

Understanding the Visual Aspect of Persepolis

Like several other members of the class, I found myself glossing over the pictures and primarily reading the words. While I realize that I should probably be "reading" the pictures as well, I'm not sure that I know how to do this kind of reading. I think part of the problem is that I tend to be an efficient reader and looking at the pictures feels "slows me down" because my eyes are staying in one spot for an extended period of time, and the pages are flipping forward. However, I've come to realize that examining the pictures only slows me down on a superficial level- it allows me to move forward in terms of interpretation and understanding. Thus, it seems that in order to fully embrace this novel, I must step outside my comfort zone and accept a new approach to reading. Can I do that? I'm not sure. I try forcing myself to slow down and pay attention to the drawings, but I several pages later, I find that I have abandoned that tactic. Perhaps this "uncomfortable" style of reading is part of what makes this a feminist text. I, the reader, realize that the status quo method of reading is insufficient...I must open my mind to new methods of reading and interpretation.

When I do pay attention to the visual images, I am troubled by/interested in a few fundamental aspects of the artistic style. First, I am curious about her use of animation. Is this reductionist? I do notice that her characters aren't caracitures, reduced to a single attribute. Many of the people look alike, separated by the smallest tweak in facial structure or hair style. Still, she does employ gender stereotypes in order to easily differentiate between male and female. What are the consequences, both positive and negative, of her animated style? I was also intrigued by her use of black and white. Physically, her pictures lack a gray this metaphoric as well? Does she understand the world to be easily divisible into black and white? 

kgbrown's picture

I am really interested in

I am really interested in talking about Tamar Lewin's article about the Sisters in the Middle East. The idea of recruiting in an area of the world where women are marginalized seems to be positive for women's college if, as pemwrez2009 propsed, a women's college is place for people who have been marginalized for their gender. I have recently been thinking about the role of women's colleges in the Middle East because Bryn Mawr is considering constructing a branch of BMC in the UAE under the umbrella of their larger university. At first I was very excited about the idea of spreading Bryn Mawr to other parts of the world. But when I proudly announced the idea to my boyfriend, he questioned whether opening women's colleges in the Middle East because women are sometimes not allowed to attend co-ed institutions only reinforces the divide of gender in their culture. Usually, I am not able to be presuaded about the importance of women's colleges and, as a tour guide, I can recite backwards and forwards the advantages to attending a women's college. But as I started thinking about what it means to me to be at Bryn Mawr, it seemed as though perhaps reinforcing the purposeful and cultural divide between the genders can work against the feminist cause. Attening a women's college because you want to is extremely empowering. But attending a women's college because you are unable to attend a co-ed college, because a women's college is your only option for secondary education, seems to be a step backwards. Though it is empowering for me to attend Bryn Mawr now, as an institution that was created at the end of the nineteenth century for the "education" of women, I guess I just wonder whether or not the construction of women's colleges today is actually progressive. I also think that the women's colleges that are being set up in the Middle East are not, as Lewin points out, the same as the Sisters: "While single sex schools in the Middle East are protected enviroments, reflecting women's traditional roles in Muslim society, the American colleges...are liberal strongholds where students fiercely debate political action, gender identity, and issues like 'heteronormativity'" (Lewin 1). This statement makes me question whether a branch of Bryn Mawr in the UAE will actually be a Bryn Mawr in the Middle East or whether it will be just be a method for maintaining the traditional female roles of Muslim society. Certainly, I would not support putting Bryn Mawr's name on an institutution that is not in support of breaking down the structure of gender roles and gender identity. I think that in creating a women's college today, we can not return to the model on which the college was founded. Is it really even possible to recreate Bryn Mawr as it is today in the environment of the Middle East?

sarina's picture

Overall, I really enjoyed

Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Book of Salt. However, I found the ending very unsatisfying. It was very predictable; the author had been setting it up most of the book. When she revealed that Bihn’s Sweet Sunday man had taken the notebook and left Bihn, I thought, “OK, I saw that coming. Nothing new here.” Bihn was naïve and blinded by love, and his inability to see how his lover treated him frustrated me.

I really loved the first book of Persepolis. Marjane is such a hilarious and dynamic character who made the story intriguing. I was a bit nervous about the graphic novel format (this was my first), but sort of think of it like watching a movie with subtitles. I may make that association because I’ve seen the movie version of this book and it was in French. Pictures can be a fun way to tell a story.

The two books definitely intersect in my mind. Both novels deal with the issue of being a foreigner in a new country. The main characters lead very different lives and have different family situations, but both go through feelings of being the “other”. Like Bihn, Marjane also falls for a man who does not treat her (or him in Bihn’s case) properly, and is left sad and disappointed when he leaves.
anorton's picture

Visual narration

Textually, Persepolis is a very quick read. It was not infrequently that I found myself hardly looking at the pictures at all, experiencing the book instead as a quick succession of dialogue combined with blurbs of (often setting-related) narration. I've noticed this preference for text in subtitled movies and television programs with closed captioning: even if I understand the language the people on screen are speaking, I can hardly tear my eyes from reading the text long enough to actually watch what they are doing and saying. I'm wondering if this is a common experience, or if it has something to do with my being an English major and someone who reads a lot. A friend of mine was skimming through Persepolis before I began reading it and advised that it would only take a couple of hours to read because graphic novels are so much quicker than conventional, textual novels. I am coming to think that this is not actually the case: it is true that I spent less time reading the pages of Persepolis than I spent reading the pages of Middlesex, but I fear that it is only because I, dependent on text, did not give the images the time they deserved.

When I did catch myself not paying attention to the visuals, I would go back to more-thoroughly examine the frames and end up spending a lot of time trying to analyze Satrapi's artistic style. I was intrigued by the use of only black and white. In uncountable instances, it is only possible to tell the outlines of the figures by (perhaps unconsciously) assuming their shape. Take the whole-page image on p42, for example: most of these "shirts" are not actually outlined; instead, we have to infer their borders by where the patterns end. When an outline is physically drawn to distinguish between two different objects of the same color, it must by necessity be of the other or opposite color: see p95, on which each girl is separated by lines of white. Often, Satrapi could have avoided the necessity of outlining in the opposite color by making the entire background that opposite color; instead, she chooses to illustrate people in the same color as their background. This has interesting implications for the understanding of people as separate individuals: either they have to be clearly separated from their surroundings, or the literal lines between them and their surroundings become unclear and distinguishable only based on assumptions.

skumar's picture

Words and Images in Persepolis


I can readily agree with your post. I am not an English major, but I, too, found myself looking at the visual images. Of course, my experience only verifies your claim that words are more significant in extracting the graphic novel's context. What suprises me is, though, is why graphic novelist use words at all. I mean, if the stories they can tell/things they want to say can be illustrated in boxed images, why use text at all? I was thinking about whether I could understand each story without words, just by glossing the meanings of the images. I tried to experiment and failed. It is impossible, I think, to understand a story completely without words. Any one else on this issue? (read: Raina or Emily) I want to know how a "pro-picture" person interacted with the graphic novel.

Also, Allie you raised a concern about ignoring the images while reading Persepolis. I read the text, then looked at the pictures to better understand the setting and dialogue. Initially, though, I found it frustrating having such little text. Like some people (Sarina among others) who pressed concern that "Lifting Belly" had no punctuation and was difficult to read, I found the lack of words, of fully structured sentences a hinderance to my overall comprehension. After every story, I was left wondering, "is that all?" I think, though, the lack of words serves a purpose (see longer post).

ebock's picture

Words and Images

I think that in a graphic novel, words and images support each other. I don't think Persepolis would have the same power without one or the other. I think the pictures give the story a dimension that words couldn't give it, and also gives us as readers a different lense to view the historical context through. I think it would be simple to view what was occurring in Iran at the time through a sympathetic outsider's perspective; needless to say, there were some horrific things occuring within Iran. But we see in Persepolis what it would have been like to be a child throughout these events: to not fully understand what was going on, to see family members at risk, to see neighbors die. I don't think only words would adequately fulfill the experience. The images, in their starkness, seem to symbolize how she was seeing the world: good and evil, love and hate, etc. I think having only words would create more of an outsider's perspective. The images make you feel like you're part of the experience.


On the flipside, without words, I don't think you'd get the full experience either. The words guide the images; they give them a fluidity and continuity.

skumar's picture

Words and Images...continued


I agree with you that the relationship of evil and good are perhaps more clearly expressed as a graphic novel than they would be as just words. However, I was not really trying to get at that when talking about images and words in Persepolis. Perhaps, though, my post was not entirely clear to you.

You are interrepting the function of Satrapi's novel as a means to graphically simplify her experience as a child. In your post you say: "I don't think only words would adequately fulfill the experience."

However, I understand the function of a graphic novel, this particular graphic novel, as a means to illustrate the variability of feminism faces and voices that are being supressed by western feminism (multiple images= faces and minimal dialogue/narration=supression of feminist opinions and voices).

So, I think our disagreement, here, is more so about the function of the graphic novel vis a vis a feminist text as opposed to my intial quarrel with Raina about words and images.

I agree with you that words and images in Persepolis reinforce one another, but only because of the nature and content of Marji's story. Generally, though, I do not think images in graphic novels are more significant than words. (eg. we discussed in class, when marji says "i look sharp." It took three simple, but powerful words to accumulate to explain a picture that would, without the text, be fairly confusing). Grace of text in Persepolis, there is a sense of first person plural perseptive that enables me a reader to "relate to the character (Amanda)." Without the text, I think just having the images in the graphic novel would create a sense of ineffability or exclusion of her experiences and thoughts to the reader. Again, this reinforces the importance of words.

You said yourself that "words guide images...[giving] them fluidity and continuity." This, for me, shows that words can guide images. Furthermore, words can explain even the most intricate or complex images. On the flipside, I am not sure that images can guide text of a graphic novel and give images a sense of fluidity. Sure, I attest that the images (like pictures of ABT and GS in Book of Salt) can contribute to the text of the novel.

Dawn's picture

A Comment on Scottish Dance

I know this is completely off topic, but I have to comment on a gender related issue in the Scottish dance class I had tonight. Amanda, you could probably add some insight, too. According to tradition, in a set of couples, the men are always on the left side facing the music and the women are on the right. To this day, we continue to call the left the "man's" side and the right the "woman's" side. Now, in a Bi-Co class there are only two men (one being the instructor), so clearly both sides of the dance are mostly filled with women. However, the woman on the left will be referred to throughout the dance as a man. We had some interesting moments when the instructor, while trying to teach the dance put people in the wrong place, because he had forgotten who the "man" was. That's extremely easy to do, because unless you remember which ne started from, it's impossible to distinguish between two women who the "man" is. I've always noticed this, but now since we've been discussing gender categories it irks me a bit. Should the directions still have gender?
Dawn's picture

The Image of the Veil

The imagery of Persepolis is an interesting change from the Book of Salt. With that text, we were expected to not trust the images "before our eyes" that were conveyed through words, and rely on extrasensory perception, taste being the most important. Now we are using the visual lens again, and as readers we are not only creating visuals from word meanings, we are able to see exactly what the author means, because pictures are provided for ushave really enjoyed not only the shifts in perspective in terms of how the stories can be told, but how they can be read as well.

When I opened to the first pavge of the book, it reminded me of the on that Anne has asked us about nearly every text we have read. "Is this a feminist text?" In this case, in my opinion, the answer is undoubtedly, yes. The first thing we see is the marginalization of gender: the veil. Satrapi sets up the first image to show how autonomizing the veil can be, and how unhappy the young girls are when forced to wear it. The teacher is given an an oppressive role, because she is forcing it on her students. I absolutely love the scene where the girls clearly do not want to take the veil seriously. First of all, it is much to hot! Then, it becomes a toy - a jumprope, horse reigns, and a "monster of darkness". The one part that is slightly worrisome is the girl in the upper middle of the picture who is talking about "execution in the name of freedom." This takes a dark turn on the children's fun and forshadows the real issue at hand - demonstrations for freedom from opression. Satrapi's mother is an example of the protesters, and it all starts with the veil.

On a side note: I never realized that the veil mandate was so recent (1980). I also really love the image of Marx and God - the same, but Marx has curlier hair!

aaclh's picture

Satrapi's Perspepolis I

One thing that struck me was how much watching or gazing went on in the story. Skimming through again you could see this on:

male/gov't/guardians gaze: 4,5,14, 55,60, 66, 75, 76, 105, 108, 109, 110, 125, 129, 132-4, 143

There were also warnings/stories about torture, and once torture specific to women on p 145.

To sum up, I interpreted this as a theme of control. I also think it is interesting to see that a person wasn't allowed to 'gaze' back (p 29) you see the father, Ebi, is feared for being dead because he takes photographs.This suggests that watching something gives you power of what or who you watch.

She mentions several times a desire to educate herself, to gain clarity of a situation, but I think also to gain power.

I thought this was an interesting quotation:

"we were not in the same social class but at least we were in the same bed" p37

Why is every think in the upper case? Is this important or just a minor detail?

I'm not sure if this a me thing or a reader of this book thing, but I really identified with the main character Marji.

lrperry's picture

Doing Justice...

I was struck immediately by the form and content of the introduction Satrapi gives her graphic novel. Written in 2002, Satrapi provides not only a history lesson but an autobiographical lesson as well. That she opens by describing the formation of the country of Iran, from its very first settlers to when it first became a nation, situates her novel in the historical discourse. Her writing style and tone in these first paragraphs is dry and factual – it signifies to us that these are facts, that we are receiving truth. When she then tells us that she herself is an Iranian who lived half her in life Iran, it becomes not solely than factual truth, but personal truth. It is not just something that anyone could read in the history book – she knows, because she was there. It’s somehow different (more?) than truth, because it’s her own experience. As soon as Satrapi shares this autobiographical detail with us, the tone of her introduction shifts considerably. It’s not history anymore, but an emotional description of current injustices and tragedies. Her final line, “One can forgive but one should never forget”, suggests that the following graphic novel will serve the purpose of remembering. It acts as memory, as a record of her life lived, and the lives of her fellow Iranians. This is why her perspective is so important, and why the tone of her introduction shifts so dramatically in that last paragraph. What she wants is not for the history books to record the facts of these invasions (although that is important as well), but rather for the individual people who participated in these historical events to be recorded as well. But how to record a life? How to record the lives of hundreds of your countrymen and women whom you’ve never met? It reminds me of Judith Butler’s discussion of “doing justice” to someone… Satrapi’s language in this introduction suggests that that’s what her project is in this graphic novel: to do justice.

sarahk's picture

The graphics combined with

The graphics combined with words in Persepolis allow me to be further invested in the characters and their immediate emotions. I find that the images allow for the reader to provide their own more specific interpretation of the dialogue, while a worded description of an emotional reaction is less personal. The graphics also provide contradictions to the dialogue and statements about the plot that are vital to the novel. For example, in the beginning of the novel, when the narrator is talking to God and considering him as a friend and savior, there is a drawing where she asks him to be quiet and "wait a second" in order to hear the burning of the Rex Cinema. In this drawing, God is unaware of the burning and merely a spectator in her life, making a huge statement about the author's belief in fate and God's actual control over the wars of her country.


A theme I find incredibly interesting in this novel is the differences in beliefs between the different generations of women. Satrapi is vibrant and ready to revolt. She sees justice where it is present, and is aware of the irony when justice is not present. For instance, she describes the newly established dress codes for fundamentalist citizens, and she describes the "justness" of men having codes just as much as women do. Satrapi's mother reacts more from a place of motherhood and wifehood to the politics and war. Her deeply personal reaction to the men telling her she deserves to be raped and killed is an example of her personalization of the political within the private sphere. Satrapi, on the other hand, constantly wants to take her personal into the political sphere. When she hears of a classmate's father killing many innocent people, she leads a group of people to torture that classmate, making a political statement for that personal offense. However, she soon realizes the political is not straight-forward, and everyone's personal reaction to the political makes things extremely confusing. Satrapi's mother's most interesting contradiction is when she first tells her daughter that there is no justice in the world, but then says it is important to forgive because that is the only way there will ever be justice.

mpottash's picture

Persepolis and the Use of Images

In considering what it means for a book to rely on pictures, I was reminded of our discussion last class on titling papers.  Many people thought the by titling a paper, it limited the reader's ability to attribute her own ideas and attitudes to it.  Can the same be said for illustrations in a graphic novel such as Persepolis.  I have often heard the viewpoint that illustrations in books limit the imagination by not allowing us to paint our own pictures of the characters or events.  It is often the case that when I see a movie of a book that I love, I am disappointed because the movie paints the characters differently than I imagined them.  This being said, do books that rely on illustrations to tell a story place a limit on our imagination?  It it like giving a title to a a paper?  

There can also be said to be benefit of illustrations.  We have had discussion in class about the limits of words.  If it is true that words are limiting and do not allow us to express ourselves fully, do illustrations allow for the better expression of our inner ideas? If this is the case, perhaps it is this aspect that would allow us to call a graphic novel "feminist": perhaps it allows the author to express ideas that would otherwise not be expressed (or course, is is also possible that pictures can be more limiting than words).