Written by Layla Solatan
Ignorance is not bliss. Although the conventional phrase is “Ignorance is bliss,” I disagree. I find it interesting to believe that even after people such as Nelson Mandela, Harriet Tubman, John F. Kennedy, and others, who have not turned away from the issue, did not screen themselves, and changed history... people would still rather block out a bad situation yet still know it’s happening, than to know and help improve it. I believe that acknowledgement of the world around us is important, and should only be screened to certain extent. Many people believe that censoring sensitive issues from adolescents is valuable and mandatory, but maybe early acknowledgment is more important than savoring such naïvety. The imagination rooted in children, allows them to think in a unique way– rare in adults, which catalyzes innovation. In Marjane Satrapi’s novel Persepolis, Marji becomes cognizant of the Islamic Revolution at the age of tender age of 10. Thus, she knew of social injustices; class struggle, gender inequality, and had the support of her parents, influencing her positively rebellious personality.
Once Marji discovered the struggles that come between two classes, she “finally understood the reasons for the Revolution, and made [her] decision” (38) on her political stance. Subsequently, realizing that she had been unexpectedly oblivious to the truth of the Revolution, she began to do her research. She took up reading and began to notice class differences. “Reza became a porter at the age of 10. Leila wove carpets at the age of five. Hassan, three years old, cleaned car windows. I finally understood why I left ashamed to sit in my father’s Cadillac. The reason for my shame and for the revolution is the same: the difference between social classes” (33.) Marji had never noticed the discrepant struggles between classes, and still did not understand the adversity of the lower class. Not until it broke Mehri’s heart. Mehri is the Satrapis’ maid, who had been sold to their family because her own family could not afford to feed her. One day, she began a distant relationship with the neighbor, and it immediately fell into turmoil once he found out she was merely a maid. Marji’s father explained to Marji why it could not work. “You must understand that their love is impossible[...] In this country you must stay within your own social class” (37). Marji was infuriated by the inequity. “But that isn’t her fault that she was born where she was born???[...] When I went back to her room she was crying. We were not in the same social class, but at least we were in the same bed” (37). That night, after sitting bed, distressed and angered, Marji declared. “Tomorrow we are going to demonstrate,” habitually, Mehri denied, but Marji would not allow that to stop her, “Don’t worry! We are going anyway” (38-39).
As a female in Iran during the Revolution, there is no doubt that Marji would be baffled by the inequality and oppression. The most prominent reason for her zealous hatred for the oppression of females is because her mother. Marji’s mother called one day crying after being harassed by two men. “Two guys… two bearded guys!... Two fundamentalist bastards[...] they insulted me, they said that women like me should be pushed up against the wall and fucked. And then thrown in the garbage.” For the next several days, Mrs. Satrapi suffered in a state of paranoia and depression. She would lay in bed; shielding people, denying food, bed ridden. A few days later, after Mrs. Satrapi had gotten the strength to get out of bed, an offensive remark came from the television, disgusting both Marji and her mother. “Women’s hair emanates rays that excite men. That’s why women should cover their hair! If in fact it is really more civilized to go without the veil, then animals are more civilized than we are” (74) explained the male news reporter. From an early age, Marji and her female classmates were forced to wear veils around their heads. They did not understand the significance and reason for wearing them and wore them carelessly. Several years later, Marji accompanied her parents to demonstrate against fundamentalism and the veils. “Guns May Shoot And Knives May Carve, But We Won’t Wear Your Silly Scarves!” read signs Marji helped pass around. In response for revolting against veils, men attacked the women demonstrators with bats and threatened, “The scarf or a beating!” (76). Marji was infuriated and disgusted. Men’s justification for the veils that they were only to benefit and protect women, when it only shattered their individualism and made the inequality between genders evident.
Tieing up all information that Marji learned as a child, is the fact that her parents encouraged her awareness and rebellious behavior. The day before the scarf demonstration, Marji asked to go. Her father denied, claiming it was too dangerous, but her mother did not. “She should start learning her rights as a woman right now!” (76) declared Mrs. Satrapi. Mrs. Satrapi knew that there was a growing side of Marji’s personality that would one day do something to change society for women. She knew that it was important for Marji to understand the truth about Iran early on. Years before the Revolution occurred, Marji wanted to be the last prophet. At school, she was asked the typical question, “What do you want be when you grow up?”, but gave a very untypical response. She confidently answered that she would be a prophet, which startled and worried her teacher. Immediately, Marji’s parents were called in to have a conference with Marji’s teacher.
“Your child is disturbed. She wants to become a prophet.”
“What about it?”
“Doesn’t this worry you?”
“No! Not at all!” (8).
Her parents were curious about Marji’s desires, knowing that they were exceptionally unusual for a six year old girl, but did not try to change anything. To enhance her intelligence, her parents bought her books about the Revolution, and the history of Iran. “To enlighten me they bought me books. I knew everything about the children of Palestine. About Fidel Castro. About the young Vietnamese killed by the Americans. About the revolutionaries of my country” (12). This allowed Marji to create ideas of her own and learn about all types of government, leaders, and heroes. From reading about heroes and meeting her own heroic Uncle Anoosh, Marji intended to be one herself.
As a result of the collective factors of recognition, Marji grew to be a rebellious and advocated woman. She would correct false and biased statements, and became fearless. Whether by her peers, or by the principle, Marji never let herself be inferior. She was applauded in class for her bravery. Her teacher made a statement that Marji’s proved false with personal experience. After biasedly teaching students about the Islamic Regime, Marji rebutted– proving that there were still political prisoners. “Since the Islamic Republic was founded, we no longer have political prisoners.” said Marji’s teacher. Infuriated, Marji denied. “Ma’am. My uncle was imprisoned by the Shah’s regime, but it was the Islamic Regime that ordered his execution. [...] How dare you lie to us like that?” (144). Marji was not afraid to speak her truth. She was afraid of nothing and would go to any length to fight for her beliefs. After seeing her friend Baba-Levy’s hand under the rubble of destruction from the bombs, she had crossed her limit and turned her life around. “After the death of Neda Baba-Levy, my life took a new turn. In 1984, I was fourteen and a rebel. Nothing scared me anymore” (143). To most people, the utmost form of terror is seeing a loved one killed. It’s a traumatic experience luckily not witnessed by the majority. Often, overcoming one’s biggest fear initiates bravery and courage.
Marji’s willpower and incomplete knowledge of the cruelty and futility in society, creates the quintessential balance of innocence and empathy. After hearing of the injustices happening in Iran, she decided she would become the next prophet. “At the age of six, I was already sure I was the last prophet. [...] I wanted to be a prophet… because our maid did not eat with us, because my father had a Cadillac, and above all else, because my grandmother’s knees always ached” (6). It is evident that Marji intends to do good by becoming the next prophet. Marji believes that she will end all corruption and misery by implying that she will be the last prophet. This is the product of knowing.
“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
― Martin Luther King