Written by Nicole

A Comparison Between Alba de Satigny and Marjane Satrapi

Unknowingly powerful, each and every human being has the tools to bring change. Historically, a great tragedy unfolds when a select group of humans apply that power to others who don’t realize their strength. In Chile, a totalitarian military junta thrived by robbing its people of trust in their safety. Control-minded, an Islamic Republic siphoned off a similar trust in its Iranian citizens. Many citizens appeared to have their hands bound, entirely powerless. In these overwhelming circumstances, those who act seem foolish instead of brave. To applaud and recognize bravery, authors now must eradicate this thinking. Drawing lines between fiction and reality, Isabel Allende tells the story of Alba de Satigny in The House of the Spirits by using real Chilean political events as tests of her abilities. In Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel Persepolis, Iran’s political events function as conflict-starters for the young Marjane. Through conveying actual events, both authors shine a romantic light on bravery and activism.

Satrapi-persepolis01 The 2000 French cover of Persepolis 1 by Marjane Satrapi.

Like a vicious cycle, Chile and Iran prohibit Alba and Marjane’s risky actions, thereby causing them to take place. Both countries harbored governments that sought to maintain order after chaos but only infringed on human rights. In Chile in the 1950s, socialism became increasingly attractive to peasants who worked on farm villages owned by the sparse higher class of 300,000 people (Bloom) in a population of 6 million (WPR). New socialist ideals conflicted with the conservative party’s interests, so when Augusto Pinochet’s military junta overthrew Salvador Allende, Pinochet set up the DINA secret police to kidnap and torture citizens who lauded socialism or criticized the junta.3 Alba’s primary concern in The House of the Spirits is protecting her socialist comrades from angry conservatives who want to return to the old regime and fix the injustices of the DINA. Almost in conjunction, socialist revolutionaries and totalitarian regimes battled in Iran’s political scene in financial and social situations akin to Chile’s. In the 20th century, Iran's Islamic Republic, like Pinochet’s junta, practiced strict terror tactics that involved kidnapping, torture, and vigilante groups that kept the citizens in check.4 In the effort to stay safe from arrest, ordinary citizens reported each other, corrupting the system (Bloom). In the novel Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi must dodge this system, as she frequently defies the rules on veiling and civil obedience.

170px-S.Allende 7 dias ilustrados Chilean Popular Unity Party president Salvador Allende.

Due to the influence of idealistic friends and observations of injustices, Alba and Marjane choose to disregard submission. In The House of the Spirits, college students plant the idea of socialism in Alba’s head. When Alba turns eighteen and attends college during Salvador Allende’s presidency, “she discovered the appeal of nightlong gatherings in cafes, talking about the necessary changes in the world and infecting each other with the passion of ideas”(Allende, 271). As a trending movement and an actual effort towards social change, the socialism student movement shows bravery and the application of individual human power. In addition to agreeing with the movement’s ideals, Alba is influenced by a close friend to give charitably to the poor. When Pinochet takes power and begins to kidnap and kill citizens, Amanda, the sister of Alba’s activist lover, “told Alba that she frequently took care of patients who were faint with hunger”(Allende, 323). The shortages of food in Allende’s presidency3 causes great suffering that Amanda seeks to alleviate. Similarly, Marjane is influenced by her Uncle Anoosh to “join” the socialist cause. When Uncle Anoosh visits, he tells Marjane stories of his flight from Azerbaijan and subsequent arrest (Satrapi 55, 56, 60). Marjane’s amazement at her Uncle’s heroism leads her to buy into socialism and the revolution against the shah. Marjane’s own observation of social class inequities also contribute to her revolutionary feelings. Marjane notices that her maid Mehri isn’t allowed to date her neighbor (Satrapi, 37). It shocks her that rights she took for granted are not available to others. Compelled by similar circumstances to align themselves with socialist revolutionists, Alba and Marjane share connections in their family education and exposure to injustices.

In the face of injustice, the authors show us paths of heroism and defiance that Alba and Marjane take. Through the shift from socialism to military dictatorship, Alba aids her comrades and helps the poor. During Allende’s presidency when the economy declines and food became scarce, Alba helps smuggle food to the lower classes by stealing from her mother (Allende, 298). Her volunteerism shows her sympathy towards people and ability to act on that sympathy. She’s given herself the responsibility of caring for the poor and giving them food that she herself might need. Alba also buries Esteban Trueba’s store of weapons meant to be used against the socialists (Allende, 299). Alba works against her own grandfather in order to ensure the safety of her comrades. Her activism for her ideals go against common obedience. Similarly, Marjane yells along with protestors in Iran to support socialism and also breaks the Republic’s rules in passive defiance. When complaints against the shah in Persepolis have reached a climactic high, Marjane protests with Mehri in the effort to bring awareness to the inequitable social structure (Satrapi, 38). Her alignment with her maid shows empathy, because she’s helping her find a permanent solution to the injustice. As a victim of oppression, Marjane speaks out against her teachers in class repeatedly (Satrapi, 144), exposing to others the government’s untrue propaganda. Her activism puts herself in danger but helps weaken the regime’s control of her classmates and herself. Also, Marjane wears punk rock clothing and buys western CDs (Satrapi 132), openly defying the regime and showing her disregard of the rules. Both acting against the government, Alba and Marjane expose the similarities of their countries in using oppression to gain order and also show that individuals can counteract injustice.

Buying CDs and giving food to the poor doesn’t seem like hugely efficient extinguishers of human evil, but Alba and Marjane at least do something more than their fellow citizens. Their progressive actions remind the ruling people that ordinary people have voices and should not be controlled. Humans balance other humans on the scale of justice. Through expressing this idea, Isabel Allende’s Magical Realism novel does what Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel does: It gives readers empowerment.

Citations of Historical Information

  1. "WPR." Chile Population 2014. World Population Review, 19 Oct. 2014. Web. 18 Dec. 2014.
  2. Mr. Bloom
  3. Chilean Political History ID terms
  4. Akarli, Engin D., Ali Gheissari, Mariam Habibi, Jo-Anne Hart, Shahriar Mandanipour,

Linda B. Miller, and Moniro Ravanipour. Iran Through the Looking Glass:

History, Reform, and Revolution. Third ed. Providence, RI: Choices Program,

Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown U, 2008. Print. Choices for the

21st Century Education Program.