Written by Ahana
Symbols are especially powerful, even essential, to conveying Satrapi’s messages in Persepolis because it is a graphic novel. Meaning is added to each symbol; the reader sees the image as well as the meaning behind it through Satrapi’s words. The existing graphic elements convey Satrapi’s messages, but the symbolism behind specific images makes her novel much more meaningful. All of the symbols listed below can be interpreted as being related to comfort or freedom from pain, which is a motif in Persepolis. Through these symbols, the reader sees how much Marji values her family and how her changing views are affected by each event in her life.
The Golden Key Edit
The golden key represents the lengths that the Iranian government is willing to go to to lure people into the army. The keys are made of cheap plastic and painted gold, and thus have no real value. Through its power, the government can transform worthless items into things of supposedly great value. The government is attempting to convince young people that if they are “lucky enough to die,” (99) they will get into heaven. In reality, they are just dying as pawns duped by the government. The key is a symbol of how much power the government has over the people’s thoughts.
Marji’s Bed Edit
page-sized panel depicts her drifting alone in space. This shows how much Marji values her family and displays the strong influence of justice and injustice in her life on her beliefs and mindset. Her bed is the vessel for these developments. It also marks a turning point in the story; Uncle Anoosh is dead, and the war has begun. She makes a statement about inequality and justice when she comforts Mehri, her maid, after her boyfriend of a higher class breaks up with her because of her social status - “We were not in the same social class, but at least we were in the same bed” (34). This shows her empathy and compassion. She dreams up protests lying in bed, which characterize her as rebellious and passionate about her beliefs. The last encounter she has with her grandmather is the night before Marji leaves Iran. They sleep in the same bed, and her grandmother gives her advice about her new life. This is significant both in terms of plot and characterization; it marks her departure from Iran and the beginning of her life abroad and it displays, again, the extent to which she values her family. The bed is an equalizer - when people share a bed, they are brought to the same level. Marji’s bed hosts significant events and symbolizes her mental .
The Veil Edit
The veil represents oppression and is connected with the lack of freedom of thought in Marji’s society. In the book, the veil is a blatant statement that women are second-class citizens, forced to hide themselves from men with no self-control. Women are forced by law to wear the veil, which puts women down. This view of the veil is clearly shown in the panel captioned “Everywhere in the streets there were demonstrations for and against the veil” (3). The image is simple, black and white, with crowds of women on each side of the panel. One crowd is chanting for the veil, while the other crowd is chanting for freedom. The veil is portrayed as the opposite of freedom, which means that it is a symbol of oppression. However, in the real world, the veil can be viewed as an expression of freedom of religion. Some Muslim women wear it by choice and with pride as a symbol of their religion.
Cigarettes represent adulthood and its hardships. The first time Marji smokes a cigarette, she says that she “kissed childhood goodbye” (117). She smokes to rebel against her mother’s “dictatorship” and to fit in with her older friends; to her, cigarettes symbolize maturity. They also represent the hardships of adulthood - “It was awful, but now was not the moment to give in.” On the other hand, during the Tobacco Protest in Iran, it was rebellious to boycott smoking in order to protest the foreign monopoly. The symbolism of cigarettes has changed over time; in American media, cigarettes are now a heavily negative symbol, whereas previously they were symbols of rebellion (in young people) or affluence and dignity (in older people).