Acceptance Of An Eastern Female Writer In The West English Literature Essay

Gohar Ayaz

Women’s Writings

Asst. Prof: Aisha Sadiq

Acceptance of an Eastern Female Writer in the West:

Justification forSatrapi’sPersepolis.


This paper is designed to explore the success of Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir Persepolis in Europe as well as inthe United States. No Eastern women have ever succeeded to be valued for her writings in the Western countries. Male writers of the East failed to produce such a work of art that gains popularity in Europe or America then how Marjane Satrapi as a woman crossed that barrier? West consider themselves to be superior and East as inferior that is why the writing of Eastern is not valued that much and if it is written by a woman too then no way to be valued. In such a situation Satrapi stepped in and produced her memoir based on her rational attitude towards the genre which was no more in use for adults readings i.e. Comics which shackled their preconception regarding a women’s writing. It is not a chance happening that her memoir remained the best-selling book in the United States and France but there are some supporting elements which enabled her voice to be heard in the West. She adopted various techniques for this purpose because she had a rational judgment of the mentality of Western people. By adopting Comics, child as a narrator, black and white colors, different point of views for her memoir she made it a universal writing thus persuading Western people to read it. Here emphasis is given on her form and techniques not the qualities of content to make her memoir recognized and accepted in the West.

Acceptance of an Eastern Female Writer in the West:Justification forSatrapi’s Persepolis.

If we look at the background history of Comic books and then the success of Marjane Satrapi’sPersepolis it becomes clear that it was really a great success. She produced it in such a situation that it was hard to gain recognition and popularity for a graphic memoir.Comic books were regarded as a source of entertainment in the first instant. Readers considered it to contain the world of fantasy and the realm of Superman. Comics were not thought to use for a great purpose. The comics industry was dominated by the male writers and artists. There was a little room for a woman to try her hand at this genre. Though women were engaged in this industry yet they were in a very little proportion.Trina Robbins in his book The Century of Women Cartoonists reveals thatsix years after the first comic strip, The Yellow Kid, was first published in 1895; comic strips by women were appearing in American newspapers (7-8). In 1909, Rose O’Neill created the Kewpies. During 1920’s and 1930’s women were involved in creating comics. In 1937 Cecilia Paddock Munson wroteThe Monastery of the Blue God, which proved to be the entrance of women in the comic industry (Rustad, Karen, 1). Before 1960s the main audience of the comics was composed of girls (Rustad, 1). No mature men bothered to read or watch a comic writing. Women and girls were both major creators and readers of comic books (Rustad, 2).

At the end of World War II, women started to withdraw from the comics industry because of the arrival of the male artists from the battle field another cause being married and raising families. In 1950s comic industry was charged with raising immorality among the children. This happened after the publication of Seduction of the Innocent1 written by Dr. Fredric Wertham (Rustad, 2). This caused the falling reputation of comics industry. Most of the people withdrew from writing comics. Robbins argues thatfemale ceased to produce further comic books. Ramona Fradon and Marie Severin were the only writers who produced comics till 1974 (122).

This was the situation with the comic books when Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian writer, produced her series Persepolis. Originally it was written in French language but later on it was translated into English. It won three Alph-Art2 awards and made a record business selling 15,000 copies only in France (Rustad, 1). Not only its French version but its English version was also welcomed enthusiastically in the U.S.Naghibi and O’Malley argues about its popularity and diversity in their article "Estranging the Familiar: East and West in Satrapi’sPersepolis". They say that Persepoliscan be found in most bookstores in most North American cities under any one of the following categories: autobiography; children’s or young adult’s literature; graphic novel; Middle East history; women’s studies(Naghibi and O’Malley, 225). One of the reasons for the popularity of Persepolis in the U.S is discussed by Naghibi and O’Malley in their article "Estranging the Familiar: East and West in Satrapi’sPersepolis" where they argue that Persepolis became popular because of the interest of the Western people in the autobiographical disclosure of the secrets of a writer (225). It comes true of Satrapi’sPersepolis because it is an autobiographical as the subtitle The Story of a Childhood and its very first frame reveals. "This is me when I was 10 years old. This was in 1980" (Persepolis, 1). When Marjane Satrapi is asked by Robert Root in an interview3 that will it be suitable to call Persepolis as graphic memoir instead of graphic novel? (150). She accepts it.She further explains that people would not like it if she had written it as a graphic novel because they want to identify themselves with the narrator and want to feel the feelings of the narrator. It became popular among women because they wanted to know about Eastern women and their true self. So writing Persepolis as an autobiographical memoir stands to be the first cause of its popularity in Europe and America.

What would happen if Satrapi wrote her memoir in the form of words let say autobiography or novel? She had an idea that if she did that her book would be a success.Naghibi states that instead of choosing any other form she adopted comics for her work which had gained popularity with the winning of Pulitzer Prize by Art Speigelman’sMaus4( 226). She adopted this genre out of two reasons. One already explained and another she tells in her interview with Root, where she claims that she was fond of cartoons making and had so many cartoonist friends (155). Comic is the technique of writing in which both words and pictures go side by side in equal proportion. Naghibi claims in her article that Satrapi’sPersepolis got succeeded in West because of her efficient use of form i.e. Comics from the West and content i.e. Islamic Revolution from the East (224). Though the content was not appealing to the western people yet the form persuaded them to read her memoir. Western people enjoy to read comics books. They were not aware of its content but when they read they realized that it was much appealing.Naghibi tells the same thing that their pre-conceptions regarding female in the east went a gradual change (225).

The significance of the use of black and white in Persepolis cannot be ignored. It is not unconscious decision of Satrapi instead she used it because she wanted to give equal importance to the text.Naghibi and O’Malley asserts in their article that the bold-lined, black-and-white, and almost rudimentary artwork similarly belies the ambiguities and grey areas the text explores (242).If all the content is revealed in the pictures then the words remain with no significance. Satrapi did not want people just to watch Persepolis but she wanted to read and watch that is why she adopted black and white colors for her memoir. Another reason for selecting black and white which she tells to Root in her interview is that she does not want to hurt people so she did not use colors which may reveal some one exact photocopy and s/he may be hurt with that (154). LopamudraBasu states in her article"Crossing Cultures/ Crossing Genres: Re-invention of the Graphic Memoir in Persepolis and Persepolis 2" that this choice is also apparent in the stark black and white drawings of the memoir and the refusal of providing visual stimulation through the use of color (12).It shows that she did not want to create visual stimulation that is why she used black and white.

The use of child narrator in Persepolis establishes its universality. The words of a grown up person is not so much authentic as that of a child because grown up people hide some facts for their own benefits. Satrapi consciously adopts this child narrator for her memoir.Naghibi says thatPersepolis invites notions of shared experience through its cartoony drawings and its use of the universal figure of the child (242). The face of Marji is composed of black and white cartoon to which every reader and spectator is allowed to recognize himself/herself with her. Children all over the world have the same behaviour and attitude towards an issue. The use of child as a narrator does not seem to be her emotional decision but it an attempt of her rational decision. She exclaimed it in her interview with Root in these words"The first book is about my childhood, so I draw like a child. In the second book I draw like a . . . a . . . I was going to say, like a human being . . . like a grown-up" (154).Naghibi again asserts thatit shows her conscious attempt to use child as a narrator and pictures as that of a child. She wanted to realize Western people that they are like us not we are like them (226). She used child narrator to bridge the gap between self and other in which she succeeded. Her memoir is read in the West as the experiences of the reader himself/herself.

The technique of writing a novel matters a lot in its success. Satrapi had rationally judged it that is why she adopted the technique of first person narrative along with switching to third person narration at some places. She knew that as a child narrator her Protagonist is not believed to have the knowledge of some highly political matters that is why she switches to other persons for such information. The history of Iran and other facts are told by her father. He tells her the real story of the King how he was selected and says to her, "Come sit on my lap. I’ll try to explain it to you." (19). Then the story switches to her father’s voice. Now the reader is going to believe him because he was a mature and educated person. Otherwise if the same was told by Marji readers would deny because of her little knowledge. The story of her grandfather is told through her father and grandmother’s point of view. Her grandmother begins with, "the shah’s father took everything we owned. I lived in poverty."(26). Marji’s mother tells her about the happening outside where she was caught by Muslim fundamentalists. "Two fundamentalist bastards… They insulted me. They said that women like me should be pushed up against a wall and fucked, and then thrown in the garbage…and that if I didn’t want that to happen, I should wear the veil…" (74). Most of the other happenings of the Revolution are narrated by her mother. Her uncle’s voice is used to tell her about the situations in the jail.Mohsen tells Marji and her parents that they whipped me with thick electric cables so much that this looks like anything but a foot (51). All these instances where other characters provide some information are scattered in the book. Satrapi consciously did it because she wanted to bring originality in her information. As she claims in her interview with Root that she wanted others to identify themselves with her that is why she often times uses ‘She’ instead of ‘I’ (156).Another cause for her use of child narrator is mentioned by Basu. She is also able to use humor and the child narrator’s voice to point to contradictions between appearance and reality both in Iran and the West (5). It reveals that Satrapi wanted to remove the differences between the east and west in which she succeeds. This desire of her marked her memoir with popularity in the West. It was difficult to achieve this goal without using child as a narrator.

Though the content of Satrapi’ graphic memoir Persepolis was not appealing to the Western people yet she made it attractive through the use of writing techniques. She adopted comics for her voice to reach beyond the boundaries of Iran. Her choice of form from the West helped her voice to be heard over there. They kneeled before her great work and read her memoir.


Marjane Satrapi produced her graphic memoir Persepolis in the western form i.e. Comics and having an Eastern content i.e. Islamic Revolution. Her techniques of writing Persepolis made her successful in the West. She persuaded Western people to take interest in her work and read it in which she succeeded. This paper has focused on her writing techniques for getting her purpose to be read and get popularity. These are not the only causes of her popularity in the West. Indeed she had some qualities in the content which appealed the Western people which still want to be explored by further research. Many reasons relating to her content yet need to be discussed while making plea for hersuccess in the West. Her true representation of Muslim women, causes of their oppression and emergence of a female voice, these are the issues which also lead to her acceptance as a writer. So the ground is clear for new researchers.

End Notes

Seduction of the Innocentwas written by Dr. Fredric Wertham in which Comic books were blamed for juvenile delinquency. It caused Senate hearings of comic books and the juvenile crimes.

Alph-Art is the award given to comic books. The Angoulême International Comics Festival (French: Festival International de la Bande Dessinée d'Angoulême) is the largest comics festival in Europe. It has occurred every year since 1974 in Angoulême, France. Alph-Art is awarded at this festival.

The interview with Marjane Satrapi took place in November 2006 at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, in between a crowded afternoon reading at the Boulder Book Store and a crowded evening reading at Denver’s Tattered Cover Book Store.

Mauswas the first Comic book written by Art Speigelman which won the Pulitzer Prize, one of the famous awards in Literature. So it laid down the foundation for the success of comic books