Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation. Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating! This week’s prompt is:
Tell us about your favorite classic graphic novel.
Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir Persepolis recounts her life growing up before and after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. In the introduction she notes that she “believes an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists” and so she tells the stories of the individuals who fought against oppression. Her account is particularly powerful because told the through the eyes of a child, who does not yet understand.
The story opens memorably with the introduction of the veil. At ten years old, Marjane has never had to wear the veil before, but the Islamic Revolution now makes it mandatory. It also segregates her previously co-ed school and rewrites the textbooks. Marjane struggles to understand why the veil is necessary since before it was a choice. And she does not hesitate to question the changing teachings of the textbooks, to the horror of her classmates and teacher. As a child, she is dangerously outspoken and irrepressible. She is saying what many adults are thinking, but cannot speak aloud.
The disconnect between youth and history continues throughout the story. We see Marjane delight in the knowledge that her relatives have been imprisoned and tortured for political causes. She romanticizes the struggles and imagines such information will make her cool among her peers. Her understanding of what is happening is simultaneously clever and knowledgeable, and all too innocent. This is truly history through the eyes of a child.
But throughout Satrapi celebrates the resilience of the people of Iran, highlighting their bravery and and their dedication to freedom. She truly has given us a different perspective, a side of the story that often goes untold. It’s a story worth listening to.
Bonus: I’m not sure it’s yet considered a classic, but Sean Tam’s wordless graphic novel The Arrival illustrates the strangeness and loneliness of arriving in a new land.