Retracing in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis – by Sarah MacGregor Group A

This post thinks about Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis in relation to Hillary Chute’s essay, ‘The Texture of Retracing in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis



Chute explores the ways in which Satrapi uses the form of the graphic novel to convey the traumatic experience of the Iranian Revolution. This form is perhaps uniquely capable of capturing and expressing such experiences. Chute suggests that the abstraction of traumatic images, in Satrapi’s minimal black-and-white style, is what makes them so powerful.

There is a debate which was particularly prevalent following the Holocaust, about whether or not certain events should be represented, or if there is ever a way to truly portray them. Chute looks at the way Persepolis draws attention to the inability of both language and images to fully do justice to traumatic events, particularly by displaying events from the limited perspective of a child, writing that ‘Persepolis at once comments on the insufficiency of any representation to “fully” represent trauma and also harnesses the power of the visual to represent an important emotional landscape (the child’s)’.

Persepolis links political and historical trauma with the personal, highlighting how the events surrounding the revolution were part of her everyday life, existing alongside the mundane. According to Chute, ‘the narrative’s force and bite come from the radical disjuncture between the often-gorgeous minimalism of Satrapi’s drawings and the infinitely complicated traumatic events they depict’. However, ‘while Persepolis may show trauma as (unfortunately) ordinary, it rejects the idea that it is (or should ever be) normal’.

I would also add that, particularly as a Western reader, the personal nature of Satrapi’s story is what makes it so accessible. It is much harder to detach yourself as a reader when the historical is so closely interwoven with the personal.



8 responses to this post.

  1. Another interesting comment that Chute makes concerns the different voices that Satrapi utilises to differentiate three different selves: an ‘older, recollective voice’, a ‘younger, directly experiencing voice’ and Satrapi’s “visual voice” of the text itself. The different voices highlight the multiplicity of identity and reflect issues raised by Catherine Belsey regarding language constructing the subject rather than the subject making the language.


  2. Posted by Ellie on November 25, 2013 at 10:03 am

    I found the start of the book interesting and Chute’s analysis of it. In the first page, Marj introduces herself. The first box consists of an unsmiling veiled girl with the following line, ‘This is me’. The second box shows a line of four similar girls unsmiling too. We only see a little bit of Marj in the second image. The narrator writes, ‘I am sitting on the far left so you don’t see me.’ Chute said that her ‘self-presentation is fragmented, cut and disembodied’. The displacement of Marj in the second image highlights that her identity is cut up and torn, and she is made an outcast. She does not fit in with society’s image.


  3. Posted by Lilly on November 25, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    The multiplicity of voices in this text makes it a complex and engaging read. Even though the story is told through the eyes of young Marji, her voice is still that of the adult Marjane Satrapi, who has now for years been living far away from her home country, in very different political circumstances. In recounting her childhood, Satrapi is faced with the task of staying faithful to her childhood self whilst creating a very serious, political text. But writing so far removed in time and circumstance, can she ever capture Marji’s consciousness, even if that child is herself? The process of remembering holds the danger of appropriating one’s own voice, of speaking for a past, maybe more silent version of oneself. The graphic novel lends itself well as a narrative form in regards to this as it permits several layers of voices and meaning, highlighting rather than denying the fragmented nature of autobiographical writing.


  4. Posted by Olivia on November 25, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    Marji’s naive interpretation of violence and torture is almost humorous. Persepolis demonstrates that the images do not have to be traumatic in order to portray trauma; the simplicity of the images used suggest a disturbing normality of these experiences. Chute argues that no representation of trauma can ever be accurate. Instead we are exposed to the Marjane’s account of an Iranian childhood and her own interpretation of the trauma. Marji only partly being in the second frame of girls represents her struggle with identity. Marji does not identify herself with Islamic fundamentalists and as a result struggles to form her individual identity. The novel follows Marjane as she attempts to reclaim her identity as a woman and as an Iranian.


  5. The idea of whether it is right to represent events such as this in fiction is an interesting one – especially when considering Satrapi uses the graphic novel, whose comic book origins were usually confined to portraying humour.

    I am reminded of the discussion of the Holocaust that occurs in Alan Bennet’s ‘The History Boys’ where one character says that writing about tragic events is a way of putting them into context, and another responds that, ‘to put something in context is a step towards saying it can be understood and that it can be explained. And if it can be explained then it can be explained away.’

    I think the graphic novel form, rather than hindering the story, actually helps it to not be ‘explained away’ because the reader is confronted with the images of the horror, and an image is a lot harder to ignore than a word, even if the images are vaguely caricature-like.


  6. Posted by Billie Edwards on November 26, 2013 at 11:10 am

    Satrapi said that she sees “images as a way of writing” in a more accessible, international language: “when you draw a situation—someone is scared or angry or happy— it means the same thing in all cultures”.

    I think that the black and white style of the novels illustrations is important in portraying Satrapi’s story, as it presents it in such a matter-of-fact way, which accurately shows how these series of atrocities were blended into what was everyday life for her. The extreme content masked by the childish drawings mixes the simplicity of childhood with the horrors of war.The starkness of the black and white images sometimes has the effect of distancing us as readers, but I think they work as a much more powerful accompaniment to the story than any colourful pictures would, as they would lose their matter-of-fact, straight-forward realism.


  7. Posted by Khadija Azfar on December 3, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    I think the graphic novel form that Satrapi uses not only makes the story interesting to read, it also allows the reader to mentally see and try to comprehend what the author must have gone through. The pictures show the horrors of war which readers may not fully be able to understand because they have not experienced it. The words alone are not enough, the images help to show the full extent of what was going on and give the novel a more powerful message which sticks in the readers mind.


  8. In Satrapi’s novel Persepolis, does the use of black and white graphic images really speak louder than words. Does this form complicate her message? I think it is interesting that Satrapi’s chooses this particular form as a means of narrating her autobiographical story. The use of imagery particularly graphic sketches denoting violence seem to affect our understanding of her experiences in a way that words would could not do alone. These black and white images may represent the ‘mental images’ that Satrapi recalls whenever she reflects on her traumatic experience. These memories occur in black and white flashbacks. This may explain why Satrapi felt that it was important to record and represent this mental process in her work.


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