Persepolis: perceptions of the veil

Persepolis; Perceptions of the veil

[Satrapi, (b) p52]

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“And say to the believing woman that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty…that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty…” Sūrah 24:31 The autobiographical novel “Persepolis” depicts the early stages of its author, Marjane Satrapi’s life. It shows her growing up in Iran, to her studies in Vienna, and her return. In an interview in 2008, she stated that she composed it in the style of a graphic novel instead of a regular autobiography because “…it needed to be understandable to everybody” [(c) 2008]. This is also the case in terms of its film adaptation in 2007. The idea of the veil is extremely prominent throughout both media. They highlight the views of the young girl, Marji and the woman Marjane. At first glance of either form, the veil is one of the first images seen. In a Western point of view, this can be seen as confusing. It is something which not many people in that society would be used to, especially in more Christian countries. In a way, it seems easier to interpret and see the veil in a more graphic form than it is to be given a description in a text.

Depending on which medium was seen first, the viewer would be given a slightly different stance (in the novel it is first shown on the young Marji on her own, but in the film Marjane is putting it on in an airport bathroom). There is more of a Western perception in the film, where a woman looks at Marjane’s veil with a disconcerted, almost disgusted look, while in the novel, Marji looks more innocent and with no emotion shown. The idea of the veil itself is something completely different in Muslim society. After the overthrowing of the Shah1 Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979, an Islamic Revolution took place throughout the country. Almost immediately after the founding of the new leader of the now Islamic Republic of Iran, women were forced to obey Islamic dress code, which involved dressing more modestly and more importantly, having to wear the veil in public, so as to cover their awrah2, This law remains intact today, and is mandatory for all women living in Iran. Both texts refer to this radical change, and Satrapi shows the experiences and events that had happened when she was forced to wear the veil so young, and the impact it had on her life.

The author’s depiction of herself as the young girl, Marji is first shown when she is only ten years old, her veil almost shrouding her small frame. It is the first image of the first chapter of the book, aptly titles “le foulard [the veil].” The reader is straight away shown and told about the veil. She continues to say that it was for a class photo, though the rest of her classmates are separated by the gutter3. For all the girls in that photo, this was the first noticeable signs of the Revolution that had occurred, from the segregation of their male friends to another school, to the wearing of the hijab4. For a young Marji, this was a very extreme change in her everyday life. Her parents were both Marxist5 intellectuals, and the comic shows the contempt her mother has for the veil. The use of only black and white emphasizes how it can make one person indistinguishable from another, again from the perspective of the West. Satrapi worked around this however, giving each veiled woman distinguishing features, such as their hair and eye or nose shape; she shows that all Iranian women are unique [Naccarato, 2010 ]. In Book 2, Marji’s view of the “fundamentalist woman” is veiled, covered head to toe- a shapeless being. In one comical moment, her mother criticises a neighbour wearing the veil, stating “ça doit bien l’arranger” [(a) 2003, p6] as opposed to her previous tastes in fashion. Amazingly, her mother is able to joke about this, despite her previous ordeal where she was threatened for not wearing her veil in public “…que les femmes commme moi, il fallait les baisir au coin des murs et les jeter aux ordures…que, si je ne voulais pas que ça m’arrive, je n’avais qu’à me voiler…” [ p5] Marji’s view of the veil herself is negative for numerous reasons. Through her parents, it is seen as something demoralising; through her faith it is part of Sharia Law6 and must be upheld. Being quite a rebellious child, she still attempted to express her individuality while still maintaining her beliefs. In one of these cases she wears her Nike trainers and a denim jacket with a Michael Jackson button “…et bien sûr, mon foulard…”[p62] The fact that Satrapi indicated this last statement shows that the veil was very much now part of her life, even with her attempts to stand out. By rebelling within the confines of the Law, it does not completely repress her. Marji can still rebel without rejecting her
faith. In the book, and shown more humorously in the film, she is caught wearing these items by two women, fully draped in the chador7. They snake up to her and wrap themselves around her personal space. They comment on her jacket, and the position of her veil, “baisse ton fichu, petite pute!” [p64] She is released, partly due to her fabricated story, and possibly because she is still wearing the veil [mpottash, 2008]. The majority of young Marji’s life shows little respect for the veil, it is merely an everyday hindrance in itself. MARJANE

The first months of Marjane’s introduction are shown when she is living in Vienna. She is not forced to wear the veil there, unlike Iran. She is living a very Western lifestyle; she can drink alcohol, dress provocatively and take drugs. Her veil is not introduced again until the very last panel of Book 3, where she is returning to her parent’s home. She looks at herself in the mirror- her Western ideals and lifestyle have come to an end. As she heads onto the streets to view the city, her mother reminds her, “N’oublie pas ton foulard [(b) p8]” as she had almost left the house with it on. The veil is mentioned very little at this stage in her life. It is now a part of her life, rarely mentioned during her early return. Its topic returns to the story when she enrols in college. Different ways of wearing the veil are shown by different girls there, le port du voile était tout une science.”[ p51] Women were able to work their hairstyles and beliefs into the way it was worn, similarly to Marji’s jacket, but more subtle. There is still some controversy however, as the men in the college state that women should be wearing longer head-scarves. Marjane objects to this in a logical manner “J’ai besoin de liberté de gestes afin de pouvoir designer Une cagoue plus longue rend la tâche encore plus difficile”. [p55] It is a rare case when she defends the veil she is wearing, albeit for a similar version of it. In return for this, she is asked to design a new uniform for the women, so as to be able to express some individuality within the confines of these rules. “notre lute était plus discrete” [p60] Showing little signs of rebellion, such as their hairstyle, makeup, etc. was the only way Iranian women could express themselves without getting into trouble. Even then, it was still difficult to live her life. When Marjane was expected to meet the Mayor’s deputy, she was sent away twice for the way she presented herself. She
eventually leaves Iran, this time permanently. CONCLUSION

Throughout the book and film we see the lasting impact the veil has on Satrapi. It begins as something alien and wrong to young Marji, something that greatly oppressed her, into something that is generally taken as part of everyday life for Marjane. From the Western perspective, the audience would mostly identify with the younger Satrapi, that it is something foreign and strange to them. It is not something they had to grow up or live with. They are not bound to a law that determines the way they dress. In time, the veil develops from a piece of cloth worn to hide the hair, to become a symbol of Satrapi’s faith, her upbringing, and her Iranian heritage. It is a representation of Muslim women in some ways. To some it oppresses them; to others it signifies their identity. For Satrapi, the veil was both of these, and it continues to be prominent in her ideals and her ways.

mpottash [sic]. (2008). Meanings of the Veil: Representations of Veiling in Persepolis. Available: Last accessed 14th March 2011.

Naccarato, Cristina. (2010). Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, the Visual Construction of Identity, and “The Veil”. Available: Last accessed 14th March 2011.

Qur’an 24:31

Satrapi, Marjane (a) (2003). Persepolis 2. Paris: L’association.

Satrapi, Marjane (b) (2003). Persepolis 4. Paris: L’association.

Satrapi, Marjane (c). (2008). Persepolis: A State of Mind. Literal Magazine.pp 44-47.

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