The Complete Persepolis, an autobiographical novel by Marjane

The Complete
Persepolis, an autobiographical novel by
Marjane Satrapi, tells the tale of Marjane’s childhood in Iran. In this story, Marjane
(Marji) is brought up by communistic parents. 
Evidence of this Marxist upbringing is displayed several times
throughout the book, most especially when Marji exclaims that “it was funny to
see how much Marx and God looked like each other” (Satrapi 13).  The audience can analyze Persepolis through a Marxist lens to see how particular ideas, specifically
the ideology of consumerism, oppress Marjane, her family, and Iranian civilians
overall.  The main principle behind
Marxism is that the acquisition of wealth and goods is what motivates all political
and social activities.  The audience can
see how the Iranian regime utilizes this ideology to subjugate the proletariat
in Iran, and how the lower class turns to religion for reprieve. By analyzing Marjane’s
family specifically, the reader can realize that the Satrapi family is driven
and oppressed by this system of getting and maintaining economic power.  This analyzation of the Satrapis also sheds
light on the rest of Iran and how this consumeristic lifestyle and reliance on
religion hurts the country’s citizens. The idea behind Marxism is that consumerism makes
people feel as though their self-worth corresponds with what they buy (Furnham).

This philosophy has two purposes: it creates an artificial sense of empowerment
for the citizens while helping to placate sentiments of rebellion. To see how Marjane
and her family are affected by consumerism, it is necessary to take into
account the family’s status in the social hierarchy of 1980s Iran.  Though Satrapi never states her family’s economic
standing outright, the audience can easily conclude that her family is financially
comfortable.  Even in light of a raging
war and a tyrannical government, Marjane’s parents still have money to buy her
expensive items from America and even send her to Austria so that she can
receive the benefits of a Western education. However, not everyone in Iran enjoys this
comfortable status.  The reader is
frequently exposed to the struggles of the lower class, like when the destitute
boys of Iran are persuaded by the regime to join the war while the upper class
children who are the same age get to attend parties and not have to worry about
such matters (Satrapi 99-102).  Even at a
young age, Marjane realizes that she belongs to a class that is much better off
than those who surround her.  She even feels
guilty about basic things around her, like the fact that “our maid did not eat
with us” and “my father had a Cadillac” (Satrapi 6).  As for these manipulated boys, the regime uses
consumerism to exploit them, promising material goods in heaven in exchange for
their lives sacrificed in war.  Because
of this consumeristic attitude, these boys are quick to give up their lives for
the oppressive government, ruining their futures and tearing apart their
families.Analyzing the relationship between the
different social classes in Iran and Marxism is critical to understanding how
consumerism influences Marjane and her family. Because they are part of the
upper class, the Satrapi family is more likely to adhere to the principles of
Karl Marx because as Marjane’s Uncle Anoosh clearly says, “In a country where
half the population is illiterate you cannot unite the people around Marx”
(Satrapi 62). That is, the citizens who are most affected by oppression (the
lower class) do not have the necessary education and skills to fully appreciate
and understand Marxist theory, which focuses on the problems of oppressive
ideologies and class struggles.  Instead,
they often turn to religion for comfort.This theme of a reliance on religion can be
traced thousands of years back to ancient Athens.  Socrates faced much criticism for his belief that
people should question everything and shouldn’t rely on religion to explain everything.  He believed that people should be inquisitive
about the natural world around them and use this curiosity to further
advancement in science, philosophy, and more, instead of attributing everything
to the will of the gods.  In a similar
way, Marxism Uncle Anoosh serves a similar role as Socrates, lamenting the
Iranian lower class’ inability to fully understand the issues causing their oppression
and the way to relieve it.  Instead, people
tend to turn to religion for guidance and support through periods of hardship,
which isn’t inherently bad, but does little to fix the systematic oppression they
face.Naomi Mandel, a professor of marketing at ASU,
furthers this discussion about the relationship between consumerism, religion,
and class. In studying religion’s effect on consumerism, Mandel discovered that
“religion helps people to cope with fears such as death, or other life
challenges — instead of turning to compensatory consumption or spending to
deal with” (Worshipping at the Altar of Consumerism).  In other words, the upper class liberals of
Iran, such as the Satrapis, who adhere to the Marxist ideology may be less
oppressed by the doctrine of religion, but the family is more susceptible to suffer
from oppression by the principles of consumerism.  Naturally, this ironic relationship leads to
the hypocrisy that Marjane begins to recognize within her own family.  The best example of this occurs when Marjane
recalls the time when their maid fell in love with the neighbor’s son. The pair
sent each other love-letters until Marjane’s father ruined the relationship by informing
the boy of her social status.  Marjane’s
father tells her that “in this country you must stay within your own social
class” (Satrapi 37). Although Marjane’s father believes in Marxism, he apparently
does not adhere to the ideals strictly enough to attempt to change the oppressed
status of the lower classes surrounding him.  Even though her parents champion liberal
values, they still fall victim to discriminating people by their social status
and living extravagant lives while the proletariat suffers.  Here, the graphic nature of the book is particularly
useful in conveying this message by accentuating the emotional pain endured by
the maid and the evident indifference of the father and neighbor (once he found
out his lover was from a lower class).  This consumeristic attitude also harms upper
class families like the Satrapis in the sense that their desire for and acquisition
of goods helps placate their need for a rebellion.  By purchasing Western goods like t-shirts,
posters, music, and more, many Iranians could fall prey to complacency, as they
use these objects as a way to escape their current condition.  Similar to how the citizens in the lower
class use religion as a means of freedom from their current political
predicament, the upper class can begin to satiate their need for rebellion and liberation
through small, rebellious acts like throwing a party, that does nothing to
improve the current political climate and risks their own lives.

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In conclusion, Persepolis craftily highlights the issues with Marxist ideology and
religion that pervaded late 20th century Iran.  Marjane Satrapi artfully portrays how the prevalent
consumeristic attitude of the time led to a preservation of economic inequality,
and the detrimental effects consumerism and religion had.


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