The CompletePersepolis, an autobiographical novel byMarjane 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 timesthroughout the book, most especially when Marji exclaims that “it was funny tosee 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, specificallythe ideology of consumerism, oppress Marjane, her family, and Iranian civiliansoverall.
The main principle behindMarxism is that the acquisition of wealth and goods is what motivates all politicaland social activities. The audience cansee how the Iranian regime utilizes this ideology to subjugate the proletariatin Iran, and how the lower class turns to religion for reprieve. By analyzing Marjane’sfamily specifically, the reader can realize that the Satrapi family is drivenand oppressed by this system of getting and maintaining economic power. This analyzation of the Satrapis also shedslight on the rest of Iran and how this consumeristic lifestyle and reliance onreligion hurts the country’s citizens. The idea behind Marxism is that consumerism makespeople feel as though their self-worth corresponds with what they buy (Furnham).This philosophy has two purposes: it creates an artificial sense of empowermentfor the citizens while helping to placate sentiments of rebellion. To see how Marjaneand her family are affected by consumerism, it is necessary to take intoaccount the family’s status in the social hierarchy of 1980s Iran.
Though Satrapi never states her family’s economicstanding outright, the audience can easily conclude that her family is financiallycomfortable. Even in light of a ragingwar and a tyrannical government, Marjane’s parents still have money to buy herexpensive items from America and even send her to Austria so that she canreceive the benefits of a Western education. However, not everyone in Iran enjoys thiscomfortable status. The reader isfrequently exposed to the struggles of the lower class, like when the destituteboys of Iran are persuaded by the regime to join the war while the upper classchildren who are the same age get to attend parties and not have to worry aboutsuch matters (Satrapi 99-102).
Even at ayoung age, Marjane realizes that she belongs to a class that is much better offthan those who surround her. She even feelsguilty about basic things around her, like the fact that “our maid did not eatwith us” and “my father had a Cadillac” (Satrapi 6). As for these manipulated boys, the regime usesconsumerism to exploit them, promising material goods in heaven in exchange fortheir lives sacrificed in war. Becauseof this consumeristic attitude, these boys are quick to give up their lives forthe oppressive government, ruining their futures and tearing apart theirfamilies.Analyzing the relationship between thedifferent social classes in Iran and Marxism is critical to understanding howconsumerism influences Marjane and her family. Because they are part of theupper class, the Satrapi family is more likely to adhere to the principles ofKarl Marx because as Marjane’s Uncle Anoosh clearly says, “In a country wherehalf the population is illiterate you cannot unite the people around Marx”(Satrapi 62). That is, the citizens who are most affected by oppression (thelower class) do not have the necessary education and skills to fully appreciateand understand Marxist theory, which focuses on the problems of oppressiveideologies and class struggles.
Instead,they often turn to religion for comfort.This theme of a reliance on religion can betraced thousands of years back to ancient Athens. Socrates faced much criticism for his belief thatpeople should question everything and shouldn’t rely on religion to explain everything. He believed that people should be inquisitiveabout the natural world around them and use this curiosity to furtheradvancement in science, philosophy, and more, instead of attributing everythingto the will of the gods.
In a similarway, Marxism Uncle Anoosh serves a similar role as Socrates, lamenting theIranian lower class’ inability to fully understand the issues causing their oppressionand the way to relieve it. Instead, peopletend 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 theyface.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 lifechallenges — instead of turning to compensatory consumption or spending todeal with” (Worshipping at the Altar of Consumerism). In other words, the upper class liberals ofIran, such as the Satrapis, who adhere to the Marxist ideology may be lessoppressed by the doctrine of religion, but the family is more susceptible to sufferfrom oppression by the principles of consumerism.
Naturally, this ironic relationship leads tothe hypocrisy that Marjane begins to recognize within her own family. The best example of this occurs when Marjanerecalls the time when their maid fell in love with the neighbor’s son. The pairsent each other love-letters until Marjane’s father ruined the relationship by informingthe boy of her social status. Marjane’sfather tells her that “in this country you must stay within your own socialclass” (Satrapi 37).
Although Marjane’s father believes in Marxism, he apparentlydoes not adhere to the ideals strictly enough to attempt to change the oppressedstatus of the lower classes surrounding him. Even though her parents champion liberalvalues, they still fall victim to discriminating people by their social statusand living extravagant lives while the proletariat suffers. Here, the graphic nature of the book is particularlyuseful in conveying this message by accentuating the emotional pain endured bythe maid and the evident indifference of the father and neighbor (once he foundout his lover was from a lower class). This consumeristic attitude also harms upperclass families like the Satrapis in the sense that their desire for and acquisitionof 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 theyuse these objects as a way to escape their current condition. Similar to how the citizens in the lowerclass use religion as a means of freedom from their current politicalpredicament, the upper class can begin to satiate their need for rebellion and liberationthrough small, rebellious acts like throwing a party, that does nothing toimprove the current political climate and risks their own lives.
In conclusion, Persepolis craftily highlights the issues with Marxist ideology andreligion that pervaded late 20th century Iran. Marjane Satrapi artfully portrays how the prevalentconsumeristic attitude of the time led to a preservation of economic inequality,and the detrimental effects consumerism and religion had.