The ways in which humans represent their religious beliefs are often determined through personal choice. Often times however, these choices are heavily influenced by the government. In The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, the extended use of the veil serves as a symbol of female oppression and obedience to the regime in power, which furthers the thematic idea that humans are easily persuaded. At first, Marjane understands the veil as a symbol of obligation, but by the end of her bildungsroman, the veil becomes a personal anthem of identity.
As a child, Marjane was quick to understand that the veil was something crucial to show obedience. During her upbring at the time of the Islamic Revolution, the use of the veil was becoming more lawful than faithful. Young girls were especially confused by the regime’s reasoning behind the veil, “especially since we didn’t understand why we had to” (Satrapi 3/5). This forced women’s modesty creates confusion in Marjane’s life, as it is not her faith alone that pushes her to wear the veil, when rather it is law enforcement that persisted for all women to conform.
Satrapi uses black humor in this panel to show the young girls’ absence of purpose in wearing the veil. Alongside the mandatory use of the veil, Marjane and her peers “found themselves veiled and separated from their friends” (Satrapi 4/5). Because schools were also segregated as a result of the Cultural Revolution, young girls including Marjane perhaps viewed the veil as a symbol of sexism.Marjane’s parents held very modern views regarding social reform, so much that both her mother and father actively partake in demonstrations during the Islamic Revolution. Promptly following the 1980 “Cultural Revolution,” the mandated use of the veil for females was, “everywhere in the streets” and “there were demonstrations for and against the veil” (Satrapi 5/1).
Within this panel Satrapi depicts black and white to juxtapose the veiled women with the opposers of women’s modesty. Satrapi illustrated the free women in a lighter color in order to symbolize their superiority in the debate. Most influential to Marjane was when “at one of the demonstrations, a German journalist took a photo of her mother” (Satrapi 5/2).
In this photograph, it is quite obvious that Marjane’s mother demonstrated her opposition to the veil. Marjane’s fundamentalist-driven education combined with her parent’s fight against oppression, fully justifies her internal conflict towards the veil. In her state incertitude, Marjane “didn’t really know what to think about the veil.
Deep down she was very religious but as a family we were very modern and avant-garde” (Satrapi 6/1). Satrapi focuses heavily on the contrasting backgrounds in order to enhance the emotions that Marjane felt at the time. In regards to the veil, her immense confusion due to conflicting viewpoints forces Marjane to learn more about herself in order to develop her individual opinion.As a young teenager, Marjane clearly is representing herself as an opposer to the regime. Marjane shows she is a modern woman by, “letting a few strands of hair show” (Satrapi 75/1). Satrapi uses the images in the panel to contrast the two types of women living in Iran, and what the different clothes represented at the time. By using both images in parallel, the stark contrast enhances the social division at the time. Marjane is seen to be the most happiest when “she put her 1983 Nikes on, and her denim jacket with the Michael Jackson button, and of course, her headscarf” (Satrapi 131/3-9).
By dressing in this matter, it is quite obvious that Satrapi tries to identify herself as a rebel to the regime. Quite obviously, Marjane leaves a few strands of hair outside of her veil before going out in public. Soon after Marjane gains the courage to express herself through fashion, she also becomes very vocal in her opinions.Following the death of one of Marjane’s very close friend, Marjane takes an active and vocal approach on her beliefs. No longer is Marjane afraid of any disapproval from the elders around her, because of how disgusted she felt with the violence around her. As “nothing scared her anymore” (Satrapi 143/1), Marjane is seen wearing a veil—again with the presence of a few strands of hair. Moreover, Marjane is scolded because “it is strictly forbidden to wear jewelry and jeans” (143/1).
This notion does not faze Marjane however. In assistance to her few strands of hair free of a veil, Marjane goes further by wearing jewelry and jeans to full express her disquietude towards women’s oppression. To justify her intentions of going against the dress code, Marjane “had learned that you should always shout louder than your aggressor” (Satrapi 141/3). Marjane is expelled from her school for hitting her principal, ultimately forcing her parents to make a decision that would change the course of Satrapi’s future.
With a free-spirited teenager now unafraid by the consequences of being rebellious, Marjane’s parents decide to send Marjane to live in Austria. Hitting a school official was seen as a criminal offense, and though “she had not sent a report this time” (Satrapi 147/2), Marjane’s parents were afraid for the future of Marjane’s safety. Now living in Vienna, she is forced to take on a more independent lifestyle free from the influences of her country and parents. Though Marjane left Iran feeling very apprehensive, she “had come here with the idea of leaving a religious Iran for an open secular Europe” (Satrapi 155/1). In the moment of realization, Marjane is depicted in a way where she looks free, yet composed with the absence of a veil. Furthermore, almost immediately after arriving to Vienna, Marjane comes to understand that “it’s going to be cool to go to school without a veil, to not have to beat oneself every day for the war martyrs” (Satrapi 156/4). Satrapi depicts Marjane with quite the content expression on her face, and with good reason.
No longer did she have to worry about expressing her opinions and being held against them. Instead, Marjane lived a new reality in a country that values freedom and diversity of religion. To Marjane’s surprise, her new life without a veil did not give her the peace that she heavily desired.While Marjane continually struggles to transplant herself into Austrian society, her physical representation without a veil develops into a symbol of her denial of culture and nationality. As an act of conformity to her punk-like friends, Marjane “tried a few new haircuts” (Satrapi 190/1).
Though her new appearance is heavily complimented by her friends that inspired her to take on the new look, Marjane could not avoid feeling of “playing a game by somebody else’s rules” (Satrapi 193/1). Satrapi uses this metaphor to exemplify Marjane’s anxiety with the image she projects of herself, including her inability to accept her own heritage. However, Austrians saw Iran as the “epitome of evil” (Satrapi 195/4), clearly justifying Marjane’s purpose in denying her heritage. Marjane’s freedom of expression though sought out to be a form of her own liberation, ends up turning against itself and serves as yet another outlet for guilt.
Through a time of confusion and self consciousness, Marjane first must find her self worth before reuniting with the confidence she once prospered.Marjane’s courage showed growth in parallel to social advancements that took place in Iran. Satrapi symbolizes social progression with “winning an eighth of an inch of hair and losing an eighth of an inch of veil” (Satrapi 293/6). By doing so, the veil is synonymous to the progress made towards the liberation of women.
As a first year student of graphic design, Marjane attends a mandatory meeting on the topic of “moral and religious conduct” (Satrapi 296/1). In direct argument to the administration’s request for longer head-scarves, Marjane questions why men “can get excited by two inches less of her head-scarf?” (Satrapi 297/6). In a room full of women all with a common concern, Marjane proved herself to be the most outspoken.
Once again, Marjane falls extremely close to punishment for her opinions, when the Islamic Commision is “going to give her a second chance” (Satrapi 298/6). Without holding her tongue back, Marjane “recovered her self-esteem and her dignity” (Satrapi 298/9). Quite obviously, Marjane’s perception of the veil is something deeply associated with the way she values herself.Marjane herself symbolizes the use of a veil to showcase in a parallel manner, her maturity and growth. At first she wears the veil because she is naive and unaware, however throughout time, she is able to create her own beliefs on what the veil represents to her own faith.
As an adult, her use of the veil exemplifies her anthem of identity. Despite the veil remaining mostly consistent in Marjane’s life, her personal outlook towards it proved far from consistent.