How to Teach Persepolis

As a graphic novel, Persepolis is an innovative approach to the traditional bildungsroman, or coming-of-age narrative. Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical tale weaves Iran's complicated history and political turmoil with young Marji's personal experiences growing up in an increasingly hostile country.

The comic strip format uses illustrations that facilitate a deeper understanding and empathy for people living in the Middle East during times of war and extremism. Satrapi translates the complex political and religious elements of the story into concepts students will be able to grasp, but it might be helpful for the teacher to set aside time for additional discussion about factors leading to turmoil in Iran and in surrounding countries.

Furthermore, it is important to discuss the significance of the graphic novel as both a piece of literature and as a piece of art. Encourage students to consider how images and text work together to form a narrative. Provide context for Satrapi's work by discussing other influential graphic novels, and discuss why she chose this format to convey serious subject matter, such as war, torture, and social oppression.

Summary

Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis tells the story of a young girl growing up in revolutionary Iran, where the threat of violence, arrest, and torture are everyday fears. As the child of progressive, politically-active parents, Marji comes of age in a household where she is encouraged to voice her opinion, which leads her into trouble in the world outside of her home.

This text is essential to any discussion about the genre of the graphic novel and provides a keen insight into a world that many young readers today could not fathom. Satrapi makes faraway and confusing elements of modern conflict in the Middle East accessible and understandable to readers worldwide.

Persepolis

Persepolis

Paperback

This graphic novel depicting the childhood of Marjane Satrapi during the turbulent years surrounding the Iranian Revolution is a powerful look at the overthrow of the Iranian government, the introduction of theocracy, and the ongoing war with Iraq.

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Content Warning

This novel depicts moments of violence, murder, and torture and contains discussions of sexual assault, political extremism, and religious extremism.

Objectives for Teaching Persepolis

  • Discuss why and how the graphic novel form is being used to convey difficult subject matter.
  • Analyze how the novel's images and text create a compelling narrative.
  • Analyze how Marji's perspectives about religion and politics change over time.
  • Trace the political and religious regimes that take hold of Iran, and explain how they influence Marji and her family.
  • Determine how Marji's identity is shaped by her life experiences.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Allusion
  • Comic Strip Format
  • Foreshadowing
  • Imagery
  • Symbolism

Themes and Motifs

  • Parent/Teen Relationships — Marji's relationship with her parents is essential to the formation of her identity as someone who is allowed to voice her opinions.
  • Tradition vs. Modernity — The religious leaders of Iran favor Islamic tradition over Western influence and change.
  • Bildungsroman — This novel depicts Marji's coming of age during a time of revolution and war.

Key Facts

  • Length: 341 pages
  • Publication Date: 2007
  • Lexile Measure: 380
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9 – 10

Awards

  • New York Times Notable Book
  • Time Magazine "Best Comic of the Year"
  • San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times Bestseller
  • Booklist Editor's Choice for Young Adults
  • New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age
  • School Library Journal Adult Books for Young Adults
  • YALSA Best Book for Young Adults

Movies

A French-language animated-film version of Persepolis was released in 2007 to widespread critical acclaim. It was co-winner of the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Marjane Satrapi collaborated on the screenplay and co-directed the film with Vincent Parronaud. The film is rated PG-13, and it is available on DVD.

Your students will love:

  • The graphic novel layout of the story
  • Learning more about Iran's history
  • Relatable situations and characters

Students may have problems with:

  • Iran's complex political history
  • Depictions of intense violence and torture

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Persepolis

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