Teaching with (and Learning from) Persepolis

Sex, drugs, parties, rock ‘n’ roll, punks, protesters, pills, suicide, torture, subversion, revolution, and so much more. Oh, and torture. Ah, and the veil.

Got to include that “graphic violence.” Because, you know, that isn’t part of American “family values.” And “the veil” = oppression, which only a savior from the West can fix! Okay, maybe sarcasm isn’t the best way to introduce this piece.

The “graphic” here is not the “graphic violence” of, say, a warning before a film of TV show. Rather, “graphic” refers to a few black-and-white drawings of real events in Marjane Satrapi’s two-volume graphic novelPersepolis.

PersepolisPersepolis is a memoir of a girl growing in Iran just before (then after) the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Satrapi also recounts her four years of living in Austria as a teen, away from her family, and then her return to Iran.

You can read are reviews of Persepolis from www.popmatters.com (here) and The New York Times (here). (And Satrapi’s Facebook page is here.)

My previous post, “Graphic Novels to Change Your Life” ~ Thank You, Paul Gravett!, listed thirty highly-acclaimed graphic novels. He also discusses many more, enticing readers: “You never know, maybe one of them will change your life too?” (p. 12)

I’m not sure (yet) that Persepolis changed my life.

Yet it did connect with Orientalism, a theme I have been examining in popular culture. Persepolis subverts many Orientalist stereotypes, and I’ll explore that theme in future posts.

A few images of torture put Persepolis in back in the news when the Chicago public schools decided to pull all copies of Persepolis from its public schools. Later in the day, the notice changed from removing the book to not teaching it in 7th grade. Yet, Julian Darius’ review of this controversy at www.sequart.org (here) unveils layers of hypocrisy regarding censorship and approaches to violent imagery in American media.

Here are the images in question, which are posted in Darius’ review:


Teaching graphic novels is powerful pedagogical practice, if done well.

And teaching Persepolis is especially helpful in challenging Orientalist stereotypes. That is to say, the characters are complex; they do not adhere to simple caricatures of the “Other” that so frequently make their way into America’s media.

Speaking of media, Persepolis was made into a successful film.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZ22VyjJ6n8]

For those of you interested in teaching Persepolis, Maureen Bakis’ The Graphic Novel in the Classroom is a wonderful resource for High School teachers.She includes a chapter on Persepolis that surely could be adapted for a Middle School or College classroom.

Bakis book

Her website (http://www.graphicnovelsandhighschoolenglish.com) contains many other helpful resources.

I read Persepolis with teaching in mind, but I mainly read it because it’s a great piece of literature.

For now, suffice it to say that Persepolis left me craving more of Satrapi’s work.

Here are her other books:

Embroideries (2005) “gloriously entertaining and enlightening look into the sex lives of Iranian women” (Amazon.com description)


Chicken with Plums (2006) “the heartrending story of her great-uncle, a celebrated Iranian musician who gave up his life for music and love” (from Amazon.com)

Chicken with Plums

Monsters are Afraid of the Moon (2006) ~ a children’s book (ages 4-7)

Monsters book

The Sigh (2011) “an illustrated fairy tale” (from Amazon.com)

The Sigh

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