Marjane Satrapi and Feminist Orientalism

In 2003, Marjane Satrapi published her memoir in the form of a graphic novel titled Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. A year later she published the sequel, Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return. The two books consist of Satrapi’s experiences throughout her childhood in Iran and young adulthood in Austria. She wrote her personal narrative with the purpose of shedding light on the people and culture of Iran and as a way of challenging the Occident/Orient binary. I read both of Satrapi’s novels in middle school and for the purpose of studying Orientalism, I found a helpful article that analyzes Satrapi’s work thoroughly on this subject area. Diego Maggi, a doctoral student from Georgetown University wrote a journal article, “Orientalism, Gender, and Nation Defied by an Iranian Woman” that discusses Satrapi’s personal narrative and how it displays conflicting coexistence between the West and East.

Maggi’s article mentions the works of Edward Said on Orientalism, but he also adds that there are various critiques on it and one of them is that Orientalism is intersected by other aspects that complicate the Orient’s reality and tensions between the East and West. One of those aspects is gender, and more specifically the aspect of feminism which was said to have been scarcely discussed by Said. Many authors had critiques on Said’s theory, but Roksana Bahramitash established that there is feminist Orientalism and Orientalist feminism. The former is exercised as a way of enforcing the idea of Muslim women as victims and cements a colonial lens on women in the East by assuming superiority to Western feminism. The latter refers to a way of advocating and supporting women’s rights in the East.

Satrapi’s memoir is found to be complex because in the book she tends to follow European and North American culture and feminism. This leads Maggi to pose three crucial questions that he discusses in his analysis. Essentially, Maggi explicates that despite Satrapi’s fondness for Western philosophers and rejection of customs of Islamic women, Satrapi does not reject her nationality and culture. Satrapi rejects aspects of the Middle East that limit her as a woman. In fact, Satrapi’s memoir represents a strong sense of nationality that’s highlighted when she moves to Vienna for her studies and actively has to battle Orientalism and binaries related to civilization/barbarism.

In the introduction of the book, Satrapi explains perfectly why she’s telling her story and blatantly opposes Orientalism to be used as a lens to understand her life.

…this old and great civilization has been discussed mostly in connection with
fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism. As an Iranian who has lived more than
half of my life in Iran, I know that this image is far from the truth. This is why
writing Persepolis was so important to me. I believe that an entire nation should
not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists. I also don’t want those
Iranians who lost their lives in prisons defending freedom, who died in the war
against Iraq, who suffered under various repressive regimes, or who were forced
to leave their families and flee their homeland to be forgotten.

(Marjane Satrapi, 2003, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood)

I highly recommend Marjane Satrapi’s memoir and Diego Maggi’s article as a tool to expand the impact of the books. Despite the political and cultural complexities, it’s a good read that puts you in the shoes of a young girl in Iran in search of individuality. It is a personal story that touches on a broad subject like Orientalism and can aid a Westerner’s better understanding of life in the East.

The Complexity of Identity Among Characters

In Shakespeare’s tragedy of King Lear, there is a bulk of characters who take on multiple roles in the play. Lear, Gloucester, Goneril, Regan, Edmund are all examples of multidimensional characters. In the storyline, their characters evolve and change rapidly, which brings forth the struggle and complication of identity. One of Shakespeare’s many dramatic elements in King Lear is the dynamic portrayal of characters in different settings that makes a profound statement of the human condition. Humans, in their own distinct lives, have the capacity to change and showcase themselves differently according to the situation for better or worse. There is flexibility and agency in identity.

Lear and Gloucester bear the brunt of betrayal in the play. Both of them as fathers, men, and men of power share similarities in their struggle. They symbolize royalty, but also embody the height of manhood and what it means to be a parental figure in the scope of that manhood. Lear and Gloucester are overtaken by their children and the impact on them reflects their multifaceted identities. Lear and Gloucester are utterly blindsided by the schemes of their children because Lear and Gloucester are used to being entitled to respect and reverence, especially Lear. The lines get blurred because Lear and Gloucester fail to separate fatherhood and their roles in society as men of power. As a result, their children treat them and overthrow them as if they were distant roles of power because there lacks a parent/child relationship. On the other hand, it’s not completely nonexistent because you see instances where Goneril, Regan, and Edmund do recognize Lear and Gloucester as fathers. Similarly, Lear and Gloucester tend to remind their children and the audience of their fatherly role.

As full of grief as age, wretched in both.

If it be you that stirs these daughters’ hearts

Against their father, fool me not so much

(II.iv.314-316) Lear

All dark and comfortless! Where’s my son

Edmund? –

Edmund, enkindle all the sparks of nature

(III.vii.103-105) Gloucester

Goneril, Regan, and Edmund are most complex because they test the fluidity of identity in order to fulfill their personal agendas. Goneril and Regan are representative of being women, sisters, daughters, wives, and mistresses. They both exercise these different roles to their advantage to get what they want. Although they seem heartless to the characters and audience, what makes Goneril and Regan strong is their sisterhood. It’s strong enough that even their own husbands fall victim to their alliance when they both set their eyes on Edmund. This alliance is dismantled at the end of the story since they turn on each other because of Edmund, but it still speaks about their greed and malicious intentions. Not to mention, gender is a major factor in why Goneril and Regan are viewed as vicious. They act out of character for a typical female role because of their aggressive and cutthroat nature. Additionally, the father-daughter relationship is usually an adored one, but here Goneril and Regan flip that narrative to heighten the drama. Edmund is a man, a bastard, a brother, a son, and most of all a player. His entire scheme is for the purpose of defying his social standing as “bastard.” To contradict being considered base, he gets in Albany’s good graces and Regan and Goneril’s too because he knows they have power. He betrays his brother and father as acts of jealousy and envy because his goal is to take what he feels he deserves. Along the way, Edmund also deceives Goneril and Regan just because he can. For Edmund, it’s about breaking free from the title he feels has been holding him back.

Pray you, let us sit

together. If our father carry authority with such

disposition as he bears, this last surrender of his will

but offend us.

(I.ii.350-353) Goneril to Regan

Lag of a brother? Why ‘bastard’? Wherefore ‘base,’

When my dimensions are as well compact,

My mind as generous and my shape as true

(I.ii.6-8) Edmund

Ultimately, these characters highlight fluidity in identity and emulate the idea that you can be whoever you choose to be. The use of various personas is proven to be a tool and a weapon for the characters in King Lear.

The Best of Ye West

Personally, I am very fond of Ye West’s “Gold Digger” from his album Late Registration. This song gives me nostalgia and reminds me of my childhood since this song was released in 2005. Even afterwards though, it would go on to be a classic by earning a Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance in 2006. It was also ranked number 9 for the Billboard Hot 100 Songs of the Decade and ranked number 63 on Billboard’s Top 100 Songs of All Time, making it one of the most popular songs of West’s career. It’s an upbeat song that was very popular at parties in the early 2000s and it in itself is legendary. This song is the pinnacle of Ye West’s reign in the first decade of the 2000s and still to this day.

The song talks about a woman who is a gold digger and uses the speaker to get her way to his riches. West makes the statement that money and fame attracts materialistic women primarily concerned with their own benefit. I believe the speaker of the song is West himself because he talks about his desires and how the gold digger compares. He talks about the gold digger as if he’s met her and interacted with her.

Cutie the bomb, met her at a beauty salon

With a baby Louis Vuitton under her underarm

She said: “I can tell you rock, I can tell by your charm

Far as girls, you got a flock

I can tell by your charm and your arm”

But I’m lookin’ for the one, have you seen her?

My psychic told me she’ll have a a** like Serena

Trina, Jennifer Lopez, four kids

And I gotta take all they bad a**** to ShowBiz?

Additionally, West references other music artists:

From what I heard she got a baby by Busta

My best friend said she used to f*** with Usher

This leads me to believe that he’s addressing other famous people to watch out for the gold digger. He uses the word “we” in order to talk about himself and other famous people as a collective to state that they should protect themselves against the gold digger.

If you ain’t no punk

Holla, “We want prenup! We want prenup!” (Yeah!)

It’s somethin’ that you need to have

‘Cause when she leave yo’ a**, she gon’ leave with half

The dialogue West uses in the song establishes two sides, the celebrities, and the gold digger who is trying to take advantage of them and their means. Something notable West did in this song was that he used a sample from Ray Charles’ song, “I’ve Got a Woman” from his album Hallelujah, I Lover Her. In Ray Charles’ song, he’s talking about a woman who treats him well and gives him money when he’s in need. West used a sample of Charles’ song to convey the opposite situation by changing the line “She gives me money when I’m in need” to “She take my money when I’m in need”. I think West used this as a way of symbolizing how unfortunate it is that the woman wants to take from him instead of help and be good to him like the woman Charles’ describes in his song. This part is found at the beginning of the song.

She take my money when I’m in need

Yeah, she’s a triflin’ friend indeed

Oh, she’s a gold digger

Way over town that digs on me

Ye West’s song “Gold Digger” is poetry to me because he provides an experience of being famous and wealthy and having to face the reality that some women only want him for what he has. He conveys the struggle of having status and attempting to find a woman who is interested in him, not his possessions.

Cultural Assimilation in the Face of Migration

Through the relationship between Nadia and Saeed, Mohsin Hamid makes an intentional choice to explore 2 different kinds of migrants. In the discussion of migration in the novel Exit West, Hamid does an exceptional job of highlighting the personal stories of migrants and much less the physical journey of moving from one place to another. As their journey progresses, Nadia and Saeed begin to grow apart and this can be attributed to their starking differences in assimilation. Both Nadia and Saeed begin to resent each other for the way each other has begun to settle in their new lives residing in London.

Although assimilation is more related to immigrants, who move to one place with the intention of staying permanently, Nadia and Saeed find themselves settled in London long enough to get somewhat comfortable. In Exit West, Hamid directly states that migration inevitably changes those that are migrating and that our surroundings have a powerful impact in shaping who we are.

Every time a couple moves they begin, if their attention is still drawn to one another, to see each other differently, for personalities are not a single immutable color, like white or blue, but rather illuminated screens, and the shades we reflect depend much on what is around us. So it was with Saeed and Nadia, who found themselves changed in each other’s eyes in this new place.

Hamid, 2017, p.186

Both Nadia and Saeed acquire labor-intensive jobs because that is what is essentially provided to them as migrants. They live together and waver from parting ways due to a sense of security and comfort. Even though it seems like they’re living the same lives and living it together by sharing the struggles of being a migrant, this is a fallacy. Nadia finds it hard to identify with Saeed because he consistently clings to the people and culture of their birth country. Saeed can’t understand Nadia because she still wears her black robes, yet she doesn’t pray and avoids everything that connects her back to their birth country.

In the midst of Nadia and Saeed’s conundrum, the reader gets a glimpse of two different reactions to assimilating and adapting to a change of environment. Nadia embraces the change by using it as a way to reinvent a new life, while Saeed embraces it by recognizing that he can still make connections to home wherever he is. In life, immigrants and migrants battle what it means to assimilate and how much they will allow themselves to assimilate. A common fear is the fear of being stripped of one’s original culture. If you were forced to move from your homeland the way Saeed and Nadia were, whose style would you follow more and why?

Defiance and Acceptance: A Spectrum

Coincidentally, I just finished reading two works that oddly relate. Written by Erika L. Sanchez, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter directly references The Stranger. In a moment of betrayal, Julia (the protagonist) sits by the lake to read The Stranger in order to calm herself. Since she’s on a school field trip, her English teacher finds her to check if she’s ok.

It’s Mr. Ingman. ‘Hey!’ he says, and sits down next to me. ‘What are you reading now?’

I hold it up for him to see.

‘So, a light beach read?’ Mr. Ingman chuckles.

I nod. ‘I guess so.’

‘What do you think of it?’

‘It’s like nothing means anything. Nothing has a real purpose. I guess that’s how I feel a lot of the time. Sometimes I really don’t see the point of anything.’

‘Existential despair, huh?’

‘Yes, exactly.’ I smile.

(Sanchez, 2017, p. 132)

Throughout the book, Julia’s biggest hurdle is her strained relationship with her mom. Her mom is an undocumented immigrant while Julia is a second generation American. Julia’s story spectacularly paints the struggle of a cultural divide between Mexicans and Mexican Americans. What does this have to do with The Stranger and Meursault? Meursault is a perplexing character for most readers. Readers are challenged to understand his way of thinking because his thinking is unlike the common person. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter parallels with The Stranger because both of the central characters challenge the idea of “normal.” Throughout The Stranger, Meursault constantly proves to be different from every other character because his thinking and expression of emotions is different. He belittles every event to simplicity. Similarly, Julia is distinct from the other characters of the book because she is not the ideal Mexican, the ideal Mexican daughter. Be that as it may, Julia differs from Meursault because she challenges everything and she steps outside of conformity, while Meursault submits to conformity in almost every situation by being indifferent. I think this can still be leveraged to prove that both characters test the extreme ends of a spectrum on their societal norms.

Meursault: A Severe Case of Depression

The main character in The Stranger is a peculiar character for many reasons. The story is written in the perspective of Meursault which adds various facets to it because Meursault is unlike everyone else in the story. A crucial part of the human experience is emotional feeling and expression. Meursault defies this natural principle of life by showing indifference and apathy in almost every situation he is confronted with. Throughout the story, readers face the challenge of depicting what kind of person Meursault really is because he often fails to display any interest or preference for anything. This leads me to question Meursault’s reason for emotional detachment and the most logical answer I can come up with is a case of severe depression. A symptom of depression is loss of interest in hobbies or in daily life activities. My personal theory leads me to believe that Meursault’s emotional detachment serves as a defense mechanism, or at least is a symptom of mental anguish. Something as major as as his mother’s death barely provokes emotion. His immediate concern is his boss’s annoyance with him taking time off work (3). In addition, when his boss offers him an exciting job offer, Meursault has no reaction or yearn for the opportunity. His boss even gets frustrated with him because he feels Meursault has no ambition, which is true (41). I also think his choice of allegiance with Raymond is alarming. It’s clear in the story that Raymond isn’t a great person, yet Meursault chooses to entertain him when he asks him to write the letter (32). The end of Part I was really what convinced me that Meursault’s state of mind may be unstable. In any book or movie, when a character shoots or stabs someone excessively to murder them, it mainly always signifies a deep anger within the character. In the scene where Meursault shoots the Arab that attacked Raymond, he shoots him a total of five times (59). Besides the first shot, he fired 4 extra times that were very unnecessary, but I interpreted this instance as a turning point for the character. This scene showed a snap within Meursault that the reader had not yet been exposed to and I can’t help but think that there is way more to Meursault than the reader knows at this point.