Identity Crisis and Trauma in "Persepolis"

Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis” is a French graphic memoir that was later translated into English. By using a very unconventional mode of life-writing, the author was able to cut across age barriers and present her life in the most interesting of manners. The memoir narrates the story of “Marji” growing up in Iran, her teenage life in Austria and her return to her homeland as a young woman. Since its original publication in 2000, it gained momentum in various academic and non-academic circles for its literary value and due to its relevance to our times. It covers a wide range of topics including war, trauma, politics, religion, womanhood, teenage-issues, family relationships, and so on. However the identity crisis that the author underwent turns out as an important motif of the memoir.

Almost all definitions of the term “identity crisis” encompasses a certain amount of “uncertainty” on the part of the affected person. This can be caused through a variety of reasons including change of social roles which may have a direct relation with demographic dislocations. A young Marji, born in a revolutionary family, grows up in a conservative Iran. Due to her outspoken character, her parents decide that it would be best if she was sent away for her own safety. At a very tender age, Marji finds herself in an alien country, Austria, among strange people and cultures. The book invests much in presenting to the reader the initial shock that Marji experiences. However, she was forced to accept these changes around her, even at the cost of concealing her own identity of being an Iranian. She feared the judgement people passed on her due to the association they made with Iran and fanaticism. However, very soon, she realises that it was better to embrace her true identity rather than putting up a façade of being European. After going through a series of mental agonies and self-realisations, Marji returns to Iran, only to find that the city of her childhood had changed beyond recognition, and with that the people as well. She could not relate with her friends and family, nor were they able to relate with her. She had a tough time reconciling with her present changes since there was a clear mismatch between the Iran of her nostalgic past, and the Iran she found herself in. She neither found acceptance in Austria nor in her own Iran. The crisis gets intense at this juncture.

Further, she developed an immense guilt of having “escaped” the war that her near and dear ones had undergone while she was safely tucked away. She refused to share her trauma growing up as an abandoned girl in Europe since she believed that her own pain was nothing in comparison to what her friends and family had experienced. However, this refusal to share her thoughts affects her mental well-being to a great extent. The story ends on a positive note with her leaving behind her homeland, as per her mother’s instructions, and starting over a new life with renewed hopes and energy but the pain of separation lingering around.

Many a time, we do not realise the importance of accepting who we are. This is especially true in a quickly globalising world, where identities are overlapping and people, especially the teenage and young adults, are unsure about where they fit in.

The field of counselling propagates the fact that every issue you face, no matter how insignificant you believe they seem (in comparison to somebody else’s), is worth sharing and clearing. No personal issue you face is ever considered trivial – your struggles in life are very much real and you can always seek help in fighting them.

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