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Teaching the Islamic Revolution with Persepolis

Rally marking the 40th anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution

Click to Enlarge Teaching the Islamic Revolution with Persepolis

This February marked the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. The 1978–1979 revolution overthrew Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, a staunch U.S. ally, and replaced his secular dictatorship with a conservative Shiite Islamic regime led by the religious cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, forever changing U.S. relations with Iran.

History is all about stories, and there are many stories behind every event in history. The last 40 years have brought many books, films, and articles inspired by the revolution as people outside and within Iranian culture attempt to understand these events and their aftermath. In her graphic novel, The Complete Persepolis, Iranian author Marjane Satrapi tells the story of a person who grew up in Iran during the revolution, giving readers a keyhole through which to focus on not only her story but the wider impact of the revolution on Iranian people.

Using deceptively simple black-and-white illustrations and engaging dialogue, Satrapi's work provides an opportunity to deepen classroom discussion around religion, gender issues, politics, and Iranian culture. Equally important is that it offers students a platform to understand tolerance and have conversations about how representation and education impact perceptions of other cultures and traditions. Critics have highlighted its subjectivity (it is a memoir, after all) and there has been some controversy for graphic images and language; but educators have responded that these elements, when handled thoughtfully and with historical context, also open the door to necessary conversations about social justice and how stereotypes can influence understanding. Persepolis is an example of how graphic novels can tackle difficult subjects, humanize histories, and bring students closer to cultures and lifeways that might feel worlds away from their own—and make them relevant.

Use our Literature Connections resources to support you in bringing this graphic novel into the classroom and library. Literature Connections provide readers with context to understand literature against the backdrop of foundational historical events, like the Islamic Revolution. This one is organized around the Key Question, "What does Persepolis tell us about the changes to Iranian society and culture following the 1979 Islamic Revolution?" The Background Essay prepares students to enter the world of Persepolis and helps them make connections between history and the narrative. Scholar-written perspective essays guide readers through major themes in the book, including how the revolution impacted women, how people responded to government rule, and the conflicting views of Iran.

Fatima Policarpo
Fatima Policarpo is a senior writer and editor at ABC-CLIO. She received her MA in Literature from New York University and her BA in Literature from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She has taught college-level literature and writing with an emphasis on human rights education, and edited several academic literary journals, including Spectrum and Anamesa. She writes on history topics as well as on literature.

Entry ID: 2194354

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