Persepolis and the Danger of the Single Story

Various accounts, whether non-fictional or fictional, collective or objective, are meant to come together to form collective significant--a multifaceted story. It is dangerous just to listen to one account when so many exist. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie notes, "I've always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar." One-sided arguments, memories, and accounts are harmful and altogether poisonous if listened to and accepted exclusively. Therefore, it is always invaluable to hear a second story (or a third or a fourth, etc.) which offers a new perspective, introduces a different idea, or argues against the first.

In Performing Democracy in Iraq and South Africa, Fadwa Laroui, a mother whose story was covered by reporters solely as an oppressed woman who lit herself on fire as an act of protest. Laroui’s act of protest called for justice and liberation. Her story, although misrepresented by the reporters, bears significance because she showed resistance against her oppressors, her actions speaking courage, and empowering women like her who face the same injustices. Dr. Kimberly Segall writes, "These voices beckon us toward public remembrance, awareness, perhaps even change” (211). The story of Laroui shows how dangerous, yet necessary protest is to changing corrupt systems or oppressive authorities. It reminds us to never give ear to just one individual, a single account.

I really enjoyed Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel, Persepolis because of its unique female perspective. A work narrated by a girl/young woman in a patriarchal society, Persepolis offers a counter-story to the dominant single-story of the oppressed Muslim woman. Although it was hard to fully comprehend the social-political environment surrounding the protagonist, Marjane, it was easy to identify the injustice produced by a complex power struggle. Too often, Westerners assume that Muslim women are not only oppressed, but docile and submissive in silence. However, in the book Muslim women like Marjane (herself included) speak up against injustice. Marjean's mother speaks out against a man's verbally abusive comments, protesting, “They insulted me. They said that women like me should be pushed up against a walk and f***** and then thrown in the garbage.” Satrapi forces her readers into Marjean and her mother's positions, asking us to extend our imagination as a bridge from our own experience and asks us to not view Muslim women as mono-faceted and solely oppressed. We are reminded through Satrapi's narration that social and political power struggles are always more complicated than we stereotype them to be, just like the individuals who remain subject to them.


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