Recently, I watched the animated movie “Persepolis”, the screening of the autobiographic graphic novel of the same name by Persian novelist Marjan Satrapi, which I had read a few years ago.
In line with a well-portrayed political situation and historical events occurring in the wartime Iran, an interesting depiction in “Perespolis”, was the formation and alteration of Marji’s, the protagonist’s, identity in the context of historical events. The fact that the story is told by Marji, like a memoir, makes the identity development process even more vivid. One can see her feelings, thoughts and views; as a child, as a teenager and as an adult.
When watching the movie, I couldn’t help drawing parallels with another wartime memoir, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, which I had re-read this summer. The latter is also written from the perspective of a little Jewish girl during the time of the Holocaust. Although Anne Frank wrote from the annex where their family was hidden, whereas Marji was an active participant of all the events, in both cases the formation of a young girl’s identity is represented in the shadow of social-political conflicts and wars.
When the story begins, Marji is a kid without a developed sense of identity. Every word that she hears is rapidly internalized. For instance, when Marji hears her parents complaining about the Shah, she claims to like the Shah as her teacher told her that everything the Shah does is for the prosperity of the country. However, when she is told the story of her grandfather and uncle being in prison for communistic views, Marji feels proud and starts to protest identifying as a communist, revolutionary. In this case, one can see how a child’s identity is “shaped” and affected by the external environment.
Spending her adolescence, an essential developmental period, in Austria, experiencing and studying Western thought, her identity is enriched with new values and, at some point, she feels as though she is losing her identity (e.g. when in a bar, she tells one boy that she is French). This showed the way that one’s identity can be extended like a rhizome.
Similarly, in The Diary of a Young Girl, when the story begins, Anne Frank is a careless child. The things that she cares about are rather typical; her school friends, the ways she is perceived by them and her opinions concerning others- one cannot see any identity talk in her writings. When the story proceeds though, the persecution of Jews by the Nazi Germans begins. Anne has to go into hiding with her family. Here is when her identity starts to form and Anne is perfectly aware of it.
She, like Marji, is spending her adolescent in the secret annex and, just like Marji in Vienna, she tends to kill time and find consolation in avid reading and self-education. In this way, she forms views and opinions about pretty much everything, develops a character and reviews her relationships with her family members. She goes through puberty and falls in love with the only teenage guy in their annex- love, despair, heart-beating. Although in a very restricted environment, one can see Anne going through the same transformation that Marji goes through in Austria and, in both cases, it is backed up by war, discrimination and struggling.
Marji’s final identity transformation occurs when she returns to Iran after the revolution. Coming back expecting to get rid of the feeling of alienation, she finds herself even more isolated and lost. Iran is revolutionized; the rules, values, people have changed, anything Western is considered inacceptable. Besides, Marji herself has changed, so, she undergoes another identity crisis. This illustrates the way that not only one’s identity is variable but cultural identities can also shift depending on the historical events.
Anne’s identity formation, on the other hand, is not finalized. She dies with thousands of other Jews in a concentration camp. Yet throughout the story the identity and character of Anne are altered, enriched and matured so much that one does not have a feeling of incompleteness after finishing the memoir
Anyways, After watching the movie and drawing the parallels, the concept of identity seemed even more controversial to me: can there be a shared experience/identity after all? Maybe the unification against, or, for something are the things that create the illusion of a shared identity?