(Re)Locating the Subject and Verb: How Graphic Elements in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis Replace and Enhance Its Linguistic Components

Casey Henderson


In the 1930s and ’40s, a surge of criticism against comic books was triggered by the fear that comic books would lead to the loss of traditional literacy, including the focus on plain text, the act of reading from left to right, and the misleading perception that “traditional” literature addressed acceptable, non-controversial subject matter, whereas comic books did not. Critics, such as the late psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, blamed comic books for illiteracy and juvenile delinquent behavior. This criticism extended to graphic novels as they emerged. However, more recent research shows that the combination of drawn images with speech, thought, and narrative text has led to the creation of a new “literary” standard that is inclusive of a separate yet valid form of literature that draws on principles underlying both visual aesthetics as well as plain texts. Using photographic fundamentals such as the rule of thirds, the way the eye travels across an image, and the composition of a subject within a photographic frame, this paper will analyze how the visual portions of Persepolis replace and enhance textual linguistic information. Further, my analysis of black-and-white illustrations in Persepolis will allow me to draw conclusions that I will apply to the larger context of how the graphic novel removes both the author’s and the reader’s biases regarding the presentation of the story and the reception and interpretation of the story, respectively. Furthermore, my analysis of Persepolis will be framed within the larger thesis that an understanding of the ways in which graphic novels/comic texts operate and how they impact readers in ways distinct from plain texts will lead to their greater acceptance and status in the literary canon.


Persepolis; graphic novels; linguistic replacement

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