In Persepolis, the powerful graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, and Animal Farm, George Orwell’s eternal satirical fable, both authors use their books to tell stories of the oppression and manipulation of powerful states. Their approach to this similar theme is, however, entirely different. Satrapi’sfirst person narrative employs simplistic diction and black and white comic strips to tell the tale of a childhood amongst the horrors of “revolution. ” In contrast, Orwell’s third person omniscient fable takes the reader to his fantastical farm using symbolism and clever allegorical tools.
From India to Spain, George Orwell observed the horror that accompanies humanity, and sought to educate what he perceived as a naive population by writing in a simple, familiar, format; a fable. By writing Animal Farm as a fable, Orwell could openly attack the powerful Soviet state by disguising his tale as a simple story. However, a fable also has more literary implications. Simpler, and easier to read than a traditional history book or intellectual analysis, Animal Farm could reach a broader audience and spread Orwell’s message of skepticism and his warning regarding totalitarian power.
A fable also inevitably ends with a moral, and to the animals’ horror, whenAnimal Farm ends, the pigs and humans are no longer distinguishable, and it becomes clear that the revolution and theFarm have failed. In connection to his fable, Orwell also utilized clever allegorical tools to describe the Russian Revolution. From the admirable to the devious, every fictional character in Animal Farm represents an historical figure or group. “Napoleon was a large, rather fierce-looking Berkshire boar, the only Berkshire on the farm, not much of a talker, but with a reputation for getting his own way” (Orwell 35).
Napoleon, the aggressive, manipulative pig who eventually leads the Farm astray, represents none other than Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Both Napoleon and Stalin had different backgrounds than their comrades, Napoleon being the only Berkshire on the farm, and Stalin being born in Georgia, and neither were known for their oratory skills. But most strikingly, and perhaps most frightening, are the manipulative and power-hungry qualities these two possess. Orwell sought to expose the true nature of Stalin, who many saw as a brave leader who had stood up to the likes of Hitler.
But behind the brave, progressive exterior of the Soviet Union, Stalin was killing his own people and neglecting those who weren’t killed. To accomplish his objective of exposing the true nature of Stalin, Orwell used Napoleon to show just how destructive one person could be, and to demonstrate the extent to which corruption can poison the best of intentions. In contrast to Napoleon’s evil, Boxer the horse, “an enormous beast” (Orwell 36) “and the admiration of everybody” represents the working class of Russia.
Hard-working, selfless, but ultimately the victim of Napoleon and the pigs’ manipulation and greed, Boxer stood as a symbol of hope and determination to all on the farm. In the end though, his lack of education and intelligence lead to his downfall, just as the working class in Russia was betrayed by Stalin. Using these allegories and many more, Orwell showed just how powerful and oppressive a government could become, and effectively warned the world about the dangers of complacency.
While George Orwell observed and described the horrors that follow oppression, Marjane Satrapi grew up experiencing them. Like Orwell, Satrapi forwent traditional political commentary to spread her message, but she achieved this end using entirely different means. Seeking a personal story with more emotional impact, Satrapi tells her story just as she experienced it; through the eyes of a child, surrounded by danger but still seeking fun and rebelling at every turn.
To put the reader into this unique perspective, Satrapi uses childish diction, as well as simple but powerful black and white comic strips. From the very first line of the book, “This is me when I was 10 years old. This was in 1980” (Satrapi 3) Satrapi leaves behind complex story-telling and instead shows the reader her life through her own voice when she was a young woman. In addition to telling her story through her own voice, Satrapishows the reader the story through her own eyes.
Satrapi’s black and white comic strips, which often include slightly twisted images, help show how dysfunctional and colorless her childhood was. Growing up in Iran during the Iranian Revolution, Satrapi saw firsthand many of the same issues that George Orwell portrayed in Animal Farm: the promises broken by revolutionaries, the swift takeover by extremists, and having things ending worse than they started. By using such an innocent and relatable voice in conjunction with black and white comic strips, Satrapi is able to tell her story from her own perspective with breathtaking results.
While both Animal Farm and Persepolis discuss the rise of absolute power and oppressive nature of powerful states, Orwell uses a fable in order to present his theme as a “moral of the story,” and uses allegorical tools like characters to reveal true nature of the Russian Revolution and the people involved. In contrast, Satrapi employed a historical narrative of the Iranian Revolution, and used a child’s voice and illustrations to show a more personal and emotional presentation of the same theme.