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Reading Persepolis: Defining and Redefining Culture, Gender and Genre

The cultures of the Middle East are some of the most notoriously misunderstood in America; my students are living proof of this when they make comments such as, “He was wearing a turban so he clearly is a terrorist.” It is my goal to create a unit in which students will not only understand the history and culture of a far-away land but also that they will be able to internalize and apply these concepts to their own lives, by expanding understanding of their own identities. Embedded within this unit, students will find access to the discussions about what generically constitutes Literature as well as how gender, narrative and culture are constructed.

Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is a graphic novel bildungsroman set during the years prior to and following the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The use of Satrapi’s graphic novel in this unit enables students to look at the culture and history of Iran, the culture of women and Islam in the Middle East and the generic form of the graphic novel simultaneously.

The graphic novel Persepolis is an exemplary tool for teaching history and literature. This unit is designed for a 9th grade Honors Literature elective course, but is adaptable for all high school grades. The focus of this unit is three-fold: development of historical background knowledge as well as defining of key concepts and terms; understanding the necessity for clear comprehension of the events in the novel, specifically in relation to analysis of plot and characterization; and prompting students to question their own identities and notions of culture, gender and genre.

These three facets create an informed and nuanced understanding of the multitude of disciplines in which Persepolis offers insight. The activities and assignments in this unit are designed to extend the ideas from the book to the students personally, by encouraging text to self connections.

Tara Ann Carter
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