Literature Connections
Teaching the Islamic Revolution with Persepolis

Historically-based literature provides an opportunity to spread collaborative tidings from the library across subject areas, showcasing the integral role of the library to to social studies and English teachers alike. Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel The Complete Persepolis, centered around the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, can serve as a model for this kind of interdepartmental teamwork.

The 1978–1979 revolution overthrew Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, a staunch U.S. ally, and replaced his secular dictatorship with a conservative Shiite Islamic regime led by the religious cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, forever changing U.S. relations with Iran. In The Complete Persepolis, Satrapi tells the story of a person who grew up in Iran during the revolution, giving readers a keyhole through which to focus on not only her story but the wider impact of the revolution on Iranian people.

Using deceptively simple black-and-white illustrations and engaging dialogue, Satrapi's work provides an opportunity to deepen student discussion around religion, gender issues, politics, and Iranian culture. Equally important is that it offers students a platform to understand tolerance and have conversations about how representation and education impact perceptions of other cultures and traditions. Critics have highlighted its subjectivity (it is a memoir, after all) and there has been some controversy for graphic images and language; but educators have responded that these elements, when handled thoughtfully and with historical context, also open the door to necessary conversations about social justice and how stereotypes can influence understanding. Persepolis is an example of how graphic novels can tackle difficult subjects, humanize histories, and bring students closer to cultures and lifeways that might feel worlds away from their own—and make them relevant.

Use the accompanying instruction ideas and background resources to support your collaboration with classroom teachers around The Complete Persepolis. The Perspectives essays from ABC-CLIO's World History: The Modern Era database provide a structured way for students to conduct self-directed reseach to help them understand literature against the backdrop of foundational historical events, like the Islamic Revolution. This one is organized around the Key Question, "What does Persepolis tell us about the changes to Iranian society and culture following the 1979 Islamic Revolution?" The Background Essay prepares students to enter the world of Persepolis and helps them make connections between history and the narrative. Scholar-written perspective essays guide readers through major themes in the book, including how the revolution impacted women, how people responded to government rule, and the conflicting views of Iran. Leverage these resources to facilitate a curriculuar collaboration with English and history teachers in your school to deepen students' experience with this powerful graphic novel.

Fatima Policarpo

MLA Citation "Teaching the Islamic Revolution with Persepolis." School Library Connection, February 2020,

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Entry ID: 2197987

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