Betty Mahmoody and Marjane Satrapi Term Paper

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¶ … Betty Mahmoody and Marjane Satrapi

There are many perspectives from which a certain issue can be looked at. This is true especially when considering a sensitive subject such as the image of a nation or that of a cultural and political structure. Betty Mahmoody and Marjane Satrpi are two well-known writers who dealt with the issue of the Iranian society, each in her own way; while adopting two different perspectives, they both managed to portray and describe the society as a whole, the role of women, and the general atmosphere in the country by revealing two distinct and sometimes even opposed realities. However, this is justified by the personal approach of the two writers who perceived the information through their own experiences related to Iran. Thus, Betty Mahmoody, because of her tragic experience in Tehran, she gives a rather negative description of the society; on the other hand, however, Satrapi, although she had experienced regime change and the first years of the Ian-Iraq war, she offers a more tolerant portrayal of the social realities in Iran, thus trying to counter the negative aspects that are so vehemently presented about her country. Even so, taking these two perspectives into consideration, it may be argued that, indeed, there are different ways of perceiving the realities of a certain country and making use of personal means of conveying a message, the two writers offer distinct depictions of the same nation.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Betty Mahmoody was up until the release of her acclaimed book, "Not without my daughter" in 1987, a Michigan housewife, married to an Iranian doctor. Her story however begins with the decision to take a two-week holiday to Iran to her husband's family. Here, she and her four-year-old daughter experience tragic events, as they kept by force in the Iranian capital by her husband and his family, preventing them from leaving the country. Throughout this ordeal, she discovers the differences existing between the Iranian and American societies; finally, when after eighteen months she manages to escape, she decides to let the world know of her experience and her perspective on the Iranian society. From this point-of-view the book is largely seen as "a riveting inside look at everyday life in the Ayatollah Khomeini's revolutionary paradise." (McAlister, 162) Mahmoody's goal in writing this book was, as she has stated on different occasions, to make Americans aware of their freedom: "We have so much freedom. I want people to read this story and appreciate their freedom. When they see the American flag or the Statue of Liberty, I want those things to mean to everyone what they now mean to me."

Marjane Satrapi's literary creation is rather more different from that of Betty Mahmoody's. Her personal background put its toll on the overall story of the writer. Thus, her Iranian origin and her life until the age of fourteen under the Iranian political nfluence made her adopt a different perspective and aim for her writings. Therefore, as she pointed out herself in the Introduction of her novel "Persepolis," the reason for writing it was to make people aware of the cultural heritage of her nation and to somehow reduce the negative impressions of most westerners about the Iranian society: "I believe that an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoing of a few extremists. I also don't want those Iranians who lost their lives in prisons defending freedom who died in the war against Iraq, who suffered under various oppressive regimes, or who were forced to leave their families and flee their homeland to be forgotten. One can forgive but one should never forget." (Satrapi, Introduction)

The two writers, despite the fact that they see their experiences in Iran from different perspectives, they tend to address the same issues, each in her turn reaching though different conclusions. On the one hand, Betty Mahmoody deals with the issue of being both a woman in a country that is openly advocating women submissiveness and an American during the mid-80's, as "unquestionably, an American woman living in Iran in this period would have found herself subject both to her own sense of cultural disjuncture and to condemnation by patriotic Iranians." (McAlister 163)

She is very detailed and critical in describing the situation of women in the Iranian society. From the very start of the book she notices the submitted attitude of women towards their husbands, therefore pointing out the difference form the rest of Western civilization, a distinction that would be present throughout the book. "I knew that women in Iran were required to keep their arms legs and foreheads covered, but I was surprised to see that all of the women airport employees as well as most of the female passengers were wrapped almost completely in what Moody told me were chadors. (...) I marveled at the power their society and their religion held over them. There were other garments available to fulfill the harsh requirements of the dress code, but these Moslem women chose to wear the chador on top of everything else, despite the oppressive heat. (Mahmoody, 5)

Another element that lies in opposition to the traditional way of viewing the role and achievements of women, Mahmoody is clear to point out, is the housekeeping abilities of Iranians. When forced to stay in her husband's family home, she disgustedly notes the lack of cleanness and therefore "Mahmoody seems convinced that the real horror of Iran and the bankruptcy of Islam are signified less by Iranian women's restricted lives than by their domestic failures." (McAlister 163) She considers this failure as imposed rather than the "freely chosen subordination" of the American wives. (McAlister 165) This perspective offers the distinction between what Western traditions are in regard to domestic obedience and those in religiously-based societies such as the Iranian one, in which "Iranian women were slaves to their husbands, their religion as well as their government coerced them at every turn; in her account, the political nature of Islam creates a particular gender ideology which insists that women are limited of their private sphere, the servants of men" (McAlister 163)

Yet another distinction made by Mahmoody was the actual state of the country under an oppressive and restrictive political rule. Throughout the book she gives detailed examples of the poor living conditions as she pains a rather grim image of the Iranians. For instance, she describes one of the first experiences on Iranian soil, as her daughter tried to use a toilet in the Tehran airport: "We peered around in the darkened room, looking for a toilet, but all we could find was a hole in the cement floor surrounded by a flat, oval shaped slab of porcelain. The floor was littered with fly infested piles where people had either missed or ignored the hole." (Mahmoody, 6) This came to point out the inferior state of the society, a perspective that would be developed throughout the book.

On the other hand, Satrapi's perspective is more tolerant and sees the Iranian society from a different angle. As she herself admitted, "I am a pacifist. I believe there are ways to solve the world's problems. Instead of putting all this money to create arms, I think countries should invest in scholarships for kids to study abroad. Perhaps they could become good and knowledgeable professors in their own countries. You need time for that kind of change though." (Satrapi, 2006) In discussing the matter of the negative image that surrounds Iran, she agrees that "the revolution was normal, and it had to happen; unfortunately, it happened in a country where people were very traditional, and other countries only saw the religious fanatics who made their response public." (Satrapi, 2006) Therefore, through her novel, although she did address the current issues that are of controversy in the Iranian society, she did try to suggest valuable explanations. Indeed, she admitted that "the basic problem of a country like mine, apart from the regime, apart from the government, is the patriarchal culture that is leading my country. That is the worst. That is why the government is still there. Whatever it touches, it gives its interpretation of the thing" (Tully, 2004); however, she rejected the stereotype of traditional society, because "by inviting outsiders into this intimate world, Satrapi makes contemporary Iran seem both less foreign and more terrifying. The life she draws -- with her cosmopolitan, politically engaged parents, her adolescent obsession with punk rock, her search for solace in books and boyfriends -- is typical of well-off, precocious city kids everywhere. Divorce is not considered something terrible in Iran. In Tehran, actually, one couple out of two gets a divorce." (Goldberg, 2005)

In order to transmit their messages, the two writers use different versions of writing a novel, each of them however choosing the one best suited to express their views and perspective on the subject. On the one hand, Betty Mahmoody wrote a traditional factual-based story which chronologically depicts her tragic experience as she and her daughter… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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