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Political repression is a theme that transverses across the two novels including Chinua’s Things Fall Apart and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. Though the political repression is caused by different players in the two accounts, the reaction of the main characters in the two novels to the political oppression is both similar and distinct in several ways. The similarities in the response of the two main characters; Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart and Marjane in Persepolis can be attributed to the resemblance in the political regimes affecting them. On the other hand, the contrast in the reaction is reduced to the individual attributes of both characters; who due to the different contexts they were placed, exhibit significant variations in their personalities. This paper seeks to explore the theme of political repression in both novels whilst comparing the reactions of Okonkwo and Marjane to the situation.
The political situation in Okonkwo’s community prior to the coming of the British is depicted by Chinua as peaceful and organized with a well-developed society characterized by patriarchs and democrats. The situation in Iran prior to the civil unrest is also similar. Following the intrusion of Ghana by the British, chaos erupts and Okonkwo is faced with the choice of either joining his tribesmen in collaboration with the colonists of secluding himself into resistance. The former was not an option for Okonkwo (Achebe, 2010). Similarly, Marjane also had the choice of supporting the Islamist revolution, but instead opted to revolt against the Islamic fundamentalists arguing that the Arabs drew the first sword on the Persians.
Chinua recounts the events that led to Okonkwo committing suicide after several failed attempts to rally his kinsmen into battle with the British. After years in exile in Mbanta, he returns home only to find his son converted into Christianity and is filled with rage (Achebe, 2010). After several attempts on the British, first a failed negotiation followed by an unsuccessful attempt to plan aggression, Okonkwo finally yields to political regression brought about by the British colonists and ultimately commits suicide. This is after committing murder and further understanding that he stood no chance of winning the war against the colonists.
As opposed to Okonkwo’s final decision, Marjane is forced into a more modest resolution following her revolutionary theatrics. Marjane was ten by the time the perpetuators of the cultural evolution in Iran created chaos. The narrative of Persepolis is marred by both rejections and support for the Islamic revolution. At some points in the book, Marjane is forced to pretend and lie that she prays as required by Islamic religion and even wears the veil to avoid a similar type of assault as the one faced by her mother. Marjane supports the war because she believe it was the Arabs who had forced their religion and culture on the Persians. Marjane is steady in her rebellious ways just as Okonkwo was, and her life too is in danger. However, unlike Okonkwo’s who decided to stay and die in his motherland, Marjane is forced to leave by the Satrapis. She attends a French school in Australia following her ejection from her initial school due to confrontation with one of her teachers (Satrapi, 2007).
Despite his heroics and previous successes in their community, Okonkwo’s attribute of range gets the better of him upon realizing that he cannot defeat the British colonists. Same to Marjane whose life is put in danger following her opinionated actions and statements against the Islamic regime, she is also faced with a similar predicament as Okonkwo; that of failure. While faced with the same predicament, the two characters react differently. The difference in their reaction can be based on the variation in their characters. While Okonkwo is steadfast, quick to anger and proud, he ends up commenting suicide since he cannot bear the pain and shame of losing to the British invaders. On the other hand, Marjane ends up fleeing the country to avoid an attempt on her life following her confrontation with her teacher.
This is highly significant because Marjane’s escape can be interpreted to signify the presence of home among her people while Okonkwo’s suicide is as a result of lack of hope for a better future. The two situations facing the characters is uniquely different; while the British was mainly a tyrant force aiming at completely dominating Ghana, the Islamic fundamentalist were merely aiming at restoring then Islamic culture in Iran from what they perceived as from foreign influence. As such, the situation facing Okonkwo did not any leave room for hope hence Okonkwo’s final decision to commit suicide.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor Books, 2010. Internet resource.
Satrapi, Marjane. The Complete Persepolis. New York: Pantheon Books, 2007.