Identity and Self in “Persepolis” and “Metamorphosis”

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The idea of identity and self is a critical element in human life as it helps to distinguish a person from others. It thus plays a significant role of defining us as unique subjects of society by displaying our distinguishing sense of identity as a social comparison. Certainly, our sense of identity and self is defined by our immediate society, the people we grow around with, and the social culture. It is thus through the context and lens of the society around us that we develop our sense of identity and self (Young, p. 16). Literature and art plays a huge role in our society as it helps to reflect the society we live in, its culture, and our idea of self and identity. In the novel Persepolis by Marjane Satrap and Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, the theme of identity and self are well exemplified through the characters and setting. This paper seeks to critically analyze the literature in Persepolis and Metamorphosis by delving on the idea of the theme of identity and self.

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The theme of personal identity as portrayed in Metamorphosis is demonstrated by Gregor when he transformed. However, he depicts a complete disconnect between his body and mind, and he tries to touch his body but he can hardly notice his physical transformation. We appreciate that Gregor has sacrificed his sense of personal identity by ignoring is needs and wants and living only for others (Kafka, p. 14). This drives him to the state of alienation when he is locked alone in a room trying to re-build the identity he lost with himself for the sake of others. Although he transforms through alienation, Gregor is still a captive of others as he still finds himself going out of his way to seek the pleasure of others at the expense of his own happiness, contentment, and pleasure. He is afraid of inconveniencing the members of his family and is thus caught up in the web of self denial and self to serve his family (Kafka, p. 18). This shows that the identity of Gregor is interlocked in his family which he has to serve as a way of feeding his sense of self and signifying his identity. It is thus to his resentment for his family that Gregor blinds himself to his self-identity.

On the other hand, Persepolis is an autobiographically written novel that narrates about Satrapi life that was significantly punctuated by war and revolution in Iran. It most importantly, offers a recap of Satrapi’s childhood experiences by dealing with the idea of politics, religion and morality, all of which interacted to influence her personal identity at childhood. Her experience as a child is linked to the Iranian social and political transformations (Satrapi, p. 24). However, her adolescent years are Austria creates a difficulty in her personal identity. Being perceived and confused either as to whether she is Iranian in the West or a Western in Iran causes a lack of identity in Satrapi. This signifies the lack and confusion of identity and self in Satrapi.

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Just like in Metamorphosis where Gregor’s loss of personal identity is lost in sacrificing his needs and wants for the sake of serving his family, the lack of Satrapi’s personal identity in Persepolis is influenced by the society she lives in. This shows that our sense of identity and sense is only as relevant as when it is viewed in the context of the people and the society we live in such as the Iranian perception in the West in the case of Satrapi and Gregor’s resentment to his family (Tajfel, p. 32). While Satrapi’s idea of identity is inclined to her cultural identity, either as an Iranian or a Westerner, Gregor’s idea and sense of identity is inclined to his family.

Although Gregor’s identity is embedded in his family which denies him the expression of self, he is finally able to find it when he separates from his family. This gives him the opportunity to convince himself of the truth- that his family is hindering the expression of his own self identity. The truth that his family is providing bondage of his sense of identity and is neglecting him hits him, but his journey to search his identity is somehow hapless (Kafka, p. 23) either because his ties to the family is so intimate or because, in the first place, he never had his own personal identity. However, Gregor finds his humanity towards the end of the narration when the sound of the violin played by his sister reminds him about the love he has for his family. Convincingly, it is through his newly found freedom combined with love that Gregor gains a sense of his own self identity.

The tension between the present and the past is the cause of lack of Satrapi’s own identity. On the other hand, it is through her relationship with the parents that Satrapi is able to relate to her identity in the context of the wide world and most importantly, he country. Throughout the novel, Satrapi’s growth and expression of her identity as a person is shown to be embedded in the love and conflicts she experience in her family (Satrapi, p. 16). The relationship between her and her father and mother although tender, is also filled with tension. Her parents seek to give her a tender upbringing by providing her with the best of life’s privileges and education. However, Satrapi eventually breaks from her parents’ wing of care to seek her freedom. This eventual break gives her the opportunity to raise her own identity that is not held by the tentacles of the culture and country that raised her.

It is thus important to point out that Satrapi portrays her endurance during the Islamic revolution in Iran that changed her state of living, her opinions, and powerful emotions. This supports the argument that we are subjects of the society we live in and our expression of our personal identity is influenced by the culture of our society and those we live around (Satrapi, p. 27). This is the same implication that has been evidently displayed in Gregor’s life. While class and cultural disparities causes a sense of dissonance in Satrapi’s identity and own life, familiar resentment causes dissonance in Gregor’s identity and sense of self in his own life.

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In conclusion, we must appreciate that our sense of identity and self is usually subject to the social identity and the relationship we foster with the society and those around us. However, these attachments can sometimes act as hindrances in the expression of our own sense of identity. In reference to the novels Persepolis and Metamorphosis, both Satrapi and Gregor are held captive of the society and the people they live with. This hinders them from expressing their personal identity, and despite their will to pursue their self-identity, they find themselves entrapped in the societal and familial ties. However, both of them are able to break away to seek and search their self-identity. This shows that although our identity is tied to our families, culture, and society, it is only by breaking away from them that we find our freedom that determines the expression of our sense of identity and self.

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  1. Kafka, Franz, The Metamorphosis, Kurt Wolff Verlag, Leipzig, 1915. Print.
  2. Satrapi, Marjane, Persepolis, London, Vintage Books, 2008. Print.
  3. Tajfel, Henri, Social identity and intergroup relations. Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  4. Young, Marion, Albany, Five Faces of Oppression, State University of New York Press, 2014.
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