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Summary: The Convocation

It’s September of 1989, and Marji is a student again, as is Reza. Men and women are both enrolled, but great efforts are made to keep the sexes physically separated as they study—efforts which, Marji points out, can only go so far. Reza decides that it’s too risky to let anyone at school know they are a couple. On the first day of classes, Marji, who is studying art, attends a lecture and notes that the “Islamic Republic” hasn’t done anything to curb the longstanding Iranian practice of claiming that the best aspects of Islamic culture resulted from Persian influences. At lunch, Marji likes her fellow female students, although she gets irritated when they start commenting on how good-looking Reza is (unaware that he and Marji are a couple). 

One student tells Marji that she can tell that Marji lived abroad because she wears her maghnaeh (hooded head-scarf) like a “beginner.” This leads to a discussion of how, even though the veil exists to hide women, you can tell a lot about a woman—her shape, how she wears her hair, even her politics—by how she chooses to wear her veil. That evening, Marji is given a gift of a comfortable cotton head-scarf by her grandmother, who had not spoken to Marji since the incident when Marji falsely accused a man of propositioning her. 

The next week, Marji is tricked into admitting that she and Reza are a couple to her female student friends. All students must attend a convocation where they are lectured on “moral and religious conduct,” including instructions on the proper wearing of head-scarves and women being told that wearing pants is indecent. Marji rises and points out that the restrictive rules make it difficult for female art students to move freely when they draw and points out the hypocrisy of women being prohibited from wearing even loose, form-hiding pants while men can wear tight pants that show “everything.” Marji asks, “Is religion defending our physical integrity or just opposed to fashion?” Much to her surprise, the school asks her to design attire for women that will allow them to move freely while also covering up their bodies. This gives Marji a much-needed boost in self-esteem and leads to the rift between Marji and her grandmother finally being fully healed.

Summary: The Socks

Marji and her fellow art students face other difficulties in their studies, including that they aren’t allowed to draw nudes, or the absurdity that females aren’t supposed to look at the male models they are drawing. The repressiveness of the regime outside the school continues to take a toll on Marji as well. She spends an entire day under interrogation because a guardian spots her wearing red socks. Another day, as Marji hurries to catch a bus, guardians stop her saying that running makes her behind look “obscene.” Marji’s response is to yell, “Well, then don’t look at my ass!” Such open defiance of the authorities is rare from people Marji’s age. Since so many high school and college students were arrested, imprisoned, and even executed by the regime in the past, Marji’s contemporaries are now naturally reluctant to be seen as political.

Marji finds herself shunned by half of her fellow female art students after it is revealed that she takes birth control pills. Happily for Marji, the other half are increasingly willing to hang out in one another’s houses—both to pursue their art and to party. But even in their own homes they are subject to raids, arrest, and fines that their parents are obliged to pay. Thus, one must have the financial resources to party. During the follow-up to the raid on one of Marji’s group’s parties, a friend, Farzad, dies when he falls off a rooftop while evading the authorities. Once again, group members are arrested and subjected to fines. This proves too much for Reza, who vows to stop going to parties. Marji and some of her friends have the opposite reaction, however. The next night they hold a party in Farzad’s honor, and Marji has more to drink than she ever has in her life.

Analysis: The Convocation–The Socks

Satrapi delves into the theme of gender and oppression, this time in the context of Marji’s educational and artistic experience. She offers a touch of irony when she shows that the separation of men and women does not keep them from flirting and discussing each other’s appearance. In fact, the separation only makes it clear that the regime’s rules are not as effective as they are intended to be. Meanwhile, the director’s goal at the lecture seems less likely to be honoring the martyrs than to control women. When Marji questions the enforcement of additional modesty standards, her strong will puts her in jeopardy with the Islamic Commission. In a stroke of luck, she faces the same truly religious man who passed her on the ideological test after the lecture. While her previous outbursts resulted in the loss of her living arrangements, this time Marji is rewarded with a task to design new uniforms. This reveals that the man is willing to treat Marji like a human being rather than a woman to be kept out of sight. Though Satrapi shares instances like drawing the anatomy of a fully draped figure, a ban on red socks, and the prohibition against running with a healthy dose of humor and absurdity, she adeptly illustrates that oppression by the fundamentalist regime affects daily life for Iranian women in ways large and small.

The graphic memoir explores the idea of authenticity by showing the differences between public and private behavior. Public behavior is tightly monitored and controlled, but private behavior is a different story. Wearing makeup, listening to music, removing the veil, dressing in Western clothing, and gathering to practice figure drawing outside of school all serve as means of expression and rebellion. Marji realizes that the regime uses distraction and fear to keep people, especially women, in line. She also knows that the media’s view of her country plays much differently than the reality behind closed doors. For Marji and her like-minded friends, throwing parties and laughing are private acts of defiance. They act just appropriately enough in public so they can get by, and they survive authentically as themselves in private. This authenticity creates connection for Marji. While she spent so much time trying to discover her identity, now she attracts friends by being herself. Being shunned by half of her class because they think she’s too sexually permissive hardly stings when a small group of like-minded liberal women rally as her friends. As the images reveal, the group of friends grows. Marji finally finds a community in a restrictive country through her honesty and authenticity and by balancing public and private lives.