by Jamie Crow
In any English class that I take, my final paper normally focuses on a close reading of a text or texts and analyzing the texts for a deeper meaning. Oftentimes, this method does not offer me a lot of time to reflect on my personal journey with the reading or readings, and my writing sounds very impersonal because of this lack of time to reflect. For this paper, I have chosen to highlight pieces of my personal journey with three texts that inspired and challenged me for many different reasons, but I would like to highlight the power of perspectives in each of the novels. Susan Minot’s novel Thirty Girls shows the different perspectives of Jane and Esther, and the perspectives offer a heightened sense of the weight of the events of the novel. Thirty Girls also challenged me because of its content, as Jane is a journalist and I am a journalism major. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi also challenged me because of the novel’s content, because I have never read a graphic novel. Because Persepolis is a graphic novel, each vignette shows various characters’ perspectives, which makes the novel and the events of the novel more dynamic in nature. Finally, Christie Watson shows three different perspectives in her novel Where Women are Kings, and each perspective makes the complex situation of adoption more accessible and the perspectives show that each character has his or her own layer to add to the story. I focus on perspectives so much because I am a journalism major, and I strongly believe in showing every side to a story, and that in doing so stories become more dynamic and more valuable. These three texts show that power of perspective, and they show that power in a way that offers other challenges along the way.
The two perspectives of Jane and Esther in Thirty Girls both increase the weight of the events of the novel while simultaneously discussing privilege and power in their storytelling techniques, even if doing so implicitly. When readers bounce between Esther’s recovery from a significant trauma and Jane’s adventures in Africa, we see the different levels of privilege that each young woman is experiencing. Even the lengths of the chapters show a sense of power and privilege – where Jane oftentimes had upwards of twenty pages to have her story told, Esther was often limited to around seven pages. The lack of transitions between perspectives only does more to heighten this difference, and the fact that there are no transitions creates a stark contrast between experiences. Because of the contrast, I felt more inclined to listen to Esther’s compelling story than to listen to Jane’s lackluster experiences. I found myself getting angry with Jane because her main focus was on her enjoyment in her travels rather than on the work she was doing – or, at least, the work she was supposed to be doing. Being that I was moved by Esther’s story, I wanted so badly for Jane to arrive to tell it to the masses. As a journalism major, and as a hopeful future journalist, I found Jane’s actions to be appalling, self-sufficient, and littered with privilege. Jane had the power to tell Esther’s story to the masses and she just treated that privilege like it was nothing. Jane’s actions made me look inward at myself and how I would act in a similar position to Jane’s. While I am not at all claiming to be the *perfect* journalist, devoid of any biases or geographically limited mindset, I do know that I was inspired by the duality of perspectives and how they made me realize how important storytelling is to making a change. One would hope, and I especially would hope, that Jane’s interview with Esther would tell more of Esther’s story, but at the end of the novel readers do not get the chance to hear Jane’s account of Esther’s experiences. When I found out that Jane had not finished her story, Esther’s quote toward the beginning of the novel when she says “The journalists do not come” rang through my head as loud as an alarm (Minot 61). More than anything, stories deserve to be told, especially stories like Esther’s. To tell stories, though, the world needs good journalists who are going to both step up and show up, and Thirty Girls highlights that fact even more.
Marjane Satrapi’s novel Persepolis challenged my thinking in a similar fashion that Thirty Girls did. Where Thirty Girls challenged my own personal thought, Persepolis added another layer to the challenge through the graphic vignettes of the novel. In relaying her narrative, Marjane Satrapi offers various perspectives in each of the vignettes that highlight and strengthen the events of the story. These perspectives are not merely visible in the written text, as the images of the graphic novel make these perspectives more clearly seen. In providing images to accompany her story, Satrapi allows her readers to have a more clear vision of how all the characters are reacting to the events of the novel. The various perspectives are shown in the first vignette “The Veil” in the class photo and in the frame showing the school girls’ reactions to the veils. In the class photo, some girls seem content with their situations, while others show a look of contempt (Satrapi 3). In the frame showing the girls’ reactions to the veils, Satrapi shows one girl fighting for her veil back, another girl complaining about the heat while wearing the veil, and many other girls playing games with their veils (Satrapi 3). These different perspectives and reactions show that there were many different ways that girls took the news of having to wear the veils, and they highlight that all of the girls were not of the same mindset. In the vignette “The Trip,” readers are offered various perspectives on the restrictive events occurring in Iran, and each of the main character’s reactions to the events (Satrapi 72-79). Having never read a graphic novel, I went into the reading of Persepolis with the notion that the reading was going to be easy. What I found, however, was a work that both challenged me and enriched me in a way that I had never experienced. The reason I was able to see and focus on the various perspectives was because of the images. The images added an extra layer to the reading experience and they required me to look more closely at the events. While these perspectives could be offered in a written form, the effect would be very different. The images allow the reader to view facial expressions and body language, and while a written text could describe such nonverbal cues, I would argue that the inclusion of such descriptions would make the narrative messy and lessen the effects of having various perspectives. What the various perspectives showed me was the importance of not being limited to only the narrator’s voice when being delivered a story. In opening up the narrative voice, or the narrative drawings, to include not only the perspectives of children-turned-teenagers like Marjane and her friends, but also the perspectives of younger children, older children, and various adults with different views, Satrapi creates a chorus of perspectives. While not always harmonious, the various perspectives show just how dynamic the situations in Iran were, and they show that there are limitations when only having a single story.
The limitations of a single story are also clearly visible in the novel Where Women are Kings. Having the perspectives of Elijah, his birth mother, and his adopted mother, Nikki, shows readers every side of an incredibly complex story. The largest example of this complexity being shown every side is the question of whether or not Elijah should be with his birth mother. Adoption is a complicated and an emotional process, with all parties feeling many different emotions ranging from deep grief to joy. Elijah wants desperately to return to his birth mother, and if readers only had Elijah’s perspective on the subject, we would probably be hoping for his return to her as well. However, when we read his birth mother’s letters to him, we see that she has gone through a significant trauma and that having an adopted family might be the best thing for Elijah. For a woman like Nikki who had been waiting a very long time for a child of her own, adopting Elijah gave her a sense of euphoria. Following Elijah’s adoption, everything was going well from Nikki’s perspective. The way that Elijah was adapting to the transition exceeded Nikki’s expectations, and Nikki’s life improved overall, to the point where she became pregnant. While readers want to be happy for Nikki, we are also able to see that Elijah is trying his best to make Nikki happy, but he is also going through a very large transition and he is emotionally fragile, perhaps even unstable. When I saw the complexity of Elijah’s mental state, the way that Nikki simplified his emotions made me angry, and I just wanted her to try to understand Elijah better. However, because I was provided Nikki’s perspective on the situation, I was able to see why she would want to idealize her relationship with Elijah to the point where it became oversimplified. The dueling perspectives on the very complex situation are daunting and overwhelming, but they do a good job of pointing to the fact that having one view of a situation is limiting, and as simple as situations may seem on the surface, they are that much more complicated and dynamic when digging deeper.
The three works that I chose to focus on each employ a strong sense of perspective, and they show the power of perspective in storytelling. When I read the three works, I thought about the danger of a single story that we discussed in class, and I also thought about how important it is to hear as many sides to a story as possible. Being that I am a journalism major, the idea about the power of perspective hits home that much more for me, as in my career it is my responsibility to tell each side of the story fairly. Perspectives are powerful, and they can enrich a story that much more, as each of these three works clearly shows. Limiting ourselves to one view of a situation is dangerous, but the power of perspectives has the power to open our minds up to expand our viewpoints and our worldviews.
Minot, Susan. Thirty Girls. Random House, 2014.
Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis. Pantheon, 2003.