Chicken with Plums

This paper presents cloze reading of Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi. Specifically, it provides the literary analysis of a selected passage with reference to the rest of the text. The essay aims at discussing themes, symbolism, and issues which come as significant within the passage and the whole work. The selected passage is from Satrapi’s graphic novel Chicken with Plums:

Tehran, 1958.

- I’m hungry!

- !

- Madam!..Madam! Mada…

- You wouldn’t be named Irane?

- Yes! How do you know my name?

- You don’t remember me?

- To tell the truth, not at all.

- Grandma! I’m hungry!

- We’re going my dear.

- I must have confused you with someone else…I beg your pardon (Satrapi 1).

The passage above has been taken from the very beginning of the graphic novel Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi. This novel is a complicated story of a well-known Iranian musician Nasser Ali-Khan who had his tar (a kind of a lute, a sitar, or a violin, an Iranian musical instrument) broken into half by his spouse. From that very moment, Nasser Ali-Khan started looking for a new tar, yet he soon realized that it was impossible to replace his old and broken tar. So the musician laid down ready to die. Neither his wife, who loved him since she was eight, nor his children brother or sister manage to convince the protagonist to come to life (for example, his wife’s attempts to save Nasser by cooking his favourite meals fail). Satrapi portrays Nasser Ali-Khan dying during eight days when she depicts Nassir’s past, stories of his life, why he decided to die, how he is dying, and when he will die. Satrapi focuses on memories that flood the mind of the musician in a shape of flashbacks and make it clear why he loses his will to go on and resigns himself to death. On the one hand, this is a sad love story of a man who was not able to marry the love of his life when he was young and suffered for the remainder of his life because of this personal tragedy. Married to another woman and with four children, he was unable to restore the balance of his soul and expressed his sufferings in his music play on an old tar. Once the tar is broken, the protagonist finds himself unable to replace it. On the other hand, the story is a politically coloured text, which tells the story of Iran, Satrapi’s motherland, whose political fate changed for bad after the coup and overturn of the existing power. Iran went a totally different, unfavourable (as Satrapi clearly implies) way of development and that got reflected in its present.

The passage selected for illustration contains the story’s most tragic moment, a ind of the last straw in Nasser Ali-Khan’s disappointment and suffering. Going down the street, he accidentally bumps into Irane, his former sweetheart, who does not recognize him. This episode is significant in both aspects of the novel: romantic and political. From the perspective of the protagonist’s love relationship, this is the end because the woman who he has loved throughout all his life does not recognize him, neither does she make an attempt to find out who he is. This leaves the musician even more depressed and hopeless. Politically, Irane’s (and the name of Khna’s sweetheart is symbolically the same as the name of Satrapi’s country of origin - Iran) indifference and coldness towards the man who passionately loves her demonstrates the blindness of the country which started to pursue a different way of development after the revolution, whose connection to British and American powers was critical. Disappointment and loss of hope in the protagonist may be associated with the loss of hope in Iran’s future among its people. This is evidenced by other passages in the text, too. For instance, once Manuchehr comes to visit the musician in around a month after his attempts to replace the broken tar, he reflects on “good old times” and regrets about the present: “Do you remember the spring of ’51? We were so enthusiastic …our oil was nationalized. Mossadegh was our prime minister… Two years of euphoria and wham! Mossadegh is in exile. The Americans and their allies own everything.” (Satrapi 6).

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Symbolically, there is one more powerful symbol found in this passage. This is a symbol of a hungry child, who fills the scene with his cry and demands of food. This is Irane’s grandson. He obviously symbolises the children of Iran who are hungry in both literal and figurative meaning. Literally, exhausted by military actions and war (by the way, Satrapi recalls her childhood years as the one filled with bombs falling on people’s heads: “I received bombs on my head every day of my childhood”), people were hungry, i.e. economically unstable. Figuratively, they were hungry for fair politics, fair distribution of national resources, and peace.

Next, the date of 1958 which starts the story and the chosen passage tells much about the rest of the novel and its overall message. During the time of 1953-1958, Iran was subject to extreme political repression that followed the coup-d’état of 1953. The latter was initiated by the joint forces of the Americans and British, and eventually led to Shah’s unpopular reign in the subsequent 25 years, which led to 1979 Iranian revolution. That coup is seen as a watershed in the Iranian history, when Iranians lost the chance of developing a sovereign state with nationalized resources (Dowlin, “America’s Role in Iran’s Unrest”). In 1958, the National Front was outlawed by Shah, its leaders were arrested, and many army officers that fought on the side of the other oppositional branch – the Tudeh (communist wing) – tortured to death. 1958 was also a year of not only political death, but also of death of Marjane Satrapi’s great uncle Nasser Ali-Khan, whose sad love and love-to-music story was taken as a foundation of the novel. Thus, this date is symbolic in two ways.

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In conclusion, the passage analysed in this paper reveals larger themes within the novel Chicken with Plums. It contains three key symbols: Iran (Khan’s former sweetheart), its people (child), and date (1958). The passage also serves a key to the story’s message: Irane does not recognize the protagonist and Iran loses its last hope for sovereign development. The themes of lost hope, tragic love, and political tragedy permeate this passage. Overall, it provides a powerful start for the graphic novel.

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