A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

In Leighton and Surridge’s article they begin by discussing the layout of the pictures in the American version of The Moonstone as printed in Harper’s Weekly, focusing on the extra perspective that the images offered as opposed to merely complimenting the text. Their main argument is that “While at times the illustrations share the point of view of the verbal plot… at others they give an alternative perspective, that of a hypothetical outside observer…” (214). Yes, The Moonstone’s format was already complex because of the multiple narrators, but the article is rooting for yet another layer of complexity. “The illustrations thus form an intrinsic part of the novel’s interrogation of class boundaries and the British imperialist project; they are not mere decoration or addition, but form a key part of the text as it reached its American readers” (217) — in other words, a picture is definitely worth a thousand words.

A picture being worth a thousand words is a key component of another novel, one in fact that David mentioned in class: Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. The difference between the level of usage of pictures in The Moonstone and in Persepolis is large: the images in The Moonstone are not attached or reliant upon the words and allow the reader to encounter them separately from the text, while in Persepolis the format of a graphic narrative ( a fancy way to say comics) force the reader to digest both image and text at the same time. Despite this obvious difference, the common thread remains to be that each novel leaves room for an alternative narrative. Leighton and Surrdige have pinpointed how exactly the serialization of Collins’ novel in America does so, but how does Satrapi’s?

Let’s backtrack for a second to Satrapi’s purpose in writing her novel about her life growing up in Iran: it was, as she states in her introduction, to educate the reader about Iran and to never forget her story. Utilizing the format of a graphic narrative, Satrapi is able to accomplish this goal. This is because there is not any one unifying experience that everyone in Iran went through— it was always subjective. Therefore, by being able to physically draw in two separate narratives Satrapi is introducing two truths, two realities; The Moonstone relies on the same tenets by having chapters narrated from different character’s perspectives. An example of this is on page 102 in Persepolis where the top panel shows young boys, who belonged to poor families, being blown apart on the minefields, while Marji and her upper–class friends have the luxury to dance to punk rock at a party. Satrapi is aware that each Iranian had their own experience, and thus she does not shy away from portraying the other stories because her goal is to educate the reader. This kind of effect is what the article highlights is at work in the American serialization of Collins’ novel, that the pictures offer another take on what the text narrates.

Another example of this can be seen in the image below, one of the chapter pages in Persepolis. A lot can be said about what’s going on, but I’d like to just point out the way that the gutter is working in much the same way that the images in The Moonstone do. The words read “The Veil” and then the image next to it is of just one eye and the outline of a nose on a face. The picture is therefore speaking to the narrative of the veil and offering a separate meaning onto the words. It is already suggesting that what the veil did was hide one’s identity: there is no way to distinguish a person based on their eyes alone, let alone by just seeing one eye.

“The Veil” image:

We’ve established how both The Moonstone and Persepolis interact with pictures as more than just decoration, but another interesting element is how both do so for the benefit of  American readers. The article’s whole premise relies upon the novel’s serialization in America, and how the way it was printed created a different effect than it did in England: “Collins thus unleashed in America a notably different version of his novel, one that through its layout and visual material created markedly different ideological effects” ( 234). Similarly, Satrapi’s medium of a graphic narrative encompassed the same effect, allowing her to relay a foreign tale through the recognizable and relatable medium of comics. My conclusion couldn’t be more simple: when boundaries of language or culture exist, art is the only way to penetrate those boundaries and indeed break through them. It worked in 1868, and it still worked in 2007 ( the year Persepolis was published).

I’ll end off with this: do you guys still agree that pictures possess the ability to help cross cultural boundaries? Or do you think that we’ve reached a point in our worldliness where we can digest foreign tales through words alone without the help of another medium? Additionally, I don’t think the article tackled the reason as to why pictures were needed in the American serialization of The Moonstone, simply discussing the effect of doing so but not the cause. Do you guys think that the cause could be because of what I mentioned, of helping American readers understand a tale from England?


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5 thoughts on “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

  1. Kevin Frazelis

    I agree that photos help people understand texts that have a “worldliness” aspect to them. I think from the vantage point of someone he teaches high school english. Students do suffer with the ability to see how things work outside of their own neighborhood much less in foreign country. But students to react very strongly to a novel like Persepolis because it allows them to see the characters grasp with struggles and that builds up their empathy. I think the same occurs for us and reading articles in national geographic or CNN; being a able to literally see it, makes it harder to dismiss.

  2. mlfiloramo

    Regarding the visual narrative, namely from Persepolis, as entirely separate yet complimentary to the textual narrative is a very insightful observation, I think. I’ve never thought of how distinctly a visual narrative works as opposed to a textual one.

    I definitely think that pictures can serve as mediums in which information and ideas can be more universally communicated—even without the help of text. Using pictures, we can communicate universally recognized signs and symbols. Signs and symbols, as history tells us, have come to represent more than just a simple idea or message. The swastika, for example, is a symbol that in itself represents years of war, genocide, and most significantly, a dark and tyrannical era in world history. By that principle, pictures can become extremely powerful and provocative, and can trigger emotions easily—sometimes easier than text can.

  3. Jason Tougaw

    This is an excellent connection to make. Even though the illustrations in the Harper’s serialization of The Moonstone aren’t nearly as intrinsic to the text as the images in Satrapi’s graphic novel, they do serve some of the same functions. Some add to the narrative; some reflect or illustrate it; others are parallel to the text or even run counter to it. Your insight reminds me of critic Scott McCloud’s categories for explaining the various ways words and images interact: http://laurenericksondotcom.wordpress.com/2011/09/26/word-image-combinations-in-scott-mcclouds-show-and-tell/. One of the brilliant things about McCloud’s analysis is that he uses a graphic narrative format to develop it.

    I can think of at least one big difference between Collins and Satrapi. For American readers, the “foreign” element would be less Britain than India, which it would also be for British readers. What do you think of Leighton and Surridge’s argument that the images in the Harper’s version make for a very different representation of colonialism?

  4. davidginsberg

    Ideally, it would be nice to say that we have enough ‘worldliness’ to read a foreign work through just words. A fundamental difference between us (students who discuss these books, in-depth, in class) and people who read these books by themselves, is that individual readers don’t have the benefit of bouncing their ideas off of a professor and other students. Had I read “The Moonstone” by myself, I don’t think I would have picked up on some of the things we discussed in class. The same goes for “Emma,” “Jane Eyre,” and “A Christmas Carol.”
    I believe that illustrations, like you keenly observed, is a surefire way of helping American readers understand foreign texts.

    1. Ali Troiano

      I love the image you included in your post; it really helped me understand your point about the way Persepolis uses images. I think you make a great connection between the two texts. Regarding your question, I’m not sure if the images in the American publication of The Moonstone were as much helpful to the public as they were influential in reading the text. In other words, I wouldn’t be able to answer why the American version was illustrated. In a way, the pictures might even hinder the ability to truly understand something from another culture. For example, the article mentioned Collins displeasure with the illustration of Betteredge because it wasn’t true to a realistic British butler. In this example, the text is almost adapted and, ultimately, changed to fit another culture.

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