Persepolis | Study Guide

Marjane Satrapi

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Persepolis | The Bicycle | Summary



In 1979, "the year of the revolution," Marjane decides she'd rather be a revolutionary like Che Guevara or Fidel Castro than a prophet. She and her friends hold demonstrations in the Satrapis' yard daily. When she's alone, Marjane plows through a stack of books about revolutionaries selected by her parents. Her favorite is a comic book called Dialectic Materialism that contrasts the ideas of German political theorist Karl Marx (1818–83) with those of French philosopher René Descartes (1596–1650).

One evening Marjane overhears her parents talking about a fire at a local cinema that was filled with protesters. They were locked inside the building, and police "forbade people to rescue those locked inside." The shah attributed the 400 deaths to "religious fanatics," but Marjane's father is sure "it was the shah's fault!!!" Marjane barges into her parents' room and tells them she wants to demonstrate against the shah with them the next day. Her father tells her protesting is very dangerous—"they shoot people!" Despite Marjane's pleas, her parents won't let her go. With tears streaming down her face, she asks, "God, where are you?" He doesn't show up at her bedside that night.


The chapter's title, "The Bicycle," is the metaphor Marjane uses to explain the revolution to her friends. "When the wheels don't turn, it falls," she says. She supports the revolution because of what her parents have taught her, and she wants to ensure it maintains its momentum. That's why she is set on becoming a revolutionary herself. Though Marjane may know more about Iran's history and the current revolution than others her age, she is still a child. The revolution is like a game to her—as far as her own life is concerned, there are very few concrete consequences. At nine, she doesn't understand why her parents won't let her put her beliefs into practice, nor does she see that knowledge about a particular situation doesn't make one mature enough to handle it. Her parents give her books to educate her so she knows the truth about what is happening around her, but that doesn't mean they think she's ready to fight alongside them.

Marjane's newfound interest in dialectic materialism complicates her relationship with God. Dialectic materialism is based on the teachings of German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who together wrote The Communist Manifesto. It is a philosophy that states the material world—anything observed by the senses—is in a separate reality from the mind and spirit. Religion—which is fundamentally based on the idea that life and the world initially developed as an action of God—doesn't fit within the parameters of Engels and Marx's philosophy. There is no place for God in dialectic materialism, and the more Marjane learns about it, the less interested she is in her own relationship with God. That comes with its own consequences, most notably God's decision not to comfort Marjane after her parents tell her she can't go to the protest. Marjane can either spout the tenets of dialectic materialism or rely upon God's comfort and protection, but she can't do both.
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