Persepolis | Study Guide

Marjane Satrapi

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Persepolis | The Heroes | Summary



A few days after the shah's resignation, three thousand political prisoners are released. The Satrapi family knows two of them, Siamak Jari and Mohsen Shakiba, both of whom were arrested for being communists. Siamak is the husband of Marjane's mother's best friend. Their daughter, Laly, once told Marjane that Siamak was on a trip. Marjane pointed out "on a trip" is adults' code for "dead," which didn't go over well at all.

Siamak and Mohsen visit the Satrapis after they are released from prison. They tell horror stories about the torture they and their friends suffered. Marjane and her parents are shocked. Marjane tells Laly "it's a good thing" her father wasn't killed in prison like another family friend, Ahmadi, and then points out she wasn't entirely wrong when she told Laly he wasn't on a trip. Laly boasts that her father is a hero. Marjane, disappointed to have a father who isn't a hero, goes outside to play with friends, where she invents torture-inspired games. It's great fun, and she feels an enormous sense of power afterward, though that is soon replaced with sadness. Her mother consoles her and promises the torturers will "pay for what they have done." Marjane forsakes dialectic materialism and finds solace "in the arms of [her] friend."


Mentions of alcohol, drugs, and sex in later chapters of Persepolis have caused a few raised eyebrows by parents and educators throughout the years, but it is the depictions of torture in "The Heroes" that caused the book to nearly become banned in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in 2013. This imagery—an underwear-clad man being whipped, burned with an iron, and then totally dismembered—was deemed too violent for "general use" in the classroom. Students in the district argued these images are no worse than those shown in historical textbooks about the Holocaust or slavery. CPS ultimately rescinded the ban on the book for grades 9–12, but several other schools have challenged the use of Persepolis in schools since then.

Satrapi's use of this imagery is deliberate and with good reason. She and her parents were horrified when they first heard the stories about what happened to Iran's political prisoners—and that sense of horror remains with her to this day. Depicting the torture both verbally and visually creates the same visceral reaction in readers as Marjane and her parents feel in the book. Satrapi could have taken the easy way out and simply said, "We were tortured," but that wouldn't accurately convey what these men suffered at the hands of the shah's regime. The images that are perhaps the most distressing contrast an iron searing Ahmadi's helpless body with the sketch of Marjane glancing fearfully over her shoulder at her mother's iron—an everyday domestic appliance. Standing in the background, Marjane seems smaller and less significant than the iron, which makes it even more threatening. Siamak's and Mohsen's experiences aren't theirs alone—everyone who hears their stories lives with the fear that the same things could happen to them.

All of this is a lot for Marjane to take in. As is natural for a child, she explores the notion of torture by playacting it with her friends. It feels good at first, but then it becomes scary and overwhelming. The "friend" she takes solace in is God, who has returned after her abandonment of dialectic materialism. He provides her with the comfort she wouldn't be able to get from Marxist theory alone.

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