Persepolis | Study Guide

Marjane Satrapi

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Persepolis | The Key | Summary



The Iraqi army makes headway in its bid to conquer Iran. The Iraqis have quality weapons and troops; Iran's only asset is a seemingly endless supply of soldiers destined for the field. Many are poor teenagers, such as the son of Mrs. Nasrine, the Satrapis' maid. At only 14, he believes the "made-up stories" about martyrdom promising young men food, women, and riches in the afterlife. He and the other boys in his school were given plastic keys painted gold, which they are told will get them into heaven if they are killed in battle. Marjane's mother tries to talk some sense into the boy, but it doesn't work. Marjane and her mother then visit with Shahab, one of Marjane's older cousins. He's in the army, and he tells them what it's like when "buses full of kids" arrive on the front lines. They are all like Mrs. Nasrine's son, poor, young, and convinced "the afterlife is even better than Disneyland." Thrown into battle with little or no training, thousands "exploded on the minefields with their keys around their necks."

Marjane and her male cousin Peyman, who are about the same age, have much different experiences than that of Mrs. Nasrine's son. Peyman's school doesn't hand out golden keys to paradise to its students. At Marjane's school, Marjane and her classmates rebel against the mourning rituals by turning everything into a joke. When the teacher threatens expulsion, the girls' parents take their children's side. Marjane's father even insults the teacher. While Mrs. Nasrine worries about her son's future, Marjane goes to her first party. It's at Peyman's house.


Mrs. Nasrine knows enough about life and war not to be seduced by the government's shiny keys and tales of splendor, but her teenage son sees the key as the ticket to a glorious afterlife. It's gold, after all, which must certainly mean there are untold riches behind the door it opens. He can't see the key is simply a piece of painted plastic, just as he can't see volunteering for battle will most likely end in death. The key given to Mrs. Nasrine's son and his classmates is symbolic of the fanciful lies the government tells to cover up an ugly situation—sending children to their death.

Marjane's cousin Peyman, who is also a teenager, doesn't have any clue what Marjane's talking about when she brings up the "keys to paradise" because he comes from a more affluent family than the Nasrines. Affluence is generally related to a higher level of education, which opens the doors to better opportunities. Peyman and his classmates have what the government would consider "good" futures ahead of them—they will be white-collar workers, scholars, and professionals. They are therefore more valuable to the government in the long run. Poor kids, such as Mrs. Nasrine's son, don't have as many opportunities to financially support the regime. They are considered expendable.

The worries of Marjane's parents are far different from those of Mrs. Nasrine. Ebi and Taji aren't burdened with the thought of their daughter going to war and never coming home—their greatest fear is that she might be kicked out of school for her attitude. Ebi and Taji know the only way to save their daughter from a stifling life in Iran is to ensure she has a solid multilingual education. She'll be able to leave Iran and start over halfway around the world if she wants to. But Ebi and Taji are also known for their rebellious nature. Instead of telling Marjane to behave at school, they and the other parents strike back at the teachers for insinuating they aren't teaching their children proper behavior at home. They are just as frustrated with the new educational system as the kids are, and they're not going to back down. This also is a benefit of affluence. The Satrapis and their peers still have a choice in their children's education. Private schools need to make money, and for that they need parents to pay tuition. Parents such as Mrs. Nasrine, on the other hand, don't have the means to select their child's school. If they threaten to leave, they have nowhere else to go. Taji and Ebi can afford to stand behind Marjane when she acts up at school. Mrs. Nasrine doesn't have any choice but to go ahead with what her son's school says.

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