Persepolis | Study Guide

Marjane Satrapi

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Persepolis | The Letter | Summary

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Summary

Marjane reads a lot of books by Ali Ashraf Darvishian (born 1941), "a kind of local Charles Dickens." Most of his stories are about working-class children forced into labor at a young age, which makes Marjane feel guilty about everything her family has, most notably her father's nice car and their live-in maid, Mehri.

Mehri is one of 15 children. Her parents couldn't afford to take care of all of them, so Mehri and her sister were sent to Marjane's family and her uncle's family to be maids. Mehri cared for Marjane when Marjane was small, and Marjane grew up thinking of Mehri as more of a sister than an employee. In 1978 Mehri fell in love with the boy next door, whom she saw through Marjane's bedroom window. The two never actually spoke, but Marjane wrote letters to the boy for Mehri, who was illiterate. After the two exchanged letters for six months, Marjane's parents found out about the clandestine courtship. Marjane's father confronted the boy and told him Mehri was his maid, not his daughter. No longer interested in Mehri, the boy handed Marjane's father the stack of letters. Ebi notices the handwriting on the letters is Marjane's. "You must understand that their love was impossible ... In this country, you must stay within your own social class," he told his daughter. Marjane was confused—she couldn't figure out whether her father was for or against the restrictions imposed by social classes.

A few months later, after she "under[stands] the reasons for the revolution," Marjane talks Mehri into sneaking out of the house and protesting with her. They stay out all day. When they finally get home, Marjane's mother slaps them both. Marjane had unknowingly decided to protest on the very day dozens of demonstrators were killed, which later became known as Black Friday. There were rumors Israeli soldiers were to blame, but as Marjane later reflects, "In fact it was really our own who had attacked us."

Analysis

Marjane has been raised to believe in the rights of the proletariat, or working class, but she's not a member of it. With two white-collar parents who can afford vacations and Western imports, she belongs in the upper-middle class. The disparity between herself and the children she reads about causes her a great deal of shame. She feels guilty about her father's nice car and her family's maid, not understanding how hard her father works for his income nor that her family is actually helping Mehri's family by employing her as their maid. Marjane sees things as simply black or white, good or bad, and it's hard for her to comprehend gray areas that seem contrary to everything her parents have taught her. She's upset that Mehri won't be able to marry the boy next door, because her parents have taught her everyone is equal. The idea that only people in the same social classes are equal to one another is completely foreign—and upsetting—to her. Yet because her father says it, she accepts it.

Marjane's relationship with Mehri changes in just a few moments. Marjane still loves her, but she is also acutely aware of her own higher social status. Mehri is older than Marjane and knows better than to take her to the protests, especially after Ebi and Taji already told Marjane she couldn't go, but Marjane waves her arm as if she's making a royal proclamation and Mehri gives in. They are no longer sisters, but servant and employer. Though Marjane dislikes the idea of differences between the classes, she can't forget it once it's pointed out to her.

Black Friday occurred on September 8, 1978, following months of protests. A religious demonstration attracted thousands to Jaleh Square in Tehran even though the government had declared martial law—the complete control of a country by its army—on September 7. Protestors ignored the soldiers' warnings, and dozens of people were wounded and killed by gunfire. Many cite this event as the "point of no return" for the revolutionaries. Negotiations with the shah's government were no longer possible, and rumors about a government-led massacre united the masses. Marjane and Mehri didn't protest in Jaleh Square—they were in a different neighborhood—but the threat to their lives was there all the same. Violence could erupt at any demonstration, and Marjane, only eight at the time, had neither the physical strength nor the maturity to handle the situation. The fact that "[their] own" were attacking the protesters bothers Satrapi years later. In the last frame in the chapter, which shows handprints on Marjane's and Mehri's faces, she likens the Iranian soldiers' actions to that of her own mother. Those who were supposed to protect did the most damage of all.

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