Persepolis | Study Guide

Marjane Satrapi

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Persepolis | The Passport | Summary



It's July 1982. Marjane and her parents are visiting her Uncle Taher and his family. Taher sent his oldest son to Holland to escape the war a few years before. He has thought of leaving Iran also, but his wife refuses. Since their son emigrated, Taher has had two heart attacks. The borders to Iran are currently closed, and he worries he'll never see his son again. A few days after the visit, Marjane's parents marvel at how difficult it must be to send a 14-year-old to live alone in a new country. Marjane scoffs at their worries. "At fourteen you don't need your parents anymore!" she says.

The phone rings. Uncle Taher is back in the hospital with his third heart attack, which was caused by a grenade detonating outside his home. The Satrapis hurry to the hospital, where Marjane's aunt says Uncle Taher needs open-heart surgery. Iran's hospitals aren't equipped for that, so he'll have to go to England. The problem is the closed borders. Uncle Taher would need a special permit to leave the country for the operation. Marjane's aunt speaks to the hospital's director, who happens to be her former window washer. He tells her that Taher will get the necessary documentation "if God wills it." Taher is furious because "all that creepy window washer had to do" to become powerful was to "grow a beard and put on a suit!"

Marjane's father has an idea. He takes Marjane to the home of his friend Khosro, who falsifies travel documents. Khosro is hiding Niloufar, an 18-year-old communist wanted by the authorities, in his home. Ebi is told Taher's passport can be ready in five days. He agrees to pay $200 for the document—$502 adjusted for inflation. Before the passport is ready, however, Khosro's home is raided. Niloufar is caught and executed, and Khosro escapes to Sweden via Turkey. Three weeks later Uncle Taher is buried. His real passport arrives the same day.


Uncle Taher's predicament epitomizes the theme of religion and hypocrisy in Persepolis. Taher is very ill. He is in a state-run hospital administered by an allegedly religious man (the former window washer). Muslims believe God is all-merciful, and the most merciful thing to do in this case is to allow Uncle Taher to travel to England for an operation. Yet the hospital director takes no action when Taher's case is brought to his attention. He simply says Taher will receive the care he needs only if God wants him to. He isn't acting in accordance with God's values—he's either leaving Taher's survival up to fate, or he's purposefully toying with Marjane's aunt, who was once his social superior. In either case his devotion to religion is questionable, as are the loyalties of many in positions of power in the Islamic Republic. They are more interested in furthering their own careers than in helping the populations they are supposed to be serving.

Those who do help others are the ones who suffer the greatest consequences. Khosro takes an enormous risk by allowing Niloufar to stay with him. It is known that she's wanted by the guardians of the Revolution, but Khosro takes her in because her brother was his messenger boy. He has no familial or financial obligation to take care of her, but he does so anyway because he's a good person. When the guardians discover his duplicity, he is forced to leave the country before he meets the same fate as Niloufar. Uncle Taher and his wife also suffer greatly despite their sacrifices. They send their son to Holland to keep him safe, but the strain on Taher is so great that he keeps having heart attacks. When he dies, Marjane's aunt is completely alone. Like Khosro, their determination to do the right thing for someone else turned out very badly for Marjane's aunt and uncle. Life under the Islamic regime isn't a fairy tale—more often than not it is the villains, not the heroes, who are rewarded in the end.

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