Persepolis | Study Guide

Marjane Satrapi

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Persepolis | The Shabbat | Summary



Rumors fly about the Iraqis obtaining ballistic missiles, and for once the talk of the town turns out to be true. It's useless to take shelter in the basement when the sirens go off—ballistic missiles are so powerful that only reinforced concrete shelters, such as those in some of Tehran's hotels, can withstand the explosion. For the first time Marjane realizes just how much danger she and her family are in. Everyone else in Tehran seems to have noticed the danger too. Many flee the city, leaving the streets deserted. Others, such as the Satrapis' neighbors the Baba-Levys, move into hotels to be closer to bomb shelters. The Satrapis are in the minority who decide to stay in their own homes. Marjane's parents are insistent Marjane continue her French education, which they believe is the only way she'll be able to make a life for herself outside of Iran.

One day Marjane and a friend go shopping for jeans and shoes. They hear a bomb explode in the distance. The shopkeeper turns on the radio. The announcer says a missile hit the Tavanir neighborhood. That's where Marjane and her family live. She runs home as fast as she can. Her street is blocked off, and she becomes frantic upon realizing there's a 50 percent chance the missile hit her building. She's relieved to see her mother, who says their family is safe. It was the Baby-Levy's building, not theirs, that was bombed. Marjane hopes the Baba-Levys are still at the hotel, but her mother cautions that might not be the case. It's Saturday. The Baba-Levys are Jewish, so Saturday is Shabbat, or their holy day. It is tradition to go home and stay there every Saturday. As Marjane walks past the rubble, she spots Neda Baba-Levy's bracelet among the ruins. It is still attached to her arm. "No scream in the world could have relieved my suffering and my anger," Marjane recalls.


Ballistic missiles are self-guided rockets filled with explosives. They can be launched from almost anywhere—land, aircraft, ships, and even submarines—which means the enemy doesn't need to be close to its target to strike. The Iraqis target civilians—not soldiers—with their ballistic missiles to dampen Iranian morale and cause a backlash against the Islamic regime, and they are often used in retaliation for strikes the Iranians make against Iraq. Surviving a ballistic missile strike is nearly impossible, which is why Marjane and her parents stay where they are when they hear the air raid sirens. It's also why Marjane panics after hearing they've been used in her neighborhood. She is forced to mentally confront the possibility of her family's death every time she hears the sirens.

The death of the Baba-Levys is a wake-up call to Marjane. Before the missile hit their building, the war had never quite seemed real. It happened to other people in other places and was something she and her parents discussed in abstract terms. The missile literally brings the war to Marjane's doorstep. She can't forget it or escape it as long as she stays in Iran. She will also never be able to forget seeing her friend's arm sticking out of the rubble. Years later, Satrapi still doesn't have words or images to describe the anguish she felt when she spotted Neda's bracelet among the wreckage, which is why the last panel in the chapter is completely black.

The Baba-Levys' deaths are another example of the dangerous aspects of religion. The Baba-Levys' faith, Judaism, required them to be in their home on the day of the missile strike. Had they been Muslim or any other faith, they would have remained in the hotel where they were hiding. Their home still would have been destroyed, but at least they would be alive. To Marjane, it is as if God lured them out of safety into certain danger. That is not the merciful, comforting God Marjane knows from her childhood fantasies. Like Uncle Anoosh's death, the loss of the Baba-Levys pushes Marjane farther away from the faith she once cherished.

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