Persepolis | Study Guide

Marjane Satrapi

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Persepolis | The Vegetable | Summary

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Summary

Between the ages of 15 and 16 Marjane's body goes from that of a child to that of a woman. Her personal style changes, too. She cuts her hair into spiky tufts, applies thick eyeliner, and always wears a scarf as part of her "look." The school's hall monitors love her hair and ask her to cut theirs, and she obliges. Momo questions why Marjane would want to associate with "peons" like that, but Marjane insists they're nice. Their argument leads to Momo's diatribe about how "life is nothingness," to which Marjane counters life is valuable, as evidenced by the people willing to die "for values like liberty," such as her Uncle Anoosh. Momo doesn't have an answer for that.

Marjane's friends like to smoke marijuana in the woods on the school grounds. Marjane fakes enjoyment "out of solidarity." She pretends to inhale when her friends pass the joint, and then she reddens her eyes to appear stoned like everyone else. She feels guilty for not being true to herself, especially when she talks with her parents on the phone. She tries to forget about Iran during the day, but at night images of her home and family fill her dreams.

Marjane goes to a party and meets Marc—a cute guy who graduated the year before. He assumes she's French, and she doesn't correct him. A few days later, she overhears his sister, Anna, talking about her in a café. Anna and her friends make fun of Marjane's accent and appearance. "I would commit suicide if my brother was going out with a cow like that!" Anna says. The girls say Marjane is lying about "know[ing] war" and her parents wouldn't have sent her to Austria if they actually cared about her. That's all Marjane can take. She jumps out of her booth and yells, "I am Iranian and proud of it!" before storming out of the café. Her hurt feelings are quickly replaced by a growing sense of pride.

Analysis

Marjane is having an enormously difficult time adjusting to life in Europe. Though she was familiar with parts of Western culture in Iran, she wasn't prepared for the hatred Westerners displayed toward Iranians. In 1986, when this part of Marjane's story takes place, Iran wasn't well-liked throughout the rest of the world. Part of that dislike stemmed from the hostage crisis at the United States embassy in Tehran in 1979—the Iranians earned no good will by refusing demands for the hostages' release. Another part of the dislike grew from the media's portrayal of Iran. Television and newspaper reports depicted Iranians as fundamentalist terrorists eager to become martyrs for Islam and the Islamic Republic. That of course isn't true, but Marjane's European acquaintances don't know that. They see what the media tells them to see. Though Marjane knows popular opinion about Iranians is based on half-truths, she still feels ashamed about who she is.

She also feels ashamed about who she has become. Marjane is partying, doing drugs, and hanging out with a pretty rough crowd. She knows her parents would be disappointed in her if they knew the truth. In their eyes she is the perfect—if slightly rebellious—Iranian daughter. While they evade bombs and try to earn a respectable living, she's smoking marijuana and pretending to be someone she's not. Denying her heritage, though easier in the short term, also makes her believe she's letting down her grandmother, who insisted she remain true to herself. It isn't until she loses her temper in the café that she really feels like herself again.

Part of the reason Marjane doesn't feel like herself in Europe is because of how much she has changed since she left Iran. The physical changes she experience make her feel like a stranger to herself, and her experimentation with haircuts, fashion, and makeup are an effort to find a persona that matches her new form. She wants to fit in with her edgy Western friends, but that means letting go of the familiar. Changing her look essentially cuts ties between the Iranian Marjane and the Western Marjane. Her parents will not recognize her when they see her again, and at times she feels like an imposter. It is only when she allows herself to be proud of her heritage and who she is on the inside that she recognizes the woman she was always supposed to be: intelligent, confident, and bold.

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