Persepolis | Study Guide

Marjane Satrapi

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Persepolis | The Veil | Summary

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Summary

Marjane Satrapi (referred to by her family as Marji) is 10 years old in 1980. She lives in Iran with her parents, Ebi (father) and Taji (mother), and she attends a religious French-language school. Until last year she went to a secular coeducational French-language school, but the 1979 Iranian Revolution changed everything. Now the Iranian government is strictly focused on following the teachings of Islam. Girls and boys can no longer attend school together, and girls must wear veils when out in public. Marjane and her friends take off their veils and play games with them. Marjane's mother has publicly protested the veil but stopped after her picture appeared in European newspapers and an Iranian magazine.

Though Marjane doesn't like her veil, she still considers herself to be very religious. When she was six, she decided she wanted to be a prophet. She kept it a secret from everyone but her grandmother, who thought Marjane's ideas about equality and putting an end to suffering would make her an excellent prophet indeed. When Marjane's parents eventually find out about their daughter's career goals from a meddling teacher, Marjane assures them she wants to be a doctor when she grows up. That night she talks to God, who seems hurt by her lie. She assures Him that she does want to be a prophet but that she'd rather keep it a secret.

Analysis

Satrapi begins her story in 1980 following the 1978–79 Iranian Revolution—which was sparked by political dissent against Iran's leader, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. Most of Satrapi's story is presented in chronological order, but several flashbacks—such as Marjane's decision to become a prophet when she was six—provide context for events in the present. As this is a memoir, it is helpful to distinguish between Marjane Satrapi the author and Marjane Satrapi the character. This study guide refers to the writer of Persepolis by her last name and the girl shown in the drawings as Marjane.

Marjane's upbringing marks her as different from other children her age. Her parents, who are known for being "modern and avant-garde," publicly protest against the shah's regime and likewise encourage Marjane to speak her mind even when her ideas fall outside the accepted political and social norm. They are neither concerned about nor embarrassed by Marjane's desire to become a prophet—they defend her to her teacher and try to engage in a dialogue about her desires at home. Marjane has realized, however, that sometimes it is safer to keep her thoughts to herself. Her mother goes through the same thing after she is photographed at a protest against the veil. Unlike Marjane, Taji isn't simply afraid people won't understand her—she's afraid for her life. If the Islamic regime could identify her, she would surely be punished. She also quickly learns it is often safer to keep private thoughts separate from one's public life.

The veil Taji protests and Marjane detests is also known as a hijab. Shortly after he came into power in 1979, Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini incorporated an array of anti-women changes into the national culture. Following Islamic tradition, women were now barred from becoming judges, and beaches and sports teams were segregated. He also suggested women wear hijabs in the workplace. That "suggestion" became law in 1983, and all women were expected to wear the hijab and a chador, or loose, flowing gown. This was ostensibly to protect a woman's modesty, but for Marjane and her mother the veil is symbolic of the oppression they feel under the new Islamic regime. They don't want to wear it, but the consequences of not following orders are far too severe.

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