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Persepolis | Study Guide

Marjane Satrapi

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Persepolis | The Water Cell | Summary



Marjane's parents demonstrate against the shah every day. Jealous they're spending more time doing that than playing games with her, Marjane tells them, "As for me, I love the king, he was chosen by God." Her father tells her that's not what really happened. Fifty years before, the father of the current shah "organized a putsch [a violent rebellion] to overthrow the emperor and install a republic." Reza Shah wasn't well-educated, and the British took advantage of him when they learned of his plan. They promised him the path to becoming emperor would be easy if he allowed them to have all the oil they wanted. "God has nothing whatsoever to do with this story," Marjane's father says. He then tells her the emperor Reza Shah deposed was none other than her maternal great-grandfather. That means Marjane's grandfather was once a prince.

Reza Shah took everything from her grandfather's family, even the bathroom tiles. Marjane's grandfather was educated, so Reza Shah—having very little education himself—named him prime minister. Marjane's grandfather began spending time with intellectuals who touted the benefits of communism, and he eventually became a communist himself. His beliefs landed him in prison throughout Marjane's mother's childhood. "Sometimes they put him a cell filled with water for hours," Taji says. Marjane forgets about playing games with her parents. She wants to take a bath so she can know "what it felt like to be in a cell filled with water."


Learning about her family's fall from power gives Marjane even more reason to dislike the current shah, but it also prompts her to take a closer look at her own heritage and how it is directly connected to current events. At first Marjane romanticizes her grandfather's status as prince—and her own relationship to royalty—but she soon realizes there was nothing romantic about her grandparents' lives. Her fantasies are quickly replaced with the harsh reality of Persian politics. Her burgeoning understanding of the world around her parallels her grandfather's interest in communism. As a prince he disagreed with Karl Marx's notion that "the rabble can rule," but when his title and his life of luxury were taken away from him he was able to see the suffering of the lower classes. Political ideologies are much easier to understand—and sympathize with—when one has a personal connection to the issues at hand.

Marjane was destined to be a rebel. Her parents—who are college-educated and employed in white-collar careers—first protest against the shah and then against the fundamentalist Islamists threatening to take control of the nation. Her maternal grandfather, once part of Iran's political machine, works actively against it after being removed from power. Marjane's Uncle Anoosh—who is introduced in a later chapter—is a former political prisoner accused of subverting government control. The common thread between these people—in addition to their blood—is education. Knowledge doesn't just bring power—it encourages questions. Marjane's parents and extended family have seen others become complacent under ill-suited leaders. Even though she is only nine, they want Marjane to be educated enough to ask questions and form her own opinions, not follow the herd. Her rebellious streak may come naturally, but it is also carefully cultivated by people who have spent much of their lives searching for freedom and truth.

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