Study Guide

Persepolis Summary

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Persepolis Summary

As the graphic novel Persepolis begins, it's 1980 in Iran, and Marjane Satrapi isn't rocking out to Michael Jackson or watching Dallas. Instead, the old government led by the Shah of Iran has fallen in the Iranian revolution, and a new regime of hardcore Islamic fundamentalists has established what they call the Islamic Republic of Iran. Suddenly, Marji’s being forced to wear a veil at her school, which is now segregated between boys and girls.

The Islamic Revolution is just the beginning of years of political and religious turmoil in Iran. A bloody conflict called the Iran-Iraq war strains the political situation even further. Marjane's mother and father often attend political protest rallies, kind of like a more violent Occupy Wall Street, and support revolutionaries when they can, including many of Marji’s family members, like Uncle Anoosh. Uncle Anoosh had fled to the U.S.S.R. because the Iranian regime believed him to be a spy. Uncle Anoosh teaches Marjane much about the world. He also gives her a swan carved out of bread, which is a lot nicer than a swan made from origami paper (because you can probably eat it). Marji grows very close to Uncle Anoosh, but he’s eventually arrested by the regime and becomes a political prisoner. Marji’s world is shattered when Uncle Anoosh is executed, and she renounces her faith in God.

Because of her mother, father, grandma, and uncle, Marjane's passions lie in social activism. At a young age, she wants to fix inequalities between social classes and make the world into a place where old people don't have to suffer. That's kind of hard to do when there are bombs falling on Tehran and killing Marjane's friends and family members.

Eventually, Marji’s parents decide that Iran is not the place for the headstrong, independent, outspoken daughter they've raised. Her behavior gets her expelled from school, and mom and pop are afraid that a worse punishment will befall her as the Iranian government gets stricter. They ship Marjane to Austria, where she ends up in a boarding house in Vienna run by nuns.

It's no Viennese Sister Act, though. Marjane gets along with the nuns about as well as she gets along with authority in Iran. Over the next few years, she finds herself in a variety of living situations: with her sexually liberated French friend Julie, in an apartment with eight homosexuals (no, she's not on Vienna's version of Project Runway), and renting a room from a horse-faced woman with a foul attitude and an incontinent dog… just to name a few.

Marjane misses her family, who she left back in Iran and are her only support system. She gets depressed, and becomes homeless after a conflict with her landlady. Living on the streets, she gets bronchitis, which makes her so sick she coughs up blood and ends up in the hospital. She survives, calls her parents, and moves back home to Iran.

Giving up her freedoms is hard, but living with her family is what she needs. Her mom and dad treat her as an equal, and her grandmother gives her the reality check she needs: Marjane has to always be true to herself in order to be happy.

Back in Iran, she continues doing what social activism she can (like designing a new uniform with a shorter veil). She gets married to an artist named Reza, parties, and then gets divorced. All these things are steps on her way to finding her identity and dealing with hard questions such as balancing her Persian heritage and her desire to live in Western culture.

After a couple of years, Marjane realizes (again) that Iran is not for her, and she moves back to Europe, letting us know that she only got to see her beloved grandma once more before she died. Freedom has a price, as Marji reminds us on the graphic novel’s final page.

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