In Persepolis, the government institutes a law requiring women to cover their heads and faces with veils. Young Marjane is dismayed by events in her city, finding life under Islamic rule unpleasant if not downright oppressive. It’s a gripping tale of social unrest brought about by change in civic codes, which are laws designed to regulate individual conduct.
In order to address the issue of political duality (“conservative” versus “liberal” being something of a false binary), Satrapi paints a portrait of herself as a child searching for educational freedom: the ability to study what and where she wants, free of sexist restrictions on women. As the narrator tells her story, the reader comes to understand what life is like in a battle zone. As her family—more secular than traditionally religious, progressive yet patriotic—struggles to survive murder, imprisonment, and, for Marjane in particular, exile, it risks losing its identity. What are people supposed to do when their society takes steps they consider are “backwards”? If there’s a moral to the story, it’s surely that one must always be true to one’s ethical principles regardless of the negative consequences.
One significant effect of Marjane’s childhood experience is that later in life, as a university student in France, she grows resentful of the fundamentalist religious caste that dominates her home after the revolution. One might even go so far as to say that she grows weary of her faith tradition itself. Faced with a choice between pursuing a free path through a “Western education”—including all the good and bad it brings—she finds it painful to reconcile cultural conservatism (i.e. the past) with the way forward.
How heartbreaking it is for children to choose between being a prisoner at home or freedom in self-exile in order to show their identity. Ultimately, Persepolis invites contemplation of the sacrifices all people make in order to try to live together in the midst of unfathomably different ideologies.