Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

by Marjane Satrapi

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Persepolis 1 was written in 2000 and published later. What was the historical context of Iran back then? Did things like civil liberties improve from what was shown in the novel?

The historical context for Persepolis 1 is the effects of Islamic theocratic state that governed Iran from 1979 through the mid-1990s. In the first graphic novel, Marjane Satrapi looks back at her adolescence during the early revolutionary years when the Ayatollah Khomeini held power. By the time her book was published, Iran had entered a period of more moderate reform following the 1997 election of President Khatami.

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The historical context for the first volume of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is the revolutionary years in Iran, which began with the overthrow of the Shah in 1979. Iran was then governed until the mid-1990s by an Islamic theocratic state led by the fundamentalist Ayatollah Khomeini. Satrapi’s graphic novel is primarily concerned with her childhood and the effects that the highly conservative religious regime had on her as an adolescent and on her family.

Satrapi completed and published the work much later, however; she was an adult and the political atmosphere had undergone numerous changes. By then, Iran had passed through periods of warfare and diplomatic crises. The late 1990s saw a transition into a more moderate era, signaled by a political shift with the 1997 election of that is associated with the election of Mohammad Khatami-Ardakani as president.

After Khomeini and his followers established strictly religious policies and penalized dissent, many Iranians such as the Satrapis were imprisoned or went into exile. With Khomeini’s death in 1989, members of his government appointed Ali Khamenei as his successor. He was replaced as president by Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who had been a leading councilor in the revolutionary regime. The mid to late 1990s were a period of severe financial hardship for Iran, as the United States leveled oil and trade sanctions against the country. The critical economic situation in part shifted the political climate, and national elections followed.

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