In Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, is Persepolis considered a tragic hero?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Marjane Satrapi’s graphic-format memoir, Persepolis, “Persepolis” should probably not be considered a tragic hero, as the use of that name for her title is intended as a metaphor for an ancient kingdom located in present-day Persia/Iran.  The author, common in autobiographical works, uses her real name to represent her character in the book.

Whether Satrapi constitutes a tragic hero, however, is worth considering in light of the experiences she describes growing up in revolutionary Iran in the midst of that country’s eight-year war with neighboring Iraq.  The constant fear with which Iranians lived during that period, stretching from 1980 to 1988, from the threat of Saddam Hussein’s missiles and chemical weapons, can be expected to cast a shadow over any childhood occurring under such tragic circumstances.  When the fear of nearby conflict is combined with that accompanying the violent revolution that transpired in Iran and the subsequent imposition of strict Islamic codes, which affected females more fundamentally than men, any strong-willed, independent-minded teenage girl who survives with her principles and character intact may qualify as a tragic hero.

Young Marji is inspired by the resistance to strict Islamic codes being imposed by Iran’s new rulers she witnesses around her, but realizes early that such resistance may prove futile, evident in the passage shown in the attached image below.

Marji eventually leaves Iran for Vienna to attend school, at which time she encounters dramatic cultural disparities involving women’s rights and the exercise of those freedoms in the context of her still-developing sense of her own sexuality.  While illuminating, however, there is nothing particularly heroic in her time in “exile.”  Furthermore, Marji identifies heroism not in the sense of her own predicament, but in those around her who have suffered physically and mentally at the hands of the Iranian regime, particularly her Uncle Anoosh and family friends Mohsen and Siamak, all three of whom are subjected to imprisonment and torture for no legitimate reason. 

In the end, it is questionable whether Satrapi qualifies for hero status.  She saved no lives; led no aborted revolution; made no apparent difference in the lives of her countrymen.  The plight of her westernized family was tragic.  The designation of “hero,” however, may have to wait.

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Read the study guide:
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

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