This graphic novel follows the childhood of Marji as she grows up in Iran and experiences and lives through various historical events in Iran that massively impact her life and the life of her family. These events are of course the overthrow of the Shah, and the Iran-Iraq war.
At the story's opening, Marji is a schoolgirl in 1980. This is significant because it is oen year after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 which brought a much more fundamentalist and extreme government into power. Marji is impacted by this because she had attented a secular French school. Now such schools are closed and girls are educated separately from boys and forced to wear a veil to go to school.
Marji continues to grow up against a backdrop of oppression and intolerance as friends of her family and even her uncle are imprisoned and executed one by one by the new repressive regime. Marji's story therefore occurs from the 1980s onwards and brings to life a terrible period of history for Iran and how one young girl responded to being brought up in the middle of it.
As stated above, the key date in Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi is 1979, the date of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The novel itself navigates the transformation of Persia into the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The title itself is particularly significant. Although the two terms, Persia and Iran, refer to the same nation, they have very different connotations. The term Iran signifies the Islamic identity of the nation, while people who speak of the country as Persia and identify themselves as Persians emphasize the historical continuity of Persian culture from the reigns of Cyrus, Darius, and Xerxes to the present. Moreover, the term Persian identifies the Indo-European roots of the culture, and many people calling themselves Persians identified themselves as part of a sophisticated westernized milieu under the Shah.
The city of Persopolis, mentioned in the title of the novel, the capital of the ancient Achaemenid Empire, was the site in 1971 of a 2,500-year celebration of the Persian Empire; thus the title itself emphasizes the rupture between Persian culture and the Islamic Revolution.
The main events of the novel take place in the 1980s and show the increasing restriction of women's rights and general personal liberties under the new regime.