Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

by Marjane Satrapi

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What are the issues of class and gender in Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis?

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In her autobiographical graphic novel, Marjane Satrapi tells of growing up in a liberal family in Iran and the drastic nationwide changes that began with the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was deposed and the fundamentalist followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini declared a theocratic state. Satrapi speaks from a personal perspective, emphasizing how these changes directly affected the young girl and her immediate family and the limited ways she could understand the broader implications.

Because her family was politically progressive as well as open to Western cultural ideas, Marjane had received an excellent education and expected to continue with post-secondary education. However, the international, secular school she attended and others like it were closed, and she had to attend a religious school. The universities are closed as well so she would not have been able to go on to study at home. The girls’ new required uniform included a veil. Marjane’s personality and upbringing made her an outspoken, independent thinker, an attitude that was not tolerated. Her efforts to include females in the lessons are rebuffed, such as when she mentions the idea of a female prophet (actually, herself). The problems with the school are one reason her parents decide to send her to live in Europe. The dress codes apply to adult women as well, and her mother, Taji, is also expected to veil while in public. She and their friends resist in private, yet are fearful of betrayal.

Class figures prominently as well because Marjane came from a well-to-do family. They could afford to pay her private school fees, lived in a lovely home in a nice neighborhood, and had a cosmopolitan attitude that stemmed in part from marriage to foreigners and associating with family members living overseas. Her family has domestic servants who are separated by class from some family activities, which Marjane does not fully understand. Their financial resources also enabled them to send their daughter to live abroad.

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