Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

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What happens in Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood?

One year after the Islamic revolution of 1979, Iran is ruled by an oppressive theocracy. Marjane "Marji" Satrapi comes from a left-leaning family and is accustomed to certain freedoms, like playing cards and going to parties. After the revolution, she's forced to wear a veil in public and to attend a school run by fundamentalists.

  • To solidify its power, the new government begins executing former revolutionaries who oppose Islamic theocracy. As Marxists, Marji's parents, Ebi and Taji, are in danger of being targeted by Islamic fundamentalists devoted to enforcing religious law. Marji is the last person to see her uncle Anoosh in prison before his execution.
  • One year, the Satrapis vacation in Spain, only to discover upon their return that Iraq has invaded Iran, sparking the Iran-Iraq War. Marji's teachers indoctrinate their students, praising "martyrs" who die for their country. Marji sees the grief when her friends' parents die, however, and doesn't support the war.
  • As Marji grows older, she becomes more rebellious. She listens to forbidden music, wears jeans and bracelets, and starts smoking. Worried that their daughter will be targeted by the Guardians of the Revolution, Ebi and Taji send Marji to a French school in Austria. Marji's story is continued in Part 2 of her autobiography, Persepolis: The Story of a Return.

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Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood is the first of two autobiographical graphic novels by Marjane "Marji" Satrapi. Writing from Paris, Satrapi recalls her childhood in Iran. The story of Marji’s childhood is set against the history of the Shah’s overthrow, the rise of the fundamentalist Islamic theocracy, and the Iran–Iraq War.

Visually, Persepolis is depicted in simple, black-and-white images. Although Satrapi states in her introduction that Iran is today associated with “fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism,” the Iran of Marji’s childhood is not so simple as black and white. Indeed, six-year-old Marji is immersed in a world of complex ideas, both secular and religious. The ambitious and idealistic Marji wants to be a prophet like Zarathustra, except when she wants to be a revolutionary leader like Che Guevara. As her country becomes lost within conflict, Marji is forced to find her self.

When the story opens, Marji is a schoolgirl in 1980, one year after what is now known as the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The daughter of a well-off family espousing Western values, Marji has—until the revolution—attended a secular French school. The political revolution over, the fundamentalists undertake a cultural revolution, and even young Marji finds herself embroiled within its influence. Bilingual schools have been closed, girls no longer go to schools with boys, and, most conspicuously, girls are required to wear veils to school. The veil is a controversial symbol within the new order.

The controversy and discord under the Islamic regime is actually the latest unfolding of an ongoing political struggle already decades old during Satrapi’s childhood. Before the Islamic fundamentalists took control of the state, the revolution was directed at the repression and corruption of the Shah’s government. Friends and members of Marji’s family had been imprisoned under the Shah’s rule, including her maternal grandfather (who, incidentally, was an emperor of Iran overrun by the Shah’s father). Both of Marji’s parents, Ebi and Taji, protested against the Shah’s policies. However, their motivation was not based on familial revenge but rather on their Marxist politics. Imagine their surprise when they discover that the leftist revolution they supported has rallied around Islamic values rather than Marxist ideals.

As the Islamic theocracy solidifies its power, former revolutionaries are killed one by one, several of whom are friends of the Satrapi family. Eventually, even Marji’s favorite uncle, Anoosh, who had been held as a political prisoner under the...

(The entire section is 1,150 words.)