Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

by Marjane Satrapi

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Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood Characters

The main characters in Perepolis are Marjane Satrapi, Ebi, Taji, Anoosh, and the guardians of the revolution.

  • Marjane Satrapi is the Iranian author and protagonist of Persepolis, who grows up under theocratic rule after the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
  • Ebi and Taji are Marjane's parents. They are forced to give in to pressure from fundamentalists, who insist that Taji wear a veil in public.
  • Anoosh is Marjane's uncle, who is imprisoned and then executed by the new government. Marjane is the only family member allowed to visit him in prison.
  • The guardians of the revolution are a fundamentalist group devoted to enforcing Islamic law.

Characters

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Last Updated on May 14, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 810

Marji

Given the setting of the story, many would expect Persepolis to be a dark, depressing work. For the Satrapis, the revolution that they supported against the Shah was hijacked by Islamic fundamentalists. Furthermore, the Satrapi family’s political connections as well as the Iran-Iraq War lead young Marji to witness a great deal of death and violence. However, because the story is told from Marji’s point of view, this tale is rich, nuanced, and often charming.

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Marji inherits the values of her parents, Ebi and Taji, and she constantly searches for her own truth. From the beginning of the story, Marji is characterized as a compassionate girl. She empathizes with her maid who is not allowed to eat with the family, and she seeks to write a Holy Book in which it will “simply be forbidden” for the elderly like her grandmother to suffer joint pains. With great enthusiasm, young Marji declares her intention to become a prophet, a revolutionary hero, a tragic scientist like Marie Curie, and so on.

Certainly, Marji approaches life with a youthful innocence, lending a humorous depth to the story. While in her revolutionary phase, Marji is disappointed that her father was never persecuted for his beliefs. Still, this does not prevent her from bragging to her friends that her father was tortured, claiming that “they cut off my dad’s leg, but still he didn’t confess!... So they cut off an arm as well.” Humorous anecdotes like these break up the tension of life after the revolution.

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These personal anecdotes also reveal the humanity that is sometimes forgotten by history, a significant role Marji plays in the work. Whether directly or indirectly, Marji feels everything that happens after the Islamic Revolution. Her youthful optimism carries not only her dreams but also the sympathies of the reader. As Marji explores the various facets of her identity, her hopes seem all too fragile to survive in Iran. However, this fragility highlights the importance of religious, political, and educational freedom. Ultimately, each of these freedoms is denied to Marji after the Islamic Revolution, and it is no surprise that her parents choose to send her to Austria to finish her education.

More than anything, the complexity of Marji’s character is juxtaposed against the Islamic Revolution. While Marji’s values and attitudes become more complex, the culture of Iran is simplified under the fundamentalists. Because hair is stimulating, all women are required to wear headscarves. All men are required to wear long sleeves. Universities are closed because they represent the decadent and corrupting influence of the West. In short, for the fundamentalists, there can be no middle ground between fundamentalist religion and modern, secular values. Rather than creating a pluralistic culture, they seek to repress diversity.

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Latest answer posted February 12, 2020, 6:08 pm (UTC)

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Although she is only a child, Marji’s inner conflict is to synthesize the multitude of ideals and values to which she is exposed. Like her parents, she never despairs that a path awaits her—one that will allow her to be true to herself. Although as a child Marji struggles to reconcile her religion with the suffering inherent in the revolution, the adult Satrapi is doing just that with her narrative. Marji listens to Western music, yet she is clearly dedicated to her homeland.

Marji’s compassion, her innocent optimism, and her boundless enthusiasm are the guideposts of her childhood. Satrapi ties the complex struggle for identity that is inherent in any coming-of-age story with the struggle for Iran’s identity. Through Marji’s eyes, a nation in revolutionary turmoil is humanized for the reader in a way that historical analysis is incapable of achieving.

Ebi and Taji

Marji’s parents, Ebi and Taji, support the leftist revolution. Although both their colleagues and family members have been jailed and even exiled under the Shah’s rule, they never despair. Instead, they continuously work hard for both their family and their country because they seek to live a life of integrity and purpose.

Revolutionaries

While Uncle Anoosh largely serves as Marji’s hero due to his revolutionary past, he is estranged from his Russian wife and family. Mohsen and Siamek are friends of the Satrapi family who were tortured as prisoners under the Shah. Although the purpose of Anoosh, Mohsen, and Siamek could be simply to remind the reader of repressive policies under the Shah and after the Islamic Revolution, they are more than symbols. When Mohsen, Siamek, and Anoosh die at the hands of the fundamentalists, they die as members of Marji’s community rather than as metaphors of oppression.

Fundamentalists

No one character represents the Islamic fundamentalists. Rather, their influence is seen through Marji’s religion teachers, anonymous Guardians of the Revolution, and announcements on the news. The Islamic fundamentalists operate in opposition to the Satrapis' way of life and largely take the role of ideological antagonists in the novel.

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