Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

by Marjane Satrapi

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What is the conflict and resolution in the novel Persepolis?

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I think the real conflict in Persepolis has to do with Marji‘s story of growing up in a society that is undergoing radical change. Her coming of age means working out her relationship with her parents and family, her position of relative socio-economic privilege, and her own identity as a woman and a Persian. Marji is a person with a strong sense of conviction, but like many teens she has a poor understanding of what she is reacting against. There are many examples of this; for instance, consider her idolizing of her parent’s friends who have been in prison and her subsequent fixation on torture.

These things become fuel for her righteous anger (as when she and some schoolmates decide to go after the son of a man accused of being in the Shah’s secret police), but their meaning changes completely when she goes to visit her uncle in prison, awaiting execution. Suddenly the human cost of living by your political convictions becomes clear to her. Consider how she manipulates her parents’ servant to take her clandestinely to the demonstration—the slap she receives from her mother is at first confounding but serves to make her understand that although she is much younger than the servant, she nevertheless has a responsibility to look out for her. 

I’m not sure there is a “resolution” to this conflict. In practical terms, the resolution is that she is sent away to school; she has to fend for herself. What she learns over and over (she is stubborn, or perhaps just a slow learner) is that her actions have consequences, and—if you’ve read Persepolis II, you know—usually those consequences are bad for her. But she also learns what makes her different from everyone else she meets in Europe.

One instance that sticks with me in this regard has to do with Marji’s grandmother, and her practice of wearing flowers in her bra so that her breasts are always sweet smelling. To me, that gesture represents much of what Marji comes to learn in the book: it is an act of self care and a self-consciously aesthetic choice—a private, deeply personal thing of beauty, much like the book Persepolis itself.

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There is more than a single conflict in this story; however, the various conflicts all are centered around one main instigator.  The conflicts are all triggered by Iran throwing off the previous modern cultural influences in favor adhering to a strict religious fundamentalist vision of Islam.  

In 1979 a revolution took place. It was later called "The Islamic Revolution."

The story focuses on Marji who is the daughter of politically active parents that support Western values.  Consequently, Marji begins life as a well educated, independent thinking girl.  She is used to a modern lifestyle that includes playing cards, dancing, and political debates.  Unfortunately, the religious fundamentalism that is returning works against all of those values.  Marji is forced to go to an all girls school, wear a veil, and listen to the propaganda of her teachers. Satrapi writes, "We didn't really like to wear the veil, especially since we didn't understand why we had to."

Her Westernized family is persecuted, and some are even killed for their opinions and actions.  Marji's conflict is an internal conflict about staying true to herself and her beliefs all while seeing friends and family members of hers arrested and killed for doing the very same thing. She recalls, "Between 1980 and 1983, the government had imprisoned and executed so many high-school and college students that we no longer dared to talk politics."

That clash of values is also an external conflict in the novel.  Marji begins to actively rebel against the religious oppression by smoking, ditching school to flirt with boys, and listening to Western music that has been smuggled into the country.  

Marji's vocal opposition to the new state continues to grow, and she continues to get into more and more trouble.  Her parents are proud of her, but they fear for her life; therefore, the novel concludes when Ebi and Taji send Marji to a French school in Austria. They tell her, "'We feel it's better for you to be far away and happy than close by and miserable.  Judging by the situation here, you'll be better off somewhere else.'" 

I don't feel that this is a total resolution to the conflict.  Iran is still struggling with the new fundamentalism that is there, and Marji is still strongly against it, but she isn't in the middle of it anymore.  The conflict isn't so much resolved as it is put on hold until volume two of the story. 

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The conflict of Persepolis is the changes that are caused to the way of life of families, women and school children when the fundamentalist Islamic theocracy--government by religion and religious law--takes over Iran. Marji is the main character and the conflict(s) are shown through her point of view and experience, in the black-and-white graphic novel. The resolution comes when Marji's family realize that Maji has become an independent person who thinks independently and does not submit to oppression, though they realize the great danger this puts Marji in.

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