Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood Themes

  • Marjane Satrapi's influential graphic novel Persepolis is about the clash between modernity and religious fundamentalism in Iran. Born into a leftist family, Marjane's natural inclination is to rebel against the oppressive theocratic government. Though forced to wear a veil, Marji continues to assert her individuality by wearing jeans and breaking the rule that prohibits smoking.
  • Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood is a Bildungsroman that tells the story of Marjane's coming of age in Iran. Themes of innocence, childhood, and maturity are interwoven as the author describes her evolution from a young girl to a rebellious teenager. Her story is continued in the second volume of the graphic novel, Persepolis: The Story of a Return.
  • Education is an important theme in Persepolis. In the beginning, the government closes all international and co-ed schools, forcing Marjane to enroll in a fundamentalist school instead. Marjane refuses to accept the teachings of her zealous instructors, who advocate that boys become martyrs. Later, Marjane escapes Iran by attending school in Austria. Education thus becomes one of the primary tools of rebellion against theocratic rule. 


With any coming-of-age story, the quest for identity is central to the meaning of the work as a whole. In Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, Marji grows up the daughter of deeply political parents who espouse Western values. However, Iran is moving in the opposite direction, for after the Shah is deposed, the revolution rallies around Islamic fundamentalism—and a cultural revolution against Western influences follows. As the work's title suggests, the question of identity here is expanded beyond Marji’s development into an independent young woman to a question of national identity. So while we must ask who is Marji, we must also consider what is Iran...and what is its path?

Marji’s Political Maturity

It takes time for Marji to connect the abstract theories she reads about to the concrete events that unfold around her. Marji is a child who reads comics about dialectic materialism, and her parents often engage in political debate around the dinner table. Eager to be a righteous revolutionary, Marji is all too willing to congratulate her friends when she finds out that their family members have been imprisoned, tortured, or killed. Not having similar “bona fides” to brag about, she even invents stories about her father, explaining how he has endured torture. Yet she learns from one friend that these “glorious” stories of sacrifice may serve the state, but they come at the cost of families. Marji’s movement from innocence to experience is unusual in that it so directly relates to the political struggles around her.

The Importance of the People Within History

While the subject of this story often centers on the history of Iran in the twentieth century, the heart of the story is concerned with relationships and family. It would be easy for a work that so directly discusses the history of a country to resort to using characters as symbols of historical processes. Yet for Satrapi, the people around Marji are always people first. When Anoosh dies, he dies as an uncle of a little girl rather than a statistical representation of executed political prisoners. This is a story based on real lives rather...

(The entire section is 891 words.)