Persepolis Summary

The story opens with young Marji in the year 1980, having to wear the veil to school like any other student. Even though her parents were quite modern and secular, they still believed in the leadership of the Shah of Iran until he established the fundamentalist practice of Islamization of Iran by rejecting the ways of modernity. We also get to know how young Marji wished to become a prophet and vocally expressed her choice. This eventually led her to be called in with her parents as it worried her school that she had been having an unlikely taste for a career path.

In the later chapters, we see that Marjane Satrapi educates herself with the history and past torments of Iran to understand the current political mayhem that has been unfolding. She probably believed the only way one could tackle the present-day struggles was by learning from the mistakes of the past. She learns about the invaders who had latched onto Iran in the past. She also comes across her grandfather’s lineage and finding out he was a Persian prince who had been continuously tortured by the Shahs of Iran at that time. Satrapi also concludes that the social class divisions are the real reason behind all the political and social blasphemy that had been taking place. Chapter 4 was specifically named after the title of the story “Persepolis” and for a reason. Because there was an anti-secular regime that had been in the works, there was a rise in a Revolution. This was the time the Revolution against the king and his regime started to stir up. Later she finds out through her grandmother that her grandfather was arrested because he had denied to support the regime and that they had lost all their wealth. She also had a fear that her father may have been dead since he had not returned from the protests. It was all in all, a dark time where all hopes had sunk in the world of little Marji. Persepolis is known to be the previous capital of Iran which in the present times, has been under the ruins. The state of Marji and her family had been resonant to the state of Persepolis where all hopes had been lost and darkness only prevailed.

Young Marji also learns the art of forgiveness and to think rationally. When she had bullied a kid in school whose father was a part of the Shah’s secret police and had killed people, her mother had come in at the right time to teach her that the faults of his parents should not be something he himself has to suffer. Marjane Satrapi also portrays the innocent mind of a child where young Marji used to think that being imprisoned meant being a hero and resented that her father was not one since he’d never been to prison. However, the contrast is shown clearly to the readers by talking about her uncle who had been imprisoned and hence was a hero in her eyes, but he had been jailed for all the horrid beliefs he’d fought for which little Marji was not aware of. Later her uncle Anoosh was captured again and the only person he was allowed to see before he was executed by the government was Marji. He thought of her as a daughter he always wanted to have and gives her a swan as a farewell gift. Marji, aware of what was about to happen to her uncle, was torn and shattered emotionally and had lost all faith in God.

Hell breaks loose fast in Iran after a short while. They had shut down all universities and US embassy and had also imposed the veil on all women as a must. The fear of extremism had gone so far that young Marji was asked by her mother to say she prays all the time, if ever questioned by the people of the government. This goes on for a while and her family decides to not go to the demonstration after seeing a man getting stabbed in the leg. The family decide to have a little vacation in Spain to forget about the sad reality they had to face in the course of a long while. However, peace was far from being in sight as their grandmother informed them upon their arrival that there was another war about to be waged against Saddam Hussein.

As war breaks out, crisis spreads everywhere. The crisis of food and other necessities that people always need to survive. Hence, apart from the war itself, there was also frequent clashes between the people themselves over food and other essentials. Later in the story, it is seen that one of Marji’s mother’s friends homes had been destroyed due to the bombings that had started and they had decided to give them shelter at their own place. An incident of both Marji’s mother and her friend in a marketplace getting humiliated and verbally abused by their own people because they had no veil on, portrayed how Iran itself was divided into two different halves, due to their set of beliefs. It is also seen how the Iranian government had found newer tactics to get more soldiers on their side, specifically child soldiers. This is seen through another maid of the Satrapi's who had expressed her discomfort about how her son was given a plastic gold key chain and told if he ever died in a war, he would go to heaven. This was sick propaganda played out by the government to convince the innocent minds to fight alongside them.

Even getting a passport in Iran was a terrible experience and people ended up preferring not get a real passport but instead a fake one. Marji’s uncle had a heart attack and required to be taken to England for treatment. Since he did not have a passport, and the fake passport maker had fled to Sweden, her uncle eventually died.  Amidst all the chaos in the political scenario of Iran, Marji had started to grow up. Her passion for punk rock music even led her to buying the tapes from a stranger in the streets, like she was buying drugs. She even learnt the ways of her cruel and dilapidated world through cunning lies to smoothly find her ways out.

The greatest trauma hits Marji when she hears about a bombing in her area while she was out shopping with her friends. Upon rashly arriving at her place, she finds her family home and everyone safe but the neighbors next door were destroyed to their bones. She sees her friend Neda’s arm completely detached from her body in the obliterated mess. This incident makes her even more vocal about her opinions and actions. This made her parents decide to send Marjane off to Austria for studies so she can have uninterrupted freedom and live her life the way she wanted. Upon arriving in Austria, Marji goes through a roller-coaster of experiences which she had never imagined. Living alone with a girl named Lucia in the dormitories after getting kicked out by Zozo, Marji had to face a lot of bullying for her ethnicity. However, her friends made it bearable for her to still enjoy her independence in the foreign lands. As time passes, she experiences a cultural turn-over which is quite different from her Iranian heritage. She sees the practices of kids in other countries to be different from the ones she’d seen in her own. Eventually, for her bold mouth, she gets kicked out from the dormitories and school as well and ends up living with a friend of hers named Julia. 

Things really go south from here. She gets bullied again for lying about her heritage, even though her mother visits her and sets her up in a new apartment, she ends up being abused by the landlord as well. She starts seeing men and even dates one, although that ends when he starts cheating on her. After loads of struggle and emotional stress, Marji deals cannabis and becomes famous for it. She leaves the house of the abusive landlord and ends up on the streets, being sick and then hospitalized. She decides to go back to Iran and live with her parents. There, things aren’t great for her either and she feels guilty for having been in a foreign country when her own country had suffered so much. In Iran, she had been known for her bold opinions about the regime and after her many failed suicide attempts she’d decided to join an art school. Her marriage with Reza soon made her realize that she wasn’t made for marriage and she felt suffocated. In the end, she eventually understood that Iran wasn’t for her and that she would divorce her husband and leave Iran and move back to Europe and live her life alone and freely. She says the “freedom comes with a price” and this was a price she was happy to pay.