In the morning newspapers, Marjane sees the pictures and names of “today’s martyrs.” Marjane is a bit surprised at her mother’s seeming indifference at the pictures; when Marjane mentions the photos, her mother changes the subject by asks Marjane to help her style her hair. Marjane’s mother explains that though affected by the war dead, “our country has always known war and martyrs, so, like my father said: ‘When a big wave comes, lower your head and let it pass!’” Marjane, too, tries to “think only of life,” however, at school twice a day Marjane and her classmates must line up to mourn the dead and beat their breasts, a ritual with religious roots usually performed by men, who sometimes would hit themselves vigorously, even sometimes with chains. She describes the beatings as a “macho thing.”
Wartime has completely inundated every aspect of society, from the newspapers to Marjane’s school-time experiences. Marjane’s mother’s response, that she would rather lower her head and just survive, suggests her sense of helplessness—both in the sense that all of this has happened before, and in the sense that after having demonstrated to overthrow the Shah she sees that the results of action were not what she wanted. So she disengages. However, Marjane herself does not have this luxury because at school she is forced to mourn the martyrs physically. The description of the grieving as “macho” connects both the war and the nationalist and religious fervor it inspires to men (and note also that these men are forcing the girls in the school to mourn in this way).
Marjane and her classmates begin making fun of the beating ritual, exaggerating their suffering and pain during these sessions, or poking fun at the winter fleece hoods they have to knit for the soldiers. The teacher zealously chastises the girls for their impudence. She also punishes them with a week’s suspension, since not one of them would tattle on a girl who shouted “poopoo” at the teacher’s objections to their disobedience. As Marjane describes herself and the other girls, “we were completely united.” Marjane points at the fact that the girls had once attended secular schools, where such religious rituals were nonexistent, as the reason for their rebelliousness.
There is one definite advantage of being a child: the consequences for disobedience in the public sphere, the school, are not as serious as arrest or execution. That the girls of the school make fun of the rituals and tasks they are made to perform highlights how ridiculous this religious zealousness is, how it is an exaggeration of what anyone actually feels. And yet what these girls see as ridiculous, the adults of their school are actually making them do! Again, the religious and nationalist devotion on display in the novel is painted as childish; more childish than the children forced to do them.
Back at home, Mrs. Nasrine, the family’s maid, tearfully explains that at school (a different school from the one Marjane attends) the teachers gave Mrs. Nasrine’s son a “plastic key painted gold.” The key is supposed to represent the idea “that if they went to war and were lucky enough to die, this key would get them into heaven.” Essentially, this means that the teachers are teaching the boys that dying for the state, or martyrdom, would give them entrance to heaven. Mrs. Nasrine has five kids and tearfully expresses her devastation that the government “want[s] to trade this key for my oldest son.” Moreover, she feels terrible, for though she has been “faithful to the religion” all her life, she’s not sure she can “believe in anything anymore.” The teachers also tell the boys that in heaven there will be “plenty of food, women and houses made of gold and diamonds,” which excites the boys. After all, the boys are only fourteen.
The experiences that Marjane has in her all-girls school and the experience that Mrs. Nasrine’s son has in his all-boys school are markedly different. While Marjane and the rest of the girls are supposed to support the war through prayer and practical but faraway support, the teachers attempt to persuade Mrs. Nasrine’s son about the greatness of martyrdom and therefore to join the war effort and willingly die for his country. (In fact, the Iran-Iraq war was characterized in part by Iran’s tactic of just throwing their young soldiers into the front lines where they would die by the hundreds of thousands). Mrs. Nasrine sees how the regime is using religious promises to manipulate the boys toward their own deaths, and so the Islamic fundamentalists drive Mrs. Nasrine away from her long held religious beliefs.
When Mrs. Nasrine’s son comes over after school, Marjane’s mother tries to convince him that the stories about paradise that the teachers tell him are just made-up. She also tries to tell him about the bright future he could have if he goes to college and gets married. Nonetheless, he does not really listen. He does not take these warnings seriously and playfully says that he will marry Marjane one day.
As Mrs. Nasrine described, her son is not mature enough to understand the real consequences of the war—just as Marjane herself was once too young. As a child who has known times of strife for most of his adult life, he cannot really imagine the type of life trajectory that Marjane’s mother tries to explain to him.
Marjane’s cousin Shahab shows up in the house—he is on leave from the army—and he tells how in the army he sees groups of young boys from the poorer regions who have been convinced “that the afterlife is even better than Disneyland.” He expresses how the army leaders “hypnotize them and just toss them into battle.” It also turns out that the keys that Mrs. Nasrine described are only given to poorer boys. Marjane’s male friend, Peyman, for example does not receive one at school. Marjane turns to the future in her narration for a moment, and reveals that though Mrs. Nasrine’s son does not die at the front, “thousands of young kids, promised a better life, exploded on the minefields with their keys around their necks.” Meanwhile, Marjane has her first party ever at Peyman’s house; she says, “punk rock was in…I was looking sharp.”
The type of teachings that the upper class people and the lower classes go through in school are not commensurate to each other. The poor get exploited and are given the keys that persuade them that dying for Iran will bring them everlasting afterlife glory, whereas the older boys are not given such lessons. Earlier in the novel, Marjane recognized that the revolution against the Shah was based on class difference. But now that realization has become ironic: a new regime is in place, and the poor are being even more ruthlessly exploited. At the same time, Marjane continues to complacently enjoy her own class privileges as she breaks the rules of the anti-West government without consequences.