Marjane’s father is very alarmed by what he reads in the morning newspaper. Fundamentalist students have occupied the U.S. Embassy and taken the Americans working there as hostages. The implication for Marjane’s family is that no one from Iran will be able to flee to America anymore as so many have before. The members of Marjane’s family are not spared from this prohibition, though Marjane had once dreamed of going to the U.S. and seeing her friend Kaveh, who left Iran the year before. Now she realizes that her dream is dead.
With the war’s onset more and more repressions pop up, including the prohibition of Iranian citizens from visiting the US. Those who didn’t leave previously to America can no longer do so. Marjane must confront the fact that the decisions that her family made previously now have consequences on what liberties she can and cannot take in her life. The new regime literally means that her life goals might no longer be possible.
Not long after, the government announces it will shut down all universities because of the “decadent” learning they enable that, according to the fundamentalists, leads students “astray from the true path of Islam.” Marjane realizes that she will not be able to study chemistry or be like her hero Madame Curie, an early pioneer of chemistry and one of the most celebrated women in the sciences. She states: “I wanted to be an educated, liberated woman…and so another dream went up in smoke.” She cries, “at the age that Marie Curie first went to France to study, I’ll probably have ten children.”
That the Islamic regime would want to stop someone like Marjane from becoming a scientist for the simple fact that she is a woman starkly outlines both the destructiveness of its fundamentalist ideals and, at the same time, their ridiculousness. This is the logic that forces women to wear the “veil,” a logic that reduces women to simply being wives who bear children and represses any other dreams or abilities they might have.
One night, after Marjane’s mother’s car breaks down in the street, she gets assaulted by two bearded fundamentalist men. They scream: “Women like [Marjane’s mother] should be pushed up against a wall and fucked and then thrown in the garbage.” Marjane’s mother explains that by “women like me,” the men meant women who do not wear a veil. Marjane’s mother comes home markedly shaken. The family watches TV, where a fundamentalist representative explains on the news that women now must wear veils so that men are not distracted or excited by women in the street. He claims that the rationale for this new law is that it is more civilized to wear a veil than to let a woman’s hair show.
This episode marks the beginning of the veil policy that Marjane describes at the start of the book. It also marks one of the first instances in which the public and the private begin to merge, since random people on the street attempt to police people’s otherwise private clothing choices. The logic behind the new law exposes the fundamentalists view of women: that they have to be aware of the way men might react to them in public and therefore have to wear the veil so that they do not pose a threat to men. In other words: that the egregiously terrible behavior of men toward women is seen as the women’s fault.
Marjane explains how, quickly, one’s clothing becomes an “ideological sign.” Whereas fundamentalist women wear full covering from head to toe, with just the face showing behind the veil, the “modern woman” shows her “opposition to the regime by letting a few strands of hair show.” Marjane does allow that men also face restrictions: the necktie, a symbol of the West, is forbidden, as are uncovered arms. Men also silently protest by shaving their bears or by not tucking in their shirts. Marjane expresses that government policies really affect people’s behaviors: “It wasn’t only the government that changed. Ordinary people changed too.” Marjane’s mother makes sure that Marjane, while in public, claims to be devout and pray during her spare time, even if this is not actually true at home. At school the children compete as to who prays the most.
Clothing, particularly the veil, becomes a way ordinary people can express their displeasure or devotion to the ruling regime. Though certain lines cannot be crossed, women and men are able to subtly show their liberalism. However, everyone does follow the most basic rules, and for many people the changes are not merely cosmetic; many people do in fact change their beliefs and ideologies to match the Islamic Republic because this is the only way for them to protect themselves or even rise in society. Though Marjane’s family does not change their beliefs, they do have to, for their safety, pretend to be devout while in public, especially considering the assault that Marjane’s mother already experienced.
Marjane’s mother allows her daughter to attend a demonstration against fundamentalism, reversing her previous stance because she thinks Marjane “should start learning to defend her rights as a woman right now!” However, the demonstrators get attacked and Marjane sees violence for the first time “with my own eyes.” She witnesses a woman getting stabbed and many others getting beat up. Running away, Marjane’s father shouts, “every man for himself!” The family goes on vacation in Italy and Spain for three weeks, fearing this will be their last chance to do so. On TV in Spain they see an illustration of Iran being covered in black; they fear the worst.
Impassioned by the new restrictions, and feeling the time dire, Marjane’s mother allows Marjane to join her in a demonstration, and even alludes to Marjane being a woman—and not just a girl—for the first time. What ends up happening, however, is that Marjane gets initiated in the difficulties and traumas of demonstrating against an unflinching regime. Marjane’s parents have underestimated the might and viciousness of the regime. What they see while in Spain shows them how the rest of the world sees Iran, their beloved country, transforming into something nefarious.
On their return, Marjane’s grandmother explains to them that Iraq and Iran are now at war because Iranian fundamentalists tried to sway Iraqi Shiites against Iraq’s leader, Saddam, a minority Sunni leader. (The Sunni and Shia branches of Islam form the largest two branches of Islam. Iran is a majority Shia country; though Iraq has a larger Sunni population than does Iran, the Sunni population still forms a minority—though under Saddam the minority Sunni population had more power in government, leading to resentment.) Marjane understands the war as the “second [Arab] invasion in 1400 years” and desires to fight the enemy.
The family’s return from vacation has them understanding the new threat against their nation, one which has its source both in political strategy and religious resentment and difference. Marjane, versed in the history of her country, understands that this sort of war has been fought before, and she feels a flourish of nationalistic pride.