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Themes and Colors
Religion, Repression, and Modernity Theme Icon
Nationalism, Heroism, and Martyrdom Theme Icon
Violence, Forgiveness, and Justice Theme Icon
Children, War, and Growing Up Theme Icon
The Personal vs. the Political Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Persepolis, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Children, War, and Growing Up Theme Icon

The memoir follows its protagonist, Marjane, from childhood to young adulthood, and as such it traces the effects of war and politics on her psyche and development. By her own admission, Marjane thinks that the moment she comes of age occurs when she smokes a cigarette she stole from her uncle. However, by this point Marjane has encountered so much sorrow, death, and disaster, with enough grace, dignity, and sympathy, that her tiny act of rebellion against her mother’s prohibition of cigarettes comes across as hopelessly childish—as more of a defense mechanism against the repression enacted by the state than an act of maturity. What might have, during peaceful times, been seen as a rite of passage into adulthood becomes muddied by the heightened stakes of the war, and Marjane must grapple with growing up quickly even as she still retains many of her immature instincts. War both stunts and quickens her growth, and brings out both the weepy and sensitive child and the strong and willful adult in her.

Persepolis shows children to be extremely malleable ideologically and behaviorally during war precisely because children do not yet have the capacity to understand the complexity of the situations around them. For example, we see how many boys easily become radicalized and come to believe in the heavenly benefits of martyrdom because they are naturally trusting of authority. In fact, the graphic novel opens with Marjane professing the fact that she and her friends did not understand the meaning of the veil newly imposed by the Islamic Republic; they only knew it as a change from the time before, when they did not need to cover their hair. This alerts us to the fact that for a child born into this new rule, the rule will seem perfectly normal, just as not wearing a veil felt normal for Marjane before the Revolution. Children, thus, take their cues about what is normal in the world from the adults around them, and Marjane and her friends throughout Persepolis emulate in reality or imagination the roles of soldiers, torturers, demonstrators, prophets, heroes, and political leaders. Rather than thinking rationally or sophisticatedly about all the different players in this societal moment of crisis, Marjane at first follows or reveres anyone with power and popular appeal.

However, the graphic novel literally illustrates her growth into young adulthood as she becomes continually confronted with the contradictions and confusions of life. Marjane’s growing up is complicated by the fact that the Iranian government understands that the children of today are the adults of tomorrow, and so wants to influence children to become adults who will support the Islamic Republic. Marjane’s school thus becomes a microcosm of the wider world in which the government’s ideology gets thrust onto the populace. Not only must the girls wear veils, whereas once they did not, but after the Revolution they must also tear out the photo of the Shah—a man whom they were once told to adore. This confusion leads Marjane to understand that she cannot simply follow the opinions of others—she must make up her own mind about the political realities and questions surrounding her. She must grow up.

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Children, War, and Growing Up ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Children, War, and Growing Up appears in each section of Persepolis. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Children, War, and Growing Up Quotes in Persepolis

Below you will find the important quotes in Persepolis related to the theme of Children, War, and Growing Up.
The Veil Quotes

We found ourselves veiled and separated from our friends.

Related Characters: Marjane Satrapi (speaker)
Related Symbols: Veil
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

After the westernized Shah of Iran is overthrown by the Islamic Republic in 1979, Iranian women and girls are suddenly forced to wear a veil in public. The Revolution also led to the abolition of bilingual schools, such as the French-Iranian school that Marjane attends as a child, due to the government's belief that they are a symbol of "decadence." Thus, Marjane is forced to switch into a single-language, single-gendered school. 

In this quote, Marjane refers to the veil as a method of separation not just from the public and a woman's body, but also between different groups of people and culture. Though she enjoyed a co-educational, secular and bilingual education prior to the Revolution, after Islamic Law was put into place, her world became much smaller as she was forced into a dogmatically-religious, single-gender and monolingual education. The reference to the veil here serves to represent not only the opression of woman, but also a curtain of sorts between Iran and the rest of the modern world after the Revolution of 1979. Iran, like Marjane, was veiled and separated from its "friends" (other modernized nations) after the Revolution.


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I really didn’t know what to think about the veil. Deep down I was very religious but as a family we were very modern and avant-garde.

Related Characters: Marjane Satrapi (speaker)
Related Symbols: Veil
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

Though Marjane's family is religious, her home life is not as devout as her school life becomes after the Revolution. This leads to tensions within herself as she grows up and hears one thing at home and another in school. Though she feels strongly about the religion she learns at school, it conflicts with her parents' views, two people whom she loves and respects above anything. In this quote, Marjane notes that she is unsure how to feel about the imposition of the veil in 1980. She has previously been religious in her heart, but feels oppressed when she is suddenly forced to wear the external trappings of religion--showing how counterintuitive any real state-sponsored or nationalistic religion is (since true religious faith is always a personal choice, not a government rule).

This quote is representative of Marjane's larger feelings about Iran as she grows up. While she knows logically that the sociopolitical situation in Iran is grim, she cannot help but feel deep love and allegiance to her homeland. Even when her parents help her escape the repressive regime by sending her to Vienna, she cannot bear to shed her "true" self in order to assimilate to Viennese culture, and she ultimately returns to Tehran. Marjane will grapple with her innate love but logical problems with Iran for years to come.

The Letter Quotes

The reason for my shame and for the revolution is the same: the difference between social classes

Related Characters: Marjane Satrapi (speaker)
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

Eager to learn more about her country's history and the reasons for the Revolution, Marjane devours a number of books, both historical and fictional, that describe the inequality in Iran. She particularly likes books by Ali Ashraf Darvishian, “a kind of local Charles Dickens," whose stories depict those who live in deep poverty in Iran. (Charles Dickens wrote many stories about social and economic equality in 19th century England.)

In this quote, Marjane expresses a kind of relief and also guilt at finally understanding why she feels shame when she rides in her father's Cadillac: though she has problems and difficulties in her own life, her economic and social standing means that many of her struggles will never come close to the gravity of pain felt by many of her countrymen. Though her family is not currently involved in the government, she comes from royal lineage and enjoys the creature comforts that come from socioeconomic security, such as a nice home, car, education, and a live-in maid. Here, Marjane realizes that the same things that make her life comfortable, that make her feel shame when she drives past impoverished Iranians with her father, are also what have directly inspired her country to revolt. 

“You must understand that their love was impossible…because in this country you must stay within your own social class.”

Related Characters: Marjane’s Parents (Mother and Father) (speaker), Marjane Satrapi , Mehri
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

Thinking about social and economic inequality in Iran reminds Marjane of the case of her family's maid Mehri, and her crush on the boy living in the neighborhood. Mehri was sent to live with Marjane's family at age eight because her family could not take care of her. Though she is technically their live-in help, she was raised alongside Marjane as if they were sisters, and they often slept in the same bed. Marjane helped Mehri, who could not read or write, compose letters to the neighborhood boy. When Marjane's father discovers the letters, he immediately recognizes his daughter's handwriting. He tells the boy that Mehri is not his daughter, but a maid, which ceases the relationship. In this quote, he explains to Marjane that Mehri and the boy could never have married because of their separate social classes.

Marjane thinks of this anecdote involving Mehri because Mehri is the only person she has known who comes closest to the characters in Darvishian's stories. Marjane is shocked to learn that social class is something someone is born with, and that social mobility rarely exists in Iran. The memory of Mehri's lost romance is particularly salient for Marjane, since she loved Mehri like a sister and often slept in the same bed as her. Marjane grapples with the concept that someone can be forced to remain in a position that they were born with and did not actively choose. This quote from Marjane's father also reveals a hypocrisy within his sociopolitical views: though he is eager to demonstrate against repressive governmental policies, he is complacent regarding the social strata that already exists. 

The Heroes Quotes

My father was not a hero, my mother wanted to kill people…so I went out to play in the street.

Related Characters: Marjane Satrapi (speaker), Marjane’s Parents (Mother and Father), Siamak Jari
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

When the Revolution succeeds, political prisoners are released, including many family friends of the Satrapis. Siamak Jahri and Mohsen Shakiba, two such victims of the regime, visit Marjane and her family upon leaving the prisons. Ignoring Marjane's young age, they regale the family with gruesome stories of torture and execution. Horribly disturbed by the descriptions, Marjane's mother cries out that all torturers should be massacred, and Marjane learns from her friends at school that people who survive such trials are considered heroes. 

In this quote, Marjane continues to grapple with her romanticization of the war. Though she previously considered her parents to be exceedingly brave and noble as avid protesters of the Shah's regime, she is shaken by what she hears from the released prisoners and her friends at school whose fathers have been executed or released. She struggles with the idea that her father is not as "heroic" as she previously thought, since he has not survived torture in the prisons, and that her mother, who advocated for an end to such practices, wanted to murder the very people carrying out assassinations and inhumane practices. By illustrating this anecdote, Marjane expresses her slow understanding of the nuances of war, in which good and bad are not always black and white, but rather a vast no-man's land of gray areas. However, as a relatively sheltered child, she still has the opportunity and gift of being able to set aside such complicated ideas and play in the streets with her friends. Though the war looms large in the background of her childhood, she is nonetheless privileged to still be able to enjoy a childhood during wartime.

Moscow Quotes

“Our family memory must not be lost. Even if it’s not easy for you, even if you don’t understand it all.”

Related Characters: Anoosh (speaker), Marjane Satrapi
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

After the Revolution succeeds, Marjane's uncle Anoosh, whom she has never met, is released from prison after nine years. He tells her about the trials he endured as a revolutionary, which involved thirty years of exile to the USSR followed by prison in Iran. In this quote, Anoosh warns Marjane of the importance of keeping their family history alive, even though she is young and does not quite understand the pain it has brought. 

Marjane immediately becomes attached to Anoosh upon meeting him for the first time. He is the only member of the family who speaks to her frankly as an equal, rather than only allowing her to hear things of a gruesome or difficult nature by accident like her parents do. As the youngest member of the family, it's suggested that it is Marjane's burden to carry on its triumphs and struggles. Rather than just being a bystander of the members of her family and their roles in the Revolution, she is now an active member. Anoosh gives her a sense of importance and singularity she has not yet felt, and this is why his story impacts her more than any other tale of war she has experienced thus far. 

The Trip Quotes

I wanted to be an educated, liberated woman…and so another dream went up in smoke.

Related Characters: Marjane Satrapi (speaker)
Related Symbols: Veil
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

After the success of the Revolution, the fundamentalist regime that takes over the Iranian government decides to close the universities for the time being, since that kind of education was thought to be too "decadent," leading students away from the "true path of Islam." As an educated woman, Marjane is crushed--she had dreams of studying chemistry at university, like her hero Marie Curie. 

In this quote, Marjane notes that her dream of becoming a famous chemist like Marie Curie has gone "up in smoke," just like her dream of moving to America prior to the fundamentalist student take-over of the American Embassy in Iran. Though the Revolution has succeeded, Marjane's family and other supporters of the Revolution are slowly realizing that this was not the outcome they had intended. Though the Shah was corrupt and oppressive, he had at least supported a modern Iran; the new regime serves to impose a fundamentalist version of Islamic law onto Iranians, which rendered women as second-class citizens to men. Without the chance to continue her education, Marjane realizes that the prospect of becoming a housewife with many children is far more likely than is a career as an educated scientist.

The F-14s Quotes

“I wish he were alive and in jail rather than dead and a hero.”

Related Characters: Paradisse (speaker), Marjane Satrapi
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

Iran uses F-14 fighter jets to bomb Baghdad in retaliation for the Iraqi bombing of Tehran. Marjane and her father rejoice over Iran's expression of its power in the face of an enemy, but sober up when they hear that half of the fighter jets, and thus their pilots, will not return. When she returns to school, Marjane is saddened to see that one of her classmates lost her father, a pilot, in the bombing. Marjane attempts to console her friend by telling her her father is a national hero. In this quote, Paradisse (the friend) replies that she wishes her father were still alive and in prison, rather than dead and a hero.

Ever since she learned of the glory that former political prisoners received once they are released, Marjane feels marginally ashamed that her father, though a brave protester, is not technically a "hero." However, like Paradisse, she of course would rather have him alive and non-heroic than dead and hailed as a martyr. As a part of growing up, Marjane realizes that there are complex nuances to the war: to be hailed a hero or martyr is an honor, but one that comes at a grave price. Marjane continues to learn that the war, like life, is not split into good and evil, or black and white, but a system of gray areas between the extremes. 

The Cigarette Quotes

“Now is the time for learning. You have your whole life to have fun!...In this country you have to know everything better than anyone else if you’re going to survive!!”

Related Characters: Marjane’s Parents (Mother and Father) (speaker), Marjane Satrapi
Page Number: 113
Explanation and Analysis:

Marjane befriends some older students at school, who convince her to skip class to go buy hamburgers at a Western-influenced restaurant called "Kansas." Though Marjane does not think it is a big deal to skip the class, which is on religion, Marjane's mother finds out and becomes furious. In this quote, Marjane's mother reprimands her for forgoing her education in pursuit of fun. She is concerned that if Marjane does not become as educated as possible, she will never succeed, or worse, "survive" in the political turmoil of Iran. 

Now that the Revolution served to allow the Islamic Republic to take over Iran, there are fewer chances than ever for women to engage in social mobility and intellectual pursuits. Marjane's mother wants her daughter, who is smart and spirited, to have every chance she can to make a good life for herself. She is particularly angry that Marjane didn't mind skipping religion class, since safety within the new regime is only ensured if one expresses devotion to fundamentalist Islamic education and ideals. As Marjane grows up and begins to express a stubborn and rebellious personality, her mother is both proud and scared for her daughter: she has the potential to do great things, but only if she abides by the rules and receives an education. No doubt Marjane's mother sees in her daughter the rebellious nature of many members of her family, in particular Anoosh, whose bravery and spirit led him to his death. Thus, her scolding of Marjane is inspired by much more than anger about her daughter skipping school. 

The Dowry Quotes

“If [people] hurt you, tell yourself that it’s because they’re stupid. That will help keep you from reacting to their cruelty. Because there is nothing worse than bitterness and vengeance…Always keep your dignity and be true to yourself.”

Related Characters: Marjane’s Grandmother (speaker), Marjane Satrapi
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:

After Marjane is expelled from one school and is reprimanded for speaking out against political prisoners in a second, her parents decide that is in her best interest to leave Iran. They decide to send her to live with one of Marjane's mother's friends in Vienna, where she will attend a Francophone school. On the night before she is scheduled to leave Tehran, her grandmother comes to spend one last night with her. In this quote, she gives Marjane the advice to never react cruelly to anyone, even if they are cruel to her. 

The advice that Marjane's grandmother gives her extends not just to interpersonal relationships, but to world relations as well. Violence and cruelty begets more violence and cruelty, and the aim of war is to cause so much damage to an enemy that they are weakened to the point of being unable to cause more damage. Though Marjane is stubborn and spirited, she is also kind and unique, and Marjane's grandmother hopes that she will be able to continue to be herself, albeit herself with dignity, in Vienna, since she was not able to fully express herself within the strict regime of Iran.