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.
Children, War, and Growing Up ThemeTracker
Children, War, and Growing Up Quotes in Persepolis
We found ourselves veiled and separated from our friends.
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.
The reason for my shame and for the revolution is the same: the difference between social classes
“You must understand that their love was impossible…because in this country you must stay within your own social class.”
My father was not a hero, my mother wanted to kill people…so I went out to play in the street.
“Our family memory must not be lost. Even if it’s not easy for you, even if you don’t understand it all.”
I wanted to be an educated, liberated woman…and so another dream went up in smoke.
“I wish he were alive and in jail rather than dead and a hero.”
“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!!”
“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.”