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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.
Nationalism, Heroism, and Martyrdom Theme Icon

When the Revolution comes, Marjane, like her family, rejoices. After decades under the despotic American-backed Shah, she and her family believe that this moment will ensure that the Iranian people will finally be free to decide for themselves who will lead their country and how. Put another way, Marjane is an Iranian patriot and a nationalist, in the sense that she believes profoundly in the value and need for an independent Iran ruled by Iranians. Marjane’s love for her country and belief that it should be free is so great that she feels the urge to fight for it, and glorifies those who do fight for it—particularly those people who die in the name of the cause: martyrs. Marjane, just a child at this time, thinks of heroism in romantic terms, and sees martyrdom especially as extremely positive and desirable. In fact, Marjane hopes her own family members will be heroes and she is disappointed that her father is not a hero. She is ecstatic when it turns out that Anoosh, her uncle, has had to flee to the USSR to protect himself from the Shah’s government against which he was fighting.

Yet as Marjane starts to come to grips with the actual consequences of martyrdom and heroism—Anoosh, for example, gets executed by the new regime because of his former political activities—her positive feelings about heroism and martyrdom begin to fade. Even more importantly, as the Revolution results in a new regime even more oppressive than the Shah’s, and an Iran ruled by Iranians turns out to be no better and in many ways worse than an Iran ruled by foreign powers, Marjane is forced to grapple with the very notion of nationalism. What country or which people should be the object of her nationalism? Though before and just after the Revolution she complains that her father is “no patriot” because of his pessimism, as she grows up and sees the actions and impact of the Islamic Republic she begins to recognize her own country’s stubborn foreign policy and ideologically-driven warmongering for what they are. She realizes that the boys sent off to war as martyrs are being brainwashed and used, their lives wasted, in service to nationalism. She sees that just as nationalism can overthrow a dictator, so it can also be used to prop up a dictator. And yet, at the same time, when she hears the Iranian National Anthem, Marjane is “overwhelmed” with emotion. Facing this conundrum in her feelings about her country, Marjane begins to understand that she can both love her country and hate it at the same time. She begins to understand that a country is not one monolithic culture, one monolithic religion (her neighbors are Jewish, for example), nor one monolithic people: she sees how the people in Tehran make fun of southern Iranians, how the country is very much divided, and how there are many competing narratives about Iran’s past, present, and especially future. Much of the book’s aim, as Marjane explains in her preface, is to give readers at least one narrative about Iran: her own.

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Nationalism, Heroism, and Martyrdom ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Persepolis related to the theme of Nationalism, Heroism, and Martyrdom.
The Bicycle Quotes

“The Revolution is like a bicycle. When the wheels don’t turn, it falls.”

Related Characters: Marjane Satrapi (speaker)
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

Marjane and her friends like to play pretend as "revolutionaries," dressing up as figures such as Guevara and Trotsky. Though they don't quite know what this revolution will bring--nor does anyone--they are excited at the idea of a rebellious change to the status quo. In this quote, Marjane likens the Revolution to a bicycle--if no one is pedaling its wheels, such as the Revolutionaries they hope to embody, it falls.

Even though Marjane identified as very religious from a young age, the idea of a revolution that could change the way her world works is enough to push the idea of Prophet-hood from her mind. While the metaphor of the bicycle is clever, the fact that Marjane and her friends make a game of the bloody disputes across the country shows that they do not fully understand the consequences of the political conflict. It is likely that Marjane heard this phrase from her parents, in the media, or from friends at school. Marjane is therefore at a phase in her life where she absorbs her surroundings like a sponge, but still has difficulties processing her own nuanced points of view on various issues such as politics, war, and religion. 


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The Water Cell Quotes

As for me, I love the King, he was chosen by God.

Related Characters: Marjane Satrapi (speaker)
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

After a long day of protesting against oppressive government policies, Marjane's parents come home exhausted. When she demands that they play a game of Monopoly with her (a board game that takes a notoriously long time to complete), they tell her they are too tired. Angry, she lashes out against her parents' demonstrations, here claiming that she loves the King, as "he was chosen by God."

In this quote, Marjane parrots what she learned in school. She is too young to understand that her education is controlled by the government. To her, it is inconceivable that she would be taught something in school that is not true. Her belief that the King (Shah) of Iran was chosen by God is indicative of her fierce loyalty, even at a very young age. Iran comes first in her heart, even as she grows up and learns of its problems from her parents. Marjane comes to be proud of her parents' active roles in the resistance to repression, and learns to be skeptical of even the things she learns in school--but at the same time she never loses her loyalty to Iran itself, despite its different corrupt governments. 

Persepolis Quotes

“You know, my child, since the dawn of time, dynasties have succeeded each other but the kings always kept their promises. The Shah kept none.”

Related Characters: Marjane’s Grandmother (speaker), Marjane Satrapi
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

After learning that her grandfather was in line for the throne of Iran, Marjane asks her grandmother to tell her more about his life and time in jail. Marjane's grandmother tells her about the problems Iran faced prior to the Revolution, but does not directly address the life and times of Marjane's grandfather. In this quote, Marjane's grandmother explains to Marjane that the tyrannical rule of the Shah was a deviation from the Shahs that came before him, thus leading to the current Revolution. 

As a young child, Marjane takes everything she hears at face value, and is still learning to understand the complexities and nuances of people's points of view and positions. Though Marjane has learned much about the Revolution through hearsay at school and from eavesdropping on her parents, Marjane's grandmother tries to break down politics into concepts she, as a young girl, can understand, such as the making and breaking of promises. Marjane's grandmother, like her uncle Anoosh, helps to shape Marjane's understanding of her world and her country by explaining things in terms she can comprehend at her age and experience. Thus, a young girl can understand why the revolutionaries, such as her parents, are angry at a Shah who has broken promises unlike (supposedly) any ruler that has come before him. 

“All the country’s money went into ridiculous celebrations of the 2500 years of dynasty and other frivolities…all of this to impress heads of state; the population couldn’t have cared less.”

Related Characters: Marjane’s Grandmother (speaker), Marjane Satrapi
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

Marjane's grandmother continues to explain the sociopolitical situation that led to the Revolution. Here, she tells Marjane that the Shah was "ten times worse" than his father had been, and spent all of the government's money on frivolous celebrations of the State. Meanwhile, Iranian citizens were starving and living in desperate poverty. Many revolutionaries were sparked by the injustice they felt from a government that served itself rather than its constituents. 

At this moment in history, Iran was receiving a lot of attention from nations around the world due to its abundant oil reserves. Marjane's grandmother suggests that these lavish displays of wealth were ploys to earn respect and interest from other heads of state throughout the globe, to assert Iran's wealth and power. This came at the expense of most Iranians, and ultimately led to uprising and the Revolution. 

By hearing the events that led to the Revolution, Marjane slowly begins to grasp how important it is to her parents that they demonstrate against the rules they find to be repressive and detrimental to their fellow Iranians. Rather than continuing to feel angry at her parents' exhaustion and long hours away from home, Marjane feels proud that she has such politically active and brave parents. 

The Party Quotes

“As long as there is oil in the middle east we will never have peace.”

Related Characters: Marjane’s Parents (Mother and Father) (speaker)
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

Marjane's father continues to explain the situation in the Middle East to Marjane. Though the Shah attempts to belatedly appease protesters, it is too little and too late, and he eventually steps down from the throne. As he can no longer remain in Iran, the Shah seeks asylum from various global leaders. He is denied asylum from Jimmy Carter, President of the United States, and eventually finds a new home in Egypt. 

In this quote, Marjane's father laments that much of the turmoil in the Middle East arises from the rich resources of oil that exist there. World powers fight over the control and collusion of governments in the region to retain access to this crucial natural resource. In explaining the crisis in Iran to Marjane, Marjane's father explains how various world leaders served to exacerbate internal crises due to their desperate need for oil. Marjane's father, though a passionate revolutionary who frequently demonstrates and protests against the oppression of the Shah, here expresses a dismal outlook on the political situation of Iran's region. He is cautiously optimistic about the good that a Revolution will do in Iran (as he does not yet know that the fall of the Shah will bring about a similarly oppressive regime) but is less certain about the prospect of peace in the surrounding countries of the Middle East. 

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.

The Trip Quotes

It wasn’t only the government that changed. Ordinary people changed too.

Related Characters: Marjane Satrapi (speaker)
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

With the new Revolutionary government, fundamentalist Islam becomes the law in Iran. It is mandatory for women to wear the veil in public, and men must dress conservatively as well (no Western neckties, or bare arms). Many people adopt the fundamentalist point of view in order do adhere to the laws of the new regime. Though Marjane's family is not very religious at home, Marjane's mother urges her to pretend that she is in public. 

In this quote, Marjane notes that the new rules of the Revolutionary regime not only changed the politics of Iran, but also served to seep into the public consciousness such that ordinary people changed along with the laws. In school, Marjane's fellow students compete over who prays the most; in public, resistance was expressed only in subtle ways. Marjane and her parents learn that the Revolution they hoped for was far from the one that actually happened. Remaining unique and individual is now an act of resistance in and of itself. 

The F-14s Quotes

“The real Islamic invasion has come from our own government.”

Related Characters: Marjane’s Parents (Mother and Father) (speaker), Marjane Satrapi
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

When Iraq bombs Tehran, Marjane and her Father learn of the attack over the car radio. Together, they scream expletives against the Iraqis. Marjane asks her father if he will fight in the impending war against Iraq, but her father says he won't, and doesn't even cite the Iraqis as the obvious enemies. In this quote, her points out to Marjane that though the Iraqis have technically carried out the attack, the new regime is like an invasion of Iran in its own right, and may have aggravated the bombing. 

Marjane becomes angry when her father says he will not fight on behalf of Iran, since her lessons at school have caused her to become increasingly nationalistic. However, she comes to learn through this event that her parents can both love and criticize their country. It is actually due to their love for Iran that they point out its flaws, and continue to demonstrate and protest to try to make it better. Therefore, even when his homeland is directly attacked by another nation, Marjane's father does not abandon his belief that Iran is not entirely blameless in this war. This anecdote teaches Marjane about the nuances and complexities of maintaining beliefs and a point of view, but also about revising opinions based on changing politics. 

“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 Jewels Quotes

“To have the Iraqis attack, and to lose in an instant everything you had built over a lifetime, that’s one thing…but to be spat upon by your own kind, it is intolerable!”

Related Characters: Mali (speaker), Marjane Satrapi , Marjane’s Parents (Mother and Father)
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

When Southern Iran is bombed by the Iraqis, one of Marjane's mother's friends loses her home. She and her family come to stay with the Satrapis until they can get back onto their feet. One day in the grocery store, she overhears some local women complaining that there is less food on the shelves since the Southern Iranians have sought refuge in Tehran, and that southern women are "whores." In this quote, Mali expresses her shame and rage at overhearing these remarks. 

Even though Iran has united in its efforts against the Iraqis, this quote illustrates how the country is still very much split internally. The war has affected everyone, but it has done so in differing degrees based on location and socioeconomic class. While the only hardship the women in the grocery store have come across is less variety of foods due to the influx of refugees, Mali and her family lost their home, and could have died if they were at home at the time of the bombing. The war has increased Marjane's sense of nationalism, but this event showed her how there can still be serious distrust and malice even between native Iranians. 

The Key Quotes

“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!’”

Related Characters: Marjane’s Parents (Mother and Father) (speaker), Marjane Satrapi
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

As the war rages on, the newspaper prints the names and photographs of "today's martyrs," or the most recent victims of the war. Marjane tries to talk to her mother about what she sees in the press, but her mother avoids the topic. In this quote, she explains to Marjane that Iran has seen so much death and bloodshed in its history that her own father taught her to remain stoic through even its worst moments. 

Marjane is surprised that her mother, a staunch revolutionary and avid protester, is so passive about the current war. This is likely due to the fact that even though the Revolution she fought so hard for succeeded, the new regime is even more oppressive than the one it overthrew. Her disappointment at the state of her country is therefore understandable, though depressing to Marjane, who has always looked up to her mother's courageous words and actions. Her parents have always made her feel safe and protected from the horrors of the Revolution and the war in the past, and though her mother intends these words to comfort her, they have the potential to do the opposite. Whereas previously her parents advocated action, now her mother encourages passivity. From this conversation, Marjane realizes that her parents are capable of complexities and contradictions, and that she must develop her own approach to the world separate from theirs. 

The Cigarette Quotes

“To die a martyr is to inject blood into the veins of society.”

Related Characters: Marjane Satrapi
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:

As the war between Iran and Iraq rages on, Iranians become increasingly confused as to the trajectory of the fighting. The government controls the news, so it is difficult to know what is true and what the government says to save face. In order to boost morale and encourage citizens to fight, the government releases propaganda that glorifies those who die in war. This quote is one such slogan, suggesting that each person that dies in the war serves to energize society at large. 

Marjane's parents teach her to be skeptical of Iranian news sources, since many Iranians believe that it is propaganda to make the public believe the war is progressing more than it actually is. Though Iraq offers a peace settlement and Saudi Arabia offers to aid in reconstruction, Iran rejects both offers due to a refusal to compromise ideological beliefs. This suggests that the regime is using the war to unite Iranians against Iraqis, distracting Iranians from uniting against the Islamic Republic. Slogans such as these, as well as rhetoric that tells young boys that they will be received into a glorious afterlife if they die in on the front lines, serve to convince Iranians to continue fighting for a war that seems to have no point and no end. Marjane, who grapples between her wish for the war to end and her intrinsic love for her homeland, is fascinated by the idea that death is supposed to invigorate the Iranian people.