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Religion, Repression, and Modernity Theme Analysis

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Religion, Repression, and Modernity Theme Icon
Nationalism, Heroism, and Martyrdom Theme Icon
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Children, War, and Growing Up Theme Icon
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Religion, Repression, and Modernity Theme Icon

Persepolis explores the intersection of religion and modernity, as well as the impact of religious repression on the religious feeling and practices of those who must endure it. At the beginning of the story, when Iran is ruled by the Westernized, American-backed dictator Shah, Marjane defines herself as “deeply religious” even as she and her family think of themselves as also being “very modern and avant-garde.” In fact, her religion at the start seems like a type of freedom. Religion, Islam and Zoroastrianism, and its many stories and traditions allow Marjane an escape not only into fancy and imagined glory—she sees herself as the last prophet—but also into ideas of social equality, aid for the weak, and the end of suffering. In pre-1979 Iran, Marjane does not see religion and modernity as incompatible: in her self-written holy book she adds a commandment that “everybody should have a car.” Indeed, God, who comes into the book as his own character, provides Marjane with much comfort, companionship, and meaning.

But the Revolution, which many Iranians supported because they wanted freedom from the decadent, violently oppressive, and foreign-backed Shah, ended up bringing to power a regime of conservative religious hard-liners who saw modern Western-style culture as incompatible with Islam. This new government—the Islamic Republic of Iran—soon passed laws that rigorously regulated all behavior on strict religious grounds and outlawed consumption of or interaction with essentially anything seen as Western, such as American music or clothing. Much of the graphic novel depicts how the Satrapi family, devoted as it is to Western ideas and practices, must hide these affinities behind closed doors (smuggling in, making, or buying Western luxuries like wine and posters of rock bands), while outwardly professing their devotion to the religious values defined by the rulers of the nation so as not to suffer terrible consequences that could range from beatings to torture to execution.

Further, Persepolis shows how, while Iran ostensibly became more religious under the Islamic Republic, the government’s attempts to force their religious practices onto the populace actually causes Marjane and others to lose their personal religions. After the execution of Anoosh at the hands of the Revolutionaries, Marjane yells at God to leave her, and he disappears as a character from the graphic novel. Under the new regime, she can no longer explore and think about religion on her own terms, and instead religion gets co-opted for nationalistic and political reasons. For instance, Mrs. Nasrine, the family maid, shows Marjane and Marjane’s Mother the plastic key painted gold given to her son by his teachers. The key, given to the poorer boys of Iran, represents their guaranteed entry to heaven if they are to die as soldiers in the Iraq-Iran War. Religion, here, becomes a tool used by the government to not only justify but make schoolboys want to go to a war that is almost certain death for them. Seeing such a usurpation of religion, Mrs. Nasrine expresses that though she has been “faithful to the religion” all her life, she’s not sure she can “believe in anything anymore.” Further, Persepolis depicts the hypocrisy of many of the representatives of the Islamic Republic, who declare their religious allegiance to the laws but also take bribes or overstate their devotion for the chance at extra money or promotion. The state-sanctioned religion makes shows of religion valuable as a means of career advancement, but does not inspire true religious values in many of even its most powerful adherents. Ultimately, the graphic novel portrays the repressive religion imposed by the Islamic Republic as actually standing at odds with the heartfelt religious feeling and belief experienced by an individual.

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Religion, Repression, and Modernity ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Persepolis related to the theme of Religion, Repression, and Modernity.
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.

I wanted to be justice, love, and the wrath of God all in one.

Related Characters: Marjane Satrapi (speaker)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

Marjane notes that she was "born with religion," and feels deeply religious from a young age. As a child, prior to the Revolution, Marjane believed that she would be the next Prophet of Islam. In this quote, she notes that she wants to be both loved and feared in this role, and seeks to become a Prophet in order to fix the various injustices she notices in the world. 

As a young girl, Marjane seeks to reconcile what she sees as problems with what she has learned so far from her parents and at school. Thus, she seeks to use the religion she deeply identifies with to fix these problems. This is representative of the strong will and rebellion that Marjane expresses as she grows up: she wants to embody love but also wants to be greatly respected, a model of power that is difficult for her to imagine outside of religion, particularly between the monarchy and the dictatorship that she experiences in Iran growing up. Marjane's wish to be a Prophet shows her need to establish a personal identity through deep soul-searching and a personal--not public or state-imposed--philosophy from a very young age. Even when she is reprimanded at school for speaking her childhood dreams aloud, she is steadfast in her wish and belief that she can bring about change. 

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. 

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.

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.