Persepolis is a story about Marjane Satrapi, her family, her friends, and the people she knows—and also about the nation of Iran. These two stories cannot be unspooled from each other—one cannot be told without the other, and no individual in the story can exist or be understood outside of the context of the historical change happening in Iran around him or her, no matter how much he or she might try. From the start, Marjane’s story is about how the individual engages with the political—as her parents demonstrate against the Shah during the Revolution—and how the political encroaches on the personal—as after the Revolution Marjane must suddenly wear the veil at school. Indeed, what Marjane at one point pinpoints as the source of the Revolution—class differences—she recognizes in her own family home: the family maid, Mehri, does not eat dinner at the table with them.
The question, then, becomes one of degrees: if one cannot escape the political in one’s life, how much should one participate in the political sphere, and does one actually have a choice in the matter? For the Satrapis, the question manifests itself in questions over how much risk they want to take to protect their rights—do they want to demonstrate and possibly be beaten, for example? The Satrapis' solution is to try to recede as much as they can, to appear like good citizens of the Islamic Republic even as they privately hold parties, make wine, and buy imported goods. Yet even these choices are political acts, as they are forbidden and might lead to arrest.
Though Marjane cannot outwardly rebel much beyond improperly covering her veil, she finds small ways to resist the oppressive rules imposed on her by the Islamic Republic. The personal and the political, then, become inexorably intertwined in Iran. To assert one’s individuality in clothing or spoken opinion becomes a political act. Furthermore, Marjane expresses that government policies really affect people’s behaviors: “It wasn’t only the government that changed. Ordinary people changed too.” Under such a repressive regime, what once felt like an enormous separation between the public sphere and the private one considerably narrows. By the end of the graphic novel, Marjane’s mother is both covering the windows to protect against flying glass—a consequence of the ongoing warfare, indiscriminate in its destructiveness—and from the eyes of prying neighbors, who might inform the authorities about the family’s Western ways, which would be an individually targeted and motivated act.
The Personal vs. the Political ThemeTracker
The Personal vs. the Political 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.
As for me, I love the King, he was chosen by God.
“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.”
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.
It wasn’t only the government that changed. Ordinary people changed too.
“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!”
“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!’”
“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!!”
“To die a martyr is to inject blood into the veins of society.”