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The Personal vs. the Political Theme Analysis

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.
The Personal vs. the Political Theme Icon

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Persepolis related to the theme of The Personal vs. the Political.
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 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

“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 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.

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

War always takes you by surprise.

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

When Marjane and her father return home, they rush to tell Marjane's mother about the bombing. Having been in the shower, she had no clue it had occurred prior to being told by her daughter and husband. In this quote, Marjane reasons that war is never truly expected--it always takes people, and a nation, by surprise.

Though Marjane grew up in a state of political turmoil, this is the first time she has experienced being in the midst of a war. Previously, she heard about bloodshed and disputes via secondhand accounts at school and from her parents. Now, she finds her city of origin as the point of attack. Though she knew that her country's position in world and Middle Eastern politics was far from friendly and stable, an Iraqi bombing of Tehran was the last thing she expected to hear over the car radio while driving with her father. This event teaches her to expect the unexpected. 

“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

“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. 

“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.