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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.
Violence, Forgiveness, and Justice Theme Icon

The historical body count by the end of Persepolis is enormous: from the start of the Revolution to the end of the Iraq-Iran War over a million people die—on the battlefield, in the streets, and in prison cells—killed by the Shah and by the Islamic Republic that replaces the Shah. By the end of the book, Marjane expresses her sorrow that “we could have avoided it all”, indicating a belief that much of the damage done to the Iranian people was a result of the Iranian regime’s own actions: its warmongering with Iraq, its radicalization of young soldiers, its religious fanaticism, its valorization of martyrdom. Official, legally sanctioned punishment for infractions as small as an improperly worn veil or the possession of forbidden party fare could be shockingly severe, including torture and death, and the people who carry out these punishments are usually agents of the regime. As such, Marjane claims, “it was really our own who attacked us.”

Marjane must therefore contend with the reality of the complicity of the people around her. In the early days after the end of the Revolution, Marjane and her friends find out that Ramin’s father was part of the secret police under the Shah that killed many people. They decide to get revenge by holding nails between their fingers and attacking Ramin. However, Marjane’s mother teaches her that one cannot blame and punish the child of the perpetrator, who has nothing to do with the crimes committed. She claims that one must forgive, and Marjane takes this to heart. Later, however, after seeing the deaths perpetrated by the new Islamic Republic, she contradicts herself somewhat, saying that “bad people are dangerous, but forgiving them is, too.” This comment suggests the realization of an impossible situation, the realization that despite what the storybooks might say, forgiveness is not a cure-all, that forgiving bad people won’t magically turn them good. At one point, Marjane’s mother claims, “Don’t worry, there is justice on earth.” But the book seems to constantly question the veracity of this claim. In Persepolis little justice is to be found.

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Violence, Forgiveness, and Justice ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Persepolis related to the theme of Violence, Forgiveness, and Justice.
The Veil Quotes

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. 


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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. 

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 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. 

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 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. 

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

“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. 

The Dowry Quotes

“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.”

Related Characters: Marjane’s Grandmother (speaker), Marjane Satrapi
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:

After Marjane is expelled from one school and is reprimanded for speaking out against political prisoners in a second, her parents decide that is in her best interest to leave Iran. They decide to send her to live with one of Marjane's mother's friends in Vienna, where she will attend a Francophone school. On the night before she is scheduled to leave Tehran, her grandmother comes to spend one last night with her. In this quote, she gives Marjane the advice to never react cruelly to anyone, even if they are cruel to her. 

The advice that Marjane's grandmother gives her extends not just to interpersonal relationships, but to world relations as well. Violence and cruelty begets more violence and cruelty, and the aim of war is to cause so much damage to an enemy that they are weakened to the point of being unable to cause more damage. Though Marjane is stubborn and spirited, she is also kind and unique, and Marjane's grandmother hopes that she will be able to continue to be herself, albeit herself with dignity, in Vienna, since she was not able to fully express herself within the strict regime of Iran.