Persepolis

Persepolis The Cigarette Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
One day, two years after the war began, Marjane follows some of her older friends to a store called Kansas, where the shopkeepers sell burgers. Though expressly forbidden, money can still buy Western trappings for those who have it. When Marjane comes home, Marjane’s mother yells at her because she skipped her school lessons in order to buy hamburgers. She lectures her: “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!!” Marjane’s mother continues her lecture and promises to punish Marjane. In return, Marjane compares her mother’s nagging to a kind of dictatorship, and her promise of punishment akin to government torture of dissidents.
Marjane is becoming a typical rebellious teenager. Even within repressed Tehran avenues exist for the well-off to enjoy some of the delicacies that would have once been far more common before the rise of the Islamic Republic. Marjane’s mother tries to make her daughter understand how important it is for her to make the right decisions now in order for Marjane to have a decent future. However, Marjane dismisses the warnings, just as Mrs. Nasrine’s son had done. By showing Marjane using the language of dissent against the Islamic Republic to describe her mother’s attempt to control her (or protect her, as her mother would put it), the book again builds a comparison between revolutionaries and children.
Themes
Religion, Repression, and Modernity Theme Icon
Children, War, and Growing Up Theme Icon
The Personal vs. the Political Theme Icon
The Iranian people constantly hear differing accounts about the progress of the war. Fort this reason, no one believes much of the reporting. Despite this skepticism, however, the report that Iraq offers Iran a peace settlement is true. Additionally, Saudi Arabia offers a sum of money to aid reconstruction, but Iran refuses the deal because it refuses to compromise its ideological ideals even for peace. Public warmongering increases. People write slogans that support the war on the streets. Marjane notices one slogan that particularly intrigues her: “To die a martyr is to inject blood into the veins of society.”
The government uses propaganda to try to control the message of the war, and thereby continue to control its own population. That the regime rejects peace suggests that the regime needs the war to continue as a way to maintain power. And this tactic works, as the majority of Iranians continue to support Iran and the ideology that drives it to war. The slogan is a good example of the way that the regime uses the war to control its people, to make them see themselves as both connected to Iranian society (and thus the regime that governs it) and to willingly throw themselves into the war effort.
Themes
Nationalism, Heroism, and Martyrdom Theme Icon
Violence, Forgiveness, and Justice Theme Icon
The Personal vs. the Political Theme Icon
Marjane explains that it eventually became clear to the people “that the survival of the regime depended on the war”—if the war did not continue, the Islamic Republic would fall apart, so the regime must continue it at all costs. She tells the reader sadly: “When I think we could have avoided it all…it just makes me sick. A million people would still be alive.” She explains further how the regime arrested and executed “the enemy within”—anyone who posed a threat to or rebelled against the regime in any way. At around the same time as she had this realization, Marjane smokes her first cigarette as “my act of rebellion against my mother’s dictatorship.” Though she does not like the taste, she feels that she has reached adulthood: “Now I was a grown-up.”
Marjane has matured to the point where she can see past her nationalism and understand that Iran’s war with Iraq helps people feel like their lives have a purpose and it also distracts them from rebelling much against the regime that represses them. Still, Iran gets rid of anyone who does dare rebel against it’s rule, and Marjane mourns the death of so many people who died for the sake of a government that put its own survival before the survival of its people. The cigarette represents a small way that Marjane finds to rebel against what she feels like is a war at home against her mother’s rules, though of course this is also a small rebellion against the state of her life in general. Though, again, she mistakes the romanticism of rebelling for being an actual grown up.
Themes
Nationalism, Heroism, and Martyrdom Theme Icon
Violence, Forgiveness, and Justice Theme Icon
Children, War, and Growing Up Theme Icon