Persepolis

Persepolis The Dowry Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It is now 1984 and Marjane is fourteen. She remains as rebellious as ever. She talks back to her teachers at school when they chastise her about what she wears or says: “I had learned that you should always shout louder than your aggressor,” she explains. One day, after the principal criticizes Marjane for wearing jewelry and tries to take it away from her, Marjane hits the principal and is summarily expelled, though she does try to apologize. At the new school to which she is sent, Marjane speaks out against the regime’s practice of keeping political prisoners, despite the teacher telling the class that the Islamic Republic does not keep political prisoners. The teacher calls her parents, and while they are both proud of her personal strength, they are also angry and fearful about her incautious behavior.
A proper teenager, Marjane has a lot of trouble conforming to the expectations of her, particularly because she has gone through so much and suffered so much during the Islamic Republic’s rise. Her anger at the principal is really anger at the regime, for the principal is a representative of its ideology. Marjane’s parents are still as liberal as ever, but they also understand the many dangers involved in standing up for oneself nowadays, despite the fact that they, too, once demonstrated in the streets.
Themes
Religion, Repression, and Modernity Theme Icon
Violence, Forgiveness, and Justice Theme Icon
Children, War, and Growing Up Theme Icon
The Personal vs. the Political Theme Icon
Marjane’s parents explain the regime’s horrible treatment of arrested women. They explain that when a girl who is a virgin and also unmarried gets arrested, a Guardian of the Revolution forcibly marries and rapes her before the execution. The rationale is that it is against the law to kill a virgin, so they solve the issue by making sure the girl is no longer a virgin. This horrifying situation is exactly what Niloufar underwent before her execution. After she was executed, her family received a measly dowry from the government in the mail. The dowry, which is a sum of money given to a bride’s family by the groom’s family after a wedding, proved to the family that Niloufar had been married off before her execution. In total, the family received the equivalent of $5 for their daughter’s life. Marjane is shocked and alarmed.
In order for Marjane to fully understand the danger she puts herself in by behaving against the rules in school, her parents very directly tell her the ugly truth about the way the regime treats women. Marjane’s parents have moved far away from their earlier attempts at protecting Marjane from the truth; as they express to her horrifying aspects of the regime, they treat her almost like an equal adult, one who has the mental capacities to understand the enormity of which they speak. The regime’s tactic of raping women so as to satisfy the tenets of Islam before executing them also reveals the horrible emptiness of the regime’s ideology. Early in the novel Marjane had wanted to be a prophet and to forbid suffering. While naïve, such a desire represented an understanding of religion that put people first. The Islamic regime’s understanding of religion is one that imposes suffering as a matter of course.
Themes
Religion, Repression, and Modernity Theme Icon
Violence, Forgiveness, and Justice Theme Icon
Children, War, and Growing Up Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Luckily, the principal chooses not to write up a report about Marjane’s bed behavior in school. However, despite this reprieve, Marjane’s parents tell her that they think it best if Marjane leaves Iran for a time. They decide that they will send her to a French school in Vienna, Austria. Marjane’s parents assure her that they will join her in a few months time, and though at first Marjane is happy she will have full independence, she suspects her parents are lying to her about following her to Vienna. “Don’t ever forget who you are,” Marjane’s father says, as Marjane thinks about the independence she will experience in Austria.
The decision to send Marjane to Austria is not an easy one, but it demonstrates a trust Marjane’s parents have for their daughter. They think she is old enough to handle herself far away from them. It also demonstrates the desperation of their situation. For all they know they, like Taher, might never see their daughter again. When Marjane’s father tells Marjane not to forget her origins while in Austria, he harkens back to the idea that you can love your country and criticize it deeply at the same time, a hard lesson. He is saying that she may not agree with the Islamic regime, but that she will always be Iranian.
Themes
Nationalism, Heroism, and Martyrdom Theme Icon
Children, War, and Growing Up Theme Icon
The Personal vs. the Political Theme Icon
The next day, Marjane begins her preparations to go to Austria. She fills a jar with Iranian dirt, gives away her favorite objects to her friends for safekeeping, and embraces her family, realizing “how much they loved me” and “how important they were to me.” At night, her grandmother comes to spend the night with her. She gives her some advice: “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.”
Marjane must prepare for the complete unknown; though dangerous, Tehran has also been a place of love, happiness, family, and friends. By taking the dirt with her and giving away her objects to friends she ensures a physical connection both to her land and to the people who are close to her but will be very far physically from her. Her grandmother’s advice seems to underscore the reason why much of the violence has continued so unabated—people want to commit revenge against one another—and it also suggests a way to survive in a cruel world. Though Marjane has learned this to a great degree already, the reminder is important for her, especially as she must embark into a more substantial—and lonely—adulthood.
Themes
Violence, Forgiveness, and Justice Theme Icon
Children, War, and Growing Up Theme Icon
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The next day, at the airport, Marjane’s parents reiterate to Marjane that she should not forget who she is or where she comes from, and Marjane vows that she will not. She remains worried that her parents will not manage to visit her in Vienna—that her family will never be together again. Tearfully, Marjane enters the airport. She turns around one last time and sees her father carrying her mother, who looks like she fainted, back to the car. “It would have been better to just go,” Marjane says, “rather than take one last look.”
Marjane is not at all unrealistic about her future: she understands that she might never be able to be with her parents in the same way again. Her last look back towards her family represents the difficulty of trying to keep a grasp on the past and one’s home while being forced to leave both. Marjane understands that the consequences of her leaving will not only reverberate in her own life, but also in the lives of the people she loves. She must leave Iran and her family to have a future, but she can never – nor does she want to – escape her connection to Iran or her family, even if her separation from her family and homeland fills her with grief.
Themes
Children, War, and Growing Up Theme Icon