Persepolis

Persepolis The Water Cell Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Before the overthrow of the Shah, Marjane’s parents demonstrate in the streets every day and are exhausted, too exhausted to play Monopoly with Marjane. They come back home aching and demoralized. Because she is upset with her parents, she tries to defy them by expressing, “As for me, I love the King [the Shah], he was chosen by God.” However, Marjane’s father explains that “God did not choose the King,” though her textbooks tell her the opposite. He then begins to tell the young girl about the history of Iran and how the King became the King in the first place.
Marjane’s childishness continues to be emphasized in contrast to her desire to have a viewpoint on political events. Still, her parents retain their role as guides to the revolution, and Marjane has to learn that not everything that she learns in school, the place where one might think one might learn the truth, is correct.
Themes
Religion, Repression, and Modernity Theme Icon
Nationalism, Heroism, and Martyrdom Theme Icon
Children, War, and Growing Up Theme Icon
The Personal vs. the Political Theme Icon
Her father explains to Marjane that fifty years earlier the Father of the Shah, Reza Shah, organized a coup to establish a Republic. Though the idea of a Republican government was popular among these earlier revolutionaries, there were many different interpretations among them. Moreover, there were many proponents of and examples of Republicanism, from Gandhi in India—who hoped to overthrow Western influence—to Ataturk in Turkey—who emphasized the secular, Western aspect of Turkish society. Reza Shah was not educated or a natural leader, but “an illiterate low-ranking officer” who was taken advantage of by the British, who wanted to stave off the Russian Bolsheviks and to tap into Iran’s vast oil fields. The British promised Reza Shah the role of emperor, convincing him that “a vast country like [Iran] needs a holy symbol”—and he agreed, despite his original Republican ideals, which would have meant a less autocratic government. Reza Shah became king, and his son, the current Shah, inherited the role from him. Marjane’s father, having explained the rise of the Shah on political grounds, concludes by saying that “God has nothing whatsoever to do with this story,” despite Marjane’s initial thoughts to the contrary.
Marjane so far has been very interested in religion, myth, and history, but as her idea of her perfect religion earlier shows, she mixed all the different elements up into one, in which some kind of ideal religion motivates historical events. However, this continuation of Marjane’s introduction to the history of Iran demonstrates how over time religion, myth, and history become separate entities for Marjane. She begins to understand cause and effect, and how both influences inside and outside the country created modern Iran. Marjane’s father shows the Shah and his father to be on a human, historical scale, disproving the claims of her textbooks. It also shows just how messy history can be, and how those in power use propaganda to try to justify their own power.
Themes
Religion, Repression, and Modernity Theme Icon
Nationalism, Heroism, and Martyrdom Theme Icon
Children, War, and Growing Up Theme Icon
At this point Marjane’s father reveals that the emperor that the Father of the Shah overthrew was in fact Marjane’s maternal great-grandfather. Marjane rejoices at this new information, including the realization that her grandfather was, as the son of the Emperor, a prince. She immediately romanticizes her connection to royalty, but her father explains that in fact the Father of the Shah took everything her grandfather owned. However, because he was educated, the Father of the Shah named him Prime Minister. After his appointment, because he interacted with other intellectuals, he became a communist and also a critic of the regime. For this reason he was later often sent to prison and tortured; he was often placed for hours in a cell filled with water. Marjane’s mother, the daughter of this grandfather, sadly describes how, as a girl, she always dreaded the knock on the door that often meant her father once again would be arrested. She visited him in prison, but his health deteriorated dramatically because of the terrible conditions. She cries to Marjane and her father: “All his life he was in pain.”
In this scene, the politics that initially seemed purely historical and “bigger” then Marjane suddenly becomes extremely personal. Marjane at first welcomes the news—as she had once thought of herself as a prophet, she thinks happily about the great individuals that are connected to her. Nevertheless, Marjane’s mother’s interruption of her husband’s history lesson demonstrates the actual costs that politics and dissent had on Marjane’s grandfather’s life. While previously the political arena remained rather abstract to Marjane despite her parent’s demonstrations and her wearing of the veil, now Marjane must deal with the fact that her family members have been directly, and negatively, affected by the turmoil that Iran has experienced over the last few decades. And she must also start to confront her romantic view of history with the actual human cost of participating in that history.
Themes
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
Very affected emotionally, Marjane no longer wants to play Monopoly; instead she wants to take a bath. “That night I stayed a very long time in the bath. I wanted to know what it felt like to be in a cell filled with water.” God asks her what she is doing, as if he doesn’t understand. When she comes out, her hands are wrinkled, “like grandpa’s.”
Marjane, confronted with difficult truths, edges slightly closer to adulthood, as she refuses to play a childish game which itself symbolizes a casual reenactment of adult capitalistic business deals. Though Marjane has previously mimicked adults, she has always mimicked their demonstrations of bravado and strength. Here Marjane’s mimicry in the bathtub becomes one of sympathy, an attempt to try to understand what it feels like to be someone physically harmed because of his or her political beliefs.
Themes
Violence, Forgiveness, and Justice Theme Icon
Children, War, and Growing Up Theme Icon
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