The Relations Between Literature and History in Satrapi’s Persepolis

Persepolis by Satrapi: Meaning of War in Young Years

Persepolis is a graphic novel by Iranian novelist Marjane Satrapi. This novel is written in French language and is autobiographical. Persepolis described the childhood and early years of the author, which were held at the time of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The title of the novel, Persepolis, is the name of the antique capital of the Persian Empire. This novel is counted in the ranks of the best fiction books.

The comics were drawn in white and black, were translated in many languages, and became very popular.

Marjane Satrapi in the novel Persepolis described her life during the war between Iraq and Iran. At that moment, she was a child and her childhood Satrapi spent in that war. In Persepolis 2, she depicted her school years in Austria and Vienna, her returning to Iran, study in collage, marriage, divorce, and moving to France. But it is not only a description of her biography, it is a Bildungsroman or a novel of formation: a literary genre, which focuses on moral and psychological growth of the character from childhood to adulthood, and in which protagonist change is very important.

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Persepolis 2 won the Prize for Scenario, which is given to comics authors at the International Comics Festival. The novel was awarded this prize in France for its script and in Spain for its aversion to totalitarianism.

Persepolis in Nineteen Sections

The first book, which described her childhood, consisted of nineteen sections.

The first section of the novel is named “The Veil”. The Veil is a symbol of cultural and personal identity. It is a view of a child of the Islamic Revolution. In 1980, she is ten years old. It was the year after the revolution. At that time, girls were forced to attire in the veil and separated by sex. The secular education was eliminated. Satrapi was born in a religious but modern family and she resisted the meaning of the veil. At the age of six, Satrapi felt that if she became a prophet, she would change everything. These thoughts visited her, when she saw how many injustices there were in the world. Also Marjane discussed Zarathustra, who was the first prophet in the country, and remembered traditional holidays, which were devoted to him, and which she enjoyed before the revolution.

The second section is named “The Bicycle”. The author compared the revolution to a bicycle. A revolution will stop, if nobody maintains its momentum. She observed the Shah’s oppression and learned about socialism and revolutions. Learning it, Satrapi refered to Fidel Castro; the American – Vietnam War; Leon Trotsky; the revolutionaries of Iran, such as: Fatemi, Freza? and Ashraf, who were socialists. Marjane’s favorite comic book Dialectic Materialism inspired her rebellion against patriarchy and authoritarian, but at that time, she was very small to take part in protests.

The third section “The Water Cell” was about the political past of Iran. After the socialist protest, Marjane wanted to play Monopoly. Instead, her parents told Marji the truth about their family and Iran’s history. Their account differed from the propaganda, which she learned at school. Satrapi learned that in 1925, the father of the present king Reza Shah, an illiterate and low-ranking, but young motivated officer, who was supported and influenced by the British to make a revolution to topple the Qajar emperor, was also her great-grandfather. Under the governing of the Shah, the property of her grandfather’s family was confiscated and her grandfather, who was selected as prime minister, was imprisoned, because he became a communist. In prison, he sat for hours in cell, which was full of water. For better understanding of exceedingly uncomfortable lifespan of her grandfather, she decided to sit in bath and lost the interest in Monopoly.

The fourth section is named “Persepolis”. It meant the fall of the great ones. After her grandmother’s visit, Marji knew more about hard life of her family and about the cruelty of Reza Shah and Mohammed Reza, who was his son, was crueler than his father, and kept her grandfather in prison. Her grandmother and mother worried about her father. He was overdue. After his appearing, the father told the story about the man, who died of cancer, but this death has been recognized as martyr in the name of the Islamic Revolution. At that moment, Satrapi understood that she did not know anything and must read more.

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The fifth section, named “The Letter”, was about the class-consciousness. After the reading of Ashraf Darvishian, the Kurdish author, Marji began to know much better about the class structures in Iran’s society. She told the story about her nursemaid Mehri. Mehri felt in love with the neighbor’s boy. Later he discovered that Mehri was the maid and he lost the interest. Her heart was broken. It was very unfair and Marji saw it. That is why she convinced Mehri to be present with her on anti-Shah demonstrations on Black Friday. It was the day, when many people were killed by the armed forces of Shah. They received a severe reprimand from Marji’s mother.

The sixth section “The Party” was devoted to the celebration of the end of the current government. The Black Friday was only the beginning of the period of violence. During that time, the country went down fast and Shah was exiled in Egypt. His proscription prompted very big celebration in Iran’s history. Ex-supporters of Shah came over to revolutionist’s side. Satrapi incited actions against her classmates, who were the children of the secret service of Shah, who tortured and killed a lot of communists. Her mother forgave such kind of people and Marji was trying to do the same.

The seventh section “The Heroes” was about the discharge of the political prisoners. In 1979, three thousand people were released from their prisons. Two of them visited Marji’s family and told about the cruel torture and the deaths of many of communists. Marji was ashamed that her father was not a revolutionist. She was confused by her mother’s words about forgiveness of bad people. That is why she abandoned her favorite book and tried to find the solace in her faith.

The eighth section “Moscow” was about the returning of a family hero. Marji visited one of her uncles, who was a hero of the revolution and spent nine years in prison as a communist. He told her about one of her relatives, who dreamed about democracy and justice, and went with his friends to the province of Azerbaijan to establish the independence there. His uncle joined him and they plotted the independence and freedom in Iran. This relative was executed and her uncle escaped to the Soviet Union. After returning to Iran, he was imprisoned. Her uncle encouraged her to remember his account even if she had some problems in understanding of this story, because it was their family memory and it must be saved.

The ninth section “The Sheep” was about the ingenuous idealism. Once, Marji heard the conversation between her father and her uncle. They told that a lot of people in Iran were illiterate, that is why it could not be possible to unite them around Marxist ideals, and they could be united only around a religion or nationalism. Her uncle wanted to see the working classes in the government. After the ending of the monarchy, in 1979, the Islamic Republic was created. A lot of families left Iran and moved to Europe and America. Her uncle believed that everything would be all right. But then, her family discovered that a lot of their communist friends fled or dead. Very soon her uncle was arrested and killed as a Russian agent. Marji felt very bad. Then the bombs fell on her country.

The tenth section “The Trip” was about the escape from shock. The author described the time, when it was not possible to get the American visa and her family could not leave Iran and join friends. The Universities were closed for preventing the imperialist indoctrination. Her family demonstrated for women’s rights. But after the cruelly attacked of the demonstrators, they decided to take the abrupt vacation to Italy and Spain. Marji’s family returned home after the announcement of war between Iran and Iraq.

The eleventh section “The F-14s” was about the invasion of Iraq. A radio report confirmed that Tehran was really bombed by MiGs of Iraq. The father of Marji was doubtful about the ability of Iran to defend itself, because a lot of pilots were imprisoned or executed. Marji interpreted it as unpatriotic. They were very surprised to hear the national anthem on the television. The pilots, who stayed in prison, agreed to attack Iraq only after the broadcasting the Iranian national anthem. Iranians defended themselves and bombed Baghdad. Marji’s school friend lost her father in this war. Marji attempted to console the friend and was very shocked to hear that the girl wanted to see her father alive and in prison rather than a dead hero.

The twelfth section “The Jewels” described a symbol of hope. During the war, a lot of people bought everything in the stores, because they were afraid of the diminished supply. Marji’s mother showed her bad side: she criticized her neighbors’ attempts to buy everything and then sent Marji to different shops to get as many packets of rice as possible. Iraq bombed a refinery in Abadan. Upon receiving this news, the mother of Marji became worried for her old friend. Later, her friend arrived with his family to Marji’s house. He did not have anything; his house was destroyed by bomb.

The thirteenth section “The Key” was about the promises of heaven to the poor. In that war, Iran had a significant advantage over Iraq. There were a number of young recruits. Those soldiers were from the poor families. The government convicted a lot of young boys to meet their death on the battleground. They believed that on the heaven there were women, good food and the houses making from gold waiting for them.

The fourteenth section is named “The Wine”. The wine was a symbol of the defiance and decadence. The most part of her time Marji spent in the bomb shelter under her house. It was a new lifestyle of her family. With every siren, which announced about the air raid, her family hid out in the basement. There they played cards, or chess, listened to music, watched videos, and drank wine. It was the only way to surmount the stress, but they lived in panic of being punished for their decadent behavior. Once, the Guardians tried to arrest Marji’s father, because they suspected him for wearing a necktie and of drinking alcohol. But a small bribe convinced them to forget about it.

The fifteenth section “The Cigarette” was about the loosing of the childhood. At that period, Marji was a teenager and sometimes her behavior was very bad. Everyone thought that it would be the end of the war very soon. But the Iran’s government decided to continue the war and to expand the Islamic Revolution. This regime used the war for extermination of the internal enemies. Marji smoked her first cigarette, believing that her childhood was finished.

The sixteenth section “The Passport” described the failings and challenges of bureaucracy. This was about the illness of her uncle Taher. He had to be sent to England for treatment, but it was not possible to get the official passport. Her father attempted to make a forged one and when the forger was discovered, he needed to run away from Iran.

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The seventeenth section is named “Kim Wilde”. Kim Wilde was the symbol of rebellion. Marji had a lot of decadent items, which were bought for her by her family. Such as: illegal audiotapes, a poster of Kim Wilde, and Nike sneakers.

The eighteenth section “The Shabbat” was about the returning Marji to the realities of war. Iraq acquired a new weapon for using it against Iran. A lot of Iranians died from this weapon and Marji saw it.

The nineteenth section “The Dowry” described the price of freedom. Marji expelled from the school, because she became a fearless rebel. Her family worried about her, because the government could kill her. That is why they decided to send her to Austria, where she attended the French school.


Persepolis is the autobiographical novel by Marjine Satrapi. This novel is intertwined with the history of her country. She described the terrible government of Shah and showed that after one cruel despot, other crueler despot would come. The people could not be free until the monarchy was alive. A lot of persons gave their lives to have the democratic country. Her family like other Iran’s families felt the cruelness of Shah. Million people were arrested and executed. It was the national tragedy.

It is the novel, which is written by the woman, who saw it with her own eyes. Her uncle asked Marji to remember his account even if she had some problems in understanding of the story about attempts to win the independence, because it was their family memory and it must be saved. It must not be lost for future generation. Only remembering it, they can appreciate the independence and their lives in free country. Marji described the war between Iran and Iraq. When the government changed its opinion and agreed to make some concessions: the pilots, who stayed in prison, agreed to attack Iraq only after the broadcasting the national anthem.

The main idea of her novel is to show the past, which created the current future. The author described it, because she believed that her book could change the world into a better side.