Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood Summary and Analysis of "The Party," "The Heroes," and "Moscow"


The Party

There are many more massacres after “Black Friday.” In a large frame, there are rows of the dead, all with their eyes open and the mouths agape in terror. These demonstrations mean that the Shah’s reign is in trouble. The Shah makes a declaration that he will move the country towards democracy, but he is never able to install a real government. He finds fault in all the Prime Ministers. This only makes the demonstrations more violent; statues of the Shah are torn down and his effigy is burned. Finally, the Shah steps down and all the people celebrate the biggest celebration in the country’s history.

Jimmy Carter, President of the United States, refuses to give refuge to the Shah. Mr. Satrapi says, “Carter has forgotten his friends. All that interests him is oil.” Her father insists that Anwar Al-Sadat will accept him into Egypt because they have been friends since both betraying their region by making a pact with Israel. Marjane does not understand. Her father declares, “as long as there is oil in the middle east we will never have peace.” As a large snake wraps around the frame, her mother and father decide to talk about something else “now that the devil has left!”

At school, Marjane’s teacher tells them to tear out the picture of the Shah. Marjane is confused and says that the teacher told them that God chose the Shah in the first place. The teacher tells Marjane to stand in the corner for saying such a thing. Other strange things happen as well. Their neighbors rejoice that the demonstrations are over and one man’s wife shows off a small mark on her cheek that she claims is where a bullet almost hit her. Marjane’s mother, knowing that the woman did not protest, complains that the mark has been there all along.

At play, a boy tells Marjane and a friend that Ramin’s father had been in the Savak, the Shah’s secret police, and that he had killed a million people. Marjane and her friends decide to put nails between their fingers and beat up Ramin. Marjane’s mother stops them and tells Marjane not to do such things, that it is not Ramin’s fault that his father had killed people. She tells Marjane that she must forgive. The next day, Marjane goes up to Ramin and tells him, “Your father is a murderer but it’s not your fault, so I forgive you.” Ramin replies that his father is not a murderer and that “he killed communists and communists are evil.” Marjane’s mother is shocked that Ramin would repeat such things, and Marjane stares in the mirror, repeating the mantra that “You have to forgive!”

The Heroes

A few days after the Shah steps down, the political prisoners are released. Marjane’s family knows two of them, Siamak Jari and Mohsen Shakiba. Both had been convicted of being communists. Siamak’s wife is Mrs. Satrapi’s best friend. One day, Laly, Siamak’s daughter, visits Marjane and Marjane tells her that her father is dead and not away on a trip, as she had been told. Laly runs to her mother and Marjane is punished for saying such a thing. Marjane thinks, “Nobody will accept the truth.”

Then, when the prisoners are released, Siamak comes to visit and Marjane sees that she has been wrong. Siamak is relieved to see his family and friends once again. Soon, Mohsen joins them. They nonchalantly retell their stories of torture and abuse. Their fingernails had been pulled out and the bottoms of their feet had been whipped with electrical cords. The torturers had been trained by CIA agents, so they “knew each part of the body” and how to cause the most pain. Marjane’s parents are so shocked that they forget to tell Marjane to leave the room. One of their friends, Ahmadi, who had been a member of the guerilla army, had been captured and tortured in especially awful ways. The torturers burned his back with an iron. Marjane looks at their house iron and says that she “never imagined that you could use that appliance for torture.” In the end, Ahmadi was killed and they cut him to pieces.

Marjane tells Laly that she had been partially right in telling her that her father was not on a trip. Laly is angry and declares, “All torturers should be massacred!” Out at play, Marjane devises new games. The losers will be tortured with the “mustache-on-fire” method, the twisted arm, and the “mouth filled with garbage.” When she returns home, she looks in the mirror and feels powerful. She sees small devil horns coming from her head. Then, she becomes overwhelmed and cries to her mother. She asks her mother if she should still forgive, and her mother tells her, “Bad people are dangerous but forgiving them is too. Don’t worry, there is justice on earth.” Marjane does not know what justice is, but decides to give up her “Dialectic Materialism” comics. She only feels safe in the arms of God, her friend.


Marjane wishes that her father had been a hero and she makes up stories about how he lost limbs, though none of the stories is true. She then meets her Uncle Anoosh, one of her father’s brothers, and they tell her that he had been in prison. She immediately loves Anoosh because now she has “a hero in my family.” Marjane invites her Uncle to stay with them and he tells her that he will stay for one night and tell her stories.

That night, he tells her the story of how he had come to be imprisoned. Anoosh’s Uncle Fereydoon had stood up to the Shah and had proclaimed independence in the province of Azerbaijan. Fereydoon had become the minister of justice. Anoosh had similar political ideas as his uncle, but Anoosh’s father had remained loyal to the Shah. Anoosh had become Fereydoon’s secretary but one day he had come to work to find that the Shah’s soldiers had arrested Fereydoon. Anoosh had run away to his family’s home and had arrived at his parents’ doorstep half dead from his journey. His father had welcomed him back, but the Shah’s police had still been on his trail. Anoosh had learned that Fereydoon had given himself over the Shah instead of running away. In prison, his girlfriend had come to him and they had made a baby in order to have a “living memory,” but she had left for Switzerland soon after.

Anoosh himself had left and gone to the U.S.S.R. Marjane wants to know what he did there and he tells her that he had become a student of Marxism. She asks him if he had studied dialectical materialism and he is surprised that she knows such a term. He tells her that he had married and had had two children. He shows her a picture but the face of the woman is blacked out. Marjane asks why and he tells her that the Russians are different, that they have no hearts.

Anoosh tells her that after his divorce, he had decided to return home with a false passport and a disguise. The Shah’s guards had recognized him, however, and he had been put in prison for nine years. Marjane tells him that she had heard he was tortured, and he tells her, “What my wife made me suffer was much worse.” He tells her that he recounts these stories because, “Our family memory must not be lost. Even if it’s not easy for you, even if you don’t understand it all.” Anoosh puts her to bed and gives her a carved swan that he had made out of bread while in prison. In the last scene, Marjane dreams of walking down a tree lined street, telling her friends that many people in her family are heroes and have gone to prison for their political beliefs.


“The Party” deals with issues of collective and individual forgiveness. As the Shah is deposed from his throne, the nation erupts in a huge party. The Shah finds that he is not welcome in any of the western countries that he had formerly been in alliance with. In an important graphic frame, Marjane’s parents say that they must forget about the whole thing and move on with their lives. In this frame, a large snake dragon wraps around the picture, a symbol of evil and lies. This represents the innate injustice still at work in the Iranian conscience. Forgetting, thus, is not as easy a process as Marjane’s parents believe it will be.

This issue of national forgetting is contrasted with Marjane’s personal issues of forgiveness. When she and her friends learn that their friend Ramin’s father had been in the Shah’s secret police, they attempt to reenact the violence of the Revolution by meting out justice on Ramin. Luckily, they are stopped and Marjane learns from her mother that she must forgive. Satrapi uses the rhetorical device of anaphora. She and her mother repeat the phrase “have to forgive” as a way of convincing both themselves and, on a literary level, the reader that they are the moral centers of the novel. When she attempts to forgive Ramin, however, she finds that he is utterly defiant and even proud of the murders that his father committed. This demonstrates to Marjane that, just as forgetting the past is an impossible task, so too is forgiving those that find no fault in their past actions. Satrapi alludes to the idea that this is a planted seed of coming injustice.

The question of heroism is also dealt with in these chapters. The issue that Marjane deals with is coming to understand what makes one a hero. There is a spectrum of heroism presented: on one end of the spectrum, Marjane sees her own father. He is not a hero because he had not been imprisoned or tortured, though he had demonstrated and stood up for his political beliefs. At the other end of the spectrum is Ahmadi, the guerrilla war leader who not only had been tortured but also had been killed and cut into pieces. Marjane mistakenly thinks that he had been tortured with a household iron instead of a branding iron, a bit of childish humor thrown in to remind the reader of the narrator’s childhood perspective.

Satrapi uses techniques of juxtaposition in “The Heroes” to create an atmosphere of danger. She juxtaposes images of a familial gathering - friends and family together, sharing stories and memories - with scenes of intense torture and death. In one panel, the top third of the page is taken up by Ahmadi’s body, which has been cut into pieces. The next panel shows a family gathered together. This creates a mood of uneasiness and fear in Marjane and in the reader. It suggests that even in one’s own home, surrounded by one’s own family, one is not safe.

The hero that Marjane finally comes to identify with is her Uncle Anoosh who had been a political prisoner because of his Marxist views. Anoosh becomes her hero because he is both her blood relation -- this means that she is able to take on a familial identity of suffering -- and because he risked his life for his ideals. Anoosh, however, does not see such nobility in his suffering and tells Marjane that the pain of his divorce is greater than that of his torture. Anoosh’s character suggests that the bonds of family and love are, in the end, more important than political and social ideals.

The term “dialectic materialism” (referred to in philosophy as “dialectical materialism”) is a running theme through these early chapters. Dialectical materialism is considered the founding principles upon which Marxism is based. The materialism aspect of this theory is that all things are material, i.e. - all created things come from physical matter and natural processes and not some supernatural force such as God. The dialectical part of the theory refers to Hegel’s dialectic of history, a complicated philosophical statement on the patterns of human history. Marx theorized that all human history could be seen as class conflict.

Whether or not the author actually had and read a comic book version of this Marxist philosophy is not as important as the symbol of the comic book. Satrapi is attempting to express the ways in which her child’s eye understands the complicated and nuanced political arguments happening around her. This is a self-referential statement since the reader is also reading a “graphic novel,” a comic book for grown-ups. These situations show that, though she attempted to educate herself in these political nuances, the real power of Iran’s political turmoil and suffering did not occur in some philosophical sense but, instead, in a real way that affected people’s lives. Anoosh, for instance, does not attempt to engage the young Marjane in a discussion on Marxism and its causes and effects. Instead, he shows her the picture of his wife with the marked out face and declares that the communists in Russia have no hearts. Acts of love and heartbreak become paramount.