Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood


why do marijane parents oppose the shah?

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The Shah didn't make good on his promises to the people. Marjane's father tells her the story of how the King came to power in The Water Cell. He tells her that Reza Shah, the father of the current King, had been a soldier who had helped organize an army to overthrow the Emperor of Persia and install a republic. Her father’s history is a flashback to Reza Shah’s rise to power: Reza Shah and his conspirators sit around a campfire and plot their attack. Reza declares, “If it is God’s will, we will reach the capital in 19 days.” One of his co-conspirators thinks, “And even if [God] isn’t, what can stop us?”

Marjane’s father tells her that during this time there had been great movements all over the world to install republics; Gandhi had advocated for peace to overthrow the British in India, Ataturk had declared that Turkey should be a Western nation. Reza Shah had wanted to follow these men’s example but he had not been a lawyer like Gandhi or a great General like Ataturk. Instead, he had been “an illiterate low-ranking officer.”

He tells her that the British had learned of Reza Shah’s desire to overthrow the Persian emperor and had decided, because of Persia’s great wealth of oil, that they would help him. They had approached Reza and told him that he could be Emperor, a political situation that would be much better for him personally. The British had dissuaded Reza Shah from starting a republic because, as they said to him, “The religious leaders are against it...a vast country like yours needs a holy symbol.” Reza Shah had asked what he needed to do and the British tell him that he must give them the oil when he becomes Emperor and that they would do everything else.


The historical narrative that Marjane’s mother and father present to her is an alternate telling of the historical fall of the Persian Empire and rise of the Shah. It is important to note how official history is often only loosely connected to the personal experiences of history. In this way, Persepolis offers a particular perspective on history, largely a political and leftist retelling of Iranian history. This historical understanding is shaped not by an outside, subjective understanding of the events occurring in the country during this period but, instead, by those who are directly affected by the political turmoil of the twentieth century.