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Literary Analysis of Cultural Identify in Persepolis

Updated on August 29, 2019
Christina Dunn profile image

A strong fan of literature, Christina frequently reads, analyzes, and writes stories and poems.

Despite having an abundance of national pride during her childhood, Marjane grows up to be an outsider to both Vienna and Tehran. Her immigrant status in Vienna made her a fish out of water in the European city, and as she attempted to assimilate, she isolated herself from Tehran as well. Initially, Marjane holds a lot of national pride. This is a result of the combination of a rebellious history of the Persians and her family’s influence.

The Persians learned how to fight and revolt during the “25,000 years of tyranny and submission” from their emperors, the Arabs, Mongols, and the Modern imperialists (Satrapi 11). These invading groups tried and failed to hold down the Iranians, and after them there were even more intruders. During Marjane’s childhood, the Shah’s father took the right to rule from Marjane’s great-grandfather. As the Shah loses his reign and is forced to flee, the religious fanatics, or Fundamentalists, came to power. The rule of the Fundamentalists is distinctly a cultural invasion. Instead of people forcing their ideals on Iran, a religion is used to impose those ideals. The compromised sovereignty, like those of the intruders before them, resulted in a booming rebellion culture in Iran.


Photo of Author Marjane Satrapi
Photo of Author Marjane Satrapi | Source

Marjane’s parents initially participate wholeheartedly in the rebellion against the Shah, attempting to secure their country and way of life. Ebi takes photographs and documents the protests, while Tahji directly participates in them. Through them, Marjane is exposed to the rebel culture in Tehran. For example, she grows up knowing prisoners of war as family friends, and participates in forbidden parties, which were frequently accompanied by alcohol, Western music, and banned items. Her childhood heroes were rebellion leaders, and while she dressed in her mirror, she pretended to be Che Guevara wondering “if [she would] be even better as Fidel Castro” (16).

Holding strong beliefs and standing up for them becomes ingrained into her personality, and this is what gets her into troublesome situations as she ages. Refusing to give up her bracelets during school hours, she gets into conflicts with the principal until Marjane accidentally hits the principal in her attempt to keep her bracelet. Expelled from that school, she is sent to another and gets into trouble there as well.

When her teacher says the Islamic Republic doesn’t keep political prisoners, Marjane refuses to stay silent and tolerate her “[lying] to [them] like that.” As she explains to the teacher, “Iran went from “3,000 prisoners under the Shah to 300,000 under [the Republic]” (144). This interaction does not get her expelled, but it does get her parents to decide that Tehran has become a dangerous place for Marjane. So her parents move her to Vienna. Before her departure, Ebi tells Marjane “Don’t forget who you are”, and Marjane promises she would not (148).

However, she does forget. When she moves to Vienna, Marjane’s initially clear Iranian cultural identity becomes muddled. She experiences culture shock with the more liberal, Western environment. She also has a huge language barrier with her roommate Lucia at the boarding house: Lucia only speaks German, while Marjane’s second language is French. This creates a communication chasm between them, and it contributes to Marjane’s feelings of isolation. The extended frame depicting their bedroom emphasizes this distance, as each girl is on opposite sides of the room, smiling nervously (161). Furthermore, during Julie’s party, Marjane is shocked by the public displays of affection and abundant smoking. This is nothing like the parties in Tehran, and she longs for the familiarity of home.

During the party, she is depicted as isolated and alone in the corner of the page’s frame with a black background used for dreary and dark atmospheres (185). Later, she starts smoking and taking drugs herself in her attempt to assimilate. This only conjures up feelings of self-hatred and guilt inside of her. The more she tries to fit into Vienna, the more she ends up “distancing [herself] from [her] culture, betraying [her] parents and [her] origins, and losing by playing a game by somebody else’s rules” (193).

While she is on the phone with Ebi and Mehri, parents and child are separated into individual frames, depicting their distance. In addition, the dialogue is not in text bubbles. Although Marjane’s and Ebi’s dialogue are being interchanged with all parties, the dialogue of each person is only in their frame, emphasizing their separation.

Not only is Marjane dealing with the struggles of being in a strange land, she also is separated from the war at home. She starts feeling guilty because while she is “[smoking] joints to make a good impression,”her family is “being bombed every day” (39). In order to cope with living in Vienna, she has to mentally reject the culture of her upbringing, “[wanting to forget everything, to make [her] past disappear” (194). At a school party, she is asked where she is from, and she lies and says France because “Iran was the epitome of evil, and to be Iranian was a heavy burden to bear. It was easier to lie than to assume that burden” (195).

However, this seems to be only a temporary lapse in her Iranian identity. While Marjane is trying to watch the television in the boarding house, Mother Bridget interrupts her leisure time because Marjane is eating her meal out of the pot. Angled higher in the frame than Marjane, thus depicting her higher status and feeling of superiority, Mother Bridget insults Marjane, saying “It’s true what they say about Iranians. They have no education” (177). Offended, Marjane immediately calls all the nuns prostitutes.

Later, she defends her home again against bigoted girls insulting and judging her for lying about her nationality. She screams at them “You are going to shut up and I am going to make you. I am Iranian and proud of it!” (197). In this frame, her dialogue is not confined in a text bubble, for they are too strong to be boxed in, and the girls are small and cowering in the corner, similar to how Marjane was depicted at Julie’s party (197). She may be physically and mentally separated from her country of origin but she will not allow others to insult it.


Evicted from the student dorm, Marjane lives in the streets of Vienna and contracts bronchitis. She eventually returns to Tehran, and she “immediately felt the repressive air of [her] country” as she travelled through customs (246). She struggles to readjust to her home and the differences it has obtained in her absence. All the streets have been renamed after martyrs, making her feel “as though [she was] walking through a cemetery... surrounded by the victims of a war [she] had fled. It was unbearable” (251). After her father informs her of what happened in Tehran during her absence, “[her] Viennese misadventures seemed like little anecdotes or no importance. So [she] decided that [she] would never tell [her family] anything about [her] Austrian life. They had suffered enough as it was” (257).

Marjane’s experiences in Tehran and Vienna leave her a stranger in two lands: “[she] was a westerner in Iran, an Iranian in the West. [She] had no identity” (272). Despite promising her reflection that “[she will always be true to [herself]” before leaving Tehran as a child, she didn’t (151). It is impossible to stay true to oneself when one loses track of who they are. Her strong national identity has been replaced with a dual cultural identity of both Vienna and Iran.

Works Cited

Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis. New York: Pantheon, 2003. Print.


© 2019 Christina Garvis

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