Marjane Stapari’s graphic autobiography Persepolis tells the story of a young girl who grew up in Iran under an oppressive regime. Throughout her novel, she struggles with moral dilemmas as well as culture shock. Her struggle to adapt to society’s constant changes forces her, like many others in chaotic times, to turn to her own family. Marji is shaped by the grandmother’s guidance and influence. Marji is forced to mature much faster than most teenagers and children because of the dire circumstances in which she was raised. However, with the loving support of her parents, she builds a peaceful and happy life, as opposed to the destruction and violence she experienced on a regular basis. Persepolis shows Marji’s cultural values and roots by the grandmother’s comforting support and advice. She also reminds her of the pride she feels for her ancestral heritage.
Marji sees her grandmother as a symbol of hope, highlighting how family members provide support and help shape character. Marji’s grandmother’s legs always hurt, so she wanted to be a prophet. Instead of laughing off the idea, Marji’s grandmother says “In this case, I will be your first follower” (7). It is a sign of the comfort and security she finds with her family. Marji is stubborn and selfless at times. She wants to help her family, which she loves. She complains to her mother that her servant was not allowed at the dinner table and to her father about others not being able to afford a cadillac. However, the motivation she shows to end her grandmother’s suffering proves her love for her relatives. Marji shares her ideas freely with the grandmother as a teenager and a child. She also feels comfortable doing so when she is a little girl. The grandmother serves as a constant figure of authority and warmth in the memoir. Marji remembers fondly her last time with her grandma before she departs for Austria. As she explains: “When you saw her undress, the flowers fell from her breasts”(150). Marji idolizes her elderly grandmother, recognizing the beauty that is hidden beneath. Marji, who is dealing with puberty, struggles with her femininity. Therefore, it’s only natural that she would be appreciative of the steps taken by her grandmother to feel feminine. Marji has to learn all she can from her parents before leaving. Breasts are often used as a symbol of nurturing, growth and transformation. They are essential for breastfeeding babies, but they no longer are. In a unique way, Marji’s grandmother’s chest reflects the fact that she relied on her grandmother as a little girl, but as time goes on, becomes less reliant on the family. Marji’s grandmother played a huge role in helping her to grow, develop and become independent.
Marji is a young woman who grows into adulthood. She learns from her mistakes and experiences consequences, but her grandmother’s wise words always hold her responsible for her actions. Marji’s grandmother whispers to her before she departs for Austria: “Keep your dignity, and always be true yourself” (150). Marji seems to be able to relate to this sentiment as it is carried with her in Austria and when she starts to lose touch with her Persian roots, it pulls back towards them. Marji will refer to this wisdom repeatedly as her story unfolds. It acts as an moral compass. Marji avoids talking about her background to distance herself and others from stereotypical views. However, it makes her feel guilty. Marji attends an Austrian school party where a boy asked her to tell him about herself. She replied that she was French. Marji is then forced to admit that lying about being Iranian would be easier than telling the truth. She remembers her grandmother’s words later in the evening. Marji keeps her grandmother’s advice close to heart in her new community, which shows how the influence of family on a growing mind is universal. Marji, when she hears the grandmother’s words of wisdom, feels guilty and is prevented from going against her roots. Although it may seem like the easiest solution to ignore her heritage, Marji would have felt self-reproach had she not listened to the grandmother’s advice.
Marji has grown up by the time she returns home to Iran. Her family acceptance is still her main concern and this puts her in difficult situations. Marji is amused when she frames a man for the purpose of distracting the guardians against her controversial lipstick. When she explains this to her grandmother, the humor is stripped from her. She says: “It’s your grandpa’s and your uncle’s blood that runs through your veins!” Shame! (291). Marji has reached a pivotal point in her life. She decides that she will never feel guilty about dishonoring the family she loves again. Marji puts her family’s honor at the top of her list to get her grandmother to forgive her. It is much easier than Marji thought. Marji’s desire to be better after an argument and the reconciliation she has with her grandmother illustrate the importance family. Marji’s grandmother becomes less prominent as she takes more responsibility for her decisions. As Marji begins her married life, the guardian angel in the novel starts to fade. During Marji’s final departure from Iran (341), her grandmother starts crying only at the very last panel. Everyone else is still smiling. Marji had always seen her grandmother as an example of wisdom and strength, and as the story concludes this confidence begins to falter. Marji doesn’t need the stability that her family provided as much anymore, since she has a bright future and is independent. The grandmother’s tears show this. Marji reflects back on her grandmother’s role in her life, saying, “I saw her only once again, during the Iranian new year in March 1995.” She died on January 4, 1996… Freedom had a cost” (341). Marji’s grandmother was unable to bid her farewell because Marji left her family in order to be free. However, Marji doesn’t seem to be grieving, since she is now more confident and has learned enough from her elders. Marji had to leave her family in order to be free. She was unable say goodbye to her grandmother, but she does not seem to show any sadness, as she has a firm grasp on life and is done learning from elders.
For Iranians during the era Marji grew up in, poverty, death, and brutality was conventional, so civilians–especially children–had no choice but to turn to family when hopelessness began to take its toll. Marji is reminded to honor her heritage by her family. She has also been told to be proud to live up to her morals and values. Marji’s grandmother reminds her to honor her heritage and be proud of the moral values she holds. It can also be a source of pain for those who define themselves by their values. Marji benefited from the closeness of her family, which provided stability during the Iranian revolution. Without the grandmother’s wisdom, encouragement, and hope, Marji could not have grown into the strong, independent woman that she is.