The Child of Paradox

Don’t you think I look like Che Guvara?

Maybe I’ll be even better as Fidel Castro! (16)

Marjane looks at the world with a child’s logic: She is extremely trusting but, almost paradoxically, easily navigates the hypocrisy of Religious radicalism and Classism. In the quick outline of the cultural revolution, she shows a disgruntled understanding of the powers that be when she states “We found ourselves veiled and separated from our friends and that was it.” (4) and in an even more childishly perceptive moment, she talks about wanting her maid to sit at the dinner table with them and how she is in love with their neighbor who immediately gives her up when he learns that she is, in fact, a servant and not Marjane’s sister. Her father, the communist and the man responsible for the breakup gets his own (probably knowing) hypocrisy shoved in his face when his daughter cries “Dad are you for or against social classes”. Again, on page 53, Marji’s mom cries “the torturers should be massacred!” (53) after previously telling her not to put nails into a boy for what his father had done (killing a million people) twenty pages earlier.

While being able to navigate some forms of idealism while ignoring nuance with a beautifully simple worldview, Marjane lets her innocence play to her detriment. The way she uses her uncle who is a “hero” to make herself equal with others children who almost boast about what their relatives have gone through in prison is exactly what one would expect from a young child. “There are lots of heroes in my family. My grandpa was in prison, my uncle Anoosh too:”(61)

(thought bubble of Marji’s companion) “too much” (61)

The reason for her lack of understanding is due to her upbringing in a household of self-professed morally absolute ideologues. To Marji, on her journey of personal growth that moves in tandem with the revolutions of her country, the absolutism breaks down when it clashes with the morally ambiguous world. She herself believes the media and what she is told as an absolute and often waffles wildly. On page 46 Marji apologizes to the young man who she tried to stick nails in who, in turn, tells her that his father did a service to the country of Iran because “He(the father) killed communists, and communists are evil!” (46). Marji tells her mom this, in turn, and the mother is shocked and appalled. In another instance, on page 62, her father loses his cool when his daughter repeats a lie that she heard on television.

Due to the perceived philosophy of her parents, she craves moral absolutism but can never quite achieve it. She looks for it in god and the government, which, ironically, cause moral ambiguity in this story more than anything else (i.e. the revolutionaries being persecuted when the cultural “revolution” takes). Finally, on a much greater scale, her parents and Anoosh, staunch communists, have rubbed off on Marji in such a way that she dresses like Che Guvara and Fidel Castro and idolize stahlin (especially as Anoosh lived in russia and studied communism there). At least two of the three previously mentioned leaders have well documented genocidal tendencies. A communist revolution with the end goal of peace is being led by people who refuse to acknowledge the fact that their idols are just as despotic as the shah was;  Marji is much too young to tell the difference or realize that when she dresses up as Che Guvara and praises Stahlin, she is supporting a despotism just as evil as the shah’s.

2 thoughts on “The Child of Paradox”

  1. What I think is extremely important to recognize when reading Persepolis is the historical context. Not only was Iran going through a cultural revolution, this was the Cold War era. Understanding the Islamic Revolution of 1979 is no easy feat. I am surprised to read that you saw Marji’s parents as “staunch communists.” The revolutionaries during this period were fighting against the rule of a Shah who had been put into place by the United States. While they were in fact fighting capitalist influences, I don’t think that necessarily makes them strictly communist. One of the main problems that the Iranian public had with the Shah was that he spent public money for private gain. Also, as we can still see all over the world, the rich were getting richer while the poor stayed extremely poor. Fighting against that kind of government does not mean that one is a communist.

    Furthermore, Anoosh was forced out of Iran because the Shah’s vicious police force were looking for him. While he does “have a doctorate in Marxism-Leninism” (59) I don’t believe that he seeks to follow the USSR’s example. As you accurately said, Stalin had a history of purging his own people and being an evil dictator. However, communist language was useful for the revolution. For example, on page 62 Anoosh says, “But the religious leaders don’t know how to govern. They will return to their mosques. The Proletariat shall rule! It’s inevitable!!” I think that it was because of the context of the Cold War that Anoosh chooses this language. I would interpret his exclamation to be more closely aligned with democracy than with communism. The purpose of this type of language was more to distance their cause from that of the religious radicals than to create closeness to the Soviets.

    I think that because this revolution was fought within the context of the Cold War means that it is sometimes interpreted that if you were fighting capitalism, you were a communist. Fighting for equality is not the same thing as communism. The end of the Cold War was fought by the major powers through proxies (which may or may not have genuinely leaned to one side or the other) but by looking at this story of one family, it is possible to see the effects of Cold War polarity as well as the tumult of the Iranian Revolution on the citizens involved.

    I think you are right when you say that Marji tries to maneuver the complicated politics of the time; everyone tried to do so. The unique perspective of a child that we get as readers allows us to learn with her. Your use of the phrase “seeking moral absolutism” actually sounds like rhetoric straight out of the Cold War. While it is possible that Marji sought some form of clarity, her journey exemplifies the sentiments of the third bloc, that is the nations outside the West or the USSR. Many nations during this period looked for their own identity outside of Cold War powers but many were unable to do so due to being overshadowed by the US and USSR. Marji’s journey to find an ideology that makes sense to her was the same quest on which was not only Iran but other Third World nations. By seeing this period through the eyes of the child, it may be easier to understand the complexity of the formation of the Islamic Republic of Iran because of her confusion about what to believe. It is even as if Iran itself is going through the transformative period of adolescence at the same time as Marji.

  2. Your reading of Marji’s parents as Communists is interesting. On one hand, it is clear that they care about fighting the current regime because they are revolutionaries, so I understand where this idea comes from, but as Samantha mentioned, that does not necessarily make them Communists. Also, on the other hand, they themselves would be considered a part of the bourgeoisie, as they have a maid and a Cadillac and the father is an engineer. It is indeed paradoxical.

    We see class division again on page 102, which consists of two panels: the first depicting poor boys being blown up at war and the second depicting Marji at a party with the other upper-class kids. “The key to paradise was for poor people,” (102) she says. The key to paradise was the golden key boys were given in school to wear around their necks that would send them to a good afterlife if they died a soldier’s death. Maybe the reason that Marji seems to idealize the Communist leaders in the earlier parts of the book, as you mentioned, is because she doesn’t know of any other way to fight the oppressive regime of her time and keep her lower-class friends from having to die at war– as this book was taking place in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Communism was still a hot topic.

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