Summary: Pasta

After they return to Vienna, Lucia spends most of her time with her boyfriend. Marji hangs out with the friends she met through Julie. When another vacation break approaches, Marji (who has nowhere to go) decides that she will spend it reading—to deflect questions about her travel plans as well as to further educate herself on topics where she feels deficient. One of those topics is the Russian philosopher and anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, of whom Momo affects a great understanding (much to Marji’s annoyance). Marji also finds time to read up on a couple of French intellectuals: Jean-Paul Sartre, another favorite of the group (with whom Marji is not impressed), and Simone de Beauvoir, a favorite of Marji’s mother.

Unexpectedly enjoying herself during the break, Marji decides to take a pot filled with pasta into the TV room. The other students are away on break, but several nuns are watching a favorite detective show. The mother superior scolds Marji for eating from a pot of pasta in public, which she considers bad manners. When Marji dismisses her remark, the nun remarks that it’s true what “they” say about Iranians having no education. Incensed, Marji replies, “It’s true what they say about you too—you were all prostitutes before becoming nuns!” Marji is kicked out of the boarding house and turns to Julie, who invites Marji to move in with her and her mother. She packs and has a sad goodbye with Lucia. Marji says she never saw Lucia again.

Summary: The Pill

Marji moves in with Julie and Julie’s mother, Armelle, where she shares Julie’s bedroom. Marji is shocked by Julie’s lack of respect toward Armelle, since parents in Iranian culture are sacred. One evening after Julie goes out on a date, Marji makes tea for Armelle and politely listens to her as she talks non-stop about the French scholar Jacques Lacan and other intellectual topics. It’s clear that this is the first time Armelle has been shown respect in her home for a while. Marji finds Armelle a bit dull, but she respects her and likes the fact that Armelle knows something about Iran, unlike other Westerners Marji encounters. 

Later, Julie tells Marji that Armelle is fond of her and believes that Marji will be a good influence on Julie. When Marji ask Julie what that means, Julie explains that while Marji is clearly an “innocent virgin who does her homework,” she herself is sexually experienced and takes the pill for birth control. Marji is shocked, since in her culture, sex before marriage is rare (and when it does happen, it isn’t discussed). When Armelle goes out of town on a business trip and Julie throws a party, Marji gets to see Julie’s liberated Western lifestyle up close. After several hours of lying around, smoking, and making out, Julie’s guests finally leave at 4 a.m. Marji is getting ready to go to bed when she realizes that Julie is having sex with a man in their bedroom. The couple later emerge from the bedroom and lounge around the apartment half-naked. Marji says that this is when she understood what the sexual revolution was as well as her first big step toward being assimilated into Western culture.

Analysis: Pasta–The Pill

Marji’s holiday reading continues the work’s examination of identity and discovery. Marji’s hope is that these readings will make her more comfortable in her new surroundings, but reading Bakunin reveals to her that Momo is a bit of an intellectual phony. Though these philosophers are favorites of her group, their work doesn’t make Marji feel any closer to her friends or her new home. If anything, these readings teach her more about her friends’ half-baked values and ideas than they do about anarchist philosophy. Meanwhile, Marji’s exploration of the work of Simone de Beauvoir reveals her need to connect to her mother while they’re separated. It also shows that she’s more interested in trying to understand who she is as a uniquely liberal Iranian woman than how best to assimilate in the West. Similarly, her humorous attempt at urinating like a man shows that she still has a lot of work to do in order to gain the perspective she needs to advance her journey of self-discovery and search for identity.

Satrapi reintroduces the theme of oppression from Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood during the incident with a pot of pasta. The Mother Superior is deeply religious, but she fails to demonstrate any kindness or understanding. Her comment about the stereotype of Iranians lacking education shows that oppression exists in the West, too; it is not just a product of the fundamentalist leaders in Marji’s home country. Marji’s response to the nuns about the stereotype that all nuns are former prostitutes serves to point out their hypocrisy, but it also heightens the anger and conflict in the scene. Marji’s outburst brings humor to the story while highlighting her youthful irreverence and impulsiveness. The fact that Marji stands up to the Mother Superior’s insult to Iranians also demonstrates Marji’s pride in her heritage, which she doesn’t often display while she tries to fit in in. Though Marji’s fees are paid through the end of the month, her departure after just a few days preserves her pride and dignity. The letter sent to Marji’s parents, containing a lie about stolen yogurt, again shows religious hypocrisy. The fact that her parents question the truth of the story shows their belief in and support of their daughter and thus vindicates Marji’s behavior. This oppression from a religious figure is particularly shocking as religion is not part of state rule in Austria. It can be inferred that all religions, even in the West, have the potential for oppression from extremists.

“The Pill” introduces gender and sexuality as a theme. Marji’s discomfort with Julie’s performative sexuality reveals that, despite her attempts at becoming a liberated woman, she still adheres to some more conservative values from her home culture. The panel showing Marji huddled in a corner during the party conveys her discomfort and loneliness. It is important to remember that public displays of affection even between adult couples on the street are simply not tolerated in Marji’s Tehran. Suddenly being in a room full of public displays of affection must be a shock to her system. As Julie and her boyfriend walk around half-naked, Marji flashes back to a conversation she had with her father about the male body in which he likens a man’s testicles to ping-pong balls. This humorous sex education moment brings levity to the scene, and the fact that Marji can laugh hysterically at that memory in the moment reveals that she is slowly opening up to Western ideals about sex and sexuality.