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Marji grows seven inches in height between age fifteen and age sixteen as her face and body undergo significant changes. Unhappy with her looks, she cuts her hair and tries different punkish styling approaches with it. This impresses her fellow students enough that Marji goes through a period of being her school’s go-to haircutter, thereby earning some much-needed spending money. Marji’s popularity with the “peons” of the school doesn’t impress Momo or Marji’s other friends in that circle. One day when she’s out with them, Thierry rolls a joint and offers it to Marji, who partakes in smoking it out of a sense of “solidarity,” even though she’s not fond of smoking and always associates taking drugs with a comment her mother once made about drugs turning people into vegetables.
Marji worries that the more things she does in Europe to fit in, the further she strays from her own culture and that of her parents. Every phone conversation with her parents reminds her of her feelings of cowardice and betrayal of who she actually is. Once, at a party, she flatly denies being Iranian. Later, Marji overhears a table of girls disparaging her for this, and she yells at them, saying she is proud to be Iranian. This causes her to burst into tears, but she soon realizes that affirming the truth of who she really is has been positive. She smiles as she remembers her grandmother’s advice that unless you are comfortable with yourself, you can never be comfortable at all.
After Marji spends a year and a half away from home, her mother visits her for one month. Marji has abandoned her punk hair and style. Since Julie and her mother have left Vienna, Marji is staying for four months in a comfortable communal apartment with eight roommates—all gay men. At the airport, Marji and her mother initially fail to recognize each other since their looks have changed so much. Marji now towers over her mother, and her mother’s hair has gone from brunette to gray. They go on long walks, catching each other up on their respective lives during the previous nineteen months, although it’s obvious that neither is giving the other the complete story.
Since her current housing is temporary, Marji’s mother helps her find a new place to live. They arrange lodging for Marji in the house of Frau Doctor Heller, a large woman whom they later compare to a horse. When the month-long visit comes to an end, Marji and her mother have a sad farewell at the airport. Marji says that the affection she received from her mother during the visit was enough to sustain her from unhappiness for several months.
“The Vegetable” reinforces the struggle to find one’s identity at a turbulent age. As Marji turns 16, the physical changes to her body both highlight and heighten her emotional challenges. The opening panel in the chapter emphasizes the fact that she views herself as a monster. This graphic sequence of her body stretching and contorting adds humor and reveals Marji’s experience with a universal concern over her changing body during puberty. On the other hand, the close-up panels of Marji’s changing face convey an internalized idea that she’s the only one going through this experience and that she’s going through it alone. Additionally, cutting her hair and trying on a punk persona allows Marji to experiment with her identity and self-expression. However, this experiment doesn’t sit well with everyone. Momo’s comment that she is sucking up to the peons rings hollow and reveals that he needs her around as his tokenized, war-traumatized friend in order to seem cool himself. Marji’s retort about people like her uncle dying for liberty highlights the difference between her background and that of her friends. Still, Momo’s manipulation keeps Marji in place and diminishes her confidence. Throughout this section, Marji’s assimilation into her friend group compromises her identity as an Iranian woman in the service of fitting into their idealized vision of Western culture.
Marji struggles between trying to fit in and staying true to her family and her culture. Her thoughts reveal her true feelings. She feels guilty for her punk appearance and her behavior in Vienna while her homeland gets bombed. The fact that she avoids news of Iran reveals that she wants to avoid more trauma. Seeing what her parents are suffering through reminds her of her ties to her home and to her culture, and this further drives Marji’s guilt as she strives toward assimilation. As demonstrated at the party, it is easier for her to pretend she is not Iranian and that the ongoing conflict in her home country has no effect on her. However, her outburst at the café newly reinforces her pride in who she is and where she’s from. After confronting the girls at the table, Marji comes to a vital realization near the end of the section: ignoring who she is will never lead her to happiness. It is more important for Marji to embrace who she is and to stay true to herself than to discard her identity in order to assimilate.
Satrapi contrasts growing up with growing older through Marji’s visit from her mother. The scene in which they embrace and Marji realizes she’s now taller than her mother reinforces the fact that Marji is becoming an adult and dealing with adult issues like drugs and sexuality. Meanwhile her mother now seems incredibly old. Marji has partially taken on a parental role and must protect her parents from facts about her new life that would worry them. Though Marji’s mother speaks to her like an adult and they even share cigarettes, her mother also strokes Marji’s hair and comforts her, clearly displaying her rightful maternal role. Marji struggles with her identity, and ironically, her mother does too. For example, on this visit to Europe, her mother subjected to a hostility toward Iranians she has not felt before, revealing an aspect of her identity as an outsider. The time Marji and her mother spend together reinforces the love and support the family shares in spite of the distance apart. However, it also highlights the worsening situation in Iran as well as the growth and aging that has occurred during their separation.