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Marji’s stay at Frau Doctor Heller’s house gets off to a terrible start when the landlady’s dog repeatedly defecates on Marji’s bed. When Marji complains, Doctor Heller dismisses her as being uptight. Marji’s earlier set of friends has now moved on from Vienna, but through a new boyfriend, Enrique, she meets a group of anarchists who gather at a commune in the countryside. One weekend at the commune, Marji is eager to lose her virginity, and when Enrique passes up an opportunity to have sex with her, Marji worries that he finds her ugly or that he’s in love with a girl at the commune named Ingrid. So, when Enrique tells her he’s gay, Marji greets the news with relief. Marji loses touch with Enrique but becomes friends with Ingrid and visits the commune often. Marji’s next attempt at dating isn’t successful either. A boy named Jean-Paul asks her out but ends up only wanting help on math homework. Marji finds some solace in transcendental meditation and tripping on hallucinogenic drugs with Ingrid at the commune.
Marji has low expectations when a boy named Markus asks her out, so when they click, Marji is happy—for at least awhile. Marji and Markus’s joy is shattered when Markus’s mother insults Marji, claiming that she is an opportunist trying to take advantage of her son to get an Austrian passport. When the couple meets in Marji’s room the next day, Markus says that his mother has cut off his allowance. Then, when Frau Doctor Heller sees Markus in Marji’s room, she accuses Marji of being a prostitute. When Marji and Markus decide they need to smoke drugs to deal with these pressures, Marji goes to a seedy club called Café Camera and buys some. Markus takes pride in his girlfriend being brave enough to do this, so he boasts about it to the rest of the school. Soon, Marji is dealing drugs that she gets at Café Camera to the rest of the school.
Marji has always managed to coast academically in Vienna, but as the important French baccalaureate exam approaches, she realizes that she’s not prepared for it. Through the help of Marji’s old friend God, the baccalaureate topic is one that she’s well prepared for, and Marji gets the highest grade at her school. Marji doesn’t make any money dealing drugs since she does it mostly as a favor to friends, so she has to take a series of odd jobs over the summer, culminating in a waitressing gig where the customers are rude. When school starts again in the fall, she’s summoned to the principal’s office. He congratulates Marji on her high baccalaureate score, then says he knows about her drug-dealing and warns Marji that she’ll be expelled if she doesn’t stop. Although she no longer deals drugs, Marji’s drug consumption continues, spurred by her depression, and increases to the point where Markus chides her about it. This condition continues for the entire school year, but Marji somehow manages graduate—which she attributes to her mother’s prayers to God on her behalf.
It’s 1988, and Markus is busy studying theater while Marji is only nominally enrolled. Right-wing politics are on the rise in Austria, and while Marji is concerned, she’s quick to tell her Austrian friends that Iran has it ten times worse. When someone says that the situation is worse in Tyrol than it is in Vienna, Marji says that she was treated very well in Tyrol a few years earlier. She’s told that was only because she’s a girl (not a boy) with light skin and hair that isn’t frizzy. Markus isn’t very concerned about the rise of the right, which is yet more evidence of him and Marji drifting apart after a two-year relationship. When Marji says she’s been invited by a friend to go to Gratz to celebrate her birthday and Markus doesn’t raise any objections to her going without him, Marji worries. The next morning (her birthday), Marji misses her train and decides to drop in at Markus’s place unannounced with some hot croissants. When she enters, she finds Markus in bed with another girl. They break up, and Marji never sees Markus again.
“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.