Summary: The Exam

Delighted by their daughter’s remarkable metamorphosis, Marji’s parents buy her a car to encourage her and to give her greater mobility. One evening, Marji goes to a party at the home of a new friend where she meets a charming man named Reza, who tells her he is a painter. Marji’s friend quickly discourages her from pursuing Reza, saying that he is a womanizer and seducer. Marji proceeds to hang out with Reza anyway, and it turns out her friend said what she did because she was planning to introduce Reza to another friend. Reza tells Marji that he was a soldier during the war, and it’s clear that she’s very much taken with him. In fact, she tells us, she and Reza would be married two years later.

Marji discovers that she and Reza have many opposite ideals and approaches to life, but clearly being smitten, she prefers to interpret this as meaning they complement each other. One of these opposites is that Reza is anxious to go to Europe as soon as possible, while Marji would prefer to stay in Iran for a while. This impasse is avoided when they learn it will take some years to get visas to leave the country, so they agree to go to school in the meantime so as not to waste those years. Both need to pass the Iranian national exam to be admitted to university, which leads to intense studying. The exam results are published in a newspaper and Marji and Reza are together at a newsstand when they learn that they have both passed the exam. They have to be very careful to not kiss or show affection when they discover the good news, since such displays by unmarried couples are subject to harsh punishment. 

The last hurdle to entering school is passing an in-person ideological test administered by the state, and Marji’s excitement is quickly dampened when she learns that it is not just a formality, but serious and difficult to pass. When the time of the test comes, Marji chooses to answer the mullah examiner’s questions about prayer and proper behavior frankly and honestly. She’s certain this will keep her from being admitted, but two weeks later she learns that she’s passed the test after all. Months later she learns that the mullah very much admired Marji’s honesty even if he didn’t agree with what she said.

Summary: The Makeup

After their exams, Marji and Reza feel like more of a “real” couple. One consequence is that they begin to criticize each other more openly; Marji thinks Reza should be more active, and Reza wants Marji to put more effort into her appearance. To appease Reza, Marji shows up to meet him on a busy street heavily made up, in defiance of the regime. As she waits, a van with “guardians of the revolution” (enforcers of the regime’s social edicts) appears, which means a raid is imminent. Wanting to avoid arrest, Marji calls over a guardian and tells him that an innocent man sitting on some nearby steps made indecent comments to her. The guardians confront the man, who denies Marji’s accusations and begs her to tell the truth.  After the man is hauled off, Reza tells Marji that the flashy lipstick doesn’t suit her and asks who the guy trying to pick her up was. When Marji admits that she fabricated the allegation to avoid arrest, Reza thinks it’s hilarious and compliments Marji on her survival instincts. 

Marji explains that unmarried couples out together run the risk of being harassed by the guardians. Couples can be arrested at the discretion of the guardians and then can only be released when their parents pay massive fines. Marji begins to feel some guilt about the man she falsely implicated and asks Reza what he thinks will happen to him. Reza replies that he’ll probably just get slapped around, but that it’s always possible that the guardians will do something worse. Reza talks about two male friends of his who were stopped in a car and then severely beaten because the guardians thought they were gay. He says they were actually lucky since homosexuality is punishable by death under the regime. 

All the talk about the danger of couples being outside on the streets saddens Marji, as does the thought that the alternative for her and Reza (being together inside at home) bores her. Marji goes home early that evening. There, she tells her grandmother the story of deflecting attention away from herself by setting up the innocent man on the street, thinking it will amuse her. Instead, her grandmother is furious with Marji, calling her a “selfish bitch” and reminding her that her husband (Marji’s grandfather) spent one-third of his life in prison defending the rights of innocent people. After her grandmother leaves in a huff, Marji says it was the first time her grandmother had ever yelled at her. Marji vows that it will also be the last time that happens.

Analysis: The Exam–The Makeup

Marji experiences first-hand how pervasive fundamentalist religion has become in her country. Though she has seen the martyrs in the city and even created one for her admissions test in the likeness of Michelangelo’s Pietà, Marji is shocked that the ideological test could keep her from an education and her future. In an ironic moment, knowing she can’t possibly learn everything she will need to know, she turns to prayer. Though Marji and her family are not religious, to her prayer represents hope. This is one of several instances in the book where she relies on prayer. The fact that the interviewer passes her because of her honesty rather than her devotion is an ironic twist. Though the theme of oppression and a negative view of religion run throughout the memoir, the interviewer represents a truly religious man. He comes off as far from an extreme fundamentalist state enforcer. This incident allows Satrapi to offer a more complex perspective that religion itself is not innately harmful, but the use of religion to oppress others very much is.

“The Makeup” centers on the theme of identity through one of Marji’s worst actions. Earlier in Vienna, she had sought an identity and a place to fit in. Marji often wondered if she was betraying her true self by pretending to be someone she was not, but here Marji pretends to be a glamorous, made-up woman in public to keep Reza around. The scene snowballs out of control as Marji betrays an innocent man to protect herself. While Reza condones her survival skills, it doesn’t change the fact that her actions do not reflect well on her. By sending an innocent man into the Guardians’ clutches, she has betrayed everything she was taught by figures like Uncle Anoosh and her grandmother. In fact, by joking about the incident to her grandmother at the end of the chapter, Marji only exposes her own lack of integrity. The final panel in the chapter shows that her grandmother’s harsh reaction forces Marji to take a good look at herself. Marji cannot fight oppression by oppressing others. She must hold onto her integrity if she is going to live a happy life.