The big question for Americans on Sunday was: What will the former shah's death mean to us and to our countrymen who are being held hostage in Iran?

I listened to the views of TV commentators and I read analyses written by newsmen, but it appeared to me that there was no firm or unanimous opinion among them about what the future holds in store.

In the end, the shah's tenure may leave no significant mark on Iranian history. That is sometimes fate's mocking response to people who want to be known as the shah of shahs or, more formally, "His imperil august majesty, shahanshah aryamehr (king of kings, light of the aryns), emperor of Iran." While they live, their names are chiseled in granite; then their "eternal" mounments are destroyed and the granite is broken into paving blocks.

In addition to speculating about how the shah's death will affect us, perhaps we should also think about how his passing will affect Iran.

While Pahlavi lived, anybody who spoke out against the summary executions sanctioned by the ayatollah or deplored the chaos in Iran was suspected for being pro-shah. One couldn't advocate democratic procedures without being regarded a tool of the wicked despot who had been deposed by his long-suffering people.

Now that the shah is gone, the labels may change. The Iranian people may perceive the ayatollah to be just as wicked a despot as the shah was.

When that happens, the alternatives will no longer be the ayatollah (the clergy) or the shah. The alternatives may be the ayatollah versus communism. fascism, a military junta, a democratic coalition or some combination of these forces.

When the confrontation occurs, the people of Iran will get their first dependable clue to what lies ahead for their ancient land.

The women of Iran could play a major role in determining the outcome. Many nations and many religions assign second-class status to women, and in few places do women have fewer rights than in an Iran now dominated by a clergy rooted in the Seventh Century.

Women are often more devout in their adherence to religion than are their menfolk, even though their religion is one that restricts a woman's rights and her freedom to choose her own course. I do not know why women cling to religions that include tenets they deplore, so I will let the explanation be put forward by those who think they understand women.

The first light of Iran's new dawn may be a long time coming, but I suspect we will see it sooner rather than later. The intramural headknocking that took place among Iranians in downtown Washington on Sunday was symptomatic of the violent disagreements that exist in their homeland. A climax appears to be approaching.

Let us pray that Iranians will be able to settle their internal differences with a minimum of violence and that the hostages will then, be freed without further harm. GROWING PAINS

A subscriber who perfers anonymity writes:

"After your article about newspaper delivery boys, I raised my monthly tips from 50 cents to $1, but my Washington Post carrier boy takes the money without saying a word. He never says, 'Thank you.' He is about 12 years old. I don't know how to handle this. What would you advise?"

My advise is: Keep in mind that the boy has a problem.He has not yet acquired good manners and the confidence to use them.

Very likely it has occured to him to say "Thank you," but he has not yet had the courage to try the words and find out how they sound. He'll have the same trouble when a 17-year old girl is waiting for him to say "I love you" for the first time.

Having acquired your social graces some years ago, you may no longer recall what an awkward time you had when you were 12 and seemed to have two left feet.

Smile, be friendly, encourage the lad, and one of these days you may be rewarded with a "nksalot" sound, half of which will emerge and the other half of which will remain stuck in the boy's throat. That will be his way of saying "Thanks a lot."

If you're patient, you'll have the satisfactication of knowing that you helped this little man take one small step toward becoming civilized. TAXES HAVE NO FRIENDS

Bob Orben comments, "With both the Republicans and Democrats now promising tax cuts, with our luck Anderson will be elected.

And Herm Albright adds, "If we can't stop crime, let's legalize it and then tax it out of business."

Incidentally, Orben comments that our depressions are becoming more prosperous. In 1933, people sold apples. Now they're selling Chryslers.