The action of Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret occurs in two locales, New York City and a suburb of New York called Farbrook, and it is framed by Margaret Simon's sixth-grade school year as well as her shift from child to adolescent. A few minor details suggest a late 1960s setting, but the novel's action seems appropriate for any decade after World War II.
Margaret must cope with a new environment when her family moves from New York to Farbrook; she must enter a new school and make new friends. She also brings problems with her. Margaret's parents, Herb and Barbara Simon, come from different religious backgrounds: her mother is Christian while her father is Jewish. The Simons believe they have solved their religious problem by ignoring their faith; instead, they have left Margaret confused about her own religious beliefs. According to Margaret's parents, they moved from New York to give Margaret a better life. Actually, they are more concerned about the influence of her paternal grandmother, Sylvia Simon, who is determined that Margaret will be a Jewish child. The Simons also have problems with the Christian side of the family. Margaret's maternal grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Hutchins, disowned their daughter when she married out of her faith; thus, they have never even seen their granddaughter. Margaret's new neighborhood, however, compels her to make a religious choice even more than the influence of her grandparents does. She must decide whether to join the YMCA/YWCA or the Jewish Community Center, whether to sing Christmas carols or Hanukkah songs at a school assembly. Margaret finds herself unable to escape the issue her parents wished to avoid.
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Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret has been critically attacked for both its subject matter and its literary quality, but admirers think Blume's novel is a true work of art, featuring a narrative that recalls the work of eighteenth-century British novelist Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe. Blume's first-person narrative contains little commentary that is unattached to action, reflecting even more economy of language than Defoe's narratives. Blume uses the unique way that a person speaks as a way of developing character. The language of Paul and Mary Hutchins differs from that of Sylvia Simon; Barbara and Herb Simon sound different from each other, and they sound different from the other parents. Each of Margaret's friends has his or her own language.
The novel's short chapters tend to trace only a single event. The chapters contain little exposition, or explanations of situations and character; instead, Blume skillfully weaves any necessary information into the action itself. The novel employs comic irony and metonymy---a substitution of an action for the emotion it causes. Because Margaret is a naive narrator, dramatic irony occurs frequently. Readers understand the situations that Margaret describes better than she herself does, and readers also judge actions more critically than Margaret does. For instance, when Margaret notes her grandmother's cleverness at suggesting a meeting with her at Lincoln Center, saying, "That was culture. And they [Margaret's parents] thought culture was very important," it is evident that Margaret's parents have substituted culture for religion with sighs of satisfied pride. Frequently Margaret's language produces humor she does not intend, as when she says toward the end of the novel, "I caught myself starting to say, Are you there God, but then I remembered that I wasn't talking to him anymore." Even Margaret's menstruation, which she regards as a miracle, a gift from God, is comically ironic when one compares Margaret's miracle to Christian miracles involving stigmata of the saints. Are You. There God? It's Me, Margaret is an art of economy and spareness with generous helpings of humor spread throughout its pages.
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Judy Blume has frequently been the target of censors. Forever, her novel dealing with an adolescent love affair, is the most frequent target, but other novels are attacked as well. Tony in Then Again, Maybe I Won't has erections and wet dreams that puzzle him, and that novel too has brought the censors' wrath on Blume. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret is a less tempting target, but the novel does show Margaret and her friends examining illustrated medical books and Playboy magazine hoping to learn about their changing bodies and the bodies of boys. There is nothing salacious about any of Blume's adolescent novels. Blume regards many of her novels as information books, containing facts that young people need. While many adolescents are knowledgeable about sexuality, others are not, sometimes with disastrous endings. Girls experiencing menstruation have committed suicide thinking they have a strange, shameful disease, and boys are sometimes haunted by guilt because of sexual feelings.
The novel's theme of racial bigotry and religious bias remains pertinent. Anti- Semitic activities still occur in the United States, and though marrying out of one's faith is not as painful for a couple as it used to be, it too can present problems. Herb and Barbara Simon still might have trouble with their relatives about their conduct and the raising of their children. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret has a great social bite and addresses controversial issues in a straightforward, useful manner.
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Topics for Discussion
1. Margaret, trying to figure out what is going on in the churches and the synagogue she visits, is reduced to counting different colored hats the women are wearing. She does not understand the sermons, and she emotionally responds to only the music. What is her difficulty? Is the fault with Margaret or the experience she has?
2. Nancy Wheeler lies about menstruating, about Laura Danker's reputation, and about Moose Freed's reputation. Why does she do this?
3. Laura Danker, beautiful and physically mature beyond her years, is the target of much envy. According to Laura, why is the envy misapplied?
4. Why does Margaret's mother send her parents the Christmas card that brings them back into her life? What is she hoping for? Why do Herb and Margaret go along with her wishes when they do not wish to?
5. Mary and Paul Hutchins and Sylvia Simon would all consider themselves religious. Why is Sylvia Simon more attractive to Margaret? What does Sylvia value? What does she have that Margaret's maternal grandparents lack?
6. Margaret, through the whole novel, worries about being normal. What values become more important to her than appearing normal to her peers?
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. Write a character analysis of Nancy Wheeler and make an effort to account for her lying.
2. Miles J. Benedict, Jr., is a first-year teacher. How effective is he initially? How effective is he by the end of the year? Benedict's students seem to like him. Why? Write a paper on the effectiveness of Mr. Benedict's teaching.
3. Religion at its best has a civilizing effect of people. What effect does it seem to have on Barbara Simon's parents? Why? Write a paper on religion as a healer of conflicts and a beginner of them.
4. Read a guide to female development written for young girls as they approach adolescence that is recommended by a librarian or doctor. How close is Mar-garet's development to that described in the guide? Are there differences? If so, where do they occur? What is the good of knowing such information? What does Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret add to the discussion of female development that you have read?
5. Write an essay about Margaret's attraction to Moose Freed. How does Moose replace Philip Leroy in Margaret's affections?
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Most of Blume's novels for young adults follow the double-plot form of Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, with one plot dealing with sexual maturity, growth and adjustment, and another with a social issue. Blubber is about being overweight; It's Not the End of the World addresses the effect of divorce on adolescents; Tiger Eyes deals with adjustments necessary when a parent or loved one dies; and Then Again, Maybe I Won't examines the effect of moving and a change of social status on adolescents. Deenie, Superfudge, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself also follow a double-plot format.
Probably the closest of Blume's novels to Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret is Then Again, Maybe I Won't. Thirteen- year-old Tony Miglione has even more problems, however, than Margaret does. Tony is the youngest son in a closely knit Italian-American family that includes a father, a mother, an older brother, a pregnant sister-in-law, and a grandmother who cannot speak because she has had cancer of the larynx. But Tony's structured life vanishes almost overnight. Success and wealth come to the Migliones when Tony's father invents a new type of electrical cartridge, and Tony's Jersey City blue-collar family moves to Long Island. The sudden acquisition of money changes the members of Tony's family, turning each into someone he hardly knows. His parents, particularly his mother, become social climbers who are more concerned with impressing the neighbors or the boss than they are with family or with feelings. Worst of all is the change in Tony's grandmother, a silent version of Sylvia Simon, who grows emotionally silent as well when she is ordered from her own kitchen so that the Migliones, like all the other families in the neighborhood, can hire a maid. As a result, Tony feels that his family has "sold out"Âfor money, for success, and for social position.
Like Margaret, Tony has concerns about sexual maturation. Tony, too, experiences the physical, mental, and emotional changes of adolescence. He has prominent and embarrassing erections at the blackboard, wet dreams that excite him and scare him at the same time, and an adolescent crush on an older woman, his friend Joel's seventeen- year-old sister, Lisa. Like Margaret, who transfers her affections from Philip Leroy to Moose Freed, Tony moves from the unattainable Lisa to thirteenyear-oldd Corky....
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For Further Reference
Blume, Judy. Letters to Judy. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1986. The bulk of this book contains letters that children have written to Blume. The thematic arrangement of the letters mirrors many of Blume's novels.
De Montreville, Doris, and Crawford, Elizabeth, eds. The Fourth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1978. Contains an autobiographical sketch in which Blume tells about the pivotal role of Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret to her writing career.
Kirkpatrick, D. L., ed. Twentieth-Century Children's Writers. 2d ed. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983. Contains an article on Blume by Patricia Craig. Though at times Craig shows a disdain for Blume's writing, she does note Blume's "rare ability to write about the sexual behavior of children in a way that is neither salacious nor propagandist." Craig criticizes the "social problems" in Blume's fiction, however. On the whole, the essay covers Blume's work well.
Lee, Betsy. Judy Blume's Story. Minneapolis: Dillon Press, 1981. Lee's book is written for Judy Blume's readers. Written in a simple style, this book relates many of Blume's personal experiences which are close to her fictional situations. It is clear that Blume used details of her own life in creating Margaret Simon.
Stanek, Lou Willett. "Just Listening: Interviews with Six Adolescent Novelists." Adolescent Literature Revisited After Four Years 18 (April 1976): 23- 28. Blume talks about her life as a writer but admits, "A lot of it [Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret? is fiction, of course, but that is the way I really felt in the sixth grade."
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Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Blume, Judy. “Places I Never Meant to Be: A Personal View.” American Libraries 30 (1999): 62-67.
Garber, Stephen. “Judy Blume: New Classicism for Kids.” English Journal 73 (April 1984): 56-59.
Gleasner, Diana. Breakthrough: Women in Writing. New York: Walker, 1980.
Lee, Betsy. Judy Blume’s Story. Minneapolis: Dillon Press, 1981.
Naylor, Alice Phoebe, and Carol Wintercorn. “Judy Blume.” In American Writers for Children Since 1960: Fiction, edited by Glenn Estes. Vol. 52 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Bruccoli Clark, 1986.
Weidt, Maryann. Presenting Judy Blume. Boston: Twayne, 1990.
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