In case you'd forgotten, the title of this book is Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. And while that might make you think that God's going to be a character in this book, that simply isn't the case. We get nary a sign from the dude, and the only reason he's present is because Margaret talks to him… a lot. And by a lot, we mean a lot. But just because the big guy in the sky is silent and invisible throughout the entire story doesn't mean he can't bring a whole lot of meaning to it. And boy does he. Let's take a look.
In a swirling sea of peer pressure and new thoughts and feelings as she grows up, God is the one person Margaret can always turn to. She speaks freely to God, unlike her friends and parents who she censors herself with. With everyone else, there are topics that are off the table—with Nancy we can think of Margaret's feelings for Moose, with her parents we can think of Margaret's relationship with God—but that's simply not the case with God. In the privacy of her own bedroom, Margaret speaks freely. Check it out:
Are you there God? It's me, Margaret. I'm in my new bedroom but I still have the same bed. It's so quiet here at night—nothing like the city. I see shadows on my wall and hear these funny creaking sounds. It's scary God! Even though my father says all houses make noises and the shadows are only trees. I hope he knows what he's talking about! I met a girl today. Her name's Nancy. She expected me to be very grown up. I think she was disappointed. Don't you think it's time for me to start growing God? If you could arrange it I'd be very glad. Thank you. (2.130)
Interestingly, every time Margaret speaks to God she opens by saying, "Are you there God? It's me, Margaret." Every. Single. Time. She never waits for a response or a sign, though, which shows us that Margaret is operating on faith—or blind trust—when it comes to God. So though she may not have a formal religion, it's not because this girl doubts God (well, for the most part anyway… but more on that later). She assumes, day in and day out, that yes—God is there and God is listening.
Okay. So God represents Margaret's faith and trust. But let's consider what kinds of stuff Margaret brings to the big guy. In the passage above we see her telling God about how scary she finds her new house. So what you say? So that means God—or Margaret's talks with him, to be precise—also help her feel safe. Because any time we share our fears with somebody, we do so in hopes that our fear will subside a bit—and that's exactly what Margaret's doing here.
But that's not all Margaret talks to the big guy in the sky about. She also tells God about her day, about the very ordinary development of meeting Nancy and feeling like she's disappointed her new friend a bit. In this we see Margaret being vulnerable—saying you feel like you've let someone down is a way of admitting weakness and/or insecurity—but also just talking to God like he's her friend. And the thing about this part of her little chat with God is that it's the kind of conversation you might expect to overhear between best friends. Which means that God also symbolizes loneliness.
You heard us: loneliness. Because God doesn't talk back. And that means that Margaret is, for all intents and purposes, talking to herself. The things she brings to God are the things she has no one else to bring them to, and while some of this is stuff you'd expect from a tweenage conversation with God—like, maybe we could get some boobs up in here—the rest of it, and particularly the recounting of her day, reminds us that Margaret doesn't have a true blue best friend, and that there are things she can't talk about with her parents either.
But maybe Margaret doesn't need a true blue human being best friend. Maybe she and God have a good enough thing going… at least so long as everyone leaves them alone anyway.
It's hard enough for Margaret to handle so much peer pressure to pick a religion, but when her estranged grandparents come to visit, and they wind up arguing with her parents about whether Margaret was born Christian or not—all while Margaret's in the room (though nobody bothers to ask her opinion)—Margaret's relationship with God collapses under the pressure. She says (okay, yells):
"All of you! Just stop it! I can't stand another minute of listening to you. Who needs religion? Who! Not me… I don't need it. I don't even need God!" I ran out of the den and up to my room.
I was never going to talk to God again. What did he want from me anyway? I was through with him and his religions! And I was never going to set foot in the Y or the Jewish Community Center—never. (21.76-78)
Poor Margaret is completely fed up. Everywhere she goes people express the importance of religion, and yet every time she's in a place of worship, she can't feel God. She says, "I looked in temple. I looked in church. […] But you weren't there. I didn't feel you. Not the way I do when I talk to you at night" (19.50). So when pretty much Margaret's whole family brawls about her religious affiliation, Margaret decides enough is enough. She is sick and tired of trying to make sense of religion, and insofar as God's a part of that, she's done with him too.
Needless to say, this is a pretty big moment. For a girl who—up until now—has talked to God in every chapter except six, icing the big guy out is a major move. We see Margaret coming into her own here, making a bold decision for herself and more or less telling everyone else to just deal with it.
And whereas in the past Margaret might have stormed upstairs and asked God why everyone's so mean or what he thinks she should do, this time she just hangs out with her own thoughts and feelings. She is, for the first time, standing completely on her own. And in this way, God is also a symbol for Margaret's growth and the ways in which she comes to have faith in and trust herself. Pretty cool, right?
And just in case you were worried, she makes up with God at the end. After all, she gets her period and she just knows he's thrilled for her. As she says:
Are you still there God? It's me, Margaret. I know you're there God. I know you wouldn't have missed this for anything! Thank you God. Thanks an awful lot… (25.42)
This is the end of the book so we don't know what happens next, but we've got a hunch that Margaret and God are back together for good—and that now that Margaret has grown up so much, she'll be sticking by him no matter what other people think she should do.