Study Guide

Julie "Jules" Jacobson in The Interestings

By Meg Wolitzer

Julie "Jules" Jacobson

Jules is… complex. She's an outsider, someone who idealizes people who maybe shouldn't be idealized, and is really, well, unlikable sometimes. The whole book revolves around her, though, so the best way to tackle Jules is to think about her life in three phases. Ready? Here goes.

Phase One: Spirit-in-the-Woods Jules

What do we know about this version of Jules? Well, for starters, she's not actually Jules until a little ways into the book—she's Julie Jacobson, the awkward, gangly, poodle-headed "suburban nonentity" (1.87), who only got to go to this summer camp because of a scholarship. Her dad died of pancreatic cancer the year before and Spirit-in-the-Woods is a way for her to escape the melancholy of her grieving mom and sister.

When Julie gets randomly invited to Ash's friend group, she spends the whole time trying to disappear into a corner, right up until she accidentally says something funny out loud and her place with the gang is cemented. Julie is in, and in no time at all, she's officially dubbed Jules—not by herself, but by Ash. Which matters: Julie is all about gaining acceptance from this group, with little thought to who she herself might actually be. You know, deep down inside.

Thing is, you can tell when you read Jules's internal monologues about being in and around the Interestings that she's never really part of the group in an equal sense. She's just "desperate for people to pay attention to her" (1.87). She worships, loves, obsesses over, and idealizes this group, but she's not really one of them. They exist in a different sphere—especially financially—and it's clear that she adores the idea of this sphere, but in this adoration, we can also tell that she always remains one step outside. She's a fan, not a member of the band, if you will.

Phase Two: Jules Jacobson-Boyd, the Early Years

This Jules is the one that's hardest to like. She's bitter and jealous most of the time, and it shows in her relationships with her friends and her boyfriend-turned-husband Dennis. One of the first scenes we get from her marriage is her and Dennis reading the Figman-Wolf Christmas letter, and Jules ends up downing a whole bottle of wine and getting pretty mean about it all. Later on we find out this behavior "rear[s] its head very predictably" (2.49) every year—Jules is ritualistically ridden with envy.

Understandably, this annual ritual, along with Jules's general obsession with what Ash and Ethan have—think: walk-in refrigerator—starts to get to Dennis. For him, he feels like she's basically telling him their life together isn't good enough. And given how obsessed Jules generally is with this whole haves/have-nots thing, we can see where he'd feel like she's expressing intense dissatisfaction with the life they're building (or suffering through, as the case may be) together.

The weird thing, though, about this generally unlikable Jules is that we can also kind of see why she's so bitter. She finally moves to the city to live where all her fabulous friends do, and ends up living in the same kind of financial situation she has always had. If as a teen she was happy just to be included, now she's older and acutely aware of all the ways she can't fit in.

Jules doesn't make it as an actress, while Ash and her small bit of talent/tons of money end up doing quite well. And then, of course, Dennis struggles, too, while Ethan hits the big time. Jules just can't seem to catch a break even though her friends get everything. Sure, she concedes that Ash and Ethan don't have totally perfect lives on account of having an autistic child, but this hardly makes a dent in Jules's jealousy. In fact, she almost seems to regret not getting with Ethan, like it was a missed opportunity to attach herself to his genius and success. Classy.

Phase Three: Jules Jacobson-Boyd, the Later Years

This right here is a Jules we can connect with, and it's pretty sad that it took a near-tragedy for that to happen. Remember that one dinner party where Dennis eats something that messes with his MAOI and he almost dies? Well, that's when Jules says, "Leave everything to Ash and Ethan, for they deserve it. Just give me what we had. […] It's enough now" (11.176). Finally—and we do mean finally—Jules appreciates what she has in Dennis and in her life in general. For this one moment, Jules is actually satisfied instead of eyeing other people's plates.

She finds a strength we haven't seen in her before, somehow getting through months of Dennis's severe depression and doing the bulk of the work around raising their new daughter by herself. She's also there for Ash and Ethan when the whole Goodman thing blows up, and gives them some hard truths about their relationship and the damage they're doing to each other with secrets.

Jules still isn't perfect, though, and we can see this most clearly when she abruptly decides to change careers to go run Spirit-in-the-Woods… and then abruptly changes her mind again, longing for her old urban life. Even after finding her way through all those difficult times, Jules is still susceptible to longing for something else, for believing that if she could just have this or that, her life would be so much better. Though she's running Spirit-in-the-Woods now, Jules is in many ways the same person she was as a camper.

We know she's straight up dissatisfied with her life at the beginning, and bummer for Jules, it doesn't look like that really changes a whole lot by the end. Maybe that's the point, though? Maybe the message is that it's okay not to be completely fulfilled. Or if not okay, then that this is how life works out sometimes. Sigh.

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