Q: Was Margo Roth Spiegelman in any way a reflection of how you felt when you were her age?
Well, sure, yes.
Like, there is a lot of talk among people about not participating in evil systems and not wanting to be fully integrated into a social order that has a deformed conscience. (We all do this: Almost all of our lives require an underclass. Like, if you drive a car or are often driven around in one, it’s worth remembering that if even half of the world’s population treated cars as Europeans and Americans do, gas prices would be >$10 a gallon and carbon emissions would be insanely high.)
But almost every human being ends up integrating into the social order anyway. A famous example of this is Mark Twain, who wrote about roustabouts and troublemakers and created, in the form of Huck Finn, the greatest rebel in American fiction, a boy who heroically refused the so-called “civilizing” forces of class consciousness and institutionalized racism.
But Mark Twain himself was fully integrated into his social order. He sought wealth and powerful friends and lived in a fancy house, etc.
So of course sitting in my suburban home with my very socially integrated life I am going to fantasize about making the radical choices. But I wanted to make it clear in the novel that the radical choices are not easy and also not easily justified: It’s not at all clear to me that Margo’s choices are more heroic than Quentin’s. I am personally very old-fashioned and pragmatic in my values, and I think very highly of political, economic, and social stability. I think there is a quiet heroism to such stability. But I also think it can be bold and brave to decide to lead a very different life and to pursue goals that the social order doesn’t value.