Paul Tremblay’s Head Full of Ghosts left me wondering how we were supposed to read Margerie’s character. Was she an innocent teenager gripped by a dangerous mental illness, or a monster living among us? In this blog post, I will evaluate her against Jeffery Jerome Cohen’s Monster Culture (Seven Theses). All seven points and their summarizing quotations come from this essay.
Thesis I: The Monster’s Body is a Cultural Body – “An embodiment of a certain cultural moment” (4).
Female sexuality is a cultural moment that Margerie is aware of and capitalizes on. She makes people uncomfortable by appearing in a sports bra and her possession often takes on sexual forms, such as in the masturbation scene (86). Margerie is also tech-savvy and uses the internet to further her creepy knowledge-base and our media-saturated society to try and expose her father.
Thesis II: The Monster Always Escapes – “No monster tastes of death but once” (5).
This one seems to discount Margerie as a monster. She does die, seemingly for good. However, in our technological society, dying is a complicated act. Margerie has stopped living and aging, but she lives on through mediated representations of herself (although, was the Margerie that was captured on cameras and will eventually be captured in the book is arguably not the “true” her but just a part she was playing). She also lives on in Merry’s memory, which at times seems almost obsessive.
Thesis III: The Monster is the Harbinger of Category Crisis – “a form suspended between forms that threatens to smash distinctions” (6).
Like other stories of possession, a Head Full of Ghosts relies on the of categories to create fear. The possessed is a female child, seemingly the most innocent example of humanity, yet they act in horrible ways that disgust us. Margerie also blurs the boundaries between sane and insane, well-meaning and malicious. She is a daughter, sister, student, devil, sadist, and family annihilator all-in-one – i.e. a monster.
Thesis IV: The Monster Dwells at the Gates of Difference – “monstrous difference tends to be cultural, political, racial, economic, sexual” (7).
As Cohen says, “the woman who oversteps the boundaries of her gender roles risks becoming” a monster (9). Margerie is seen as too smart for “a girl like her” and is seen as aberrant because of this (179). Her mom, the fellow female, points out that a young girl is definitely capable of possessing her knowledge about seemingly obscure topics. The priests, however, are attempting to other Margerie in order to turn her into a monster that they can exorcize.
Thesis V: The Monster Polices the Border of the Possible – “the monster prevents mobility…delimiting the social spaces through which private bodies may move” (12).
I had a hard time mapping this thesis onto Margerie until I focused on the line that stated that all monsters are living a “double narrative” – the one about how they came to be and another about the cultural utility they serve. Margerie certainly has a double narrative, at least by her own account. She claims that she wanted to pretend to be possessed in order to expose her dad’s real sickness, but the ending of the book suggests that she was actually sick, therefore her cultural utility was showing just how delusional and manipulating individuals can be.
Thesis VI: The Fear of the Monster is Really a Kind of Desire – “the linking of monstrosity with the forbidden makes the monster all the more appealing” (17).
Merry looks up to her sister and seems to have a complicated relationship towards her possession. She continues to love her sister for the majority of the book. When Margerie’s room became off limits, Merry snuck in while everyone was asleep, obviously unable to resist what was forbidden.
In a different vein, Margerie pokes at a weak spot of the priest’s: an interest in kiddie porn. After an episode that we assume portrayed a reenactment of Margerie’s violent masturbation and Margerie’s discomfort when the priest touches her chest, she seems to be aware of and resisting her own possible taboo appeal.
Thesis VII: The Monster Stands at the Threshold…of Becoming – “monsters are our children…they ask us to reevaluate…they ask us why we have created them” (20).
Perhaps Margerie was created to show us how technology ruins our lives, or how mental illness is a serious issue that can debilitate a person. She isn’t given the help she needed and everything went awry in the end, teaching us that money is not the answer, that reality TV isn’t reality, and that mental illnesses can’t be cured with exorcisms.
By Cohen’s definition, Margerie is indeed a monster, but I think that it’s important to remember that she was turned into one by society and that underneath of it all she was just a sick young girl.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses).” Monster Theory, 1996, pp. 3–25., doi:10.5749/j.ctttsq4d.4.
Tremblay, Paul. A Head Full of Ghosts. William Morrow & Company, 2017.