I decided to do something different today, and share an assignment I did for English class with you all, instead of doing the traditional review. I hope you enjoy it!
Earlier in in December, I was reading Paper Towns by John Green, and fell in love with the story. John Green is one of my favorite authors, and everything he writes is funny, thoughtful, and beautiful. Now, Paper Towns is my favorite novel he has published, and I highly suggest it to anyone who hasn’t read a John Green novel before, or who doesn’t know what to read.
One night, Quentin (or Q, as his friends call him) gets a surprise visit from his neighbor, and long-time crush, Margo Roth Spielgelman when she climbs in his window dressed as a ninja and has an offer. A night of adventure and revenge for use of Q’s car, and for Q to accompany her, and he says yes. When Q wakes up the next morning, Margo has disappeared - again - but no one can find the usual clues Margo leaves, until Q accidentally stumbles upon a poster on her window, in a position so only Q can see it. And so Q embarks on an adventure to not only find Margo, but to understand the girl everyone thought they knew.
In Paper Towns, Margo is popular and Q is best friends with a band geek who is obsessed with girls, and the son of collectors of black santa figurines, so to Q, Margo is unattainable. When Margo climbs in his window, and they experience a night of revenge and adventure, Q begins to think he has a chance, but when he wakes up in the morning and his parents tell him she has gone missing, Q is desperate to find Margo and figure out what their night together meant. The questions that Q keeps on asking himself drive the entire novel forward, and fuel his desire to find her, even when the clues are getting more and more disconnected.
When Q is remembering the time that Margo and he found a dead body in the local park, a small event occurred, that in some ways defined Margo and Q. It reads as follows:
I took two small steps backwards. I remember thinking that if I made any sudden movements he might wake up and attack me.
As I took those two steps back, Margo took two equally small and quiet steps forward. “His eyes are open,” she said.
-Paper Towns , page 5
In this quote, it is describing how different Margo and Q are. How Margo steps towards adventure and danger, and Q steps back, afraid and unwilling to step forward. So, when Margo disappears, Q leaves the questions to the authorities, but when he discovers the clues, he begins to change. He is moving forward, towards Margo, and this continues to be him mentality through out the rest of the novel.
The very first clue is a poster. In the scene, Q is with his two best friends Radar and Ben, and hey are playing video games. The scene where Q see the poster is below.
I happened to glance through my window, and I saw immediately that someone - the detective I guessed - has lowered the shade in Margo’s room. But I wasn’t seeing the shade. Instead, I was seeing a black-and-white poster, taped to the back of the shade. In the photograph, a man stands, his shoulders slightly slumped, staring ahead. A cigarette dangles out of his mouth. A guitar is slung over his shoulder, and the guitar is painted with the words THE MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS.
“There’s something in Margo’s window.” The game music stopped, and Radar and Ben knelt down on either side of me. “That’s new?” asked Radar.
“I’ve seen the back of that shade a million times,” I answered, “but I’ve never seen that poster before.”
“Weird,” Ben said.
“Margo’s parents said this morning that she sometimes leaves clues,” I said. “But never anything, like, concrete enough to find her before she comes home.”
Radar already had his handheld out; he was searching Omnictionary for the phrase. “The picture’s of Woody Guthrie,” he said. “A folksinger, 1912 to 1967. Sang about the working class. ‘This Land is Your Land.’ Bit of a communist. Um, inspired Bob Dylan.” Radar played a snippet of one of his songs - a high-pitched scratchy voice sand about unions.
Radar opened the window and stuck out his head, swiveling it around. “It sure seems she left this for you, though, Q. I mean, does she know anyone else who could see this window?” I shook my head no.
After a moment, Ben added, “The way he’s staring at us - it’s like, ‘paying attention to me.’ And his head like that, you know? It’s not like he’s standing on a stage; it’s like he’s standing in a doorway or something.”
“I think he wants us to come inside,” I said.
- Paper Towns, page 109
In this passage, Q is again stepping forward instead of back. Instead of telling the authorities first about the poster, he checks it out himself. The second clue quoted Walt Whitman, from the poem Song of Myself, and it later impacted the clues, and Q kept on going back to the poem. So, I decided to read the poem to further understand how it related to Margo, and why Margo left the poem for Q to help him.
While reading, I found this passage, and I think it directly relates to how Margo feels and why she left.
Not I, not anyone else can travel that road for you,
You must travel it yourself.
It is not far… it is within reach,
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know.
Perhaps it it is every where on water and on land.
Shoulder your duds, and I will mine, and let us hasten forth;
Wonderful cities and free nations we shall fetch as we go.
- Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, from Leaves of Grass, part 46.
(In the Penguin Classics Version, page 90.)
I believe that Margo is following the path that only she can travel - and that is to leave Orlando, Florida and parts of herself on the path of clues she leave behind. The clues lead her closer to wonderful cities, and she always leaves on her own because she has to travel that road for herself, and no one can help her.
In the novel, Q goes on a road trip to find Margo, and lately, more and more novels are set on the road, because these trips teach us about ourselves. Such books are Don’t Stop Now by Julie Halpern and Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Maston, which are books where the two main characters learn something about themselves, and in the process become a person they never thought they were. This is true for Q in Paper Towns, but for reasons I can’t give away!
The name Paper Towns is directly explained in the novel. When Margo and Q are on their adventure in Orlando, Margo takes Q to the SunTrust building and shows him the skyline of Orlando from one of the highest points. That scene is as follows:
“It’s beautiful,” I said.
Margo scoffed. “Really? You think so?”
Before I had the chance to say anything, her eyes went back to the view, and she started talking. “Here’s what’s not beautiful about it: from here, you can’t see the rust or the cracked paint or whatever, but you can tell what the place really is. You can see how fake it all is. It’s not even hard enough to be made out of plastic. It’s a paper town. I mean look at it, Q: look at all those cul-de-sacs, those streets that turn in on themselves, all the houses that were built to fall apart. All those paper people living in their paper houses, burning the future to stay warm. Everyone demented with the mania of owning things. All the things paper-thin and paper-frail. And the people, too. I’ve lived here for eighteen years and I have never once in my life come across anyone who cares about anything that matters.”
-Paper Towns, pages 57 and 58
Margo is haunted by this idea that the world she lives in is made of paper and is meaningless. So, she escapes in order to escape the paper life she is in and the paper people around her.
And so, I now ask, is your life made of paper? Is it about to fall in on itself and collapse?