Paper Towns

Paper Towns Imagery


Throughout the first half of the book, including Margo and Quentin's adventurous night and Quentin's early search for Margo, the reader is given a complex picture of Orlando, Florida. We are shown Quentin's subdivision and city up close, examining the front lawns and interiors of a number of houses, and then shown the entire city from the top of the SunTrust Building and given two different perspectives on how it looks (ugly and fake to Margo and to nostalgically expansive Quentin). After this, our vision expands even further to a number of nearby abandoned buildings and pseudovisions that Quentin explains with painstaking detail, even when almost nothing is there.

The Mini-mall

One location that is described with special detail is the abandoned mini-mall that Margo leads Quentin to with her early clues. The reader amasses a floor plan including the souvenir shop, empty room with spray paint, office room, boarded up room full of paper, and more, all connected by "Troll Holes." As Quentin returns to the mini-mall alone and with friends, his comfort and familiarity is paralleled by a familiarity to the reader herself with the locations and objects described.

The first encounter with the mini-mall is especially vivid for the fear associated with the smell of death that permeates the building, which turns out to be emanating from a dead, bloated raccoon. Smell and sight are both heightened in this situation because of fear and lack of sensory input.

The Cow Crash

In Part III, time has been moving rather quickly page by page as time ticks down toward finding Margo. However, the moment that Quentin sees the two cows standing in the road, time abruptly slows and the imagery is ratcheted up. Quentin contemplates the "great white wall of cow"(p.267), referring again and again to it in this fashion and focusing on the visual rather than any kind of thoughts or memories before what he thinks is certain death. Then, with surprise, just as Quentin's thoughts were turning to death and to Margo, his slowed visual senses turn to the steering wheel where someone, Ben, has begun to turn the wheel. With this, time and imagery snap back into place, rushing along as the car misses the cows and circles to a stop further down the road. This focus on imagery around the time of the car crash builds suspense into the moment and gives the sense of Quentin's slowed perception that is often said to accompany near-death experiences (heightened by the whiteness of the cows, a color often linked to death and afterlife).

Quentin and Margo's last moments

From the time Quentin finds Margo in Agloe, the imagery is turned way up. This parallels a cognitive shift in how Quentin finally sees Margo closer to how she really is. For example, his first image of Margo is full of descriptive words that are far from beautiful - "mussed-up," "asymmetry," "lips chapped to cracking," "dirt in her fingernails"(p.281). From this moment until the end of the book, Quentin is hyper-aware of Margo's looks and actions because of his knowledge of her as a complex human being and his growing sense that he may not see her again. The last image of the book is Quentin simply taking Margo in – her (and life's) perfection through imperfections - "Yes, I can see her almost perfectly in this cracked darkness"(p.305).