Paper Towns

Paper Towns Essay Questions

  1. 1

    When Margo disappears after her outing with Quentin, it's not the first time she's seemingly vanished for a long period. Describe Margo's other adventures and note any common threads between the trips. What makes her disappearance after her night with Quentin different from the others?

    Margo has gone on multiple prior adventures, including escaping to Mississippi where she learned guitar from a man in a trailer park, going backstage at a concert only to turn down the advances of the famous bass player, and going urban exploring with Ace and The Carpenter. Margo, with her beauty and mystery, seems to have a way of getting people to help her get places, but she doesn't seem to always take real interest in staying in those places either. Often, Margo leaves clues behind so that people can chase her down. However, this time Margo's parents decide not to play into her game, and -coincidentally - Margo leaves her clues specifically for Quentin. Quentin does take the bait, and even follows it further than Margo intended, leading him all the way to her in Agloe and leading the reader to question whether she really didn't want to be followed.

  2. 2

    Why does Quentin begin to believe that Margo may have committed suicide? What clues make this seem like a viable solution to the mystery of her whereabouts? What clues make this seem not viable?

    Quentin begins to worry that Margo has committed suicide the first time he visits the mini-mall along with Ben and Radar. Though they determine that the awful smell of death they came upon was actually a dead raccoon, Quentin continues looking for Margo's dead body when he tours pseudovisions, imagining her propped against a tree with her mouth agape. This particular image demonstrates a major reason why Quentin fears that Margo has committed suicide - he has never gotten over her morose childhood fascination with the suicide of Robert Joyner. This, along with her giving away possessions, cutting ties with her best friends, and telling Quentin she will miss him in a pointed way, all amount to Quentin fearing for the worst. However, the fact that Margo has always left clues and eventually returned from other adventures points to her not being dead. The reader and Quentin do not fully know that Margo is safe until they find her in Agloe, since she could have been planning to kill herself at noon (reducing its population back to zero), but it turns out that Margo was only planning to leave for New York City, which she proceeds to do.

  3. 3

    Discuss the road trip to find Margo. What are the most important events along the way? How does this adventure mirror the one Margo and Quentin had in the beginning of the book? Compare and contrast the two.

    Margo and Quentin's nighttime adventure is all about the stops - any time they spend in the car is seen as lost as the clock ticks away toward morning. While Quentin, Ben, Radar, and Lacey's trip to find Margo has similar time pressure, the trip itself is the goal and time inside the car is what counts. On both trips, the cars inhabitants learn more about one another, their surroundings, and especially the meaning of fear through a few close encounters (parents with shotguns, unmoving cows). The inhabitants of the cars see the world rush by through windows, feeling at once safe and vulnerable, but most dominantly feeling the freedom of young adulthood.

  4. 4

    The definition of a "paper town" changes many times in the book. Describe the evolution of its meaning. How does it relate to the mystery and the themes of the book?

    The term "paper town" is used to refer to many different kinds of things - copyright traps created by mapmakers, pseudovisions begun and never completed, and even completed and complex towns that are judged as too boring by Margo. This last category seems to be what drives Margo to her escape which launches the plot of Parts II and III; she tells Quentin, "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. All the paper kids drinking beer some bum bought for them at the paper convenience store...All the things paper-thin and paper-frail"(p.58). Margo challenges the seeming neat, perfect exteriors of places, judging them to be 2-dimensional like a piece of paper. Quentin is hurt by this accusation because he knows that she includes him in this, though she tells him at the novel's end that she doesn't believe this to be true any more.

  5. 5

    Who is the "true" Margo? Which character comes closest to understanding who Margo really is? Do you think Margo understands herself? Point to a moment in the text where she seems to understand herself or lack understanding.

    It would be foolish to believe that the true Margo appears in Paper Towns, because the book is narrated through the eyes of Quentin who we know is unable to see the most true version of Margo because of his human inability to see people exactly as they are (combined with his attempts and, to some extent, failures to quash his false idolization of Margo). However, Margo does seem to begin to understand herself more, represented by her not leaving clues to find her on this adventure and still persisting on her journey of self-discovery when Quentin does come to the rescue. This moment of refusing to return home is my chosen moment of self-understanding; Margo realizes that there is nothing left for her at home or at college, and that she needs to assert her differences in a more mature way on her own.

  6. 6

    The book is divided into three sections: The Strings, The Grass, and The Vessel. What is the connection between the sections/titles and the content within those sections? How do the sections/titles connect to the themes of the book?

    The Strings seems to clearly point to the motif of strings that begins in the Prologue and continues through the first part of the book, tracking Margo's failure to tether herself together or to her hometown. Likewise, it is easy to figure out the title of Part II, The Grass, as a reference to Whitman's Leaves of Grass and the discussions of interpersonal connection that grass represents in "Song of Myself." However, The Vessel stands out as a term not used frequently in the book, even in the third section, but seeming to point to the car as Quentin, Ben, Radar, and Lacey journey to find Margo. This title is interesting because it doesn't focus on finding Margo but on the journey itself.

  7. 7

    How do the texts discussed in the book (Moby Dick, Leaves of Grass) connect to themes in Paper Towns? How does Quentin understand them to fit into the story?

    Green parallels Quentin's obsession with Margo by having Quentin's teacher Dr. Holden lecture on Moby Dick. Green writes, in the voice of Dr. Holden, "You never see Ahab wanting anything else in the whole novel, do you? He has a singular obsession. You can argue...that Ahab is a fool for being obsessed. But you could also argue that there is something tragically heroic about fighting this battle he is doomed to lose"(p.159). After this, Green, back in the narrating voice of Quentin, writes, "I wrote down as much as I could of what she said, realizing that I could probably pull off my final reaction paper without actually reading the book"(p.159). Though Dr. Holden is posing insightful questions very important to understanding Quentin's struggle - such as whether he is a hero or a fool, something Margo will bring up himself - Quentin clearly will not listen, even demonstrating uncharacteristic disregard for school, one of the effects of his obsession with tracking Margo.

    Both Quentin and Margo misread Leaves of Grass, which Dr. Holden seems to find poetic in its own way. Though Quentin searches for answers in "Song of Myself" and begins to understand some passages about the interconnection and misunderstanding of people, it is reading the poem for its literal meaning that brings Quentin closer to Margo.

  8. 8

    Discuss the last line of the book, how it relates to the rest of the story, and what it ultimately says about Margo and Quentin's relationship.

    The last sentences of the book read: "And it is dark as I kiss her, but I have my eyes open and so does Margo. She is close enough to me that I can see her, because even now there is the outward sign of the invisible light, even at night in this parking lot on the outskirts of Agloe. After we kiss, our foreheads touch as we stare at each other. Yes, I can see her almost perfectly in this cracked darkness"(p.305).

    The fact that Quentin and Margo kiss with their eyes open, as well as Quentin's final thought that he can see Margo perfectly, seem to point to Quentin having fully understood the real Margo. However, we know from the novel as a whole that this is not true. Quentin, as a human, is only able to see Margo through the window of his own perception, and to believe that he can means he hasn't fully learned what it means to understand and love someone for their flaws of being and one's own flaws of seeing. Though this reading may be unsatisfying, it makes the fact that Margo does not plan to return home with Quentin less tragic - both are able to continue growing and attempting to see others.

  9. 9

    How did this book make you feel? What did you learn? Did you have any realizations about human nature, childhood and coming of age, or romantic and friend relationships? Discuss and point to any particularly crucial moments in the text.

    This book holds a great deal of wisdom on human perception. Quentin - a geeky, hormonal, and question-filled guy - learns slowly about the flaws of others and of his own ability to perceive things truthfully. From mistaken clues to window motifs to navigating friendships and love, this book puts any reader back in the mindset of a teenager trying to figure out what it means to be an adult in a world that can be pretty crazy.

    An important moment in the text for me was Quentin's mother discussing Chuck Parson's academic difficulties. Though Quentin refused to give them much thought, remaining focused on things Chuck had done to him in their childhood, from her vantage as an adult his mother is able to see more clearly the true causes and effects of human behaviors.