Paper Towns

Paper Towns

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Paper Towns Prologue Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Quentin Jacobsen, reflecting on his childhood, considers the possibility that every person will experience one incredible and unlikely event in their life: one “miracle.” Some people win Nobel Prizes or survive months at sea, but Quentin believes his “miracle” was living next door to Margo Roth Spiegelman. Margo and Quentin grew up together in Jefferson Park, one of the many subdivisions in Orlando, Florida. Jefferson Park is named after the rich and powerful orange juice salesman who once owned the land, Dr. Jefferson Jefferson. Quentin found Margo beautiful even when they were children, and remembers getting nervous every time they played together.
Quentin’s first lines illustrate his dehumanizing idealization of Margo. He thinks of Margo as an event or force in his life — a “miracle” that happens to him — rather than as a person whose existence is separate from his. The detail with which he describes Jefferson Park’s history, including the eccentric Dr. Jefferson Jefferson, gives the sense that Jefferson Park is unique and specific, despite the fact that it is one of countless subdivisions in Orlando and seems unremarkable on its surface.
Themes
Perception vs. Reality Theme Icon
Authenticity and Artificiality Theme Icon
Quentin remembers an experience he shared with Margo when they were nine years old. In the memory he describes, he and Margo bike to a park at the center of their subdivision. Upon arriving at the park, they discover a dead man lying under an oak tree, covered in blood. Margo, fascinated, approaches the man and examines his body, wondering aloud about the circumstances of his death. Quentin is terrified and urges her to come home with him. Biking home behind her, Quentin notices the man’s blood on her sneakers.
For Quentin, the discovery of the dead man is an intrusion on innocence, shattering the peace of two children as they play. However, Margo’s fascination with the body and apparent comfort in the presence of death suggests she is not so pure and childlike as Quentin is himself, or as he remembers her. Her bloody shoes forebode the way this experience will follow her into adulthood.
Themes
Perception vs. Reality Theme Icon
That night, after Quentin has gone to bed following a comforting conversation with his therapist mother, Margo appears at his bedroom window. Through the screen, she tells him she has done an investigation about the dead man, whose name was Robert Joyner. She talks about her conversation with Juanita Alvarez, Joyner’s neighbor, to whom Margo gained access by claiming she needed to borrow a cup of sugar. Alvarez told Margo that Joyner shot himself because he was getting divorced. Quentin reminds Margo that many people get divorced without committing suicide, and Margo suggests that Joyner may actually have died because “all the strings inside him broke.”
Margo and Quentin’s radically different responses to finding Joyner anticipate the different approaches to living they will adopt as teenager. Quentin allows his mother to comfort him, which is evidence of their trusting relationship and of his desire to be comforted. Margo does not share her experience with her parents, highlighting her isolation from them. She shows a powerful need to understand what happened to Joyner and seems to feel kinship with him, believing she can understand his decision.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon
Quentin, at a loss for words, removes the window screen. He seems to assume Margo will come into his bedroom, but Margo does not move and tells him to shut the window. He does, and she remains outside, staring at him. He waves and smiles at her, but notices that her gaze is fixed on something behind him, and that she looks afraid. They stand in silence, looking at each other. Quentin claims that he does not remember how the encounter ended, and says that in his memory, they continue to look at each other through the window forever.
Quentin does not respond to the news of Joyner’s suicide as strongly as Margo does, and this creates emotional as well as literal separation between them. By removing the screen, he invites Margo into his home and life; by insisting he close the window, Margo creates a barrier between them. They are stuck staring at each other, both unable to move closer through the barrier and unwilling to separate. They are both connected and utterly apart.
Themes
Perception vs. Reality Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
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Quentin concludes, narrating once again from the present, that Margo always loved mysteries, and he wonders whether she loved mysteries so much that she eventually became one.
That Quentin refers to Margo as a mystery emphasizes the difficulty of comprehending her mind. His reference to her love of mysteries, her desire to be a mystery, also suggests that Margo has an active desire to evade others’ understanding—to have that glass window always between her and the rest of the world.
Themes
Perception vs. Reality Theme Icon
Authenticity and Artificiality Theme Icon