Paper Towns

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Speak edition of Paper Towns published in 2009.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

It was so pathetically easy to forget about Chuck, to talk about prom even though I didn’t give a shit about prom. Such was life that morning: nothing really mattered much, not the good things and not the bad ones. We were in the business of mutual amusement, and we were reasonably prosperous.

Related Characters: Quentin Jacobsen (speaker), Ben Starling, Radar, Chuck Parson
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Quentin describes the ordinary day leading up to his adventure with Margo. Before Quentin becomes entangled with Margo, he lives a life almost entirely without extremes. He has few troubles and no great sorrows — but at the same time he has no real sources of joy. Quentin captures the mild emotional power and low stakes of his life when he describes his activities, including his relationships with his best friends, as "amusement." Though he seems successful on paper — he has friends and a social life, good grades, and has been admitted to an elite university — his life is emotionally shallow.

This moment, like a calm before a storm, will provide a contrast with the strong emotions and powerful ideas Quentin will encounter as he delves more deeply into Margo's world. His deepening love for and understanding of Margo will help Quentin better appreciate the relationships and experiences he has always taken for granted, and challenge him to evaluate his life with a more critical eye than ever before, disrupting his contentment and shocking him into a deeper and more intense experience of life.


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Part 1, Chapter 3 Quotes

“Did you know that for pretty much the entire history of the human species, the average life span was less than thirty years? You could count on ten years or so of real adulthood, right? There was no planning for retirement. No planning for a career. There was no planning … And now life has become the future. Every moment of your life is lived for the future.”

Related Characters: Margo Roth Spiegelman (speaker), Quentin Jacobsen
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

Margo and Quentin have just begun their night of adventure. They are buying supplies in Wal-Mart when Margo launches, seemingly unprompted, into this speech. Though she uses abstraction and impersonal language to create the illusion of having emotional distance, it is clear that Margo is really expressing her own frustrations about the attitude many people around her — including Quentin himself — seem to have: a focus on the accumulation of material goods and accomplishments at the expense of profound experiences in the present.

Margo hungers for deeper and more intense experiences than are readily available to her, and she longs for a life molded around values and ideals rather than the desire to meet the expectations of others. Her comments begin to shed light on her reasons for planning the epic adventure in which she has enlisted Quentin, as well as her other legendary schemes. Her rash and often dangerous actions allow her to live entirely in the present, and to create some distance, however temporary, from the disappointments of her life. 

Part 1, Chapter 6 Quotes

Even though I could see her there, I felt entirely alone among these big and empty buildings, like I’d survived the apocalypse and the world had been given to me, this whole and amazing and endless world, mine for the exploring.

Related Characters: Quentin Jacobsen (speaker), Margo Roth Spiegelman
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

Driving through downtown Orlando after a series of acts of exhilarating vandalism, Quentin has become swept up in the adventure and drama of his night with Margo. Where before he was preoccupied with anxiety about getting into trouble, he now feels empowered by the events of the night. The world around him, which seemed so ordinary not just in daylight but all through the days of his life before tonight, now seems beautiful — and, just as importantly, Quentin feels as though this beautiful new world is open to him.

Interestingly, Quentin's feeling of ownership and uncharacteristic willingness to embrace life fully comes at Margo's expense. Thrilled and preoccupied by the new perspective opening up inside him, Quentin ceases to even see Margo. The night has become, from Quentin's point of view, less about following a beautiful girl on an adventure and more about embracing a new vision of himself. The way he fails to see Margo here also hints at the way he (at this point) fails to entirely see the real Margo. She represents a kind of dream or ideal for Quentin, and through the novel Quentin comes to know himself in part by learning how to get to know Margo as a person too.

“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. All the paper kids drinking beer some bum bought for them at the paper convenience store. Everyone demented with the mania of owning things. All the things paper-thin and paper-frail. And all the people, too. I’ve lived here for eighteen years and I have never once in my life come across anone who cares about anything that matters.

Related Characters: Margo Roth Spiegelman (speaker), Quentin Jacobsen
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

Margo shares these reflections with Quentin while they look at the dark streets of Orlando from the top floor of the SunTrust Building. Her speech is a response to Quentin's claim that he finds the deserted streets of the city "beautiful."

Here Margo adopts the language of "paper" as a metaphor for the emptiness and short-sightedness of the world she comes from. Just as paper can be easily ripped or crumpled, people and communities that organize themselves around poorly chosen values — ideals Margo describes as"paper-thin and paper-frail" — cannot hope to produce anything meaningful and lasting. She disparages the materialism of her society, in which people spend their entire lives accumulating wealth and possessions but sacrifice relationships, beauty, and a sense of responsibility to others in order to do so. She characterizes that materialism as a kind of mental illness, which makes people "demented with the mania of owning things." 

The contrast between Quentin's perspective and Margo's highlights the fundamental difference in their personalities. Quentin is optimistic to the point of being naive. Now that Margo has disrupted the routines of his life, he is eager to see the world around him as being full of beauty and adventure, and he either cannot see the underlying darkness, or refuses to do so. Margo, by contrast, is so cynical that she cannot appreciate beauty at all. Rather than allow herself to see Orlando through Quentin's eyes, she has to counter his positive view of the city with a dark alternative. 

Part 1, Chapter 8 Quotes

“I didn’t need you, you idiot. I picked you. And then you picked me back … And that’s like a promise. At least for tonight. In sickness and in health. In good times and in bad. For richer, for poorer. Till dawn do us part.”

Related Characters: Margo Roth Spiegelman (speaker), Quentin Jacobsen
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

Though Quentin feels sure Margo is only using him — that she would never deign to include him in her plans unless she stood to gain something from doing so — the truth is that Margo desperately needs a friend at this tumultuous moment in her life. Margo has concocted this nighttime crusade as a way of incinerating all her most cherished relationships, and she knows she will be leaving her family and community behind in just a few hours when she runs away to start a new life. At this moment of profound uncertainty and loneliness, Margo seeks support from Quentin, with whom she shares a history of friendship. Though their relationship has fizzled over the years, Quentin is now, essentially, the only friend Margo has left. 

And I wanted to tell her that the pleasure for me was in planning or doing or leaving: the pleasure was in seeing our strings cross and separate and then come back together.

Related Characters: Quentin Jacobsen (speaker), Margo Roth Spiegelman
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

After breaking into SeaWorld at the end of their night of adventure, Margo confesses that doing interesting things never feels as good to her as planning them and looking forward to them. The park, for example, is unremarkable at night, when all the animals have been moved to different tanks. To Quentin, though, the only important thing is that he is sharing this experience with Margo: that he is watching the "strings" of their lives, which were interconnected in childhood, come back together after so many years of tepid acquaintanceship. Unlike Margo, who plans her adventures in hopes of finding the clarity and freedom she craves, Quentin relishes what the experience really offers: a moment of human connection, full of promise and possibility. 

Part 2, Chapter 4 Quotes

[M]aybe Margo needed to see my confidence. Maybe this time she wanted to be found, and to be found by me. Maybe — just as she had chosen me on the longest night, she had chosen be again. And maybe untold riches awaited he who found her.

Related Characters: Quentin Jacobsen (speaker), Margo Roth Spiegelman
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:

This thought occurs to Quentin while he, Radar, and Ben scour Margo's room for clues of her whereabouts shortly after her disappearance.

The fantasy Quentin describes — that Margo has engineered her own disappearance as an elaborate test for him, an opportunity for him to prove that he is worthy of her friendship and love — is impossibly outlandish and self-centered. Here, he reveals the extent to which his perception of Margo has become divorced from reality. Quentin sees Margo as a supporting character in his life, or a kind of beautiful, impossible ideal, rather than a three-dimensional person taking control of her own life.

Part 2, Chapter 7 Quotes

I refused to feel any kind of sadness over the fact that I wasn’t going to prom, but I had — stupidly, embarrassingly — thought of finding Margo, and getting her to come home with me just in time for prom, like late on Saturday night, and we’d walk into the Hilton ballroom wearing jeans and ratty T-shirts, and we be just in time for the last dance, and we’d dance while everyone pointed at us and marveled at the return of Margo, and then we’d fox-trot the hell out of there and go get ice cream at Friendly’s.

Related Characters: Quentin Jacobsen (speaker), Margo Roth Spiegelman
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:

After a phone call with Ben, Quentin reflects on his decision — about which he has been adamant since the first pages of the novel — not to attend prom. Always something of an outsider, Ben describes his hope that the people who ignored or bullied him for so many years will have to revise their idea of him when he arrives at the prom with beautiful, popular Lacey on his arm. 

Though Quentin dismisses Ben's fantasies over the phone, it is clear that he feels a similar desire to reinvent himself and break out of the mold of the conventional, obedient suburban kid in which he has been trapped all his life. In his imagination, he and Margo — a girl who represents the independence of mind and spirit he has never been brave enough to claim for himself — reject the shallow, conventional ritual of prom, showing up late in jeans and t-shirts instead of the formal clothes their classmates agonize over. At the same time, they are the stars of the evening, attracting the attention and admiration of all their classmates. Quentin longs both to find acceptance and to transcend the need for acceptance. 

Part 2, Chapter 8 Quotes

Standing before this building, I learn something about fear. I learn that it is not the idle fantasies of someone who maybe wants something important to happen to him, even if the important thing is horrible … This fear is bears no analogy to any fear I knew before. This is the basest of all possible emotions, the feeling that was with us before we existed, before this building existed, before the earth existed. This is the fear that made fish crawl onto dry land and evolve lungs, the fear that teaches us to run, the fear that makes us bury our dead.

Related Characters: Quentin Jacobsen (speaker), Margo Roth Spiegelman
Page Number: 140-141
Explanation and Analysis:

When Quentin, Radar, and Ben arrive at the address listed on Margo's note, they are met with an overwhelming stench that Quentin immediately understands must be a rotting corpse. The smell jolts Quentin out of his carefree self-centeredness — his belief that Margo's disappearance is just a game, and that he will surely win the "prize" of her friendship and love when he finds her — and forces him to recognize the grave possibility that Margo may have committed suicide, and that the dead body may be hers. 

Though the corpse turns out to be that of a raccoon, this experience alters Quentin's entire relationship to Margo and her disappearance. After his experience at the strip mall, he feels a real, human connection with Margo, whereas before this confrontation with the possibility of her death, he had still idealized her from a distance. Quentin now begins to consider Margo's inner life more deeply, acknowledging the pain and loneliness that prompted her to run away and working to understand her empathetically. Like the fear that grips him outside the strip mall, this work is painful and sometimes overwhelming — however, as Quentin begins to humanize Margo in his mind, he becomes a fuller and more compassionate person, better able to care for those he loves.

Part 2, Chapter 9 Quotes


Related Characters: Margo Roth Spiegelman (speaker), Quentin Jacobsen, Ben Starling
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

Quentin, Radar, and Ben find this proclamation spray-painted on the wall of the abandoned strip mall where they expect to meet Margo. Since they discover the message shortly after their encounter with the dead raccoon, it forces them to once again consider the possibility that Margo may have taken her own life (or be planning to do so). The assertion that she will "never come back" is frightening for Quentin and his friends. 

Later, in Agloe, Margo explains to Quentin that her escape to the "paper town" — the imaginary place that became real — was intended as the symbolic first step in transforming herself from a "paper girl," who lacks substance and self-definition, to a real person who can live with purpose and conviction. Though Margo never intends to commit suicide, as Quentin fears she might, she believes that the part of herself that hungers after praise and popularity and the good opinion of other people must die before she can live an authentic life. With her spray-painted proclamation, Margo commits to the destruction of that part of herself. 

Part 2, Chapter 10 Quotes

“Let me give you some advice: let her come home. I mean, at some point, you gotta stop looking up at the sky, or one of these days you’ll look back down and see that you floated away, too.”

Related Characters: Detective Otis Warren (speaker), Quentin Jacobsen, Margo Roth Spiegelman
Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:

Detective Otis Warren offers Quentin this warning when Quentin calls him to discuss some new information he believes he has found about Margo's disappearance. Warren, who in his first meeting with Quentin compared runaway children to tied-down balloons that finally break free and float away, calls on that metaphor again to caution Quentin about losing himself in the search for Margo. Warren isn't the first person to worry that Quentin's obsession with finding Margo is hindering his ability to live a full life — Quentin's parents and Ben both express similar concerns at different points in the novel — but it is not until his near-death experience during his road trip to Agloe that Quentin truly begins to see the consequences of his obsession and to recapture his desire to live a full life on his own terms.

Though the novel focuses primarily on Quentin's journey to develop greater humanity and compassion for others, his experience searching for Margo also teaches him greater loyalty to and understand of himself. After dismissing his fantastic ideas about the ways in which his life might change if Margo were to love him, and working hard to transcend the boundaries of his own, self-centered perspective, he also has to recognize that his life is his alone to live. He must live responsibly, with regard and care for other human beings, but he also must make his own decisions and set his own priorities, rather than blindly following another person's vision for him. 

Part 2, Chapter 14 Quotes

“You know your problem, Quentin? You keep expecting people not to be themselves. I mean, I could hate you for being massively unpunctual and for never being interested in anything other than Margo Roth Spiegelman, and for, like, never asking me about how it’s going with my girlfriend — but I don’t give a shit, man, because you’re you.”

Related Characters: Radar (speaker), Quentin Jacobsen, Ben Starling
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

When Quentin, frustrated when Ben refuses to discuss new information about Margo's disappearance, declares Ben an "asshole" during a conversation with Radar, Radar chastises him for refusing to accept that Ben is a person with his own values and priorities, which may not always align with Quentin's. He encourages Quentin to focus on the things that make Ben a worthwhile person and a good friend, rather than on his shortcomings, and suggests implicitly that this is the only way relationships can be successful: that everyone has flaws which might make them unbearable to be around if those were their only characteristics, but that no person is defined entirely by their flaws. 

This conversation with Radar is part of Quentin's long journey to become a more compassionate and humane person — not  just with regard to Margo, but with regard to people who seem much more ordinary and less deserving than Margo. Ben is not the exciting, complex, intellectual person Margo is. He cracks immature jokes and craves the acceptance of his peers. These qualities make him easy to dismiss, but Radar urges Quentin to extend his compassion to Ben rather than reserving it for people who seem "special" and therefore worthy. 

Part 2, Chapter 15 Quotes

“I know it’s impossible for you to see peers this way, but when you’re older, you’ll start to see them — the bad kids and the good kids and all kids — as people. They’re just people, who deserve to be cared for. Varying degrees of sick, varying degrees of neurotic, varying degrees of self-actualized.”

Related Characters: Connie Jacobsen (speaker), Quentin Jacobsen, Tom Jacobsen
Page Number: 198
Explanation and Analysis:

During a dinner conversation about Quentin's longtime rival, Chuck Parson, Connie Jacobsen draws on her experience as a psychologist to counter her son's tendency to reduce other people to tropes and stereotypes: the bullheaded jock in the case of Chuck, the cold-hearted popular girl in the case of Becca Arrington, the beautiful mystery in the case of Margo.

Her profession gives Mrs. Jacobsen unique insight into the complexities of the human mind, but the wisdom she offers Quentin has less to do with her background in psychology than with her compassion and maturity: two qualities Quentin is still lacking, though he has made progress toward developing them. In his journey toward developing greater empathy, Quentin has focused largely on learning to understand and appreciate Margo — a person he already admired and cared for, even if his reasons for doing so were flawed. In order to develop true empathy, though, Quentin must recognize that every person, regardless of how difficult or unpleasant they might seem to him personally, has a deep and significant inner life and struggles in his or her own way. 

“The longer I do my job … the more I realize that humans lack good mirrors. It’s so hard for anyone to show us how we look, and so hard for us to show anyone who we feel.”

Related Characters: Tom Jacobsen (speaker), Quentin Jacobsen, Connie Jacobsen
Page Number: 198
Explanation and Analysis:

After Quentin dismisses their sympathetic comments about Chuck Parson during a dinner conversation, Mr. and Mrs. Jacobsen speculate about the reasons people have such a difficult time empathizing with others. Mr. Jacobsen's hypothesis — that most people simply do not know how to express their emotions in ways other people can understand — captures the essential loneliness and frustration of being human. Through Quentin's experience searching for Margo, which forces him to think critically about his perception of others and brings both his best and worst qualities to the surface, Quentin comes to understand that every person — from goofy and childish Ben to actively vicious Chuck Parson — acts mostly out of a need for patience, acceptance, and love.  

The fundamental mistake I had always made — and that she had, in fairness, always led me to make — was this: Margo was not a miracle. She was not an adventure. She was not a fine and precious thing. She was a girl.

Related Characters: Quentin Jacobsen (speaker), Margo Roth Spiegelman
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout the novel, Quentin constantly discovers and rediscovers Margo's humanity. In this moment, during an illuminating dinner conversation with his parents, he perceives both Margo's complexity and the tremendous ordinariness of that complexity. Though he has already confronted the fact that Margo's inner life may have been much darker than he realized — that she may have planned to take her own life, for instance — he still has not been able to think about her as an ordinary person.

Even at the darkest and most frightening extremes of his imagination, Quentin has always related to Margo as a character in a story, someone larger than life whose mind and experience bore no resemblance to his own. Now, imagining the possibility that Margo may have suffered from something as ordinary as loneliness and a sense of isolation — that she may have fled Orlando, not because she was living in a grand and dramatic narrative, but because she felt trapped and had no idea what else to do — Quentin begins a new stage in the development of his empathetic imagination. 

Part 2, Chapter 16 Quotes

I couldn’t help but think about school and everything else ending. I liked standing just outside the couches and watching them — it was a kind of sad I didn’t mind, and so I just listened, letting all the happiness and the sadness of this ending swirl around in me, each sharpening the other. For the longest time, it felt kind of like my chest was cracking open, but not precisely in an unpleasant way.

Related Characters: Quentin Jacobsen (speaker), Ben Starling, Radar, Lacey Pemberton
Page Number: 215
Explanation and Analysis:

Since the beginning of the novel, Quentin has maintained a cool, critical distance from the experience of finishing high school: he refuses to go to prom, balks at the sentimentality of his parents and peers, and takes a laissez-faire attitude toward the graduation ceremony itself, ultimately skipping it to drive to Agloe in search of Margo. In this scene, attending a laid-back party with his friends and acquaintances from the school band, he allows himself to feel emotional about the coming transition for the first time. The fact that Quentin allows himself this moment of authentic feeling—after months, or possibly years, of acting aloof and disinterested in order to maintain some semblance of being "cool"—is a sign that he is developing a more mature understanding of himself and the people around him. After working so hard to understand Margo and break down the barrier of her larger-than-life persona, Quentin is coming to a greater appreciation of the power of sincere emotion in an anxious, inauthentic world. 

Part 2, Chapter 17 Quotes

“I know you want to find her. I know she is t he most important thing to you. And that’s cool. But we graduate in, like, a week. I’m not asking you to abandon the search. I’m asking you to come to a party with your two best friends who you have known for half your life.”

Related Characters: Ben Starling (speaker), Quentin Jacobsen, Margo Roth Spiegelman
Page Number: 211
Explanation and Analysis:

When Quentin declines Ben's invitation to a casual party at Radar's house, Ben offers this firm but uncharacteristically gentle argument to convince him to attend. Ben never really becomes emotionally involved with the search for Margo, and on more than one occasion refuses outright to help Quentin chase down new clues. In light of this, his sympathetic recognition of the fact that Margo is "the most important thing" to Quentin becomes a gesture of solidarity and understanding.

Though Ben is not always the kind of friend Quentin wants him to be, this conversation shows that Ben is trying to be the kind of friend Quentin needs: understanding and compassionate, not jealous or resentful of the fact that Quentin spends more time searching for a girl he barely knows than relishing his last weeks with his best friends, but also protective of Quentin's happiness and psychological wellbeing. Ben wants Quentin to have a normal end-of-high-school experience, and to take the time to reminisce and appreciate what he has gone through.

In some ways, this is also an effort to ensure that Quentin keeps moving forward: that he goes through the normal process of transitioning from childhood to adulthood, because otherwise he risks becoming trapped in this moment, too obsessed with Margo's disappearance to go on with his own life. Despite all the ways in which he fails to meet Quentin's expectations, Ben shows himself here to be a genuine friend. 

Part 2, Chapter 19 Quotes

It is so hard to leave — until you leave. And then it is the easiest goddamned thing in the world.

Related Characters: Quentin Jacobsen (speaker), Margo Roth Spiegelman
Page Number: 229
Explanation and Analysis:

This thought occurs to Quentin on his last day of high school, after he dumps the contents of his locker into the garbage and drives away for the last time. Though he feels sentimental wandering through the halls, he feels suddenly free and deeply content as he leaves this period of his life behind, knowing he'll never return. 

Quentin's exhilaration shines some light on Margo's decision to cut all ties in Orlando and leave her home, friends, and family behind. The feeling of independence is thrilling, but even more importantly, cutting all ties and escaping into a new life eliminates the need to really confront the loss and the feelings that come with it. Though Quentin seems very brave and bold as he drives away, he is really avoiding the hard work of acknowledging and coping with his emotions: his resentment for all the bullying and injustice, his dissatisfaction at the shallowness and superficiality, and also the deep gratitude and love he feels for some of the people and experiences he had in high school. Cutting ties without a second thought is, as Quentin realizes at this moment, "the easiest goddam thing in the world" — but living life fully sometimes necessitates doing the more difficult thing. When Quentin attends a graduation party with his friends soon after this moment, he will face the complicated emotions that come with graduation in a more genuine way; this experience, rather than the heady escape in this scene, will better help prepare him to move on.  

Part 3, Hour 12 Quotes

I blame her for this ridiculous, fatal chase — for putting us at risk, for making me into the kind of jackass who would stay up all night and drive too fast. I would not be dying were it not for her. I would have stayed home, and I have always stayed home, and I would have been safe, and I would have done the one thing I have always wanted to do, which is grow up.

Related Characters: Quentin Jacobsen (speaker), Margo Roth Spiegelman
Page Number: 268
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final stretch of their road trip to Agloe, an exhausted Quentin fails to notice a massive cow blocking the road. As the car barrels toward the cow, Quentin — recognizing that he and his friends will almost certainly die in the resulting collision — suddenly sees his single-minded fixation on Margo in a harsh new light. He sees his friends' loyalty, and his failure to appreciate them. He also sees what others have been warning him about since he began his search for Margo: that, in his obsession with finding her, he lost his sense of having a self independent from her, with goals and dreams for his own life that existed before Margo's disappearance and had nothing to do with her. 

The anger and resentment Quentin feels at this moment does not last. Still, this brush with disaster awakens Quentin to the world outside his search for Margo. After weeks of feeling like his identity is inextricably intertwined with hers, he recaptures his appreciation for a life that has, for years, had almost nothing to do with her. This moment of self-recognition is the first step toward his eventual decision to return to Orlando and go to college as planned, rather than following Margo to New York.

Part 3, Agloe Quotes

“Oh bullshit. You didn’t come here to make sure I was okay. You came here because you wanted to save poor little Margo from her troubled little self, so that I would be oh-so-thankful to my knight in shining armor that I would strip my clothes off and beg you to ravage my body.”

Related Characters: Margo Roth Spiegelman (speaker), Quentin Jacobsen
Page Number: 284
Explanation and Analysis:

Margo's cynical interpretation of Quentin's actions might have been accurate (though exaggerated) at the beginning of the novel, when Quentin felt sure her disappearance was only an elaborate game. But Quentin has grown and changed a great deal since Margo first disappeared, and her presumptuous criticism shows that her failures of compassion and imagination have been just as deep as Quentin's.

At the same time, Margo's rage at being found — and the shock that rage inspires in Quentin — reveals all the ways in which Quentin, for all his growth, still expected their relationship to follow the patterns of a neat-and-tidy fairy tale story. Quentin has assumed since the beginning that Margo wanted to be found, and though he has released many of his fantastic ideas about what might happen after their reunion, he certainly seems to have expected some kind of gratitude from her. Though Quentin has spent weeks learning about Margo and working to better understand her, this moment is a reminder of the fact that he and Margo still know next to nothing about each other. No amount of imagination can allow one person to understand another as intimately as a real, human interaction can.  

“People love the idea of a paper girl. They always have. and the worst thing is that I loved it, too. I cultivated it, you know … Because it’s kind of great, being an idea that everybody likes. But I could never be the idea to myself, not all the way.”

Related Characters: Margo Roth Spiegelman (speaker), Quentin Jacobsen
Page Number: 293-294
Explanation and Analysis:

In her conversation with Quentin in Agloe, Margo acknowledges that she was complicit in her own objectification — that she encouraged other people to see her as a beautiful idea rather than a human being, because it was easier to fulfill their expectations than to make herself vulnerable to rejection by exposing her flaws and the messiness of her inner life. It is important for both Margo and Quentin to recognize that being "paper" is something a person can actively choose when they do not feel brave enough or safe enough to show their true selves to others.

Authenticity takes courage, but it is also a necessary step before a person can find real happiness and connection. Margo tried to live as a "paper girl" in Orlando, but found she could never ignore the things that made her complex and human. She runs away because she can no longer abide her own cool, aloof persona — to be fulfilled in life, she needs to form relationships based on honesty and sincerity, and gain a deeper understanding of her real self. 

She can see it in my face — I understand now that I can’t be her and she can’t be me. Maybe Whitman had a gift I don’t have. But as for me: I must ask the wounded man where he is hurt, because I cannot become the wounded man. The only wounded man I can be is me.

Related Characters: Quentin Jacobsen (speaker), Margo Roth Spiegelman
Related Symbols: “Song of Myself”
Page Number: 298
Explanation and Analysis:

After Quentin hears Margo's explanation of her disappearance, he tells her that he understands her reasons for leaving Orlando, but that he believes she can come back with him and resume her life on her own terms. When Margo immediately rejects this idea, Quentin is forced finally to release his dreams of a neat and tidy ending to their story. As much as he wants Margo to come home with him and continue building the relationship that has only just started between them, he has to recognize that her needs are different from his own. She is not able to give him what he wants — a stable, sure relationship — while still being true to herself. Their relationship is insufficient to draw her back into a life she does not want, or to protect her from falling back into her old ways. Likewise, Quentin cannot do what Margo will soon ask of him — run away to New York and start a new life with her — while still being true to himself. Quentin sees this truth through Whitman's "Song of Myself," of course, and here recognizes that he isn't as fundamentally optimistic about human connection as Whitman is — Quentin believes in empathy and connection, but not in the kind of perfect union Whitman describes (in which a person can become another). Margo and Quentin have achieved remarkable understanding of and love for one another, but this does not resolve all the problems and complications in their lives, and it does not guarantee that their relationship will be an easy or successful one.

Imagining isn’t perfect. You can’t get all the way inside someone else. I could never have imagined Margo’s anger at being found, or the story she was writing over. But imagining being someone else, or the world being something else, is the only way in.

Related Characters: Quentin Jacobsen (speaker), Margo Roth Spiegelman
Page Number: 299
Explanation and Analysis:

During their day together in Agloe, Quentin hears Margo's version of their shared story: the death of Robert Joyner, their years of tepid friendship throughout high school, their night of adventures, and her disappearance. He realizes that, as hard as he has tried to understand Margo, he can never presume to know her fully. This is an important addendum to all the lessons Quentin has learned about compassion and empathy; before he can truly humanize others, he has to recognize and accept that there will always be parts of them that he cannot access. To proceed through life without this understanding would be arrogant, and would ultimately be just as dehumanizing as never trying to empathize with others at all.

At the same time as he acknowledges the limits of empathetic imagination, Quentin recognizes that his efforts to see Margo more clearly have been powerful and necessary. Though he will never know everything about her, he has to make the effort of imagining himself into her heart and mind, if only because that effort shows his willingness to see her in all her complexity. 

When did we see each other face-to-face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that, we were just looking at ideas of each other, like looking at your window shade but never seeing inside. But once the vessel cracks, the light can get in. The light can get out.

Related Characters: Quentin Jacobsen (speaker), Margo Roth Spiegelman
Page Number: 302
Explanation and Analysis:

In Agloe, Quentin searches for a metaphor that can capture his new understanding of the complex way in which human beings relate to one another: the impossibility of ever really knowing another person, as Whitman's metaphor of the interconnected roots of grass suggests, and the desperate hunger for love and compassion that he has come to understand during his search for Margo. He conceives of the metaphor of human beings as watertight vessels that become cracked and imperfect over time, until they eventually split open to reveal their contents. Like those vessels, whose contents are invisible to begin with, human beings keep their deepest and truest selves hidden from others as long as they can. As life goes on, however, pain and other profound experiences "crack" people open, making it impossible for them to hide their true selves. 

Margo's disappearance exposes Quentin to the most difficult and frightening experiences of his life, and forces him to recognize the deep pain that was always part of Margo, but which he was never willing or able to see. When he finally reaches Margo, he perceives his own fragility and vulnerability in how deeply he has come to care for her. In crafting his metaphor of cracked vessels, Quentin recognizes that love and intimacy are the products of compassion. People must allow one another to see their weakness and pain before they can experience deep connection — but in exposing those darker parts of themselves, they open themselves up to the healing forces of love and friendship, and allow the best and most worthy parts of themselves to shine through to others. 

After we kiss, our foreheads touch as we stare at each other. Yes, I can see her almost perfectly in this cracked darkness.

Related Characters: Quentin Jacobsen (speaker), Margo Roth Spiegelman
Page Number: 305
Explanation and Analysis:

It is important that this final line of the novel, after Margo drops Quentin off at his motel and they prepare to part ways, ends not with a kiss but with Margo and Quentin looking directly into one another's faces. While a kiss represents a fairy tale ending — the thing Quentin wanted and expected when he first began searching for Margo — this moment of eye contact represents a new willingness on both their parts to see each other for who they really are. 

It is also worth noting that the novel ends where it began: in the middle of the night, the period when one day transitions into the next. Just as they were on their first night of adventure, Margo and Quentin are here on the brink of a major transition, both in their personal lives and in their relationship to one another. Both are preparing to start new lives — Quentin at college, and Margo in New York — and it is  unclear whether they will ever see each other again. Unlike the fairy tale, which ends with all conflicts solved and questions answered, this final line acknowledges that life is a series of transitions, and that real life is never truly finished. 

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