Paper Towns

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Themes and Colors
Perception vs. Reality Theme Icon
Authenticity and Artificiality Theme Icon
Human Connection Theme Icon
Leaving Home and Growing Up Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Paper Towns, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Quentin claims, at the beginning of the novel, that he has been in love with Margo since they were children. Though their friendship has fizzled over the years, he is amazed by the rumors he hears about Margo’s adventures: her solo road trip through Mississippi, her three days traveling with the circus, and similar, larger-than-life escapades. He thinks of her as the perfect girl, both beautiful and intriguing. As his investigation of her disappearance develops…

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Margo struggles to find meaning in the wealthy, suburban environment where she and Quentin have grown up. She disdains the interests and values of her family and friends, whom she believes to be superficial. Her favorite metaphor, which Quentin adopts after her disappearance, is that Orlando is a “paper town” full of “paper people,” where nobody cares about the things in life that truly matter. Quentin finds the idea intriguing, and he uses Margo’s language…

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The events of the novel cause Quentin to consider multiple different philosophies about the ways in which human beings build connections with one another, and about the nature of those connections. Reading Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself” he becomes interested in Whitman’s idea that all human beings are tied together, like blades of grass that share the same root system, and have a limitless ability to understand and empathize with one another. He eventually…

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Quentin’s obsession with Margo shapes his experience of finishing high school, and of the milestones associated with that transition. He misses both prom and graduation so that he can pursue Margo, and when he is forced to attend an after-prom party so he can drive Ben home, he is sullen and cynical, refusing to enjoy himself on principal. He becomes disinterested in the romantic and sexual lives of his friends, each of whom becomes…

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Friendships are the central relationships in Paper Towns, and are often more intimate than either family relationships or romantic ones. However, both Quentin and Margo fail to appreciate their friends, and both are forced to consider the people they have taken for granted in a new light. Before leaving Orlando, Margo cuts ties with three of her closest friends. This includes Lacey, whom Margo dismisses as spiteful and disloyal. However, Lacey proves herself…

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