Paper Towns

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Leaving Home and Growing Up Theme Analysis

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.
Leaving Home and Growing Up Theme Icon

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 seriously involved with a girl during the last weeks of school. When asked to think or talk about the landmark experiences that mean so much to Ben and Radar, Quentin often makes cynical comments about the triteness and inauthenticity of those experiences, similar to the ones Margo makes at the beginning of the novel. Quentin’s refusal to participate in the rituals that come with finishing high school and transitioning to adulthood is partly a result of the unhappiness and isolation Quentin has felt during his adolescence, but it also illustrates how difficult it is for him to confront the necessity of growing up and leaving home. His handling of the situation contrasts with those of his friends, who continue to invest in the people and experiences around them even as the moment of separation approaches: Radar falls in love with Angela despite knowing that they will need to part ways in the fall, and Ben demonstrates a willingness to revise his opinions of others by pursuing a relationship with Lacey and relishes new friendships with his classmates.

On his last day of high school, Quentin reflects on the pleasures of leaving a place where one has put down roots. Throwing away the contents of his locker and walking away from the school building are exhilarating experiences for him, and he is surprised to discover how easy it is to leave that period of his life behind. He also recognizes that leaving may only feel liberating when there is something significant to leave behind, and wonders whether the best thing to do would be to chase that feeling indefinitely, leaving one place after another for his whole life. He confronts that possibility more clearly after he is reunited with Margo. During their day together in Agloe, both must make choices about the kind of lives they want to lead as adults. Margo swears off conventional paths to success, which start with college and end with a career and family, and decides instead to strike out on her own and try to build a life in New York City. Quentin, however, insists that things like education and family can produce to happiness and lead to a meaningful life. He declines Margo’s offer to start a new life in New York with her, but he remarks before they part ways that “not following her is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” Though Quentin does not condemn Margo for her choice, his decision to reject her restless way of life raises questions about the nature of adulthood, and whether it is possible to build a satisfying life if one is afraid of putting down roots.

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Leaving Home and Growing Up Quotes in Paper Towns

Below you will find the important quotes in Paper Towns related to the theme of Leaving Home and Growing Up.
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. 


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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 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. 

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.