Paper Towns

Paper Towns

Paper Towns Part 1, Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Quentin, now a senior at Winter Park High School in Orlando, arrives at school on a Wednesday morning. He learns from his best friend Ben Starling that another of their friends, Radar, has made plans to go to prom with a girl named Angela, whom neither of them has ever met. Quentin is disinterested in prom, but Ben is fixated on the idea of going. He updates Quentin on his efforts to find a prom date, which have been unsuccessful since nearly every girl in school has heard “the Bloody Ben story,” a nasty rumor started by Margo’s friend Becca Arrington when they were in the tenth grade. When Ben was hospitalized for a kidney infection, Becca told their classmates that the blood in his urine was actually a symptom of his chronic masturbation. The story has continued to haunt him ever since.
This section offers a snapshot of Quentin’s life as a teenager, and emphasizes how ordinary his interests and experiences are. His unremarkable life as a teenager contrasts with the dramatic childhood experience he narrates in the prologue. He occupies himself with the day-to-day problems and triumphs of friends who are as ordinary as himself. This section also emphasizes Quentin’s status as a social outcast. His friendship with Ben, who is romantically unsuccessful and has been a target for a popular girl’s joke, casts Quentin as an outsider in the same way Ben is. That Becca is Margo’s friend also establishes that Margo is not a social outcast: she is one of the popular girls.
Themes
Leaving Home and Growing Up Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
Quentin becomes distracted from the conversation when he sees Margo in the hall. She is standing with her boyfriend, the baseball player Jase Worthington, and appears to be laughing hysterically. He thinks of the escapades and adventures for which Margo is famous: the time she ran away to Mississippi, her brief career traveling with a circus, and her behind-the-scenes encounter with a famous band in St. Louis. Stories of these adventures circulate through the entire school, and though no one can believe they are real, they always prove true.
It becomes clear in this passage that Margo’s status as a legend extends far beyond Quentin — everyone at Winter Park High School thinks of her in a similar way. Her presence immediately draws Quentin’s attention, illustrating the extent of his fascination with her, and the posture in which he sees her — laughing with her athlete boyfriend —supports his presumption that Margo leads a glamorous life.
Themes
Perception vs. Reality Theme Icon
Ben and Quentin meet Radar in the hall. Radar deflects conversation about his relationship with Angela by talking about Omnictionary, a reference website he loves. Quentin and Radar joke about Ben’s prom prospects. Chuck Parson, an enormous and popular athlete, approaches Quentin and starts to harass him, asking what he knows about Margo and Jase. Quentin knows nothing of interest, since his friendship with Margo has stagnated over the years. Quentin and Radar leave for calculus. In his narration, Quentin remarks about how easy it was for him to amuse himself by talking about prom with his friends, and to feel as though nothing happening around him mattered much.
That Quentin has nothing substantial to say when Chuck asks him what he knows about Margo illustrates the extent to which they grown apart since they were children. It also serves as a reminder of the superficial nature of Quentin’s admiration of Margo. Though he thinks and writes about her constantly, he knows very little about her life.
Themes
Perception vs. Reality Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
During lunch, Ben admits he wants to go to prom even though Quentin thinks the idea is stupid. He tells Quentin he has already been rejected by one potential date. A girl with dreadlocks approaches them, and Quentin realizes that this is Angela. Angela tells the boys that Radar — who has a different lunch period, and so is not with them — hasn’t invited her to his house, even though they’ve been dating for five weeks. She asks whether Radar is embarrassed of her, or whether his parents are weird. Quentin rushes to assure her that Radar’s parents are just overprotective. She leaves, apparently satisfied, and the boys wonder how long it will be until she learns the real reason that Radar hasn’t invited her to his house.
Their conversation with Angela establishes how well Ben and Quentin know Radar, and how loyal they are to him. While both know the reason Radar is not inviting Angela to his house, they have no qualms about lying to cover for their friend.
Themes
Friendship Theme Icon
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Talking with Radar after lunch, Quentin and Ben tell him about their conversation with Angela. They tease Radar about the real reason his for reluctance to bring his girlfriend home: his parents own the world’s largest collection of black Santas, and every surface in his house is covered with black Santa paraphernalia.
Though the reason for Radar’s embarrassment is absurd and comical, the fact that he is not integrating Angela into his life because of that embarrassment shows on a micro level how insecurities keep people from connecting with one another.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon
After school, Quentin follows the same unremarkable routine he follows every day, watching television and eating dinner with his parents. His days are boring, he thinks, but there is something pleasant about being bored. A little before midnight, however, the routine of the day is disrupted. Margo appears at his bedroom window and opens it, something she hasn’t done since the night after Robert Joyner died, nine years earlier. The window still has no screen.
Quentin is comforted by the boring predictability of his life, and does not seem to have any particular thirst for adventure. However, his apparent failure to replace the window screen, which he removed on the night Joyner died to let Margo into his room, suggests he has been waiting subconsciously for her to re-enter his life.
Themes
Human Connection Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon