The next day at school, Quentin tells his friends about his trip to the pseudovisions, though he realizes there isn’t much to say. He finds he can no longer bear to listen to their conversations about prom and other ordinary things. Lacey cries at the thought of Margo committing suicide, but Quentin keeps pushing her to think of places Margo might have gone until Ben tells him to leave Lacey alone.
Quentin’s frustration has left him jaded, not only about the normal pleasures and troubles of high school, but about the serious needs and feelings of the people around him. While losing Margo initially seemed to make him more thoughtful and compassionate, his anger and frustration has reversed those developments, leaving him more selfish than ever.
That afternoon, listening to Dr. Holden lecture about Moby-Dick during English, it occurs to Quentin that she might have helpful insights about “Song of Myself.” After class, he brings Dr. Holden the poem and points out the morbid trend in Margo’s annotations, explaining his fear that she may have intended it to be a suicide note. Dr. Holden is saddened to see such a pessimistic reading of the poem, which she assures Quentin is fundamentally an optimistic celebration of human interconnectedness. She believes the only logical conclusion of the poem is that all life is sacred and valuable. However, she admits that people project their own feelings onto the poetry they read, and that Margo may not have seen the same life-affirming message she does.
As the world around Quentin becomes increasingly bleak and lonely, Dr. Holden offers him an alternative way of seeing the world, one defined by compassion and optimism. Whitman’s belief that all people are connected to one another eradicates the possibility that anyone could ever be totally alone, or that anyone could be lost forever. According to Whitman, Margo and Quentin are tied together by the human experience, which also ties them to every other person in the world — including the “paper people” they disparage.
Dr. Holden asks Quentin what he thinks of the poem. Quentin admits that he has mostly been reading the lines Margo highlighted, and that he is less interested in understanding Whitman than he is in understanding Margo. Dr. Holden tells Quentin that Whitman would have been pleased to see his poem used as a means for one person to understand another, but she encourages him to read “Song of Myself” all the way through, saying a poem cannot “do its work” unless it’s read in its entirety. Quentin leaves, feeling no better.
Dr. Holden, like other adults in Quentin’s life, is pushing him to move past the unhappiness his obsession with Margo is causing him. She wants Quentin to be receptive to the joy Whitman communicates, and to develop a more grateful and generous attitude toward the world than the one he has learned by reading the poem through Margo.
Quentin hangs out with Ben and Radar after school, but he declines their invitation to come along to a pre-prom party, and instead spends the night trying to read Whitman. The next morning, Quentin invites Ben over to play “Resurrection,” and is furious when he learns that Ben has planned to devote the entire day to preparing for prom that evening. He complains to Radar, but finds that Radar is also focused on prom. Radar tells Quentin that he will be happy to help hunt for Margo at any point in the future, but that he wants to enjoy this one night with Angela, and doesn’t intend to let Margo stop him from having a nice time.
The frustration and resentment Quentin has developed around prom seems to be less about the event itself and more about the endings and separations it symbolizes. Both Radar and Ben are planning to spend the evening with girls they care about, and have focused lots of attention on making those girls happy — an early sign that they are both changing, and that their friendship with Quentin will soon be changing as well.
Quentin borrows his mother’s minivan, telling her that he has decided to go to prom after all, and that he and Ben will be going stag together. Instead of going to pick out a tuxedo, as he told his mother he was going to, Quentin drives to the next pseudovision on his list: Quail Hollow. The place is better maintained than the other pseudovisions he has visited, surrounded by finished subdivisions that have been populated with families — but Margo is nowhere to be seen. Quentin considers the possibility that he might never find her, and wonders whether he will be better off that way. Then, he leaves Quail Hollow and drives west toward the strip mall.
The contrast between the story Quentin tells his mother and the reality he lives illuminates how isolated he has become since Margo’s disappearance. While his friends enjoy one another’s company and revel in the rituals and celebrations that mark the end of their time in high school, Quentin is completely alone. His question — whether it would be better for him never to find Margo — introduces the frightening possibility that he might find himself stuck in this search forever, either literally or figuratively.