Paper Towns is the brilliant coming-of-age story of Quentin, who has been infatuated with his neighbour Margo Roth Spiegelman, forever.
One night they share an epic adventure, and the next day Margo disappears leaving obscure clues behind, and Q attempts to solve these clues — hoping that they will help him find Margo — which leads him on an adventure to find her with his friends.
Paper Towns is a story is about love, friendship and what it’s like to be young.
One of my favourite things about the story is that it profoundly demonstrates some really complex lessons about the way we relate and connect to each other.
Here are 5 (of the many) things we can learn from Paper Towns by John Green…
1. Idealisation can make you feel inferior.
Q believes that his miracle is Margo Roth Spiegelman… “the way I figure it, everyone gets a miracle… My miracle was Margo Roth Spiegelman.”
He idealises her to the point where he sees her as being more than human, as superior to himself and larger than life.
He is infatuated with her, and sees her as an unattainable enigma, which is problematic for both him (and her) in so many ways.
Q feels like he is inferior to Margo, so he admires her from afar and never really tries to connect with her or truly get to know or understand her, which is really unfortunate.
2. Idealising can be limiting for those on the pedestal as well.
Margo (who is idealised by many) admits she likes being idealised, “it’s kind of great, being an idea that everybody likes. But I could never be the idea to myself, not all the way.”
By portraying this ‘idea’ of herself she didn’t know who she really was, and because she wasn’t being her true self she never gave anyone a chance to get to know her true self.
Margo was idealised by so many people as being more than a person — as being superior — so she didn’t have true connections with people, which led to her feeling misunderstood and alone:
“And all at once I knew how Margo Roth Spiegelman felt when she wasn’t being Margo Roth Spiegelman: she felt empty. She felt the unscaleable wall surrounding her.”
Q holds onto his subjective view of Margo’s identity and perpetrates the facade that she presents, and Margo also portrays this idea of herself, even though it is not really how she sees herself.
By idealising people we don’t allow them to be their true selves, which is damaging to both the person doing the imagining and the one is misimagined.
3. The way we see people may not be true.
Throughout the story it becomes increasingly clear to me that Q really didn’t ‘see’ Margo as she was, but in the way he wanted to, like he was looking, but really not truly seeing.
Q idealised Margo, but the way he imagined her was completely untrue.
His delusional perspective of her meant that he didn’t truly know her — even though he thought he loved her.
Q discovers that he created his Margo in his own imagination — “all along — not only since she left, but for a decade before — I had been imagining her without listening” — and he realises that this has been problematic to them both.
Our subjective views of other people may not reflect the actual reality of the way someone actually is.
4. Idealising other people dehumanises them.
Q treats Margo as if she is not human — as if she is beyond that — like she is far more superior than himself.
He sees her as some super human, when in reality she is just a regular human like himself.
By seeing Margo as this ‘miracle’ Q was unable to realise that she was flawed, just like himself — and everyone else.
His idealisation had dehumanised her to the point where he realises that he didn’t even really know the real Margo.
It wasn’t until he started to see her flaws that he began to truly get to know her… “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.”
By idealising people and seeing them as superior and flawless we don’t get the opportunity to genuinely connect with them on a human level.
5. We can never fully understand what it’s like to be another person.
The truth is: No one in the entire world truly knows what it’s like to be you — or how you experience the world.
Q thinks he knows and loves Margo, but he comes to realise that he loved the idea of Margo — her facade — and he didn’t really know what life was like for the real Margo.
It isn’t until Q starts to realise what Margo’s life must of actually been like that he begins to understand her.
Trying to fully empathsize with someone else’s reality is pretty much impossible, because we can never actually be the other person.
All we can do is try our very best to understand what the other person is experiencing — from the way that way see the world.
To me, Paper Towns is a story that excellently demonstrates how idealising is damaging and limiting idealising someone is, that it can prevent people from being their true self, it interferes with our ability to see other people as flawed and genuinely connect to other people on a human level.
It also reminds me that the way I perceive someone might not be the way they really are and that I can never fully understand how someone else experiences about the world.
For me, it’s also story about empathy — about learning how to relate and understand people in a genuine, human way.
What are your thoughts about Paper Towns? I’d love to know what you took away from the story?
So looking forward to hearing your thoughts below!
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