Study Guide

Paper Towns Themes

  • Identity

    If you ever played with paper dolls (or your paper doll app) you know how easy it is to change a person's identity. Sometimes it's as easy as just changing an outfit. And things get really wild if you have your Pope John Paul II paper doll clothes to trade with your Nancy Reagan paper doll

    But who are these people without their paper clothes? That's a hard question to answer. In Paper Towns, Margo Roth Spiegelman refers to people she finds flat and boring as paper boys or paper girls. But when she realizes that she's a paper girl, too, she tries to find a way to give herself a third dimension.

    Questions About Identity

    1. The back of our book asks, Who is the real Margo? So now we ask you, who is the real Margo Roth Spiegelman? Bust out that textual evidence.
    2. What does Margo mean when calls herself a "paper girl" (3.22.96)? How does she plan on changing that?
    3. Is Margo trying to change Quentin when she takes him on the nighttime adventure, or is she bringing out certain parts of his personality that already exist?

    Chew on This

    Margo Roth Spiegelman has carefully constructed her own identity, but in doing so, she has forgotten to find out who she actually is, besides a girl who constructs an identity for herself.

    Quentin has his identity figured out more than Margo does because he knows what he likes and he's comfortable being himself (most of the time)… even if Margo thinks he's boring.

  • Dissatisfaction

    After you've finished Paper Towns, and read everything here about Paper Towns, and clicked on all the links speculating about Paper Towns, and written your own Paper Towns fanfic, you might be bored. A little dissatisfied with life, a life that isn't the same without Margo Roth Spiegelman.

    Now you know how Quentin feels after Margo leaves town. So what's a boy or girl or abandoned pet to do? You could obsess over Margo Roth Spiegelman. Who is she? Where is she? Why is she? Or you could, we don't know, do something. Organize a road trip, even if it's just to find out where Margo went. You might have quite the adventure along the way.

    Questions About Dissatisfaction

    1. Why does Margo hate her hometown so much?
    2. Is there anything Margo is actually satisfied with?
    3. Why is Quentin sometimes dissatisfied with his friendship with Ben, and with Ben himself?
    4. Does Margo change Quentin's mind with her cynical outlook on life? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Margo might hate everything, but she uses her dissatisfaction with life to motivate herself toward a better one, and she wants other people to do the same.

    Quentin and Margo are similar in that they are disappointed when other people don't think the same way they do.

  • Friendship

    Just how many people on your Facebook friends list (whether you have two or two thousand) would you actually consider your friends? Even though they're not on der Facebük, in Paper Towns, Quentin and Margo fall into one of these two extremes. Quentin has only two friends—Ben and Radar—while Margo seems to be friends with everyone.

    However, it's Margo Roth Spiegelman who feels more alone. Maybe it's because people get tired of saying "Margo Roth Spiegelman" so much, or maybe it's because by trying to be friends with everyone, she isn't truly friends with anyone.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. Does Margo have any friends? Explain, please.
    2. How would things have been different for both Quentin and Margo if they had stayed friends at age nine? Why?
    3. Ben and Quentin disagree during the course of the book. Why are they friends? What do they have in common? Do you think they will stay friends after graduation?

    Chew on This

    Margo Roth Spiegelman can befriend anyone because she can find something in common with everyone.

    Margo Roth Spiegelman has no true friends because she doesn't know who she is herself, and since she doesn't know herself, she can't make connections with other people.

  • Exploration

    On the road again… Margo Roth Spiegelman just can't wait to get on the road again. Just like in Willie Nelson's hit song, in Paper Towns, Margo loves being on the road. So much so, that she plans a trip to a town that doesn't even exist.

    However, for Margo Roth Spiegelman, her road trip's main goal is just to get the heck outta Dodge (Dodge, in this case, being Jefferson Park, Florida). Quentin, on the other hand, is the one who is making music—okay, not really, but he is having fun—with his friends. So he might be the one who truly has Willie Nelson's adventurous spirit. (Now we just need to find out exactly what is in those nutrition bars Quentin loves so much…)

    Questions About Exploration

    1. Why does Margo like planning more than doing?
    2. What does Quentin learn by exploring the pseudovisions in Florida?
    3. Do you believe Margo really doesn't want Quentin to find her? Why or why not?
    4. Do you think Margo will stay in New York or continue a life on the road?

    Chew on This

    The only way for Quentin (and Margo Roth Spiegelman) to know if he's happy in his hometown is for him to leave and explore places. Then he can make an informed decision about whether he want to go back.

    Quentin's and Margo's journeys are both an exploration of the United States and an exploration of their inner selves.

  • Literature and Writing

    There are a few things you'll always remember from high school, like your prom and your graduation, but all the books you read in high school will stick with you for a lifetime, too. And that's a good thing, since Quentin in Paper Towns skips both prom and graduation, so the books might be the only high school memories he has.

    Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" captures Quentin's imagination, so much so that he takes it on a road trip in addition to Mark Twain, Ovid, and Melville. He finds things in the poem that change his perception of the world, a shift that coincides nicely with his graduation from high school, a.k.a. the official end of his childhood.

    Questions About Literature and Writing

    1. How does Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" relate to Margo Roth Spiegelman, Quentin, and their relationship (or lack of one)?
    2. What lessons does Quentin learn from "Song of Myself" that he applies to his life?
    3. Does Margo miss the point of the poem?
    4. When Quentin quotes T.S. Eliot in Part 1 Chapter 4 ("Light […] the visible remainder of Invisible Light" (1.4.3)), why is Margo disappointed to learn that it's a quote and not an original thought?
    5. Have you read The Bell Jar or Slaughterhouse-Five? Why does Margo carry these two books with her on her road trip?

    Chew on This

    Margo Roth Spiegelman's inaccurate reading of Whitman makes the poem into an unintentional red herring for Quentin, who dives deeper into it than Margo does.

    There is no right or wrong reading of a work of literature or poetry. Each person who reads "Song of Myself"—Quentin, his teacher, Margo Roth Spiegelman—has a different opinion of the poem and its relation to Margo Roth Spiegelman.

  • Perseverance

    In Paper Towns, Margo Roth Spiegelman has tons of albums, meticulously arranged in alphabetical order. We have to wonder if she pulls out Fiona Apple's "Better Version of Me" to jam to now and then. It's a song about a "frightened, fickle person, fighting, cryin', kickin', cursin'," which sounds a lot like ol' Margo Roth Spiegelman. The person in the song just keeps traveling on and on because she knows her travels and her experiences will make her a better person, and she's not going to stop until there is a better version of her. Yep, sounds a lot like Margo Roth Spiegelman's rambling journey to us.

    Questions About Perseverance

    1. Why doesn't Quentin ever give up trying to find Margo Roth Spiegelman? Do you think he lets her go for good in the end?
    2. Why does Quentin keep talking to Margo even after she tells him that she didn't want him to find her?
    3. Do you think Margo will ever give up and return home? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Because this is kind of a detective novel, and Quentin is kind of a detective, he has to be persistent in his search for clues because the case (a.k.a. Margo Roth Spiegelman) isn't going to solve itself.

    Quentin wouldn't have been able to find Margo Roth Spiegelman if his friends weren't as persistent and determined as he is—that road trip is impossible to pull off without a team.

  • The Home

    Usually it's pretty easy to find your home when you're a teenager: It's the same place your parents live, and chances are decent you've lived there all your life. But when Margo Roth Spiegelman asks Siri to give her directions home, her smartphone is stumped. Why? Well, in Paper Towns, Margo doesn't feel at home at home. Her parents aren't the nicest people, and Margo just wants to get away—far, far away—and make a home of her own somewhere else.

    Questions About The Home

    1. Will Margo ever settle down somewhere? What would it take for her to settle down? Explain, please.
    2. Why doesn't Quentin mind life in Jefferson Park, Florida? Do you think he will ever leave? Why or why not?
    3. Can the mini-malls and abandoned stores Margo squats in be considered homes for her? Why or why not?
    4. Why does Quentin start to imagine his minivan as a home while on the road trip?

    Chew on This

    Margo Roth Spiegelman isn't able to see past her own experience, and she doesn't understand how Quentin could actually call their hometown a home, but he's happy there.

    It isn't location that makes Margo feel not at home, but the fact that she's hidden herself so well she can't even find herself.

  • Admiration

    People have a tendency to put celebrities up on a pedestal, and when they do, two things usually happen: The newly anointed god or goddess is treated as though they aren't human, and some people can't wait to knock their butts down.

    In Paper Towns, Margo Roth Spiegelman isn't quite a celebrity, but everyone in school treats her as though she's a goddess among us. Margo is of two minds about this: She clearly likes the attention, because she keeps doing things (like running away with the circus) to keep the attention coming, but she also isn't able to make normal connections with the masses. This makes her not just out of touch with other people, but out of touch with herself.

    Questions About Admiration

    1. Why is Margo Roth Spiegelman considered a queen of the high school? How do students act when she's gone? Do they care?
    2. Does Margo deserve all the admiration that is heaped upon her? Why or why not?
    3. Is she just seeking attention, or is she just naturally as awesome as everyone thinks she is? How do you know?
    4. When does Quentin realize that Margo is just a teenager like the rest of them, not someone on another plane of existence? What prompts his understanding?

    Chew on This

    Part of the reason Margo Roth Spiegelman is so admired is that she maintains an air of mystery. People (well, everyone but Quentin) like her less as the mystery is slowly dispelled.

    When Margo Roth Spiegelman leaves, Quentin decides to act a bit like Margo himself, and gets a little bit of admiration as a result.