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John Green tackles idealisation in “Paper Towns”

Paper Towns is masterfully written by bestselling author of The Fault in our Stars, John Green. It is a thoughtful, insightful and hilarious coming-of-age story that leaves it’s readers with a little bit of reality. Another one of Green’s finest, Paper Towns takes you on the adventure of a lifetime, filled with road trips, opportunity, and even a little mischief.

Quentin has always loved Margo Roth Spiegelman, for Margo (and her adventures) are the stuff of legend at their high school. So when she one day climbs through his window and summons him on an all-night road trip of revenge he cannot help but follow.

But the next day Margo doesn’t come to school and a week later she is still missing. Q soon learns that there are clues in her disappearance… and they are for him. But as he gets deeper into the mystery – culminating in another awesome road trip across America – he becomes less sure of who and what he is looking for.

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Green gives his readers a little hit of reality with Paper Towns. Although it’s okay – and perfectly normal – to dream and live in our own fantasies that live in our heads, Green reminds us that doing so in excess can be damaging for us. It does not to well to dwell on our dreams and to ignore reality.

I read Paper Towns a while back and was so excited when I found out that it was being made into a film. I harped on about how amazing the book was to everyone that when they went to see it, they were a bit like, “Is that it? After all the chasing, he just goes home and leaves her there because that what she wants?”. I kept telling them, “Don’t you get it? Her adventures, everything that formed her, they were just stories. She’s just a girl!” They must’ve thought I was mad. They didn’t see how that made a good ending.

They didn’t see the deeper message that I did when reading the novel. In Paper Towns, Green tackles the bigger issue of idealising.

I think what the author really wants readers to realise is that we oftentimes overestimate people, especially the ones we like or love. Sometimes it can even lead to obsession and forgoing of one’s selves. We tend to want something so much that we exaggerate the best about it and forget the bad about it. We sometimes see things or wants things and feel like it would make us the happiest person in the world, but then sometimes this makes that thing lose its value.

There comes a point in the book where Q says:

“What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.” – John Green, Paper Towns.

This is exactly what he means. Q sees Margo for more than a person but this God-like creature he’s imagined in his head. He idealises her. She’s just a girl, and he overestimates her.

With a bit of research, I found that this is one of the things that Green was trying to get at in Paper Towns, although he does say that any messages taken from the book are “up to the reader”. Green was previously asked (bearing in mind this message that it is a “treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person”) how  do you think of someone as a human being and not through your idealised view of them? He said:

“Right, so when you imagine yourself, you think of yourself as a massively complex individual. You may hate yourself or like yourself or whatever, but you certainly think of yourself as fully human. As Whitman puts it, ‘I contain multitudes.’

The problem is that your brain is the only brain you’ll ever have; your eyes are the only eyes you’ll ever see out of; your experiences are the only experiences you’ll ever know as your own. This is what makes it so easy to dehumanise people—to say, for instance, as Aristotle famously did, that some people are just naturally born to be slaves. But it also makes it easy to dehumanise people in subtler ways. But in addition to dehumanising people, we can also imagine them as more than human: When we think of celebrities, or those we love romantically, we may see this as superhumanly free from the fear and pain and despair that plague the rest of us.

So anyway the task of understanding the reality of other people’s experience is incredibly difficult, because you are stuck being you, and can never even for one second be them. But this is true not only for people who live very different lives from yours, but also for those closest to you. You see everybody in your life in the context of you: YOUR sister, YOUR best friend, YOUR mom, YOUR nemesis, whatever. But they do not see themselves that way. They see themselves as the center of history, just as you see yourself.

This turns out to be a really big problem that (at least in my experience) can only be solved by empathy, an imperfect and incomplete tool but the best one we have.” – John Green

To see my post on John Green’s The Fault in our Stars, click here.

To see my post on John Green’s Looking For Alaska, click here.


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