Paper Lives and Paper People (aka: Misimagination)

  “You had been a paper boy to me all these years – two dimensions as a character on the page and two different, but still flat, dimensions as a person. But that night, you turned out to be real.” (~ Margo Roth Spiegelman; Paper Towns, by John Green)

paper town map

One of the books that I recently finished during my summer reading spree was Paper Towns, by John Green. Although I found the story itself to be, well, mediocre, the author managed to strike a few surprising chords that still echo within me.

From the very beginning, I thought I knew the story. Troubled teen, Margo Roth Spiegelman, makes impulsive choices to gain attention from others. Disillusioned with life in what she describes as a “paper town,” she runs away. The main character, Quentin Jacobsen, who is in love with Margo almost to the point of obsession, disrupts his own life to follow the clues Margo left behind, determined to find her.

Aha, I think. Now I understand the theme of this story, and the meaning of Paper Towns.

“All those paper people living in their paper houses, burning the future to stay warm. All the paper kids drinking beer some bum bought for them at the paper convenience store. Everyone demented with the mania of owning things. All the things paper-thin and paper-frail. And all the people, too. I’ve lived here for eighteen years and I have never once in my life come across anyone who cares about anything that matters.” (~ Margo Roth Spiegelman; Paper Towns, by John Green)

where is Margo Roth But I am wrong. Just as Quentin discovers that he doesn’t really know Margo Roth Spiegelman, I discover that I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg in regards to this story’s theme. Margo Roth Spiegelman is more than just a metaphor – she is a real-life girl. And guess what? Paper Towns are a real-life thing (which both exist and yet do not really exist).

But that’s not all. As the story continues to unfold, I learn yet another concept of paper people from paper towns. They are the people who we create of the people who actually exist. Everyone takes the stories that they had heard of Margo and uses those stories to form a “paper,” 2-dimensional version of her. Likewise, Margo uses her memories of friendship with Quentin to create a 2-dimensional, fictional version of him.

misimagined How often do we do this? How often do we read celebrity gossip or see flashes of these celebrities in the media, then use those to tiny snapshots to determine who they are? How often do we take in tiny bits of information about the people around us, then assemble those ideas into a shallow, incomplete version of a person?

Do we shake off our complacency, like Quentin, and make an effort to get to know the real life human being before us? Or do we content ourselves with the fake, 2-dimensional, paper image of that person which we have created in our own imaginations? How real do we allow other people to become? Are we disappointed when the real-life person fails to live up to the false paper image in our minds?

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