Last night/today, I re-re-re-read Paper Towns. This was the first time I read it since high school, and it was wonderful to be reminded why it’s one of my favorite books.
True to John Green’s style, there are a handful of stark metaphors introduced early on that carry the themes and questions posed by the text throughout the course of the novel. They’ve revealed themselves in different levels of strength upon each reading. This time, I found myself pondering the word “cracked.”
The snowflakes in the cracked paint. Ben’s crack in the wall at the Osprey. Cracks in concrete, showing the wear and tear that removes places from the way in which we imagine them.
Cracked people. Cracked people both happier and sadder for being cracked. “For the longest time, it felt kind of like my chest was cracking open, but not precisely in an unpleasant way.”
It appears over and over again, ultimately coming together when Q finds Margo and she explains that people have cracks and fault lines deep deep down, in places that are hard to find. Q takes this in and works it into what he has already learned about Margo and himself and the concept of imagining people complexly:
“Maybe it’s more like you said before, all of us being cracked open. Like, each of us starts out as a watertight vessel. And these things happen - these people leave us, or don’t love us, or don’t get us, or we don’t get them, and we lose and fail and hurt one another. And the vessel starts to crack open in places. And I mean, yeah, once the vessel cracks open, the end becomes inevitable. Once it starts to rain inside the Osprey, it will never be remodeled. But there is all this time between when the cracks start to open up and when we finally fall apart. And it’s only in that time that we can see one another, because we see out of ourselves through our cracks and into others through theirs.”
As Q states, cracks let light both in and out. Like a window, an object that allows us to see people on the other side. Unlike a mirror, which only can reflect light in one direction, ultimately delivering us a hopelessly distorted image of ourselves. (I could go on to discuss the metaphorical resonance of the word “cracked” interplayed with mirrors and windows, and the scene in which nine-year-old Q and nine-year-old Margo stared at one another through Q’s bedroom window and the scene in which they leaned on the window above Orlando comparing their views of the city below, but I think I’ll move on).
Another interesting thing I noticed was while paper is another heavily emphasized image in the novel (I mean, it is called Paper Towns), you would never call paper “cracked.” It can be ripped, torn, creased, folded, crumpled, rumpled, shredded, but never cracked. So Margo’s switch at the end of the novel where she calls herself a paper girl as opposed to the paperiness of Orlando she laments upon at the beginning of the novel directly inverses Q’s view of her as going from an unreal imagination that could not be cracked (“Margo’s Beauty was a kind of sealed vessel of perfection - uncracked and uncrackable”) to a real person, cracked open (“When did we see each other face-to-face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours”).
The novel closes with the line “Yes, I can see her almost perfectly in this cracked darkness.” I think this encapsulates Q’s ultimate conclusion on Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” As Q concludes, he cannot become another person. He states “The only wounded man I can be is me.” He cannot be Margo anymore than he could truly see her at the very beginning of the story. But now that he has seen her cracks - seen the cracks in the Osprey, which are, both literally and figuratively, her cracks - he can see enough of his light mixing with hers to see her without needing to be her. It’s all very complex, but then again, isn’t that the point? To imagine each other complexly, navigating the cracks?
Those are just my thoughts upon this re-read. If you haven’t checked out Paper Towns before and all this sounds at least vaguely interesting, give it a read. Lord knows John Green is better at writing this type of stuff than I am.
I’m researching the psychological and physiological reasons why women are attracted to “the bad boy.”
Ladies, we’ve all been there (I certainly have). It’s time to get to the bottom of this phenomenon.
I’m asking the universal question: Why do we all want John Bender to pump his fist in the air for us?
I don’t remember what I said out loud, but
He replied, “I’m down with that.”
He’s reading The Hobbit.
A book I always found too dense
He likes it like one of those
War documentaries he always plays but I
With its cover’s corners pulled apart,
Revealing its paper white insides like,
An eye looking up,
Exhales in time with his slow blinks.
The page turns.
He wears his shoes in bed.
That’s why I sit in the chair.