Monday, December 21, 2015
I first read John Green's Paper Towns in October of 2013. It my first time reading a book of his and it's my favorite one that he's written. Most people have probably heard that Paper Towns was recently adapted for the screen and I must admit that I wasn't thrilled when I first found out about it. It felt like this was my book and these were my characters and they were being taken from me. But when I went to see the movie I was pretty satisfied with it. The release of the movie encouraged me to read the book again because I hadn't read it for two years, I wanted a bit of a refresher. Upon re-reading the book, I was reminded of my favorite thing about returning to a novel after a few years. When you come back to a book a year, two years, or ten years later you view the story and the characters differently because you're a different person. Revisiting Paper Towns two years after my first time reading I've made many new observations.
Among these new observations is the conclusion that Margo Roth Spiegelman is self-centered. She disappears in the middle of the night with no explanation to anyone, leaving everything in her Floridian town behind because she just "had to leave." Protagonist Quentin pinpoints this perfectly when he says to her in the final chapter "'You were just playing with us, weren't you? You just wanted to make sure that even after you left to go have your fun, you were still the axis we spun around'" (Green 284). At fourteen I thought Margo was this cool, mysterious free-thinker but really, she's nothing like that. Now that I've re-read the book I see that Margo is more selfish than anything. She doesn't care about how her actions affect her parents, younger sister, her best friend Lacey, or Quentin.
The way Margo leaves Lacey is a great example of her self-centered attitude. Margo treats Lacey like garbage for most of their friendship we see in Paper Towns. One of my favorite parts of the story occurs in the last twenty-six pages, in the final chapter, titled "Agloe" which is the name of the town Margo escapes to. Post-anticlimactic reunion, Margo sits opposite of Ben, Radar, Lacey and Q on the floor of the abandoned barn she's living in. When she picks up on the fact that Lacey and Ben are in a relationship, Margo taunts Lacey over her relationship with the nerdy guy. Lacey decides that this is her last straw with Margo and consequent to reading this part for a second time, I felt the need to applaud Lacey.
"Margo cuts a look at Lacey. 'Oh my god, are you hooking up with him?' Lacey says nothing. 'You're not actually hooking up with him,' Margo says.
'Actually, yes,' Lacey says. 'And actually, he's great. And actually, you're a bitch. And actually, I'm leaving, It's nice to see you again, Margo. Thanks for terrifying me and making me feel like shit for the entire last month of my senior year, and then being a bitch when we track you down to make sure you're okay. It's been a real pleasure knowing you'" (Green 283).
A few pages later we find Quentin and Margo alone in the barn and Lacey calls Q's cell phone so she can talk to Margo. And they laugh and chat and Margo gives a painfully insincere apology to Lacey. The reader doesn't hear Lacey's side of the conversation but I hope Lacey doesn't forgive Margo. I don't believe that Margo deserves forgiveness. For now, I stand by that. Although if I told my eighth grade self that, I doubt she'd agree.
There's another character that is affected by Margo's actions, Quentin. If you haven't read Paper Towns, you should know that it opens with a prologue about an experience that Quentin and Margo share as nine year olds. As young kids, Margo and Quentin have a close friendship but over the years they grow apart. But, in the second chapter following the prologue, Margo appears at Q's window in the middle of the night asking for his help so that she can go on a stupid revenge mission. She does this after years of not speaking to him. Despite the fact that Margo is just using Q for her own benefit (toxic friendship alert!) he is still "incontestably in love" (Green 31) with Margo. In the last chapter of the novel, the reader sees a conversation between the two characters in which Quentin admits to the reader that "I have never spoken this many words in a row to Margo in our long and storied relationship, but here it is, my last play for her" (Green 301). The entirety of their friendship until this point is Margo and nothing but Margo.
The moment in this novel that upsets me the most also occurs in the last chapter. Margo has been a super huge buttface to everyone and now she and Quentin kiss. But I don't think she's doing this to show her love for him. As much as the audiences would like to think that this is the moment where they finally fall in love, it makes me feel more like Margo is kissing Q to assuage her guilt over leaving Quentin.
Margo Roth Spiegelman is not some mysterious and incredible character, she is selfish and careless. It is fairly easy in literature to find examples of toxic people and Margo definitely fits under that category.
photo taken by me