Hello, This is my English Literature Blog. Through this blog I hope to gain perspective as well as a deeper understanding of what literature means to me, how it effects me, and what it tells me about the world I live in.
The title of the blog will change depending on my current book.
“Man’s Longing for Paradise is Man’s Longing not to be Man.”
- Milan Kundera
( page 282 in Paper Towns by John Green )
NOTE * Spoilers for : Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Catcher in the Rye and of course Paper Towns
I’m not quite through reading the novel, (I’m twenty pages further but still two till the end) but there’s this central theme in the novel, Paper Towns, about people who you idealize and the quote found in John Green’s novel ( & the title of this post ) emphasizes how dangerous that can be. Brief summary of his novel, boy in love with an idea. It’s that simple. Well, if you’re interested it’s about a boy named Q and a girl named margo, and after a night of pranks Margo runs off and Q thinks that she’s left clues for him to find her.
What I like about the story is John Green takes the simple convention of the what Feministfrequency dubbs “the manic pixie dream girl” and breaks it down. What does that mean? Why do we have them ? how does that change the way we look at the world ? What causes that, and how can we change it, and lastly who is she really ? Because that girl has motivations of her own, she’s not just there to cheer up the boy who needs to be saved, and in return she surely doesn’t need to be saved either. I was reluctant to get into the book because I felt it was so trope-y…thinking ” thanks john green, tell me the same story over again with a detective twist” but he didn’t. He did it with craft.
This is a blog post, I must remember that, so I don’t need to be as concise or formal as I would if I were writing an essay, but I do want to talk about some things I learned in school that made an impact in the way I digested this book.
I talk about conventions and tropes a bit in that first paragraph, I say that the girl or the idea that Q is in love with is a manic pixie dream girl (hopefully you understood that there’s a link to that when you click feministfrequency) which is that bubbly girl who saves the depressed main male character / protagonist. That’s a trope. A trope when in literature ( to my understanding ) is called a convention and lucky me we’ve been studying those in my core English class. We’re reading this handy dandy book called The Educated Imagination by Northrop Frye ( a Canadian literary scholar who has a pretty rockin name, I call him Nori, affectionately ) which talks about ( in the second chapter ) these conventions. Basically, he tells you that everything in literature is a convention and nothing in literature can ever be anything else, and the only way to be a good writer ( I’m twisting ol’ Nori’s words a bit here, remember this is my interpretation) is to be able to understand the conventions and manipulate them. Perhaps that means, to mix a couple of them, or throw it off a bit, or even keep the conventions more hidden and less obvious (put some meat on those bones of a convention framework ) Having this knowledge from Frye made me look deeper into it after the initial ” oh John green… this convention again…” gut feeling. I really feel that by showing me that this girl is more than idea was an effective manipulation of the convention and thus made me enjoy the novel so much more.
Now, after that long winded paragraph saying hardly anything, I wanted to talk about the idea idea. The boy was in love with an idea. The quote is ” What a treacherous thing it is to believe a person is more than a person ” ( John Green, Paper Towns ) and that makes me think about what I’m currently reading in English, Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles. I’m going to be honest with you, I’m not done the book yet. It’s quite daunting, with all it’s horrible circumstance after the other and rape and death and chunks of Victorian description, but what I do understand about it after watching a bit of the 2008 mini series, talking about it in class and annotating a couple of passages, is that this concept of loving an idea is very much present. I won’t spoil the novel for you, but at one point or another titular character Tess and a man/boy/original hipster ( according to my friends) Angel Clare sort of fall in love. I can tell you this for certain, Mr. Angel Clare doesn’t really fall in love with Tess, he falls in love with an idea of her. He loves her beauty, her purity and it’s emphasized through the Victorian writing rich with imagery of angelic light and allusions to the bible. It’s because when they fall in love, and the fact that he falls in love with Tess’s purity that leads to one of the many horrendously sad things that happens. Angel really did believe that Tess was more than a person, I believe Hardy says something about Tess embodying all the essence of woman ( in a section where you really saw how Angel fell in love with Tess) it’s too much. It’s Treacherous, dangerous ect. The same theme is really present in Paper Towns, with much less Victorian purity ideals, but still Q idealizes Margo and for much of the book she’s not there,so you only really see her through the eyes of her peers and what they want her to be. The novel also explores the notion that you see in others what you want, and that the way you see them says a lot about you.
I’ve spoken about that idea conundrum a bit too much, so I’d like to enlighten you with one last reference to literature, The current background of my blog and title is in reference to Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, and I wanted to make a connection to Paper Towns’ three dimensional manic pixie dream girl, Margo, and Salinger’s Holden. I think what Margo succeeds in that which Holden does not is that she’s able to acknowledge that phony in herself, she says she’s a paper girl. She calls herself out on being flat and two dimensional , and that is the reason why she must leave. I don’t think it’s really said, but I believe that’s the reason Holden leaves too. Sort of. In my opinion Holden is at that age where he’s starting to realize that his idealized world is crashing down, much like Margo realized that the people in her story that she wrote when she was ten aren’t real, that they were just projections onto the world. It’s that view of the world that sort of triggers something inside that leads both Holden and Margo to doubt. Plagued by it they have to leave that place in hopes that it’s just that singular place that is like that and not the rest of the world. On a superficial level, they are alike in the sense that both Margo and Holden run away and are both seemingly very charismatic, But I think it was more the internal processes that made me sort of think of Holden when reading about Margo and what she had to say.
In conclusion, I just read Paper Towns and although it was a very easy read ( I read it in about a day ), it wasn’t necessarily the lightest. I was finding connections to other things here and there trying to make sense of it, but luckily at times it made me laugh, a lot. ( I just wanted to mention that because I honestly don’t remember the last time I laughed out loud while reading. I think before LOL was common place ) I think mainly what it tells me about myself is I’m stuck on this notion of idealized worlds breaking, and that puts me in a dilemma. In a way, we all start out as children not understanding and therefore we have to make up some of our world to make sense, but literature keeps showing me occasions when it just doesn’t work out. It tells me that in the long haul this imaginary world, this over protection is treacherous.