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Walt Whitman's Influence on John Green's Paper Towns

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Janae Fritze

on 18 February 2014

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Transcript of Walt Whitman's Influence on John Green's Paper Towns

Walt Whitman's
Leaves of Grass
("Song of Myself")
Title of Part 2 of
Paper Towns
is "Grass"--major symbol, just like it is in
Leaves of Grass

-Exploration as
Mode of Existence
-Belief in a
shared existence
Struggles with identity
and meaning of life
Margo's Literal/Misguided Interpretations of Leaves of Grass
-Discusses a seaman, an old building, a girl reading a book of poems (Walt Whitman's niece)
-Seaman: Related to Moby Dick's Captain Ahab
>Tragic hero: flaw is foolish desire for vengeance
>Similar to Q's determination to find Margo, no matter how futile it may be
>Similar to Margo's determination to leave for her well-being, despite isolation from friends, family, and community
Woody Guthrie's "Walt Whitman's Niece"
"Whoever walks a furlong without sympathy walks to his own funeral, drest in his shroud" (Whitman 70)

Existentialism: struggles with meaning of life
Walt Whitman's Influence on John Green's
Paper Towns

Exploration as Mode of Existence
-"I tramp a perpetual journey" (Whitman 68)
-Whitman prefers spaces and situations that blur boundaries between self and world (journeys, out-of-doors, cities)
-Similar to Margo's spontaneity, adventurousness, and need for escape
Belief in a Shared Existence
-Transcendentalist idea
>Critics of contemporary society for unthinking conformity
-Whitman includes Transcendentalism and Realism (Critique vs. Advocation)
-Emphasizes democracy and equality (conformity)
-Whitman's lists of imagining himself as other people shows importance of all occupations
-"Imagining being someone else, or the world being something else, is the only way in. It is the machine that kills fascists." (Green 299)
"Urge and urge and urge"
(Whitman 24)
Pressure to follow society's
mandates of the ideal
path to success
-Margo cannot do this
" . . . the whole allure
of a life rightly lived-
college and job . . .
and all that bullshit"
(Green 295)
True Transcendentalist
-Critiques contemporary society for unthinking conformity
-Thoreau's Walden
>Solitude among nature, away from men, is deal
"Unscrew the locks from the doors" (Whitman 41)
Margo uses this line in a literal sense, a shame to Dr. Holden
"To die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier" (Whitman 27)
-Whitman wants us to view life as sacred and valuable, but not be afraid of death when the time comes
-Margo interprets it as death is lucky because it is an escape from life
-Reader Response: because she is depressed and suicidal, she responds differently
Sylvia Plath's
The Bell Jar
Plath and "Esther Greenwood" were depressed and suicidal
Margo quotes The Bell Jar : "It was as if what I wanted to kill wasn't in that skin . . . but somewhere else, deeper . . . "
-Not herself she wants to destroy, but the false image she and everyone else has created
-"My dinner, my dress, associates, looks, compliments, dues . . . they are not the Me myself." (Whitman 25)
Margo's Isolation
Isolation can be good and bad (Transcendentalism)
-Influence of community on an individual can be negative (ideas of what they expect you to be)
>"They are not the Me myself" (Whitman 25)
>" . . . all of us looking at her reflection in different fun house mirrors." (Green 185)
-Warning against isolating oneself from community
-Q accuses Margo of being selfish; she said she did think about him
>"I still liked the idea of maybe being able to create in you at least an echo of the kick-ass hero" (Green 292)
"What is man anyhow?" (Whitman 38)
-Similar to Margo's struggles, as well as Plath's and Emily Dickinson's
Allusion to Emily Dickinson
Many of her poems dealt with death and search for meaning in life
Margo references Dickinson's "Forever is Composed of Nows"
-Relates to Whitman's line "There will never be more perfection than there is now" (23)
-Not concerned with past or future, not concerned with mortality, act on your own instincts
-Margo demonstrates her beliefs in these ideas (acting on impulse)
Full transcript