Monday, May 19, 2014

Paper Towns and Taoism

Monday, May 19, 2014
In my World Religions class, we’ve been learning about Taoism. One of the main principles of Taoism is Wu Wei, which literally means “not doing, creating, or making.” Now, Taoism isn’t advocating laziness; it’s saying that you just shouldn’t force your will on the world (credit for this knowledge goes to my awesome teacher).

So how does this relate to Paper Towns and John Green?

Well, the whole point of Paper Towns is to break down the destructive manic pixie dream girl trope (click on the link to read more about that). It’s not just about manic pixie dream girls, though; it’s how we impose our preconceived ideas onto people instead of imagining them complexly.

You’ve probably seen the quote “How treacherous to believe that a person is more than a person” in various artsy forms, and that is really the central theme. We can build people up, we can try to force our imaginings on them and make them into heroes or myths, but they’re still just people with flaws and fears and hopes. And I think what Radar says to Q (below) really captures that mentality:

“You know your problem, Quentin? You keep expecting people not to be themselves. I mean, I could hate you for being massively unpunctual and for never being interested in anything other than Margo Roth Spiegelman, and for, like, never asking me about how it's going with my girlfriend - but I don't give a sh*t, man, because you're you. My parents have a sh*t ton of black Santas, but that's okay. They're them. I'm too obsessed with a reference website to answer my phone sometimes when my friends call, or my girlfriend. That's okay, too. That's me. You like me anyway. And I like you. You're funny, and you're smart, and you may show up late, but you always show up eventually.” 

Just like in Taoism, where you’re taught to accept things in their simplest form, Paper Towns preaches that you should accept people in their simplest form. Everyone has their flaws but part of forming meaningful relationships is accepting those flaws. By accepting those flaws and the nature of the world, we can live in harmony with others.

“We imagine people as animals or gods- but she was just a person, a girl.” 

“Just remember that sometimes, the way you think about a person isn't the way they actually are.” 

These Taoist influences may have been intentional, since John Green was a Religious Studies major in college, but John would probably say it’s up to our interpretations since books belong to their readers anyway. And by not imposing his intent on his readers, that’s adopting a pretty Taoist mentality. 

1 comment:

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