Looking for Alaska by John Green is a story about a guy named Miles (AKA “Pudge”) who attends Culver Creek Boarding School. His boring public school life is instantly transformed when he meets the spontaneous and sexy Alaska Young.
Francois Rabelais. He was a poet. And his last words were “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.”
It is classified as a young-adult book, but it is written in a much wittier and smarter voice than the genre suggests. It didn’t bring me to tears, but at the end of the novel I did feel as if I got pushed into a ditch. I feel like books by John Green often do that to you. There is an impact that kind of hits you where it hurts, and then it leaves you to pick up after yourself.
Some of the themes and symbols from this novel that I want to discuss are: death, guilt, and cigarettes.
I began reading this book with no clear idea on what it is about. A part of me assumed it was a quirky love story, which, it was (barely), but the book is actually about death. From the beginning when Miles informs us that he is strangely obsessed with memorizing people’s last words, the link had already been created.
This novel revolves around death. In religion class, Miles ponders on the meaning of life. And how can the meaning of life be pondered upon if the topic of death does not come up? Death is also the foundation of how Alaska came to be. Her soul is constantly interlinked to her mother’s death, and her moody yet addictive personality is what sprouts from it.
So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.
The book counts downs to Alaska’s death as the major turning point and the second half of the book is all about Miles trying to figure out how her death came to be. With both parts combined, the entire story is about death and what happens to the people who are left behind to live.
Thomas Edison’s last words were ‘It’s very beautiful over there’. I don’t know where there is, but I believe it’s somewhere, and I hope it’s beautiful.
Guilt is a minor theme. Largely in part of the deaths that are brought up in the novel, the theme of guilt also arises. Alaska blames her mother’s death with her inability to act. In the end, Miles and his roommate, the Colonel, also blame themselves for Alaska’s death when they do not stop her after a night of heavy drinking. The guilt in Miles and the Colonel is so strong that the whole latter part of the book is about them trying to solve the mystery of Alaska’s instant death. The guilt is equally strong in Alaska and shown in the first half of the book, where Alaska continuously talks about getting out of the labyrinth and suffering.
After all this time, it seems to me like straight and fast is the only way out- but I choose the labyrinth. The labyrinth blows, but I choose it.
When people die, regret washes over. Things like “Why did I say that to her?” or “We never did what we always said we would do” zip through your mind. Is regret the same as guilt? “Why didn’t I notice?” or even “Was it my fault?”
Miles was pissed off after Alaska’s death. He was mad at her- how could she leave him and everyone else? How could she barge into his life and change him and then disappear? But most of all, he was mad at himself. If he had said something different or done something different, maybe Alaska Young would still be alive. Guilt and regret.
Cigarettes are a major symbol and it represents both death and mischief. Alaska is always described as having a mixed scent of cigarettes and vanilla. As mentioned before, Alaska is a character that represents the themes of death and guilt. At the beginning of the novel, Miles does not smoke. He soon begins to as he integrates himself into Alaska’s circle, who all enjoy pranks and drinking. The idea that cigarettes embody such contrasting meanings leave me with a vivid picture of fireworks. It makes me think of something that will explode with youth and excitement, and then fade away from existence.
Y’all smoke to enjoy it. I smoke to die.
I have not experienced the painful revelation of a loved one’s death. At least, not a person who has made me question whether or not I can go on without them. I have never had to wonder why I got left behind or why I did not stop them. Death is not a major theme in my life. So for someone who has not had a lot of exposure to such a dark theme, I believe Looking for Alaska is a provoking read that scratches nicely on the surface.
For she had embodied the Great Perhaps–she had proved to me that it was worth it to leave behind my minor life for grander maybes, and now she was gone and with her my faith in perhaps.