Self-destructive behavior runs rampant in this book written by John Green. According to psychologists, self-destructive behavior is used as a coping mechanism when one is overwhelmed. In this novel, this type of response is seen mostly in Miles and Alaska. They both have different reasons for this behavior, as well as vastly different outlets for it.
Miles Halter is the protagonist. He is described as a mostly passive participant in the novel. He is not particularly handsome, or interesting, but lets himself be swept up into exciting situations by his new friends. Alaska, to Miles, is a dream. She is passionate, elusive and unpredictable. Alaska is, to him, an unreachable animal that refuses to be caged. His admiration for her is mostly one-dimensional. He likes the attributes of her that she herself puts out there, although her personality type seems neither natural nor sustainable.
Miles seems to be the perfect person to tell the story, as the perfect onlooker. His self-destructive behavior comes, one the one hand, from the fact that he eventually falls in love with someone as broken as Alaska. He seems to be blinded by this novel personality. On the other hand, another source of self-destruction stems from not having been very popular in his last school (his going-away party in which only two people show up). Suddenly he is part of something, and he‘s not willing to let this opportunity pass him by. His passiveness is also transferred for his love of biographies, probably the only kind of book in which a person can‘t see themselves a part of.
Alaska Young has a deep sense of guilt for her mother‘s death, which she blames herself for, as she was too young to call the police. This is the root of her personality and the reason why she acts the way she does. She‘s not unstable, but she is reckless, like somebody who knows they‘re living on borrowed time.
“Alaska finished her cigarette and flicked it into the river. ‘Why do you smoke so damn fast?’ I asked. She looked at me and smiled widely, and such a wide smile on her narrow face might have looked goofy were it not for the unimpeachably elegant green in her eyes. She smiled with all the delight of a kid on Christmas morning and said, ‘Y’all smoke to enjoy it. I smoke to die.” (Chapter Nine).
Smoking is one of many ways in which Alaska is able to vent her guilt by punishing herself. This type of behavior is more pronounced in her personality because she fully realizes what she is doing to herself. This type of act is not unlike someone with an eating disorder. She starves herself of positive things in her life, like a future. Alaska is special in the sense that she remains aloof and cool in a way not many people can. People eventually lose their aloofness sometime. Alaska’s unravelling just seems to be part of that enigmatic personality. In fact, everything she does seems to be part of that image. For example, having an older boyfriend who is obviously into her, yet flirting with Miles.
Self-destructive behavior is seen in today’s youth time and time again. The most difficult thing is recognizing it. For Alaska, the core reason of her self-destructive behavior was known to her, but some of us may not realize why we act the way we act. Some just want to feel alive, while others, like Alaska, want to punish themselves. Aside from the most prevalent self-destructive behavior: suicide, self-harm, eating disorders and substance abuse, there are more subtle behaviors. Smoking, risky sexual behavior, drinking, drugs, procrastination and getting into trouble are quite common in teens.
In this novel, this type of behavior gets Miles a broken heart. He falls for a girl who doesn‘t love herself enough to make good choices. A normal teenager would usually do something stupid among friends, and by themselves, once in a while. The first is to fit in, for attention or to seem cool. The latter is for some wild desire all humans have to experience excitement. Miles becomes cool by proxy, but he doesn’t have the innate devil-may-care attitude his peers have. To him, Alaska is like no one he has ever met, and he can‘t help falling in love with her, even though any chance of a good relationship is at best an unreal hope. It feels like he knows he has to take this opportunity to take in all of Alaska, like a weak plant latching on to a strong tree.
Alaska‘s result is far more pronounced. Although the author is purposefully vague about the cause of the accident, the text suggests suicide. Her behavior is unsustainable. She seems to be competing against herself, whilst putting her friends through the same trials, in a never ending cycle that only gets riskier. Although she is romanticized by the protagonist, she‘s seen like that as well by young readers. They like that she’s interesting, somehow untouchable. The only way to keep that image untainted was either to have her kicked off, run away, or killed. Her death makes her so much more memorable. She dies in her peak, untamed and so alive even after her death.
Looking for Alaska clearly shows an array of behaviors, most of which are harmful. For Miles, being so passive is a destructive behavior that shows that he has very little self-confidence, but he also shows another type of reasoning, which is the following of destructive people. On the other end of the spectrum is a girl who has no consideration for her well-being. She wants to die, she wants the reckoning. The novel is a piece of John Green’s vision, but real life doesn‘t work that way. Unsustainable behaviors will end, one way or another.