Looking for Alaska
Death and Distress in Looking for Alaska by John Green
“She smiled with all the delight of a kid on Christmas morning and said, ‘Y’all smoke to enjoy it. I smoke to die’ pg.44. Miles “Pudge” memorizes the last words of famous people’s deaths, he values the moments of death more than the individuals themselves, just like how Alaska smokes to die instead of smoking to spend time with her friends. In looking for Alaska John Green shows how hard death and distress can be, death can be a sad terrible thing that no one should have to go through, it can do so much to a person’s mental state, it can put someone in such a deep depression that their body shuts down because their will to die is so intense, this normally happens with old married couples because of how much they’ve been through together.
Death is a hard thing for everyone, whether it’s the loss of a friend or family member. “They couldn’t bear the idea of death being a big black nothing, couldn’t bear the thought of their loved ones not existing, and couldn’t even imagine themselves not existing. I finally decided that people believed in an afterlife because they couldn’t bear not to.” pg.100. In this quote, it shows you Mile’s mindset of death. “What happens to us after we die?” pg.70. This shows you how obsessed with death and the thought of dying Miles is. It shows how people can’t stop thinking about death and what happens to them after they die. This also shows how responsible Miles will be with Alaska’s death scene he’s always thinking of it.
“Labyrinth” – John Green keeps referring to the labyrinth and connecting it to the suffering of the world “After all this time, it still seems to me like straight and fast is the only way out- but I choose the labyrinth. The labyrinth blows, but I choose it.” pg.216. The simile compares the labyrinth to life. The labyrinth and life are similar because they both have a bunch of twists and turns. This states how humans have to create something like the “afterlife” just so they can cope with death and all the pain that comes with it. “I still think that maybe the ‘afterlife’ is just something we made up to ease the pain of loss, to make our time in the labyrinth bearable.” pg.220. This compares pain and loss to the afterlife. It’s a good comparison because death comes with pain and loss and people have made up an afterlife to help them go through the pain. The labyrinth is used by John Green to show the readers how life can be a mix of things and even though it may suck sometimes its still worth all of the ups, downs, twists, and turns.
Looking for Alaska John Green shows how hard death and distress can be. He made the reader feel suspense, humor, and sorrow throughout the book. The way he uses similes to compares death to a “big black nothing” so the can feel the sadness and suffering. The similes he used allowed the reader to plainly understand how the labyrinth is related to suffering. The sadness and hurt would have not been portrayed if it wasn’t for John’s vital writing techniques. This doesn’t only add to the story’s emotional appeal it also helps the story stand out.
The Main Themes of Looking for Alaska by John Green
Looking for Alaska is a book written by John Green about Miles (Pudge) who meets the sexy and breathtaking Alaska away at a new school. Just as Pudge believes his life is taking a turn for the better, it all ends too soon with a tragic accident. Alaska’s death is a shock to everyone, including myself. Alaska was on a mission to visit her mother, and I think she was trying to complete the mission and did not intend to wreck. The story is driven by guilt. We find guilt from Alaska about her mother and Miles and colonial for Alaska’s death. The other major theme was friendships.
Alaska was a girl to always be impulsive last minute, and very emotional, which would lead many people to believe her accident was intentional. I do not agree with this. Alaska was on the phone when she remembered her mother’s death date. Already carrying the burden of feeling like she could have prevented this, she wanted to repay her mother. Another symbol that Alaska planned on making it to see her mother was the flowers she brought with. She has kept those flowers for years, which means they had to hold a special place in her heart. Alaska also had it all. She had an amazing group of friends who loved her, and would always cover her no matter what. This is why I believe her wreck was not intentional.
Guilt is a central theme throughout this whole book. It starts from the very first pages with Miles feeling the guilt of leaving his parents. His parents are happy for him, especially his father by following in his footsteps but Miles still feels guilty trying to find his “Great Perhaps”. Alaska is also stricken with guilt at a young age. Alaska feels guilty about not calling for help when her mother was dying. This probably couldn’t have prevented her mother from dying, but Alaska can’t help but think of the maybe. Maybe her mother could have lived. She is also carrying the guilt of her father blaming it on her. The theme of guilt is most predominant towards the end of the book. Miles and colonel are filled with great guilt that they helped Alaska leave when she was drunk. They believe they aided her death in some way, and let her leave in the state she was in.
The other theme I noticed was friendship. In the beginning, Miles’s party was attended by two peers in his class. He did not have any true friends. When Miles first moves to Culver Creek, he has a difficult time engaging in friendships. He has awkward encounters and even is involved with a dispute his first night between the colonel and the weekday warriors. Miles soon blossoms and becomes a substantial part of the group, and learns the rules like no ratting. He also supplies money to his friends and partakes in new activities such as drinking and smoking, which he never had before.
Looking for Alaska is a book worth the read. It encompasses teenage years, love, and hardship, a theme that is found throughout John Green books. Looking for Alaska also leaves readers pondering Alaska’s final thoughts, which helps readers analyze the book and conclusion.
The Character of Miles Halter in Looking for Alaska
In John Green’s Looking For Alaska, Miles Halter proves to be an unreliable narrator. His emotions tend to cloud he how sees his crush, Alaska, especially after her death. As a result of grief, Miles romanticizes his relationship with her, thus altering the truthiness of his perspective. He is not a strong-willed character and this is evident in social settings and conversations with others, as well as Miles’ sheep-like relationship with the Colonel. Throughout the novel, his passivity is proven further in the face of Alaska: “If people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane,” (49, Green). Miles will never be the force of nature Alaska was, lacking her assertiveness and self-confidence. However, his introspective nature and introversion are positive aspects of his character. Miles’s mind considers the grey areas, where nothing is rigid or clear, prevalently when it comes to who Alaska was. This mindset contrasts greatly against the Colonel’s black and white views of the world, where people are either good or bad, he likes someone or he doesn’t. The Colonel assumes a fatherly role towards Miles, however brash his comments are: “And if she were here, we both know that she would still be Jake’s girlfriend and that there’d be nothing but drama between the two of you—not love, not sex, just you pining after her and her like, ‘You’re cute, Pudge, but I love Jake.’’ (20, Green). Miles is exposed to Alaska’s selfishness and lack of consideration here and his opens open to the people in his life who do care for him, as much as he does for them. This helps him preserve in life and to d. In his own way, the Colonel assists Miles in overcoming the loss of Alaska, an event that haunted and consumed his psychological and physiological state of being.
Many philosophical concepts, setting, and symbols are explored in Looking For Alaska, allowing the protagonist to abandon his grief-stricken, romanticized notion of Alaska. The Old Man, who lectures in World Religions class, inspired thoughts of morality and afterlife in Miles. He questions existence itself and this is enhanced by his introspective natures, most specifically after Alaska dies. Through internal monologues, Miles is able to move beyond his immediate grief of Alaska’s death to make some realizations about her, death, and himself. As a result of his conclusions about Alaska, he abandons his naive version of her character and continues caring about her: “I will forget her, yes. That which came together will fall apart imperceptibly slowly, and I will forget, but she will forgive my forgetting, just as I forgive her for forgetting me and the Colonel and everyone but herself and her mom in those last moments she spent as a person.” (136, Green). And it doesn’t matter to him—he loves her for who she was, for who she is to him. That realization might be worth the pain of grief after all.
Miles’ character development is additionally relayed through the symbolism of cigarettes and the smoking hole, and John Green’s message. Cigarettes are used as something more than an object of self-destruction and social acceptance. The secretive nature of smoking embodies rebellion, implying Alaska’s true nature as she is the one who exposes Miles to cigarettes. Following her death, he uses smoking as a way to cope and feel closer to her. The Smoking Hole is where he leans on Alaska after realizing his parents are leaving for thanksgiving and where Miles ends up thinking after he and the Colonel have their big fight. The last time the characters are seen at the Smoking Hole, they each throw a cigarette in the water, a ritual for Alaska. Overall, this setting is not only a symbol of rebellion, it connects the characters. John Green shows the reader how powerful teenage friendship, love, and grief are without making teenagers seem small and their situations dramatized. This is displayed through Miles when he works through his grief following Alaska’s death and forgives himself for letting her go. Love, rebellion, and awkward encounters occur throughout the novel, setting a tone of humour, lightness, and reflectivity. This mood is spoken into existence by Miles’ introspective personality and passive role as an insecure character. Deep philosophical questions are explored in the context of his life; what suffering is, why one suffers, and how one retains hope within their personal labyrinth of suffering. Green’s novel forces us to confront our own suffering and to examine what is true about the love we have for our friends. Green prompts the reader to question what is at stake when one is mourning, and to consider the physical and psychological impact that grief imparts on us.
Anaphora As a Main Literary Device in Looking For Alaska
Logic & Logos Appeals
Green begins his argument with the illuminating aphorism “Text is meaningless without context,” and continues to deconstruct the rationale behind the challenging and banning of novels in general. “[W]hat usually happens with Looking for Alaska is that a parent chose one particular page of the novel to an administrator and then the book gets banned without anyone who objects to it having read more than that one particular page” (0:52). His frustration is fueled by the administrator’s unwillingness to question the challenger’s motives and look deeper within the novel for context.
Green then does what many administrators will not; he goes through the controversial passage in question himself and hunts for context. Through doing so, he reveals to his audience that the novel—while it does contain sexual elements—actually sends a message about love and intimacy through these passages rather than including the sexual scenes for the sake of providing erotic fiction.
The scene in question involves a very awkward and ultimately failed attempt at oral sex, which is described in very cold and clinical language—in fact, the entire passage contains only one adjective: “nervous.” And then, in the book’s next scene, two characters have a much more sensually described and passionate but much less sexually explicit interaction (1:06). . . . So, in context, the novel is arguing really in a rather pointed way that emotionally intimate kissing can be a whole lot more fulfilling than emotionally empty oral sex (1:36).
Green here is arguing that just because a book contains sexual activity, it does not mean it necessarily has have an arousing intent. Sexuality—as well as offensive language, for that matter—is merely a tool used by an author to convey a specific message. He also uses direct quotes from the controversial passage to overtly indicate his point—that the sexual scenes are not meant to be arousing. In Looking for Alaska, the “offensive language” is used to create a realistic depiction of teenagers in an environment lacking adult supervision, and the “sexually explicit descriptions,” as aforementioned, are used to send a positive message about love and emotional relationships.
Shortly following, Green sets about to further deconstruct the arguments against his book by comparing Looking for Alaska to other examples of young adult novels. It is at this point where he briefly assumes the same comedic persona from the beginning once again, in an effort to use his humorous comparisons to make the opposing arguments all the more absurd.
Teenagers are critically engaged and thoughtful readers. They do not read Looking for Alaska and think “I should go have some aggressively unerotic oral sex.” And they also don’t read The Outsiders and think “I should join a gang!” or read Divergent and think, “I should jump onto moving trains!” So far as I can tell, that kind of narrow, prescriptive reading seems only to happen inside the offices of school superintendents (1:46).
This argument uses anaphora as well as an appeal to logos to effectively nullify the claims of those who challenge his book; since a teenage reader would never be so foolish to think the things Green lists here, it would be equally foolish to remove his novel from schools because of the change his message might be misinterpreted. He repeats the same concept of a ridiculous scenario with a different book, each time increasing the level of absurdity until it becomes laughable and makes his opponents seem quite foolish indeed.
The Concept Of Life in The Novel “Looking For Alaska” By John Green
The meanings of life and existence are explored in numerous ways by many different people in this world. The basic definition of life is the existence of any living being, while the basic definition of existence is the manner of living. The interpretations of these words can be taken in from a deeper and more meaningful aspect through the use of literature. For example, life can be put in the idea of living as if there is no tomorrow. This gives people the impression that they should live life to the fullest, and live each day as if it was their last. Instead of staying in the comfort of tomorrow, people take risks and make sure they live through moments that are memorable and make life worth living. This concept is known as Carpe Diem, a latin phrase which has the literal meaning of ‘pluck the day’. This was first expressed by a Roman poet, Horace where the full latin phrase translates to “pluck the day, trusting as little as possible in the next one,” and began to be more common after the release of ‘Dead Poets Society’, a motion picture released in 1989, with the plotline of a teacher played by Robin Williams, teaching his students to seize the day and to live in the moment (Potpourri, Glauco).
Many question the concept of life after death, and if this is all there is. Whether after death, there is Heaven or Hell, whether life is simply a trial, whether our souls become specters, or if the afterlife is simply an unimaginable nothing. For example if the theory of Heaven and Hell is taken into consideration, there is the phrase of ‘Hell is other people’, which is a famous quote by the author Jean-Paul Sartre, who was an existentialist philosopher. This quote is taken from the closing of a play called ‘No Exit’ written by Sartre in 1943. The meaning of this is based off of how in the novel, three characters are struggling to understand as to why they were put in Hell, and what their punishment may be. There was no torturer, no executioner, and no flames. There was nothing, simply three characters trapped in a dreadlock. This gave the audience the impression that the other characters were their punishment, that the people who they were trapped with was their Hell, therefore the phrase ‘Hell is other people’ (Tim).
In the novel ‘Looking For Alaska’ written by John Green, the author gives the audience the story of his own experiences as a teenager, and explores the concepts of life and existence mainly through the characters of Miles Halter and Alaska Young, suicidal tendencies and death, as well as the exploration of famous people’s last words with the concept of a ‘labyrinth’ and the seeking of a ‘Great Perhaps’. The relationship between the characters of Alaska and Miles is complex and unique, and shows the complications of teenage friendship, grief, lust, and romance. Our generation struggles to tackle the obstacles of suicide and mental illnesses, and John Green explores these issues in his novel by associating the characters with the thoughts of suicide, death, and mental instability. The initial meaning of a labyrinth is a complex structure of pathways and openings – this could also be referred to as a maze – where one finds it difficult to find their way out. Through the use of literature, a labyrinth can be depicted as one’s struggle to survive and cope through the difficulties that one faces throughout their life, and to find the freedom once it is over.
The author uses this idea to create the relationship between the characters and their ‘labyrinth of suffering’. The idea of this labyrinth comes from the last words of Simón Bolívar, where he says right before he passes, “Damn it. How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!”. Simón Bolívar was a powerful figure in political history, and was the leader of the independence movements in six different nations (Smith, Scott S.) The idea of the ‘Great Perhaps’ was initiated by the last words of François Rabelais, a french writer during the Renaissance, who had said before he passed that ‘I go to seek the Great Perhaps’ (“François Rabelais.”) The main character of this novel, Miles Halter lives by this saying, and this is mentioned multiple times throughout the book. John Green’s ‘Looking for Alaska’ explores these concepts through the art of literature and emotion, thus giving us his personal input in the ideas of life and existence.
Miles Halter from ‘Looking for Alaska’ is known to barely contribute socially to the world, as pertained from the novel. He analyses everything from the walls of a classroom to the intricate detail of a human being. This character moves to a boarding school, away from the safe environment of his home and his parents, in order to seek a ‘Great Perhaps’. Whenever he was asked of why he was moving away, he’d say “François Rabelais. He was this poet. And his last words were ‘I go to seek a Great Perhaps.’ That’s why I’m going. So I don’t have to wait until I die to start seeking a Great Perhaps.” (page 5 of ‘Looking for Alaska’). This gives an impression that Miles wants to live his life without looking back on his deathbed to have the question of ‘what if’. His existence relies on the last words that people say right before they die, hence he wants to live and persevere, rather than stay in a a safe and comfortable place, and regret. As Miles Halter is a character based off of the young John Green, this shows us that the author looked at life in a similar way as the concept of Carpe Diem, where he tries to live life to its full potential, and where he can manage to seek the Great Perhaps before death takes its place. When Miles attends Culver Creek Boarding School, he meets and makes a few companions along the way.
One of these characters is Alaska Young, who was based off of a student in Green’s boarding school who had an unfortunate accident leading to their death, in a similar way to Alaska does in this novel. Alaska Young is known as beautiful and smart, yet self-destructive. She was a complex character to both Miles, as well as the audience. She subtly introduces the fact that she has the guilty conscience of her mother’s death. Her mother passed away when she was very young from an aneurysm, where Alaska was 6 years old and found her on the kitchen floor. She was too scared to call the police, and when her father arrived an hour later he asked her why she did not do so. This therefore elucidates the impression that Alaska felt guilty for the death of her mother throughout her whole life. Her character involves a lot of mystery, as this novel includes the story of her death and why this tragedy occurred. The cause of her death is unknown throughout the novel, and even in the end, we are still left with the question of whether Alaska had intentionally tried to kill herself by crashing her car by speeding on a highway while intoxicated, or if it was simply an accident. It was later revealed piece by piece in the novel that Alaska was rushing to visit her mother’s grave, as she had forgotten that that day was the anniversary of her mother’s death. Though this may have been a plausible solution to the mystery of Alaska’s death, Miles and the other companions of Alaska still pondered as to whether Alaska had let her emotions take control of her, and let the guilt of disappointing her mother drive her to commit suicide.
Alaska Young was also known to be a fairly melancholic person, and several parts of the novel suggests this such as “Y’all smoke to enjoy it. I smoke to die.” This quote gives the audience an intuition that Alaska was somewhat suicidal, but would rather let her death seem more of an accident, such as the excess intake of cigarettes, one day manage to kill her. The relationship between Miles Halter and Alaska Young was complicated yet beautifully rare. The first time they had met, Miles was attracted to her instantly, even though she had a boyfriend. Despite the fact that even Miles was in a relationship during part of the novel, the connection between these two characters were undeniable and showed how strong a relationship can be, even if it was merely a friendship. Miles at one point had narrated “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.” This poetic statement shows how Miles is compared to a drizzle, showing that he was calm-minded, and easy to handle, as drizzles are known to be calming, and soft. Alaska is compared to a hurricane, and this shows that she can be a disaster, and is hard to take care of, yet people know they need to persevere, to overcome the storm in order to get to the calm, just as one would with a hurricane.
The difference between these two characters in comparison to rain shows how we can sometimes encounter complex and heavy-hearted people throughout our life, or we can also encounter calm and soft-hearted people throughout our life, just as the situation is with Miles and Alaska. Their friendship had an immense impact on Miles’ life, especially after the death of Alaska. He grieves Alaska and struggles to continue with his life, as he stated ‘”You can’t just make me different and then leave,” I said out loud to her. “Because I was fine before, Alaska. I was fine with just me and last words and school friends, and you can’t just make me different and then die.”’ This showed that the character of Alaska Young changed Miles as a person, and had a colossal impact on him after she passed away. Miles romanticized Alaska, but with the tragedy of her death and the thought that she could have done this intentionally, the companions of Miles had fits of rage expressing the flaws in Alaska that Miles had never recognized.
One of Miles’ companions, the Colonel, said “Do you even remember the person she actually was? Do you remember how she could be a selfish bitch? That was part of her, and you used to know it. It’s like now you only care about the Alaska you made up.” That showed that Miles was so blinded by how amazing he thought Alaska was, he forgot about all her flaws and simply glorified her even more after her passing. The interpretations of these characters and the relationship between them is relevant to Green’s perspective of life and existence as this shows that in life we have to deal with grief and pain. When we lose someone we love the pain hovers over us for the rest of our existence. As Alaska had passed so young, this would give the audience the idea that life is short, and anyone can die at any moment. Green had stated on this novel that “The story I wanted to tell… was about young people whose lives are so transformed by an experience that they can only respond by reimagining time itself,” (Ross, Ashley.)
When one thinks about suicide, they often think of the suffering and pain which associates with it. In ‘Looking For Alaska’, Miles Halter battles with himself in argument of whether Alaska’s death was a suicide, or was solely a car accident. Moments before the car crash, Alaska had been with Miles, and they were intoxicated. They had just had an intimate moment where they’d been kissing passionately, and fell asleep next to each other. This was the first time an action was taken place between these two characters, where Alaska had simply asked Miles to kiss her in a game of truth or dare. No other thoughts had entered their minds, not Alaska’s boyfriend, nor Miles’ girlfriend – it was merely the two of them, sharing a kiss, but nothing else, with no explanation from either of them. Just as they had fallen asleep, he heard the phone ring and Alaska got up to answer it. Moments later, Miles and his roommate had gotten out of their beds to check on her, where they found her sobbing with her head hanging between her legs. When they asked her what was wrong, she simply screamed and sobbed, saying she needed to get out of there, and that she was so sorry. So Miles and his roommate distracted the Dean and Alaska drove off into the night, upset and under the influence of alcohol. In the morning, the news had surfaced that Alaska Young died in a terrible car accident the night before.
Main Ideas Of Looking For Alaska Novel
John Green gave this novel, Looking for Alaska, a very great name. It tells the story of Miles Halter moving to a boarding school in search of his “Great Perhaps”. He then makes friends with the outcasts with Alaska Young being one the outcasts. She helps him to become adventurous and have fun and life in the present. Miles would have never met his friends including, The Colonel, Takumi and Alaska, without the help of his interest. His favorite thing in the world is people’s last words. The last words of his favorite poet were “I go to seek a Great Perhaps”. These last words inspired Miles to go to Culver Creek boarding school. This title fits very well by bringing the book together, another title can also be given to bring the book together.
Many reasons and pieces of the novel helped to give the novel its title. Miles begin to fall in love with Alaska for being different and amazing. He is constantly describing her as beautiful, outgoing and down to earth. Alaska begins to take him on many adventures such as breaking into other dorms to see what students were hiding in their rooms. With Alaska helping him go on these adventures he begins to realize that there is a mysterious side to her not very many people know about. “But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating.” –Miles Halter, Looking for Alaska. In this quote he speaks about how amazing Alaska is compared to him. One of the main reasons why Miles embarks on this huge adventure is because he is in search of his “Great Perhaps”. At the end of the book Miles realizes that his “Great Perhaps” was Alaska Young, hence the title Looking for Alaska.
Without the wise words of Francois Rabelais Pudge, Miles, would have never found his way to the Creek. While bringing inspiration to him the words also made him wonder of his reasons on Earth. Culver Creek has been a part of his family for generations and this helped him to think of the options moving away could bring him. Once he gets to the Creek he brings to try new things a become adventurous unleashing a side he didn’t know he had. He began to believe that trying new things and the help of his new friends would open doors to find his “Great Perhaps” As the story begins to come to an end Miles starts to realize that his search is over because he has found his “Great Perhaps”. Alaska was it, she had been standing in front of him the whole time and he didn’t know why he loved her so much and now he does.
Much praise is Given to the Author John Green for writing the book and giving it such an amazing title. If the title could be changed and could still give readers the same reaction the next best title would be “The Great Perhaps”. It helps the readers to understand that without this quote Miles would have ended up at the Creek. Alaska, The Colonel, Takumi, Culver Creek, and the prank would have never existed without Miles inspiration. A novels title catches a reader’s attention from the moment they put their eyes on it. “The Great Perhaps” might have been a good eye catcher to readers walking in the bookstore.
Comparison of John Knowles’ Book, A Separate Peace, and John Green’s, Looking for Alaska
Comparing A Separate Peace and Looking for Alaska
A Separate Peace is set in a Vermont boarding school during the 1940s, and Looking for Alaska is set in an Alabama boarding school during the early twenty-first century, but despite the differences in setting these books can be compared through the similar purposes of their characters. In A Separate Peace there is Finny and in Looking for Alaska there is Alaska, these characters serve a similar purpose in their respective stories. The purpose of Finny and Alaska is to introduce a remarkable, interesting, and unique character, to provide a connection to the main character, and to demonstrate that everyone can suffer from internal collapse.
The first important purpose of Finny and Alaska is to demonstrate a unique personality fundamental to the connections between Finny, Alaska, and Gene and Miles. In A Separate Peace, Finny is shown to be an incredible athlete who is seemingly perfect. This statement is exemplified Gene’s description of Finny playing blitzball; “he created reverses and deceptions and acts of sheer mass hypnotism which were so extraordinary that they surprised even him.” (Knowles 31) Additionally, Finny is shown to be of honorable character as is illustrated by his set of rules, as Gene described,
“’Never say you are five feet nine when you are five feet eight and a half’ was the first one I encountered. Another was, “Always say some prayers at night because it might turn out that there is a God.”
But the one that had the most urgent influence in his life was, “You always win at sports.” (Knowles 26)
The irony is that he does not follow the school’s rules, but that does not necessitate a dishonorable character. In Looking for Alaska, Alaska is portrayed as a unique and interesting character, and she shares some similarities to Finny. The most prominent similarity is her desire to break the school’s rules. Though Finny and Alaska are somewhat similar, there are major differences between them. First of all, Alaska is not considered unique for being athletic or incredibly good at sports. Instead, Alaska is introduced as a physically attractive, interesting, and at times unstable character. Secondly, Alaska is shown to have self-destructive behavior and be very impulsive, and this is demonstrated through her excessive smoking and drinking habits. “She smiled with all the delight of a kid on Christmas morning and said, ‘Y’all smoke to enjoy it. I smoke to die.’” (Green 44) Although this is intended in a somewhat joking manner, this quote still exemplifies her self-destructive behavior because of her intensive smoking. While Finny appears to be somewhat impulsive, he does not share Alaska’s self-destructive behavior. Though they do have similarities, their differences indicate a slightly different purpose. Alaska is shown to be more flawed than Finny who is shown to be, in a sense, perfect. Finny’s major flaw is not being able to accept that everything is not perfect, as is shown by his failure to accept the truth. Finny’s misconstrued version of reality eventually leads to his death because of his failure to realize that Gene began to distrust him. Similarly, Alaska’s impulsiveness also ultimately causes her death because of her irresponsible driving.
The second primary purpose of Finny and Alaska is to provide a connection to Gene and Miles, respectively. Gene and Miles represent the voice in each book, but they are not necessarily the most important characters. In A Separate Peace, the story is told from the point of view of Gene, and yet almost the entirety of it concerns Finny and he is as important as Gene, if not more so. Looking for Alaska is told through Miles, but like a Separate Peace, most of the story concerns Alaska and she is at least as important as Miles. Finny is presented as Gene’s best friend and during their summer at Devon, and he encourages Gene to break the rules of the school. However, their friendship is not perfect, and Gene becomes paranoid that Finny is trying to constrain his studies by wasting his time. This is indicative of a highly competitive atmosphere at Devon. This ubiquitous attitude results in Gene causing Finny’s accident and, ultimately, his death. After Finny’s accident, however, it becomes clear that Gene regrets causing it and he is aware that his previous assumptions were wrong. Gene is filled with regret and anger at himself, “I hit him hard across the face. I didn’t know why for an instant; it was as though I were maimed. Then the realization that there was someone who was flashed over me.” (Knowles 71). This example makes it clear that Gene is, at the very least, angry with himself for causing Finny’s accident because he hit Quackenbush after being called maimed. In Looking for Alaska, Alaska not only a friend, but a love interest for Miles. The connection between Miles and Alaska is further complicated because of the addition of the Colonel and, to a lesser extent, Takumi; they also become friends with Miles and therefore are entangled in the story. Similarly to Finny, Alaska encouraged Miles to break the rules of the school and participate in the pranks on the weekday warriors. After Alaska’s death, Miles spent a large portion of his time grieving and attempting to decipher her death with the Colonel. From this it is clear that he not only cared about Alaska, but he wanted to find out more about her and the interesting circumstances of her death. Miles was partially responsible for Alaska’s death, as he and the Colonel allowed Alaska to drive while intoxicated. Therefore, he was not only filled with grief because of Alaska’s death, but also with regret because of his irresponsibility. From these connections it can be determined that an interesting, unique character must also have a strong connection with the primary character.
The third important purpose of Finny and Alaska is to demonstrate that anyone can suffer from internal collapse. Throughout a Separate Peace, Finny refuses to accept that everything is not perfect. He refuses to believe that there are losers in sports, even though there clearly are. He refuses to believe that Gene is the cause of his accident, “’I deliberately jounced the limb so you would fall off.’ He looked older than I had ever seen him. ‘Of course you didn’t’” (Knowles 62). He continues this attitude even though it becomes abundantly clear that Gene did indeed cause his accident. This ultimately leads to his internal collapse. Finny becomes increasingly upset, “’You get all your facts!’ I had never seen Finny crying, ‘You collect every f—ing fact there is in the world!’ He plunged out the doors” (Knowles 169). This quote demonstrates that Finny did not want the facts of his accident to be revealed, most likely because he eventually found out that Gene was the cause of it. Finny then fell down the stairs and was injured again, this time he was killed from his own bone marrow. Finny’s death is symbolic because it illustrates his internal collapse, via a death with a proximate internal cause. In Looking for Alaska, Alaska’s death was caused almost exclusively be her own behavior, as her death was caused by driving while drunk. Her internal collapse was ultimately the result of her mother’s death and her idleness when it happened. Because of this, she is very impulsive and shows little regard for her own life. Miles and the Colonel discovered the connection to her mother when contemplating the circumstances of her death, “She’s drunk and pissed off and she’s in a hurry, so she thinks she can squeeze past the cop car, and she’s not even thinking straight, but she has to get to her mom, and she thinks she can get past it somehow” (Green 211). This quote explains the significance between Alaska’s death and her mother’s death, for Alaska still felt regretful and angry at herself because of her inaction during her mother’s death. From these two examples, it can be concluded that although Finny and Alaska were unique and amazing in their own right that would not save them from themselves.
In summation, the books a Separate Peace by John Knowles and Looking for Alaska by John Green demonstrate the importance of a unique and interesting character and the significance of that character’s ultimate failure. The purpose of the character’s connection to the narrator can also be explored and it can be concluded that this connection is necessary, for if it were not neither Finny nor Alaska would be significant. It can also be concluded that an important character’s internal collapse can be important to a story, whether by the fault of another or not. All of these factors illustrate the advantages for high quality characters in books.
Looking for Alaska and the Concept of Reliability and Ethos
Credibility & Ethos Appeals
As aforementioned, On the Banning is split into two sections with respect to tone and method of addressing audience. In the first twenty seconds of his vlog, Green establishes his credibility in a humorous way: “it turns out the most challenged book of 2015 was Looking for Alaska, which was written by me” (0:12). The comedic inflection in the last two words—which can only properly be conveyed in the video itself—makes his audience laugh and creates a light-hearted tone while simultaneously introducing his credibility. After all, who better to talk about the novel in question than the author himself? At 24 seconds, he continues this interesting comedic take on credibility by saying “I suppose this is a kind of honor. I mean, Looking for Alaska contained the very same offensive language and sexually explicit descriptions ten years ago but was much less likely to be banned because, you know, not very many people had read it.” Again, he uses amusing inflection in the end of his sentence which indicates how much of a commercial failure the book was initially. By doing so, however, he heavily implies that the novel has made a major comeback in 2015—a humble and subtle way to hint at the novel’s and author’s success without flat-out saying it.
The moment this tone switches to become more thoughtful is another way Green appeals to ethos. “Anyway,” he says at 0:46, “I’m often asked to respond to the banning of Looking for Alaska from schools and libraries, so, okay. Here is my response.” The inflection in this sentence is once again used to divert the viewer’s attention away from mere vanity; by putting the stress at the “okay. Here is my response” part of the statement, he makes the viewer pay less attention to the fact that he is “often asked to respond” to the situation, but it still registers in the audience’s mind as an effective appeal to ethos. Then later, he furthers his unique method of forming his ethos appeals into mere implications by flat-out stating that his own opinions don’t matter in the long-run:
So, yeah, I don’t think Looking for Alaska is pornographic, and I don’t think its readers find it titillating. But, that noted, I don’t think it should be up to me whether Looking for Alaska (or actually any book) is in a school or a library because I am not a teacher or a librarian—the highly trained, criminally underpaid professionals we employ to make those decisions (2:04). . . . I think teachers and librarians know more about teaching and librarianship than I do. And I believe they must be allowed to do their jobs serving the whole public (2:50).
Here, he ironically claims that his own opinions don’t ultimately matter. Authors can make video responses to the banning of their books until the end of time, but until the professionals who Green believes are the proper people to decide these things are allowed to decide them, it is all for nothing—which may explain his initial hesitance to discuss the topic at all.
Looking for Alaska: Self-Destructive Behavior
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.
The Worst Day: Putting Alaska’s Life in Perspective
“After. Nothing is ever the same” (Green 12). After the worst day of Alaska Young’s life, her whole world is turned upside down and rearranged. John Green’s novel, Looking for Alaska, demonstrates the power and importance that death, suffering, and unhappiness have in life. Following the traumatic death of her mother, Alaska struggles to let go of the guilt and sadness associated with this one day of her life. These emotions are transformed into habits that continue to define who she is. Alaska’s excessive activeness, risky behaviors, obsession with suffering, and familial relationships are a direct effect of the worst day of her life.
At Culver Creek, Alaska is always the first to have an idea, the first to lead a prank, the first to do something new. She is constantly leading the way and making decisions for herself and those around her. One of her friends, Miles, cannot help but decide, “That if people were rain, (he) was drizzle and she was a hurricane” (88). This hurricane that Alaska has become envelops her friends in a way that her passivity could not envelop her mother when she was dying. When Alaska’s mother began to die, Alaska only screamed and cried while her mother held her head and jerked around on the floor. After her mother had stopped moving and was dead, Alaska simply sat on the floor with her. She did not call anyone for help, not her father or the police (119). Although she probably could not have saved her mother, Alaska sees this moment of complete passivity as one of her weaknesses. This brief moment in time leads Alaska to be excessively active in the years to come. Heavy smoking, drinking, and other risky behaviors are just another part of Alaska’s daily life. She is the person that Miles and the Colonel go to for “hook-ups”: cigarettes and alcohol. Whenever possible, Alaska tries to keep several bottles of Strawberry Hill wine buried in the forest. Aware of the health risks that smoking and drinking impose, Alaska partakes in substance abuse unabashedly. She goes so far as to say that, “Y’all smoke to enjoy it, I smoke to die” (44). However, substance abuse is not the only risk that Alaska takes in life. Rules are meant to be constantly broken, both at school and in the rest of life. And although Alaska and the Colonel plan out their pranks with every minuscule detail accounted for, Alaska still manages to risk everything when she sends out twenty extra progress reports (109). This constant rule breaking, trouble making, and risk taking are direct effects of Alaska’s worst day. Her mother died of an aneurysm, which is unexpected and shows no symptoms.
There is no way that Alaska or her father could have seen her mother’s death coming. This sort of death is particularly hard to comprehend, as it is so unexpected and there isn’t a situational factor to blame. On this day, Alaska learns that death and life are fickle things. Alaska doesn’t participate in reckless behaviors because she does not value her life, but rather because she understands that people die every day for no good reason. During her junior year and throughout the rest of her life, Alaska develops an obsession with human suffering. Fifty-two days before, Alaska tells Miles, “There’s always suffering … homework or malaria or having a boyfriend who lives far away … suffering is universal” (82). Alaska also uses the topic of human suffering to write her final paper in religions class. To Alaska, the most important question that human beings must answer is, “How will we ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering?” (158). Finally, Alaska writes in the margins of her book that the only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is “straight & fast” (155). It is clear that Alaska’s every day was consumed with the thought of suffering, both her own and that of those surrounding her. Yet, this obsession with suffering must have originated somewhere. Like most of Alaska’s habits, this one also stems from her worst day. While her mother is lying on the floor, holding her head and jerking, Alaska screams and cries. It is not until her mother finally dies that Alaska settles down. When she tells the story, she says that, “I thought [my mom] had fallen asleep and that whatever had hurt didn’t hurt anymore” (119). This idea that her mother had stopped suffering when she died is something that Alaska struggles with the rest of her life.
Is suffering only defeated in death? Does to live mean to suffer? After her worst day, her mother is not suffering at all, but Alaska is suffering a great deal. On that fateful day, Alaska loses more than just her mother; she loses her father, as well. Although her father is technically still alive and around, their relationship can never be the same. Her father only blames Alaska briefly for her mother’s death, but this short blame will add to the constant guilt she carries around. From that moment on, it will be hard for Alaska to spend time at home, where her mother’s absence is the felt the strongest. When it comes time for Thanksgiving break, Alaska elects to stay at Culver Creek and convinces Miles to stay with her. Miles asks her why she won’t go home, and Alaska answers, “I’m just scared of ghosts, Pudge. And home is full of them” (80). Whether accidentally or on purpose, Alaska distances herself from her father, as well, when she distances herself from the ghosts. Everything about Alaska is the way it is because of her worst day. Her habits, thoughts, and familial relationships have been largely impacted.
Alaska made the mistake of letting a single day rearrange her past and her future. It would be easy to say that her mistake was in not forgiving herself and holding on. But, what if the true mistake was actually in differentiating between a best and a worst? A notable Buddhist koan attempts to show us, “That there is no best and no worst, that those judgements have no real meaning because there is only what is” (195). Maybe if Alaska had accepted her mother’s death as just another day, it would not have had to color her entire world. Maybe without the labels we give to days and hours they wouldn’t be so significant.