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“Looking for Alaska” by John Green – Analysis of Characters and Themes

Author: John Green lives in Indianapolis, Indiana. He lived in New York until recently but grew up in Florida before moving to board school in Alabama. Prior to becoming a writer, he worked as a book reviewer and a writer for the radio. Looking for Alaska is his ï¬rst novel published in 2005. His most recent novel, due in 2008, is Paper Towns. John believes to be a writer; you should be a reader too. Although, he is religious and considered being a minister; he worked in a children’s hospital as a Chaplin, which is where he “started to think about writing a story in which teenagers experience loss and a consuming guilt that cannot be easily assuaged.”

Main characters. Miles “Pudge” Halter: Main character, narrator, sixteen years old. Miles is a bit bland and bored. Lonely and with no real life, he leaves for his father’s boarding school in an attempt to escape and pursue and ï¬nd “the Great Perhaps”. Obsessed with famous people’s last words, Miles reads biographies and could be described as a bit of a geek or a sensible “good kid”; at least until he comes under the inï¬uence of the Colonel and Alaska…

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Chip “The Colonel” Martin: The Colonel is a clever and proud, ï¬nancially poor, the scholarship student who intensely dislikes the rich pupils who board Monday to Friday only, referred to as ‘Weekday warriors’. He learns lists of countries and capital cities to combat boredom and overcome stress: a prankster, friend and roommate to Miles.

Alaska Young. Alaska is sexy, funny, beautiful, intelligent, rebellious, and an enigma. She is moody and torments herself with guilt for her lack of initiative at the moment of her mother’s death. She loves practical jokes and is a natural ally of Miles.

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Plot: Sixteen-year-old Miles “Pudge” Halter has no friends at his Florida high school. He instead loses himself in biographies of writers (though not their works). He is especially interested in the last words of famous people. Tired of his safe life, Miles asks his parents to allow him to attend Culver Creek, a boarding school in Alabama, which his father had once attended. There, for the first time in his life, he makes friends. He drinks, smokes, plays pranks, gets a girlfriend, and finally fits in. But, throughout it all, he cannot get over a girl named Alaska Young. Funny yet sullen, flirtatious yet committed to her boyfriend, she becomes somewhat of an obsession with Miles.

One night, when Alaska is drunk, she kisses Miles in a game of truth or dare. Not long after, Alaska drives off sobbing without explaining why. Fifteen minutes later, she smashes into a parked police cruiser, killing herself instantly. Miles and his friends are crushed, especially Miles, who aided her in leaving campus and did not mention that she should not be driving drunk. Miles and his friends set out to understand the circumstances of Alaska’s death. Was it a suicide? Where was she headed?

Analysis: There are several themes in the novel Looking for Alaska. One theme is that there is more to life and more to anyone than experienced or known. Pudge reads biographies and memorizes people’s last words to try to understand what kind of people they were. He looks for meaning in the facts and the words that are recorded after a person dies. Alaska fascinates Pudge because he does not “get” her, he cannot figure her out, but Alaska says, “You never get me. That’s the whole point”. Alaska knows that people are complex beyond anyone’s ability to understand. Pudge is devastated that he will never know Alaska’s last words and that he would never know Alaska as he wanted to. He feels like someone who has lost his glasses and is told that he can never get another pair, and he will “just have to do without”. Seeing represents knowing, and Pudge will never know the world through the filter of Alaska ever again.

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Ultimately, Pudge realizes that “we are greater than the sum of our parts,” and because energy can never be created nor destroyed, “that part of us greater than the sum of our parts cannot begin and cannot end, and so it cannot fail”. Another theme is that the labyrinth of suffering need not imprison us forever. Alaska is incapacitated by her human failures and collapses “into the enigma of herself”. But Pudge recognizes that “she did not need to fold into herself and self-destruct”. Alaska never forgives herself for her mother’s death, and her guilt holds her captive. By forgiving himself for his part in Alaska’s death, Pudge finds hope, which lifts him out of the labyrinth of guilt and grief so that he can catch a distant glimpse of the Great Perhaps.

The first person narration, authentic teen language and countdown to the climactic event of Alaska’s death lend compelling suspense to the novel’s narrative style. The story is told through first-person narration from Pudge’s perspective. Readers are drawn in by Pudge’s often humorous outlook and the intensity of his feelings. The language laced with expletives used by Alaska and the Colonel provides authenticity to the impression of teen life. The literary and historical references challenge readers. The unfamiliarity of these references gives readers the sense of not understanding everything, just as Pudge does not understand everything about Culver Creek and Alaska. Finally, the countdown to Alaska’s death provides suspense and provokes curiosity as the reader wonders where the story is heading.

Looking for Alaska includes comedy, romance, and tragedy elements, but the story cannot be completely encapsulated by any one of these terms. The powerful realism and poignancy of the novel stem from its mingling of comedy, irony, romance and tragedy, just as these elements are found in real life. More than anything, Green’s novel is a coming-of-age story. Alaska cannot leave the tragedy of her mother’s death behind her, so she is unable to come of age and move on with her life. Instead, she smokes, drinks, and drives too fast until she self-destructs. The paper Pudge writes at the novel’s end indicates that Pudge is able to come to terms with Alaska’s death. His ability to rise above the tragedy and find hope demonstrates his coming-of-age.

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Readers are drawn in by Pudge’s emotions and reflections. The way information is withheld, such as the nature of the Barn Night prank, entices the reader to keep turning the pages. The countdown to the unknown, critical event of Alaska’s death builds suspense. The literary references of the labyrinth and the poem foreshadow Pudge and the Colonel’s struggle to rise above the tragedy. The setting provides the removal from parental influence so that Alaska, Pudge and the Colonel are responsible for their own struggles, failures and achievements. These elements combine to create a coming-of-age story that will appeal to anyone who has ever struggled to escape a labyrinth, whether that labyrinth is grief, guilt, adolescence or high school.

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