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Looking For Alaska by John Green

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Harley Grammer

on 2 July 2014

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Transcript of Looking For Alaska by John Green

By John Green
Published by Penguin Group
221 Total Pages
Present Time
Appropriate for adolescents and young adults
Who is Alaska?
Alaska is the focus of the novel (hence, the title), but she is not the narrator. The reader learns about this adolescent through the eyes of Miles, instead.
Miles does not meet Alaska until he transfers to Culver Creek Boarding School. Culver Creek is located in Alabama, where Alaska attends with her friends: Colonel, Lara, and Takumi.
Alaska comes from a poor family, one that she does not even visit during the holidays. She lives in Vine Station with her father.
Alaska's time is spent reading from her "life library", smoking and drinking wine. Alaska is very good at Calculus, she even tutors her peers and helps Miles receive B- on his final.
At school, Alaska is known for her variety of relentless pranks. She is constantly playing pranks on peers, who then try to outdo her pranks.
Alaska is mysterious and vague; there is always more to learn about her. Alaska purposely hides various information about herself and her family from her friends--whatever the reason may be.
Halfway through the novel, Alaska dies, leaving her friends to question whether it was an accident or suicide. This event causes a questioning of her motives, her previous actions and her underlying qualities as a person.
The Background
Context
Family:
The person(s) who take care of a child/adolescent as they grow up.
One aspect of Alaska's life she feels the need to keep fairly vague is her family and home life. Her friends are aware that she does not enjoy home, which is why she does not visit on holidays. They go so far as to call her homeless.
Leisure:
The way in which a person spends their time when they are not at school, work, etc.
Alaska spends her leisure time reading books from her "life library", which consists of various books found at garage sales.
She devotees a large portion of her time smoking cigarettes, despite the campus-wide ban.
Alaska also finds time to consume bottles of wine on the premises.
Is Alaska a typical adolescent?

Alaska is not necessarily a typical teenager, but her attributes and actions are similar to that of troubled adolescents suffering from depression and a problematic home life.
Alaska's attitude, nonetheless, appears nonchalant towards sex: "Sure, bufriedos are pretty good. Sex is pretty fun. The sun is pretty hot."
(Green, Page 85).
As an adolescent, Alaska feels that there is no greater connection to having sex with another person; another example of her inability to build meaningful relationships not based on vague emotions.
Alaska openly acknowledges the fact that she is an unhappy person.
Alaska has the ability to go "From a hundred miles an hour to asleep in a nanosecond", an interesting ability, reflective of her unstable behavior
(Green, Page 88).
Alaska smokes cigarettes, a common thing to try as an adolescent, but admits she smokes because it can kill her.
An article written by The Office of Adolescent Health states, "Although tobacco use by adolescents has declined substantially in the last forty years, nearly 1 in 10 high school seniors were daily smokers in 2013". The article also acknowledges that "Smoking rates are higher in rural areas, and in the Southern and Midwestern regions of the country" (The Office of Adolescent Health). Therefore, not only is Alaska an adolescent, but she is from the Southern region of the United States, causing her to fit the mold even more.
At the end of the novel, Miles acknowledges an aspect that is very common among typical adolescents, the idea that teenagers are invincible. Miles says, "[adults] don't know how right they are. We need never to be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken. We think we are invincible because we are."
(Green, Page 220)
Alaska and her close friends are also similar to most adolescents because "most teenagers have not experimented with other drugs", instead "alcohol is clearly the drug of choice among teenagers"
(Steinberg, Page 409)
.
Considering Alaska and her friends attend a boarding school, they provide numerous ways in which they are different than typical adolescents, namely with their activities.
For example, students at boarding schools are not heavily supervised; instead, they are informed of rules and expected to follow them. They do not have elders to sit them down and ensure they have complete their homework or studied for an exam creeping up next week.
In an article written by Robert Kennedy, of BoardingSchoolReview.com, boarding schools keep a strong focus on strong academics while striving to "foster independence in students" (Kennedy).
An article by Amy Pearson from The Global Post states, "Typical teenager rebellion can last up to six years and can include defiant behavior and rapidly changing moods" (Pearson). Thus, although these attributes can lean towards characterizing Alaska as a depressed adolescent, they can just as likely deem her as a "typical" adolescent. Therefore, the category Alaska is placed into is based on who evaluates her attributes and actions.
Conclusively, Alaska can certainly be deemed a traditional adolescent. Her actions and characteristics are very similar to the struggle an average adolescent may experience. The only difference between Alaska and other adolescents, is her haunting regret that causes her emotions to become elevated and eventually destroy her.
Psychosocial Analysis
Sexuality:
A person's degree and knowledge of sex and sexual activities.
Alaska is consistently noted by her peers for her sexual behavior. It is one of her overlying characteristics and one of the few things her friends are able to know about her.
Intimacy:
A person's degree in which they develop their relationships (with peers, significant others, and family members).
Despite Alaska's inclination towards sexual activities, she demonstrates a small ability to be intimate with her boyfriend, and her friends.
Alaska is clearly an interesting character with numerous facets to her personality, yet she negates to inform her friends of her past or anything that seems to be troubling her. Instead, she keeps her information vague and diverts the conversation away from her past or current concerns.
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Presentation by Harley Grammer

EDSC 320
Professor Ambrosetti

Alaska & Sexuality
Noted by the Colonel, Alaska is compared to a fellow peer: "He loves weed like Alaska loves sex"
(Green, Page 46)
. Clearly, Alaska does not hide her keen desire for sex. Also to be noted, is that Alaska has a general love for sex, not that she enjoys it with her boyfriend.
Alaska's involvement with sexual activities can also be due to a lack of parental involvement among her daily activities. As stated in the textbook, "adolescents who are unsupervised after school and who do not participate in after-school programs are more likely to be sexually active"
(Steinberg, Page 347)
. While at boarding school, Alaska and her friends find it easy to maneuver around the rules and their dean, avoiding his watchful eye.
Miles is an aficionado for famous last words, yet when him and Alaska discuss her hero, "all [he] can remember is that she had a lot of sex"
(Green, Page 70)
. Considering Alaska's enjoyments, it is only appropriate that she looks up to a woman who had a lot of sex.
The textbook theorizes, "hormones seem to have a direct and powerful effect on the sexual behavior of boys, [but] the impact of hormones on the sexual behavior of girls seems to depend on the social context"
(Steinberg, Page 349)
. Thus, Alaska shapes her opinion, and thus her world, around the views of her sex-loving hero.
Alaska is acknowledged by her peers for her knowledge of sexual activities. When Miles is unable to tell his girlfriend, Lola, how to perform oral sex on him, he suggests they ask Alaska since "everything [he] had learned [was] from watching porn with Alaska"
(Green, Page 127)
. Alaska has no shame in demonstrating, with a tube of toothpaste, how to proceed in front of Lola and Miles.
The textbook states, "experimentation with deviant activity and early sex occur simultaneously and may reflect some underlying factor, such as the propensity to take risks"
(Steinberg, Page 347)
. Thus, Alaska's involvement in sex at a young age and troublesome behavior (i.e. pranks, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol) suggest she is not afraid to take risks.
Alaska & Intimacy
Alaska finds the ability to disregard any chance she may have to open up to her peers, and even obtain support. This can be seen in the following conversation with Miles.:
"How've you been?" I finally ask.
"I'm really not up for answering any questions that start with
how, when, where, why, or what.
"
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"That's a
what
. I'm not doing
what
's right now."
(Green, Page 68)
The textbook states, "An individual who is very anxious about forming relationships with others is likely to have trouble forming new types of relationships, because they threaten an already shaky sense of security"
(Steinberg, Page 308)
. This idea can explain Alaska's vague attitude towards her friends, even when they express a desire to support her through her tough days and situations.
Despite Alaska constantly telling Miles "I love my boyfriend so much", she neglects to extend much beyond that. For example, Miles asks Alaska where she obtained a bouquet of white tulips. Alaska simply responds with "'Jake and my's anniversary' and [she] didn't care to continue the dialogue"
(Green, Page 130)
.
The textbook states, "The frustrations and satisfactions individuals experiences during earlier periods affect their later relationships and developing sense of identity"
(Steinberg, Page 308)
. Thus, Alaska's distant relationship from her father can be the stepping stone for her distant relationships with her boyfriend and friends.
Even after being invited to the Colonel's house for Thanksgiving, Alaska keeps her list of gratitude to a minimum. When her turn comes, she simply says, "I'm grateful for having just had my best Thanksgiving in a decade"
(Green, Page 93)
. She does not state how this one compares to her other holidays, but we still get a slight insight into her past events.
The Colonel inviting Alaska and Miles to his house for Thanksgiving directed their friendship into a more intimate direction, showing his deep admiration for the two. Instead of using this moment to directly acknowledge and display her affection towards her friends, Alaska keeps her response vague and distant. In the textbook, Sullivan acknowledges "some youngsters never fully develop the capacity to be intimate with others, a limitation that takes its toll on relationships throughout adolescence and adulthood"
(Steinberg, Page 309)
.
Alaska & Leisure
Alaska refers to her collection of books as her "library of life" because she is constantly finding books she finds interesting at garage sales. She enjoys having a large collection because "[she will] always have something to read", yet she has only read a third of the books. Alaska says this is because "there is so much to do: cigarettes to smoke, sex to have, swings to swing on. I'll have more time for reading when I'm old and boring"
(Green, Page 20)
. Despite Alaska's enjoyment with nonconstructive activities, she still maintains good grades, especially in Calculus.
Thus, I found the following statement in the book to be most interesting: "participation in extracurricular activity actually improves students' performance in school and reduces the likelihood of dropping out; deters delinquency, drug use, and other types of risk taking; and enhances students' psychological well-being and social status"
(Steinberg, Page 225)
. From observations, it's safe to deduce that Alaska appears to be the exception to this common rule among adolescents. Thus deeming her, even more extraordinary and mysterious.
Alaska spends a majority of her time smoking cigarettes with her peers. This attribute does not make her different from her peers, instead, it is her acknowledging "Y'all smoke to enjoy it. I smoke to die"
(Green, Page 22)
.
The textbook acknowledges a large amount of surveys have concluded "that the two major legal drugs--alcohol and nicotine--are by the far the most commonly used and abused substances, in terms of both prevalence and recency of use"
(Steinberg, Page 408)
. This fact is definitely acknowledged at Culver Creek Boarding School, where a large majority of Alaska's peers are known for smoking cigarettes and/or alcohol.
Despite breaking the law and school rules, Alaska purchases wine from a local liquor store with a fake I.D., then proceeds to bury it near the lake on campus in order to keep it hidden from the dean
(Green, Page 72).
Alaska could be harming a part of her brain, known as the hippocampus, by drinking so consistently and aggressively at her young age. The hippocampus is "important for memory and, along with the prefrontal cortex, for "putting the brakes" on impulsive behavior"
(Steinberg, Page 411)
. Thus, Alaska continues to act in impulsive and possibly harmful manners, neglecting to take into consideration the various outcomes and punishments.
Alaska's Family
Alaska finally has a moment in which she is not vague about her life. She opens up to her friends and informs them of her worst day ever. On this day, she experienced her mom having an aneurysm, but "[she] just sat on the floor with [her mom] until [her] dad got home".
(Green, Page 119)
Now, her friends finally learn that she only lives with her father, yet she does not speak further of their relationship, allowing the reader to assume she maintains a distant relationship with her father.
According to the textbook, Alaska's father fits the fatherly stereotype well, considering "fathers are more likely to be perceived as relatively distant authority figures who may be consulted for objective information...but who are rarely sought for support or guidance"
(Steinberg, Page 127)
.
The night of Alaska's death, she opens up to Takumi during her emotional and drunken tantrum. Alaska informs Takumi, "her mother was dead eight years that day...she always put flowers on her mother's grave on the anniversary, but she forgot that year."
(Green, Page 217)
With this knowledge, Alaska's friends are able to unearth her emotional outburst. Yet, her friends are unable to learn more about her life until she has passed away.
According to the textbook, "adolescents tend to be closer to their mother, to spend more time alone with their mother, and to feel more comfortable talking to their mothers about problems and other emotional matters"
(Steinberg, Page 127
). Thus, Alaska may be haunted by the inability to share this maternal bond she naturally desires. This lack of a bond paired with her personal guilt, constantly reminds Alaska of her traumatic event as a young child.
Another enlightenment on Alaska's family comes in the form of a memory of her mother. When reflecting on Alaska's death, Taksumi recalls a time when Alaska told him "her parents always put white flowers in her hair" so "maybe she wanted to die with white flowers"
(Green, Page 164).
Until this moment, Alaska's father has been judged based on his lack of involvement or warmth among his relationship with his daughter. This moment gives reader insight into life before Alaska's mother died. It also brings up the fact that Alaska's dad could have been a great parent in the past, but grief struck him and Alaska, pulling them apart rather than together. The textbook states, "the quality of the relationships the young person has with the important adults in her or his life matters more than the number of parents present in the home"
(Steinberg, Page 140)
. Unfortunately, it seems Alaska lost both quality and quantity with he mother's death.
Factors of Context Affect the Course of Alaska's Psychosocial Development
Overall, Alaska's psychosocial development is directly related to her family, but most importantly, the event of her mother's death. This event most likely shaped Alaska's development and overall personality due to the continuous blame she placed on herself for not helping her mother when she was in need.
Once Miles is able to understand Alaska's reasons for committing suicide, he realizes, "When [Alaska] fucked up, all those years ago, just a little girl terrified into paralysis, she collapsed into the enigma of herself."
(Green, Page 219)
Possibly, Alaska's desire to drink, and drink a lot, can be reflective of a confession she gives to Miles the day before her death, "Pudge, what you must understand about me is that I am a deeply unhappy person." (
Green, Page 124)
These moments demonstrate Alaska's inability to let go of the guilt from her mother's death. Ever since that day, she has allowed it to consume her life and encompass her actions. The fact that a traumatic event such as this occurred during Alaska's youth, it greatly affected her development as an adolescent. Instead of allowing herself to be happy, she tried to create a world in which she could survive. Instead of finding a resolution or piece of mind, Alaska commits suicide, unable to handle her choice so many years ago.
APA References
Green, John. (2005).
Looking for Alaska
. New York: Speak.

Kennedy, Robert. (2014, January 25). Boarding School Myths.
BoardingSchoolReview.com
. Retrieved from: http://www.boardingschoolreview.com/articles/2

Pearson, Amy. (2014). 10 Typical Characteristics of Teenagers.
Global Post
. Retrieved from: http://everydaylife.globalpost.com/10-typical-characteristics-teenagers-12960.html

Steinberg, Laurence. (2011). Adolescence (9th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Unknown. (2014, June 14). Trends in Adolescent Tobacco Use.
The Office of Adolescent Health
. Retrieved from: http://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-health-topics/substance-abuse/tobacco/trends.html
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