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Looking for Alaska

by John Green

Natalie Chuck

on 14 January 2013

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Transcript of Looking for Alaska

LOOKING FOR ALASKA Climax: Helpers: Miles’ inciting incident is finding French writer François Rabelais’ final words (“I go to seek a Great Perhaps.”), Miles realizes that he needs to change his life and find his big adventure, not wait until he dies to search for it. He then decides to attend the same boarding school his father had, Culver Creek, to turn his life around because at that moment it seems pointless. In essence, Miles realizes that he needs a big shift to discover why he is alive. Elixir: The biggest moment of the novel is the night after a big prank when the Colonel, Pudge and Alaska are all celebrating their not getting caught with drinks and of course, cigarettes. Pudge is the only one who is not drinking and Alaska along with the Colonel become very tipsy very quickly. Alaska kisses Pudge, despite her having a boyfriend and then states that she is “sleepy” and that they will continue later. After the three friends fall asleep, Alaska suddenly wakes up and throws a drunken tantrum about forgetting her mother’s anniversary of death and decides to go to her grave. She asks Pudge and the Colonel to distract the Eagle, the dean of the school so she can drive off campus after hours. In the morning, the boys awake to find that Alaska is still not back and the Eagle is at their door. An assembly is held to announce Alaska’s passing in a car accident; the entire student body of Culver Creek is in pandemonium. Both the Colonel and Pudge blame themselves at first about their friend’s death, as they were the ones who helped her off campus, but the Colonel later tells Pudge that Alaska was moody and distant and vague about everything and anything she said. He says that she is a rude and ungrateful person. If only Pudge could see past his blind love for her even after her loss, that it was not their faults. Alaska’s sudden death is the cause of confusion in Pudge; he does not know what to do, barely believing she is truly dead. Helpers who aid in the development towards the summit of the story are the Colonel, Alaska, Takumi, Lara and last but not least Pudge’s own father. The Colonel is a close friend to Pudge and helps him in class as well as in his social life. After breaking up with his girlfriend, the Colonel offers insight to his friend that he must be with someone out of pure love or want, not necessity. Alaska continuously encourages Pudge to get a girlfriend, and says she will help him with this problem. She also teaches him life lessons and how to appreciate women, possibly the reason he is so attracted to her. Takumi offers the cold, hard truth of life to Pudge, such as telling his friend to let go of loving Alaska, as it is useless and that she will never return his feelings for her. Almost in typical love-triangle fashion, Lara shows romantic interest in Pudge, and follows him, helping him by encouraging and giving him the feeling of being needed and wanted, as the two later date. Pudge is influenced by his father, the rebellious alumnus of Culver Creek. “’That’s why I’m going. So I don’t have to wait until I die to start seeking a Great Perhaps’” (Green 5) The hero says this on his decision to leave his parents in Florida in favour of a fresh beginning in northern Alabama at the crazy Culver Creek boarding school. It is ironic that last words act as the motivator that start Miles’ journey. After being dropped off at school, the central character does not feel sadness from being away from his family, but is excited to see where this new path in his life will take him. As he phrases it, “At some point, you just pull off the Band-Aid and it hurts, but then it’s over and you’re relieved.” (Green 7) At first, Pudge is somewhat reluctant about being around his new friends. He is awkward and gawky, but realizes that to find his Great Perhaps that he must be accepted into these new surroundings. “I had never smoked a cigarette, but when in Rome…” (Green 16) This acts as an example of peer pressure for Pudge. Although he has never even thought of smoking, he does not question starting. It is as if he will do anything to fit in, no matter what the cost he will take the risk. Even if he does not realize it, this is essentially when he reaches the point of no return. Pudge begins then to also have strong emotions towards Alaska, a girl he has just met. This is the biggest moment in which he cannot turn back, he is too fascinated by her. Flight: Throughout the novel, Pudge takes many challenges on such as his schoolwork, failing pre-calculus and entering the enticing world of religion class. He must also deal with fitting in, peer pressure that is both romantic and friendship driven, as well as the many precise prank plans given out by the Colonel and finally, the death of a close friend. By undergoing these struggles, Miles is able to become stronger and a mature young person. Miles “Pudge” Halter is not born into any particular special circumstance. He is a quiet, unpopular sixteen-year-old who has little to no friends, which he only has out of, as he puts it, “necessity”, at his public school in Florida. This is proven when at his going away party when he leaves for Alabama, only two people attend. Despite this depressing fact, Miles accepts that this is how his life is. He does not get his hopes up when he knows he will be let down. An interesting quality in Miles is that he is fascinated by people’s last words and spends his time reading only the end of biographies. At this point, the protagonist’s life is routine, but is also made interesting by his love of dying declarations. His father is also an alumnus of Culver Creek, the boarding school Miles is soon to attend. A quote that supports the circumstances of Miles’ birth is when the hero says himself “I could feel them…waiting for me to burst into tears or something, as if I hadn’t known all along that it would go precisely like this.” (Green 4) Pudge admits to himself and acknowledges that he is somewhat of a loner and that this does not matter to him. A remarkable element of his character is that he accepts himself as he is, not overly self-conscious, nor overly cocky. Birth: The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a book franchise that is very similar in plot to Looking for Alaska. Both heroes are smaller physically, quirky and are interested in literature; Miles in famous last words, Charlie in classic books. In the film adaptation of Perks, Charlie is seemingly a normal kid, as Miles is perceived, yet makes a similar life-altering discovery about existence as a whole at the end of his expedition. Both main characters go from an ordinary literature-loving teenager to a matured young man, finding their philosopher’s stone. Call to Adventure: We are all looking for our purpose in life. It is always a burning question, trying to find out why we are on this earth and why we are in a certain place at a certain time. It is another debate to wonder about why we meet certain people in this life. Is it just a coincidence? Or is it more, does each person we encounter have more than meets the eye as opposed to only the simple lessons they teach us day by day? It can be believed that each person we meet has something unique to offer and that we will be changed for the better by encountering them. One would hope that they will not have to wait until death to find their calling in life. Helpers & Amulet: Upon arriving at school, Miles meets his roommate Chip Martin, who goes by the name “the Colonel” for being a pranking mastermind. As the genius he is, after seeing Miles’ stature, the Colonel begins to call him the ironic name of “Pudge” even though Miles is not at all pudgy. Through meeting his new roommate, newly named Pudge is introduced to Alaska Young. At first sight, Pudge sees her as beautiful and perfection, intriguing. His interest in Alaska leads to making friends with the entire group of rebellious pranksters who present him to their world of alcoholism, cigarettes and of course, pranking. As aforementioned, the Colonel is given his name from his ability to plan perfect pranks. However, even as a defiant teenager, he still refuses to let Pudge use him to make friends, saying, “Listen. I’m not going to be your entrée to Culver Creek social life.” (Green 13) Ironically, as a lot of events are that occur in their friendship, this is exactly what the Colonel gives to Pudge, the opportunity at companionship. Once again, the helpers in this story and that of The Perks of Being a Wallflower are very similar. Patrick in Perks is a bold, outgoing leader, similar to the Colonel who is a mastermind and is considered the trailblazer of the group in Alaska. Also, as previously mentioned, the love interests in both books are almost identical. Sam and Alaska are equally approachable and admirable. The biggest similarity between the two girls is that they both experienced a traumatic event when they were young; Alaska and her mother’s death, Sam being sexually abused. Therefore, both carry a burden that they have never forgiven themselves for, even if both events were not their faults. Crossing the Threshold: Pudge reaches the point of no return quite literally after meeting the Colonel. As his roommate, it would be difficult to not be friends with him and be involved in his social demographic. Our hero embarks on a quest with his newly made friends: the Colonel, Alaska, Takumi and Lara. The group smokes, drinks and plans acts of revenge they label as pranks, this being an enormous change for Pudge coming out of his boring everyday life back in Florida. This experience allows him to come out of his shell and become a more expressive person. These shenanigans begin though, the night on the swing beside the Culver Creek Lake, where Pudge smokes his first cigarette. Alaska, whose name translates to “that which the sea breaks against”, takes the blame for her mother’s death, even if she had no control and had no idea what was happening because she was too young. I believe that the author give Alaska her name because she is the one who must take the responsibility for her gravest mistakes, the waves crash on her. She is described an impulsive, green-eyed, beautiful, young woman who does what she wants, when she wants. Alaska is also a feminist and highly interested in literature, mostly consisting of poetry. Her favourite quote comes from Simon Bolivar’s suspected last words: “How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!” The reason she likes this quote and why she smokes so fast is “Y’all smoke to enjoy it. I smoke to die.” (Green 44), thus implying that she does, in fact feel so much guilt, she considers death a viable option. Underneath an outgoing personality, she remains very torn up about her mother’s death, blaming herself. Tests & Trials: There is a point in the novel where Alaska says “Suffering is universal. It’s the one thing…all [worry] about.” (Green 82) Truthfully, all people do care about what will happen, whether or not they believe in a higher power or are seemingly carefree. Experiencing doubt and thinking of the future is common, this quote therefore reading as an aphorism. I believe this is one of Alaska’s ways of calling out for help. She could really be saying that everyone struggles, but most importantly, herself. It is later deduced that it is impossible to know if her death was accidental or on purpose because no one saw the signs of suicide because they were not looking for them until after the fact. Much like Mrs. Bertha Flowers in the story by the same name, Dr. Hyde who teaches World Religion at Culver Creek operates as a mentor to young, impressionable pupils, specifically Pudge. Mrs. Flowers shows Marguerite lessons of respect, understanding and self-encouragement, as does Dr. Hyde along with religion. Another similarity the two characters share is that they are both older and proper, therefore perceived as wiser to their students. “’’I am going to take this bucket of water and pour it on the flames of hell, and then I am going to use this torch to burn down the gates of paradise so that people will not love God for want of heaven or fear of hell, but because He is God’’ A woman so strong she burns heaven and drenches hell. Alaska would have liked this Rabe’a woman.” (Green 174) This excerpt shows two things: the impact that the Rabe’a woman’s story shows as Pudge discusses it with his friends, seeing the true force in believing in a higher power. Also, it demonstrates the fact that Pudge immediately thinks of Alaska, even when she has not been brought up, highlighting his fascination with her even when she is gone. Pudge says about the Rabe’a woman that he also believes people should not believe in God for the fear of going to hell or the promise of going to heaven, but because he is a powerful and wonderful Being. This is similar to the way that Pudge looks for the good in Alaska. In the story The Notebook written by Nicholas Sparks, one of the main characters, Noah’s true love Allie develops Alzheimer’s. Noah continues to love her even when she can not remember him and reads her their love story each day, until she remembers him, or sometimes does not remember him. This story of undying love is somewhat what Pudge goes through with Alaska. Even though she is not reliable he accepts her despite her flaws, loving her unconditionally. When being related to the love story in The Hunger Games, Peeta’s love for Katniss, a girl that never notices him, is like that between Lara and Pudge. Peeta and Lara both support the people they love and almost never receive the gratitude they deserve as Katniss and Pudge are too busy seeking a different prime goal. BY: JOHN GREEN PRESENTATION BY: NATALIE CHUCK The night of Alaska’s death, Pudge says this about his actions, “We left. We did not say: Don’t drive. You’re drunk. We did not say: we aren’t letting you in that car when you are upset. We did not say: We insist on going with you. We did not say: This can wait until tomorrow. Anything–everything–can wait.” (Green 132) He emphasizes that the Colonel and himself did nothing to stop their friend from leaving and risking her life on the road. The statement shows the literary device of an apology. The author shows that two of the main characters regret not attempting to save their friend’s life when they had the chance. The situation begs the question of whether or not Alaska’s death was chance, decisive or an act of fate. Coincidentally, there was a police car in the middle of the highway, which is what resulted in Alaska’s fatal crash. There was no way however, that the young woman could have known that this opportunity would present itself. Contradicting this statement, maybe she saw the opportunity and took it. Alaska skipping the labyrinth altogether as an after effect of her death could show that she did commit suicide, everything building up until it was too much. She also says things earlier in the novel such as “I may die young,” (Green 52) this shows that she may have been planning a suicide all along. Someone who believes in fate or a higher power could also argue that Alaska’s death was simply just meant to happen. This storyline also reminded me gravely of the recent story involving a young suicide victim named Amanda Todd. Later, Alaska’s untimely death begins to be questioned by her friends, consisting of Pudge, the Colonel, Takumi and Lara. They begin to search for answers about exactly what happened the night of the crash. Soon Pudge is the only one who feels guilt now, blaming himself. Alaska’s friends begin to discover exactly what things led up to her death, that she was indeed intoxicated and free of inhibitions. It turns out that she was also upset about forgetting the anniversary of her mother’s death, and was therefore extremely not in her right mind. After many months of research, the group of friends realizes that it is impossible to know if Alaska’s death was accidental or purposeful, having too many factors to include, such as her passive-aggressiveness, impulsiveness and anger at the world in general. Expressing his idea to investigate what happened that fateful night, The Colonel says the follow words, “…just stop worrying about your goddamned self for one minute an think of your dead friend.” (Green 161) Although this statement is gruff, it is the tough love that Pudge needed. It leads him to believe that maybe he did not know Alaska as well as he thought he did. Even with Alaska passed away, all he can think about is himself and her empty promises to him, what her final words were. He continues to fantasize about having a relationship with her, even when she lives only as a ghost. Pudge’s selfishness leads to the question: Is Miles looking for answers about the death of his friend or the loss of what he himself could have had with her? One must consider all the time and thought spent on Alaska; her personality, her physical looks, her actions. A reader can be led to believe that Pudge is only thinking of himself. Chasing after a girl for so long and finally getting what he’d hoped for, her wanting him back, it is understandable that he would be torn up for egotistic reasons. However other readers may interpret these parsimonious thoughts as a shield to soften the blow of Alaska’s death, the loss of the one he loves being too much to handle. Like Alaska’s true cause of death, the answer to this question may never be known. Return Home: After realization that they will never know what really happened to their friend, the gang decides to pull one last prank, something even Alaska would be proud of. Taking a plan for a prank Alaska had made before she died, they complete it to commemorate her. The plan is composed of taking over Speaker Day, a day off from school to listen to inspirational or interesting people talk about their lives. Normally, this day is fairly boring but Alaska’s plan involves hiring a disguised male stripper as the junior class’ talker to spice things up. In the end, the disposition goes off without a hitch and no one gets into trouble, as even the Eagle, the school’s headmaster, misses Alaska’s presence. Following the prank, the Colonel and Pudge decide they will drive through the spot on Highway I-65 that Alaska died. Passing the place allows them to see almost precisely what she saw and also opens their eyes to what exactly could have happened that night, even though they will never ever know for sure. “It always shocked me when I realized that I wasn’t the only person in the world who thought and felt such strange and awful things.” (Green 213) Pudge says this about the Colonel’s and his own ability to feel the purity in Alaska being dead. It is interesting to see that people who were so close to her, beginning to see the possibility of living a happy life without her physical presence. After crossing the spot where Alaska died, Pudge thinks to himself “This would not be a bad way to go…Straight and fast.” (Green 213) This is an example of situational irony or allegory as it can mean both a direct and quick way to solve her problems, and also as a prime opportunity for her to die. I myself have many people around me who have had to deal with the difficult subjects of suicide and unexpected passing of friends or family, like in the case of Alaska’s mother. It is astonishing how popular these topics of demise have become in recent years, many people unashamed to talk about it while others shy away from the question. There are many reasons why death occurs, of course: suicide, murder, natural causes. Still, it is hard to believe the fact that someone you care about can be here and breathing one moment and gone forever the next. In my opinion, I do not look down on individuals who choose to take their own lives. Others often say that is it is not a valid way to die. However, I believe that if you are truly so unhappy with your life that you do not want to live it anymore, that it is your decision, after all, it is your life. It is understandable that someone who has strong feelings for the deceased would feel lost, as Pudge did in the novel. Nonetheless, why would one not tell that person how they felt before they took their own life? No matter what the true cause of Alaska’s death was, it is troublesome that in society people have the right to free speech, but do not use it to their advantage. Amongst the many profound messages in this novel, I chose that of “Some things must come to an end for new things to begin”. Miles set out on a journey to find his Great Perhaps, looking for anything that could happen to show him the meaning of his life. He endures unpredictable friends, new experiences and even the lingering possibility of true love. By the end of his journey, Pudge realizes through Alaska’s untimely death, that nothing lasts forever. As the book’s finale, he writes an essay for his religion class that was assigned with the criteria to answer the question “How will you–you personally–ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering?” (Green 215) Alaska dying was an example of something coming together and then falling apart slowly. After her mother’s death, blaming herself, she commenced to come apart. The night she died, Pudge believed that their relationship was coming together, just to fall apart with her death, yet another empty promise from the one girl he pinned for. “That which came together will fall apart imperceptible slowly, and I will forget, but she will forgive my forgetting, just as I forgiver her for forgetting me…We need never been hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken. We think that we are invincible because we are. We cannot be born, and we cannot die. Like all energy, we can only change shapes and sizes and manifestations.” (Green 219-220) Taken from Pudge’s essay, this statement shows clearly his newly acquired belief that we never truly die, that both good and bad elements come together to create something and then fall apart to create something else. It shows as well the guilt Pudge has felt for four months being released as he knows he will be forgiven of his mistakes. The hero also acknowledges that soon Alaska’s physical beauty will deteriorate and all she will be is the mark she left on the people she met. A popular indie folk song “Skinny Love” sung by Bon Iver is a great one which strongly identifies with the Universal truth in this novel. It speaks of loving someone one is inclined and encouraged to love, but is not truly attracted to with heavy affectionate feelings. The line in the song which says “Staring at the sink of blood and crashed veneer” speaks of the mess, falling apart, that comes from fighting for something that is a useless cause. One could relate this to after Alaska’s mother’s death, she is staring at her sink full of mistakes, trying to fix what she has done but is unable to do so. When the chorus of the song is played “And I told you to be patient/and I told you to be fine/and I told you to be balanced/and I told you to be kind”, it implies trying to order the one you “love” around. In reality, there would be no need to change who they are or how they act if it was indeed true love. This is how Alaska feels about Pudge; even if she finds him appealing, he is not enough for her to leave her boyfriend who she supposedly loves. Finally, the last stanza of lyrics which states “Who will love you/who will fight/who will fall far behind” truly demonstrates the feelings Pudge experiences after Alaska’s death. Even with other friends around him, he feels alone and as if no one cares for him. Most of all, he feels used, as getting together with Alaska meant everything to him, and apparently, nothing to her. The main connection to the song is Pudge letting Alaska’s loss go, letting her fall apart, a reflection of the faults in their relationship, both intimate and amicable. Showing the fact that their relationship came together to become a friendship, finally became a little more than that, then faded nothing. Conclusion: This novel opened my eyes to the fact that you should not live your life trying to please other people. In the end, the only person you should have to impress is yourself. Others will fall apart and come back together, impact you and change you. But it is up to you to know what you want and express your own opinions in life. “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. – Dr. Suess
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