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.
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