“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.”
Here Pudge is defining the difference between Alaska and himself. Intense and unpredictable, Alaska is the hurricane to Pudge’s drizzle-like personality. In part, Pudge’s fascination with Alaska is that she is so different from him. In his eyes, her volatility takes him away from his ordinary life and brings him closer to the Great Perhaps. In many ways, Pudge’s fascination with Alaska is founded upon the idea that she is different and therefore better than him, but at the same time, his idolization of her prevents Pudge from seeing their similarities and truly enjoying the time his spends with Alaska.
“‘Jesus, I’m not going to be one of those people who sits around talking about what they’re gonna do. I’m just going to do it. Imagining the future is a kind of the nostalgia.’
‘Huh?’ I asked.
‘You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining the future that keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.’”
In his constant pursuit of the Great Perhaps, Pudge is unable to appreciate the present and realize that the Great Perhaps is actually all around him. The labyrinth is a pervasive theme in the novel and it represents something different for each character. Here, Alaska is showing Pudge that his own labyrinth – the thing that is holding him back – is his inability to engage with the present. At this point in the novel, Pudge is friends with Alaska but he does not follow her advice. Only after her death, when his future is not as bright, is Pudge forced to confront the present.
“‘Best day of my life hasn’t happened yet. But I know it. I see it everyday. The best day of my life is the day I buy my mom a huge fucking house.’”
Here, the Colonel describes the best day of his life as Pudge and their group friends share stories in the woods by the school. Despite his excellent education and friend group, the Colonel still feels the need to one-up the Weekday Warriors and their wealth. As one of the poorer students at Culver Creek, the Colonel constantly fights against the wealthier day students as a way to release his pent up anger and resentment. Although his actions are spiteful at times, this quote shows that the Colonel pulls pranks on the Weekday Warriors and excels at school for reasons beyond his own pride.
Furthermore, this quote exemplifies the exuberance of the Colonel and his focus on the future. While everyone else describes the best day of their lives as an event that has already occurred - that cannot be topped - the Colonel looks to the future and its endless possibilities.
“‘You’ve got a lifetime to mull over Buddhist understanding of interconnectedness.’ He spoke every sentence as if he’d written it down, memorized it, and was now reciting it. ‘But while you were looking out the window, you missed the chance to explore the equally interesting Buddhist belief in being present for every facet of your daily life. Be present in this class. And then, when it’s over, be present out there.’”
Dr. Hyde hits the nail on the head here when admonishing Pudge for not paying attention in class. His words extend beyond the classroom and resonate with Pudge because he would rather exist in a perfect, made-up world than his own reality. Although Dr. Hyde warns him early on in the story, Pudge does not follow his teacher’s advice until Alaska is gone. It is ironic that Pudge’s notes the rehearsed sound of Dr. Hyde’s speech as the teacher is lecturing on living in the moment while sounding as if he had planned for this moment.
“We met and I held him, my hands balled into tight fists around his shoulders, and he wrapped his shorts arms around me and squeezed tight, so that I felt the heaves of his chest as we realized over and over again that we were still alive. I realized it in waves and we held on to each other crying and I thought, God we must look so lame, but it doesn’t matter when you have now realized, all the time later, that you are still alive.”
While visiting the site of Alaska’s car crash, Pudge and the Colonel are overcome by their emotions and comfort each other. At the moment that he realizes that Alaska is truly gone, Pudge also understands that he and the Colonel are still there, still alive, and that nothing else matters. Pudge’s relationship with Alaska was important to him and her death initially felt like the death of his new life at Culver Creek but in this moment at that crash site, Pudge is able to see beyond Alaska and focus on the present.
“‘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.’”
For their last assignment, Dr. Hyde asks the class to write an essay on their personal causes for hope. Here, the Colonel asserts his own agency over the direction of his life. While Pudge allows for things to happen to him, the Colonel decides that he is in control of his life. Here, the Colonel is a foil to both Pudge's inaction and Alaska's apparent actions to avoid the future.
“But ultimately I do not believe that she was only matter. The rest of her must be recycled too…There is a part of her greater than the sum of her knowable parts. And that part has to go somewhere, because it cannot be destroyed.”
As he reflects upon Alaska’s death, Pudge comes to terms with two important things about their relationship. First, he did not know everything about Alaska and that is okay. Second, Alaska may be gone physically but she will continue to influence Pudge. One of Pudge’s concerns following Alaska’s death was that he would lose a part of himself with her, but here he understands that the things he learned from Alaska will be with him forever. She is more than the person that he knew, and she will continue in others.
“‘Y’all smoke to enjoy it. I smoke to die.’”
Foreshadowing her untimely death, Alaska’s statement sets her apart from the rest of the friend group. Alaska’s declaration underscores her fascination with death; while everyone else is trying to figure out how to live, Alaska is figuring out how to escape from life. This is one of numerous examples in which Alaska’s interpretation of a situation complicates the way in which Pudge acts. Initially Pudge uses smoking as an excuse to make friends, but as the book progresses smoking becomes an escape for him as well.
“The Colonel ran ahead of me, gleeful at his ejection, and I jogged after him, trailing in his wake. I wanted to be one of those people who have streaks to maintain, who scorh the ground with their intensity. But for now, at lease I knew such people, and they needed me, just like comets need tails.”
Following the Colonel’s ejection from the basketball game, Pudge reflects on his status in the school and as a friend. Pudge thinks of himself as a secondary figure in his own friendship with the Colonel. In his quest to be better and find the Great Perhaps in the future, he is unable to see that he is just as important to the Colonel as the Colonel is to him. Rather than a secondary figure, Pudge acts to balance out the Colonel and they support each other in all things, from pranks to mourning Alaska.
“Thomas Edison’s last words were, ‘It’s very beautiful over there.’ I don’t know where there is, but I know it’s somewhere, and I hope it’s beautiful.”
At the end of the novel, Pudge comes full circle in respect to his expectations. When Pudge first arrives at Culver Creek, he is caught up with imagining a future full of good friends and Alaska. He does not take the time to appreciate that he has all of those things in the present. This quote illustrates Pudge’s recognition of the present: he is willing to enjoy it as it happens because the future will be bright, regardless of how much he plans for it.
Looking for Alaska Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Looking for Alaska is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.