The novel opens with Miles’s going away party, which only two acquaintances of Miles attend. With no true friends from his old school, Miles moves to Culver Creek. At first Miles is hesitant with his friendships - awkwardly unable to engage and unsure of whom to follow – but he slowly learns to be himself around his new friends. We learn that Miles values his new friendships by the way that he strictly adheres to the Colonel’s “no ratting” policy and shares both his time and money in order to smoke and drink alcohol, activities in which he had not previously engaged. As the novel progresses, Miles transforms from a loner to a typical teenager trying to understand the intricacies of complicated friendships, particularly his friendship with Alaska.
Pursuit of the Great Perhaps
As he transitions from his old school to his new life at Culver Creek, Pudge goes in search of the Great Perhaps. Constantly unsatisfied with his current state, the pursuit of the Great Perhaps gives Pudge hope for a better, more exciting life. However, the Great Perhaps is not a singular moment, but rather the act of appreciating the moments that you have. It becomes increasingly clear that the Great Perhaps is all around Pudge, but he is only able to see that when he lives in the moment as he does during the notorious fireworks prank on the Eagle. The pursuit of the Great Perhaps prevents Pudge from experiencing the Great Perhaps as it happens. Only after Alaska’s death does Pudge realize that the Great Perhaps has always been there and will continue to be there because he is alive.
Though none of the characters are described as religious, Pudge is enrolled in Dr. Hyde’s world religion class. Dr. Hyde poses numerous questions about life, death, and the idea of being present in the moment through the lens of religious beliefs. As Pudge engages with questions from class, they reverberate in his pursuit of the Great Perhaps and become especially salient in the wake of Alaska’s death as Pudge works through his emotions. Before becoming an author, John Green wanted to be a priest, and Green’s priesthood training influenced many of the religious tones in the novel.
The swan lives on the Culver Creek grounds and brings fear to any student that should happen upon it. Swans are creatures that are often romanticized for their beautiful features, but the Culver Creek swan is anything but a docile, beautiful creature. The swan shares many similarities with Alaska. In Pudge’s eyes Alaska is a mysterious and alluring individual that he idolizes until he is forced to face the reality of their relationship after the car accident. The swan, though a known menace, is a relatively benign character until the bird violently bites Pudge during one of their pranks and the swan’s true nature is revealed.
Expectations vs. Reality
As a new student at Culver Creek, Pudge has many expectations about how his new life at the school will be and how different it will be from the life he had at his old school. He conjures up scenarios in which he makes numerous friends, but his expectations are shattered when the Colonel announces himself to be unpopular and unwilling to help Pudge make friends. One of the most important set of expectations that Pudge has is his relationship with Alaska. After her death he struggles to understand her actions and to redefine his relationship with her. He idolizes her when she is alive but only comes to understand her complexity after she is gone.
When Alaska quotes Simón Bolívar’s last words as ‘Damn it. How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?’ Pudge becomes entranced with the famous leader’s last words. Over the course of his year at Culver Creek, Pudge comes to realize that not everyone is in the same labyrinth; for some, the labyrinth represents the suffering of life, and for others, it symbolizes an escape from death. Each character has many ‘labyrinths’ in which they find themselves – Pudge struggles with making friends and figuring out Alaska while Alaska copes with her mother’s death and romantic tangles. The labyrinth does not have a singular meaning – rather, it represents personal struggle.
Pudge obsessively memorizes the last words of famous individuals, without even learning about their lives. He implicitly values the moment of death rather than the life of the individual in the same way that Alaska ‘smokes to die’ rather than enjoying the time she spends smoking with her friends. Death is one of the most prevalent themes throughout the novel and it presents itself in many forms: from Alaska’s apparent death to Pudge and his friends smoking cigarettes in the woods.
In his short time at Culver Creek, Pudge is able to observe many different facets of romance. He sees the Colonel’s tumultuous relationship with on-again off-again Weekday Warrior girlfriend, his own awkward encounters with Lara Buterskaya, and his growing relationship with Alaska. In the novel, romance is presented as a further exploration of the complexities of human relationships rather than "love." No one is in love, although Pudge believes himself to be; rather, the novel describes a group of teenagers attempting to figure out themselves and each other. When Alaska and Pudge kiss, their relationship becomes more complicated. Following Alaska’s death, Pudge comes to terms that he loves Alaska for everything that she brought into his life, however complicated; yet he is not in love with her.
At the expensive private school, there is an undercurrent of strife between the Weekday Warriors with their expensive cars and clothes on one hand, and the boarding students on the other. The disdain between the two groups of students manifests as a yearlong prank war. One particularly poignant revelation of the differences in economic status is made clear when Pudge and Alaska go home with the Colonel for Thanksgiving. The Colonel does not come from a wealthy family, but he is proud nonetheless/ During this time, Pudge begins to understand why the Colonel despises the Weekday Warriors.
As a new student, Pudge’s formative interactions with his friends are built upon trust. When executing pranks on the Weekday Warriors, the Colonel impresses upon Pudge the importance of not ratting each other out to the administration. Pudge comes to fully trust the Colonel, but he remains unsure of Alaska despite his infatuation with her. When it comes to light that Alaska is the student who ratted out her roommate the year before Pudge arrived, the Colonel is deeply hurt and confused. Because Pudge trusts the Colonel he is able to form a real friendship with him, but his reluctance to trust Alaska compels Pudge to create an imagined, better version of his relationship with her.
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.