Type: Definition Essays
Sample donated: Merle Warner
Last updated: April 12, 2019
Life is a journey, a composition of memories filled with happiness and pain. The beauty of this journey lies in the characters it introduces. Those met along the way, the people who help mold and shape your character, providing new colors to a once empty canvas. John Green’s exquisite novel, Looking for Alaska, emphasizes the preceded point. Through his creations of character, use of foreshadowing, and narration, he is able to tell a story of coming of age that resonates with those growing up in today’s society. In the novel Looking for Alaska by John Green, the novel provides the reader with the quiet reminder that it is the pursuit of finding meaning to life that prevents one from truly living, and only by relishing the present can one justly say they have experienced life.
The main character within the novel is on the search of a “great perhaps”, he looks for meaning in a self-defined meaningless existence. It is this very search that stops him from realizing that he has already found what he is looking for, he only need open his eyes and see it standing before him. John Green’s powerful and lifelike characters are evidence for the preceded thesis, showing how impactful those around you are to your existence. Furthermore, it is the foreshadowing in the novel that helps indicate to the reader what it is the main character is often missing. To know the pain forthcoming had he only stopped searching for a moment and began cherishing what he had already found. Furthermore, it is the author’s use of allusion that reinstates the ultimate point of the novel within the reader’s mind, that the meaning of life is not a statement or ideal, but rather the very state of living. Miles Halter, the protagonist within Green’s work suffers from loneliness.
He is surrounded by people, yet to busy searching for a meaning to life, he has no real bonds with those around him. Only when entering the boarding school, and meeting the beautiful Alaska and a gang of relative misfits is he able to stop for a moment and realize that his journey for the “great perhaps” has already begun. It is Greens characters that help reinforce this point. Namely, Alaska Young and Chip Martin. These two become staples within Halter’s journey and are constant reminders to live in the moment. Chip Martin, is a muscular young man, confident and outspoken he is Miles first true friend. Upon Miles first meeting with Chip Martin, a strange happening occurs.
Here, John Green narrates, “The Colonel gave an obligatory laugh then asked, want a smoke? I have never smoked a cigarette but when in Rome…” (John Green 16) Miles then acts negatively towards the cigarette, coughing and gasping for breath, his mind speaks “I was convinced my Great Perhaps did not involve cigarettes” (16). Within moments from the introduction of the character Chip Martin, Miles does something he has never done before. He takes a chance, smokes a cigarette, he lives a little.
It is Chips comforting character that gives Miles the ability to take that crucial first step. Pushing him to act in a way he has not in the past. The obligatory laugh mentioned by John Green serves a great purpose in defining Chips character. It shows that he has a kind nature, despite his confidence and clear jock type appearance. This is the beginning of Miles revelation that he is indeed living through the Great Perhaps he searches so desperately for and rather it his search of a deeper meaning of this that is blinding him from this very fact. Looking for Alaska also introduces Alaska Young, a character that thrusts Miles into a new realm of existence. Miles goes from his boring, simple ordinary life where he fills his void by searching for a greater meaning to life, and engrosses him in a world of desire, dreams and simply put, a living in the moment type mentality.
Alaska Young is beautiful and funny, although quite screwed up as well. It is Greens creation of this character that truly resonates the ultimate thesis within the reader’s mind. Alaska is the physical embodiment of the word living in the moment. Her character lives and enjoys every second of life, focusing on the present rather than the past or future. These same ideas are, in a way, transferred to Miles and with this, his journey within the Great Perhaps continues.
One of the most important words from Alaska pertaining to the concept proposed within the thesis is written as follows. Alaska Young speaks to Miles regarding her future aspirations, she states,”You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining the future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present” (54). Miles response to this is what truly guides the novel in a certain direction. He seems to agree with this, the concept that if you’re to busy looking towards the future you forget to live in the present. Miles starts to come to the realization that only by living in the moment can he realize this “great perhaps” he so desperately longs for is happening at the very moment before him. Foreshadowing is a tool used so perfectly within Looking for Alaska. In this novel, the characters are always referring to the labyrinth, a figurative location of which they need to escape.
The labyrinth to them is perhaps the now, the past or whatever else lies in between. Regardless of its true definition, it is the blockage which stops the characters, namely Miles, from experiencing the now and living in the moment. Alaska Young is a character whose quotes foreshadow the very imperative damage this type of mentality can have. Here she states to Miles “Y’all smoke to enjoy it, I smoke to die” (.44). This quote foreshadows her death very early on in the novel. It draws a comparison between living in the moment and relishing the present versus looking towards the future in search of greater meaning.
Alaska, a woman who so commonly encourages grave acts of mischief and passion is desperately looking towards the future to help her escape from the now and by doing so is missing the fact that the only meaning of life is to live. Miles begins to come towards this same conclusion towards the middle of the story. Here, upon seeing Chips truest form of charisma in action, he thinks to himself “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 scorch the ground with their intensity. But for now, at least I knew such people, and they needed me, just like comets need tails” (44).
Miles for the first time has truly relished the present. Stating, that he is comfortable for now, knowing that at least his friend needs him indicates his growth within the story. The fact that he is slowly, but surely, coming to the conclusion that it is indeed the now and living in the moment that identifies itself as the ultimate meaning of life. Furthermore, it is the author’s powerful use of allusion through the novel, in the form of the term “the great perhaps” that serves as a reminder of the major theme of the novel. The great perhaps acts as an ideology to be pursued and is the ultimate quest of the protagonist within the novel.
There are two instances in the novel that most pertains to this idea of the great perhaps, and the fundamental flaws the comes with Miles pursuit of it. Within the novel Miles teacher speaks to him, he states, “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” (50). His word reconfirms the idea behind the thesis within this essay. His comparison to the Buddhist religion indicates that Miles is only looking at a small portion of the picture. He is so consumed by this idea of a great truth that he forgets to look at all the facts and equally important lies along the way. Desperately searching for a strand of ultimate beauty in existence he forgets to look at the picture in its entirety. Like judging a picture by its fragments is foolish he judges life the same way.
Failing to realize that a picture only becomes a masterpiece when judged by its whole self. Truly, it shows how imperative it is to enjoy the present. For, only by doing so can one justifiably say they have experienced life. Looking for Alaska is an incredible novel. One that speaks to the youth, serving as a gentle reminder to never forget to live in the moment. In a world where students are forced to always look towards their future, it is very easy to miss the beauty that surrounds. Looking for Alaska confronts that problem head-on, giving the readers an ultimate story that shows the importance of relishing the now. With John Green’s use of characters, foreshadowing, and allusion he is able to create a tale that speaks wonders.
With it, the reader is left wondering what truly matters in this life. Whether it is the constant pursuit of something greater or the appreciation of what can be relished now that justifies a life well lived. It differs from person to person, leaving no one the same as the other, or rather it may be an ultimate idea that all of mankind should work towards together. Regardless of one’s opinions, both sides serve a purpose, for only by appreciating the sum of all parts of life can the masterpiece that is existence truly be noted.