Coming of age stories are often steeped in fiction, outweighing the significance of the subject material or the targeted audience. However, John Green successfully presents themes of grief and death in his novel, Looking for Alaska, using adult youth characters. The story follows Miles Halter, Chip Martin, and Takumi Hikohito as they unravel the mystery surrounding the death of Alaska, the final member of their group. Famous last words uttered by personas such as Francois Rabelais and Simon Bolivar inspire people to act, provide them with a context to their lives, and enable them to find hope as they contend with their labyrinths of pain and grief.
John Green’s Looking for Alaska
John Green’s work is persuasive because he uses inspirational famous last words and inquisitive young characters entering adulthood as his primary audience. Chip Martin, nicknamed Pudge, is a relatable and grounded persona, as evidenced by his questioning nature. The author writes. “…and I was left to ask, Did I help you toward a fate you didn’t want, Alaska, or did I just assist in your willful self-destruction” (Green 190)? His inquisitive character confirms he doesn’t know all the answers and reels in the reader in his attempt to find answers.
The book’s genre is also primarily dedicated to adolescent readers between 12 and 18. This audience should be inspired by famous last words uttered by people such as Francois, thus giving their lives a biographical context. The actions of Pudge and Chip Martin in distracting Mr. Starnes, the dean, whereas inspired, eventually led to the death of their friend. Indeed, the author chooses an unformed audience and utilizes young characters who are in search of purpose, further showing how their actions can have a resultant impact on life.
Rhetorically, the author utilizes white flowers and explains their importance in Alaska. The flowers are significant to her and emotionally connect her to her parents. “She put it behind her ear,” Green writes, “and when I asked her about it, she told me her parents always put white flowers in her hair when she was little” (146). The flowers symbolize purity and life, attributes that she still associates with her parents despite their death. Additionally, Alaska is impartial to Simon Bolivar’s perceptions of life’s labyrinth and the pain based on his last words, ‘How will I ever get out of this Labyrinth?’ and the suffering associated with it (Green 22). However, there is a circuitous exchange of grief and pain since Alaska’s pain for not calling 911 when her parents died is transferred to Miles Halter and her friends. The author defines the cyclic nature of negative emotions if not aptly resolved.
One of the book’s benefits is introducing a young audience to exciting personalities such as Simon Bolivar. John Green links the work of Gabriel Garcia in The General in His Labyrinth to provide biographical context to Simon’s life, lending perspective on the issues young adults will contend with later. Furthermore, Green’s work tackles death and the various ways it manifests, in Alaska’s case with a motor accident and a brain aneurysm affecting her mother. An aneurysm occurs when blood vessels in the brain balloon or successively rupture, causing massive internal hemorrhaging (see Figure 1 above). Aneurysms are life-threatening as they manifest between the brain and the thin tissues surrounding it, necessitating immediate action. The author informs his audience of a new medical condition and interweaves the requisite steps to prevent loss of life.
The thesis regarding famous last words is interesting due to its lasting impact on the book’s characters regarding how they perceive life. Alaska and Pudge set in motion a series of events that births death and suffering. However, using the inspiration from famous last words, Miles positively deals with her loss and actively investigates her motives to better understand Alaska. Moreover, the thesis is focused on death and loss, an angle the author does not abandon but consistently deals with in a mature and dedicated manner. Eventually, the characters emanate with a form of closure and even celebrate her life by pulling her intended prank using a male stripper in the school. The prank symbolizes the growth of Green’s characters and identifies an emotional method to deal with loss through hope and positivity. However, the integration of smoking and its devastating vices makes the thesis debatable since it primarily leads people to death. Therefore, despite showing his audience how to deal with loss, Green cultivates a similar setting by actively poisoning his young adult characters.
In conclusion, Looking for Alaska is a young adult novel whose story deals with loss and grief. Miles and his friends investigate Alaska’s death and, in the process, find out the truths about her parents’ death. The book uses rhetorical devices such as the labyrinth, which Miles and his friends believe symbolizes life’s suffering, and white flowers to belay Alaska’s innocence. These literary elements tie into a powerful coming-of-age book that deals with adult issues coherently and condenses them for a youthful audience.
Green, John. Looking for Alaska. Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2005.
Mayo Clinic. “Brain Aneurysm.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2022.