Study Guide

Looking for Alaska Genre

By John Green

Genre

Young Adult Literature; Coming-of-Age; Philosophical Literature

Young Adult Literature

John Green wrote Looking for Alaska for young adults. The characters are teenagers, the setting is a boarding school, there is explicit language and tomfoolery and pretty realistic conversations between characters. They deal with teenager stuff, like what am I supposed to do about my classes, or oh no I threw up on my date's shoes, or I like this one girl but also this other girl so eek. Sure there's a lot of other serious stuff that pops up, but there's plenty of traits of young adult lit to classify it as such.

Coming-of-Age

Miles knows that he hasn't experienced much in life—he's had no Great Perhaps, and that's what he seeks at Culver Creek. And if he doesn't find his Great Perhaps, he at least finds a part of himself. Miles hits some pretty important milestones in his short time at the Creek, milestones that usually indicate a transition from childhood to adulthood (or at least adolescence). He falls in love, he makes his first friends and copes with the complications of friendship, and he experiments sexually.

And then there's the whole muddiness of grief and guilt at Alaska's death. Miles enters his labyrinth of suffering and is only able to leave after moving towards the rather adult concept of forgiveness.

So while Miles definitely retains some of his childish ways—such as the Alaska Young Memorial Prank—we think he's moved beyond plenty of them to land in a more sophisticated world.

Philosophical Literature

We could argue that Looking for Alaska is only young adult lit, but careful readers will figure out that the novel is really philosophical literature, literature that uses a story to explore a philosophical point of view, masquerading as young adult literature.

There are a lot of words devoted to major philosophical questions, particularly when Dr. Hyde/the Old Man is in the scene:

"The most important pursuit in history: the search for meaning. What is the nature of being a person? What is the best way to go about being a person? How did we come to be, and what will become of us when we are no longer? In short: What are the rules of this game, and how might we best play it?" (126before.17)

Even though Miles doesn't think about these words explicitly, that is the nature of what he is trying to do. He's trying to figure out who he is as a person, and especially what happens to us when we are gone, which he makes clear in his first semester final essay for the Old Man.

The philosophical and theological weight of the novel become heavier after Alaska dies, and Miles, the Colonel (and off screen, Takumi, Lara, and the adults at the school) struggle to make sense of her death and their grief and personal responsibility. So let's look at the ways each major character might go about making meaning out of death.

Alaska's world view is pretty confusing. Sometimes she thinks that she has control over her life (100before.11), but then she also is fatalistic in her belief that she will die young. Clearly she hasn't forgiven herself for her role in the death of her mother, and forgiveness is a rather theistic.

The Colonel has a bit clearer world philosophy: he is a great believer in free will (his entire goal is to escape his rotten lot in life), and he actively pursues his dreams. One key to his philosophy rests in his statement, "I choose the labyrinth. The labyrinth blows, but I choose it." (122after.12). Suffering, for the Colonel, is inevitable but worth it. Do you think Alaska would agree?

Finally, Miles (after a lot of soul-searching) comes to terms with his own view of the world, and it is probably closest of all the characters's views to the Old Man's description of "radical hope" (122after.3-4). For Miles, the way out of the labyrinth of suffering is forgiveness, both of oneself and of others.

Green builds the complexity of each viewpoint throughout the novel, and because there's no right answer, because we're asked as readers to consider each viewpoint and think of our own way of making meaning, we think the novel is pretty philosophical.

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