Study Guide

Looking for Alaska Setting

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Culver Creek Boarding School

Everything important in Looking for Alaska takes place on campus at the Culver Creek boarding school in Alabama. What? No way, you say—Alaska died off campus, Thanksgiving was off campus, Miles began his story off campus in Florida, and he and the Colonel finally put Alaska's death behind them on the highway off campus.

This is all true, and there's a reason that these things happen off campus.

But if you really look at the eventsof the novel, the key ones all take place at the Creek or with people from the Creek. Miles doesn't really begin his Great Perhaps until he gets to campus and meets his roommate, the Colonel. And where does Miles meet Alaska? On campus… where they also spend Thanksgiving break together (though they do venture off campus to spend the actual holiday with the Colonel and his mom, the purpose of which is explained in more in the "Themes" section).

Miles makes friends for the first time on campus, he gets sexy with a girl for the first time on campus, he says I love you for the first time on campus… You get the idea. Even when Miles leaves campus to go to McDonald's or another place, the people he interacts with are all from the Creek.

We get the image of Culver Creek as this tidy, insulated place where Miles finds the possibility of his Great Perhaps. So when Alaska dies away from the Creek, the protected world that Miles has built for himself implodes. And when Alaska is gone, the Colonel has to leave campus to grieve, but Miles doesn't.

Even though several key events do occur away from Culver Creek, the majority of the transformative experiences that Miles has are right there on school grounds.

No Adults Allowed

This is sort of the version of Culver Creek that readers are privy to. Because the narrator is a junior on a boarding school campus, the setting is almost devoid of adult authority in a way that teenagers don't usually experience in traditional schools. Miles is on his own for studying, for meals, for getting up on time, for getting to class—it's a huge amount of freedom.

And the adults who are at the Creek fulfill fairly narrow roles that only broaden slightly as the story progresses. The Old Man is the theological mentor of Miles (in a fairly standoffish way). The Eagle is the token disciplinarian (for more on him, check out his Character analysis). And that's pretty much it. Teachers, except for the Old Man, are interchangeable.

Much more important are the spaces where adults don't go or rarely go, such as the dorms, the Smoking Hole, and the barn.

Living in the Dorms

The dorms at the Creek are places where adult and teenage worlds overlap, so the shenanigans that take place there need to remain under the radar. The Eagle may pop up at any moment, or parents may call on the pay phones at the end of the halls, and people can visit one another's rooms with relative impunity.

Much of Miles's and the Colonel's relationship develops in the dorms, over video games and snarking duels. Alaska, too, becomes integrated into Miles's dorm experience, though over Thanksgiving she introduces him to the secrets and mysteries dorm rooms have to offer.

"God, I could have ratted out anyone," Alaska said softly as she unearthed a forty-ounce bottle of Magnum malt liquor from Longwell Chase's closet. […]

Alaska found everyone's secrets so fast that I suspected she'd done this before. (49before.15-16)

Even though the dorms are socially hoppin', secrets can still exist within their walls.

The Smoking Hole and the Barn

For real mischief though, students travel even farther from the authoritarian buildings of the dorms to places like the Smoking Hole or the barn. (For more on the Smoking Hole, check out the "Symbols" section.)

The night of the great prank against the Weekday Warriors, the crew troops to the barn:

Our watches synchronized, our clothes black, our backpacks on, our breath visible in the cold, our minds filled with the minute details of the plan, our hearts racing, we walked out of the barn together once it was completely dark, around seven. The five of us walking confidently in a row, I'd never felt cooler. The Great Perhaps was upon us, and we were invincible. The plan may have had faults, but we did not. (3before.27)

Where the dorms still have a little of Orwell's Big Brother in them, the barn does not, and this total freedom gives the characters the space they need to share their deepest secrets, especially best day/worst day.

Leaving the Creek

While it's true that most events at the Creek take place on campus, at the end of the story Miles is meant to leave campus. The superficial reason is because the school year is over (duh), but there's a more symbolic reason too. So much took place at the Creek, and now Miles is leaving it in both a literal and a figurative way… though he plans to return to it next year. The Creek is part of who he is now, and we don't think he'd want it any other way.

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