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The Colonel is aptly named: although he's short and stocky, he's got a gift for leading others and a charisma that brings the entire social network at the Creek together at the end of the book.
Even though the Colonel exudes supreme confidence (a confidence that end up rubbing off the slightest amount on Miles), he still has a rocky past—his dad left him and his mom, and now they live in a trailer park. But though they're pretty poor in money, they're rich in love and appreciation for one another:
He wasn't embarrassed of his mom at all. He was just scared that we would act like condescending boarding-school snobs. (47before.33)
So because the Colonel grew up with nothing, he resents the wealth that others (namely the Weekday Warriors) have. Totes understandable.
His dad sounds like a piece of work—abusive and controlling, though the Colonel tries to make a joke of it at the beginning of the novel. (This is kind of how the Colonel copes with difficulty things in general—sex, death, breakups… if it's hard, he's ready to turn it into a joke). So when his mom kicked his dad out for good, well, that's a pretty formative time for the Colonel, even though it only happened during his sophomore year of high school.
Note the difference in age in the Colonel's loss of a father and Alaska's loss of her mother. Good… now compare how the two characters each dealt with those losses. Instead of retreating into himself, the Colonel becomes even more determined to get into a good college and make tons of money—in fact, his dream is to be able to buy his mom a house where all the Weekday Warriors live and announce that he's "arrived" (2before.51).
Age aside, there's another key difference between the losses that the Colonel and Alaska experience. Both the Colonel and his mom weren't particularly happy with his father's involvement in their lives, so it wasn't too difficult to adjust to his absence; whereas for Alaska, her mom was everything to her.
The Colonel's sort of like Miles in his optimism about human nature: "Everybody's got a talent. I can memorize things" (128before.51). And he does: countries, capitols, you name it.
The Colonel is also the one in the group of friends to pop in with a couple witty rejoinders. He's pretty quick with the vocabulary, and he's the go-to heckler for the basketball team:
We were down 56-13. The Colonel stood up. "What?! You have a problem with me!?"
The coach screamed, "You're bothering my players!"
"THAT'S THE POINT, SHERLOCK!" the Colonel screamed back. The ref came over and kicked him out of the gym. I followed him. (109before.45-47)
All this reveals a pretty remarkable mental acuity about the Colonel. There's a reason he's the leader and Miles the follower—the Colonel's just a better planner and executer. We see this in his planning for the Barn Night prank and the Alaska Young Memorial Prank. More than having mad planning skills though, the Colonel has the charisma to pull off his audacious escapades.
In contrast to Miles, the Colonel sees life in absolutes. Just consider his take on the Weekend Warriors. They're pretty much his sworn enemies, right? No ifs, ands, or buts about it.
Despite, or maybe because of, the absolute way he views the world, the Colonel has a pretty staunch moral compass. He abides by the mantra "Never rat"—and he doesn't, even when the Eagle asks him about the fireworks the night of Alaska's death. Also, it's a point of pride that the Colonel's gotten kicked out of thirty-seven straight basketball games—as he says, "I have a streak to maintain" (109before.50) His loyalty to his friends is uncontestable, even when Miles isn't really a friend yet, just an unknown roommate:
"But we will deal with those bastards, Pudge. I promise you. They will regret messing with one of my friends."
And if the Colonel thought that calling me his friend would make me stand by him, well, he was right. (127before.44-45)
Pardon his language, but the Colonel communicates with brash words and brash actions.
His belief in absolutes extends to his grades too, and nothing but the best will suffice for the Colonel. Even after he and Miles have to catch up in their studies after their failed attempt to solve the mystery of Alaska's death, he won't settle for less than perfect marks (119after.1).
If the Colonel is a man of absolutes, it makes a lot of sense that his beliefs affect how he copes with Alaska's death. Even though we only get his thoughts from Miles's perspective and conversations he has with others, we can glean enough to put together a picture of his grief.
The Colonel, we already know, is not a passive character. Instead of retreating into himself, he decides that the best way for him to deal with the death of a friend is to uncover why she died:
"I want to know. Because if she knew what she was doing, Pudge, she made us accomplices. And I hate her for that. I mean, God, look at us. We can't even talk to anyone anymore. So listen, I wrote out a game plan: One…" (9after.9)
His actions totally align with his character traits: he wants to know what happened to her, he speaks in absolutes (about hating Alaska), and he comes up with a plan.
Keep in mind though, that before this happened, the Colonel pulled a Miles and did retreat into his own thoughts. Remember—he walks eighty-four miles in forty-five hours (4after.11) because the dreams he has about Alaska are so terrible. We never know what he thought during this time, but we get the sense that he sallies forth to avoid showing vulnerability that he's not really ready to let anyone but Miles glimpse.
Upon his return from his super long walk, the Colonel tells Miles that he memorized populations of countries, and we realize that his talent for memorization is as much a coping strategy as Miles's knowledge of last words is. And when the Colonel wakes up after his post-walk sleep, he's ready to be the Colonel again: decisive and staunch.
The Colonel expects the same decisiveness in other people, and that's one of the traits about Alaska that drove him absolutely nuts:
"I was so tired of her getting upset for no reason. The way she would get sulky and make references to the freaking oppressive weight of tragedy or whatever but then never said what was wrong […] And I just think you ought to have a reason. My girlfriend dumped me, so I'm sad. […] She never had a reason, Pudge." (4after.17)
This is the central trait for the Colonel—rational, logical action and reaction. Dude loves him some cause and effect, and when the world doesn't fit into his rational expectations or when things don't go according to plan, he gets really annoyed.
Which makes the Colonel's choice of the labyrinth of suffering all the more important as a character.
"After all this time, it still seems to me like straight and fast is the only way out—but I choose the labyrinth. The labyrinth blows, but I choose it." (122after.12)
His way of viewing the labyrinth is super different from how Miles sees it. Where Miles sees forgiveness as the key to exiting the labyrinth of suffering, the Colonel chooses to stay in the labyrinth, to continue to suffer, because he thinks there is something valuable in suffering. Alaska said that:
There's always suffering, Pudge… Suffering is universal. It's the one thing Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims are all worried about." (52before.9-13)
Even though he never heard this conversation, the Colonel takes these words to heart, and he picks the stance that suffering and pain means something more than what we might first think—there's a reason for it, and we know that the Colonel needs a reason for everything. Now if only he would tell us what that reason is…