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"This isn't milk. It's five parts milk and one part vodka. I call it ambrosia. Drink of the gods. You can barely smell the vodka in the milk, so the Eagle can't catch me unless he actually takes a sip. The downside is that it tastes like sour milk and rubbing alcohol." (122before.25)
The Colonel's take on alcohol has to do with celebration and breaking the rules. He, like other students, seeks new ways to subvert the rules and order at the Creek.
"I have a fake ID," she said, "but it sucks. So every time I go to the liquor store, I try to buy ten bottles of this, and some vodka for the Colonel. And so when it finally works, I'm covered for a semester. And then I give the Colonel his vodka, and he puts it wherever he puts it, and I take mine and bury it." (52before.4)
Having a fake ID implies frequent alcohol consumption. And think about why Alaska buries her alcohol—she doesn't leave it in her room, and she doesn't give it to someone for safe-keeping. What do her actions say about her ability to trust?
I wanted to like booze more than I actually did (which is more or less the precise opposite of how I felt about Alaska). But that night, the booze felt great, as the warmth of the wine in my stomach spread through my body. I didn't like feeling stupid or out of control, but I liked the way it made everything (laughing, crying, peeing in front of your friends) easier. Why did we drink? For me, it was just fun, particularly since we were risking expulsion. (3before.115)
Notice how Miles compares his feelings about Alaska and alcohol in the same sentence and reveals the lack of control he has when it comes to Alaska. He has much more control and assertiveness when it comes to alcohol and breaking the rules. Well, some of them.
"Yeah. I was a little kid. Little kids can dial 911. They do it all the time. Give me the wine," she said, deadpan and emotionless. She drank without lifting her head from the hay. (2before.72)
Upon closer look, Alaska is wrapped within her guilt and suffering, not "emotionless" as she's trying to appear and be. The wine is meant to deaden her pain. Poor Alaska.
"Two nights in a row is maybe pushing our luck," Takumi said as Alaska opened the wine.
"Luck is for suckers." She smiled and put the bottle to her lips. (2before.20-21)
Alaska is the instigator of many of the encounters with alcohol in the book. It seems like she rejects a fatalistic and optimistic view of the world that luck implies, and alcohol only serves to bring out her deep pain and pessimism about life. At other points in the novel, she reveals much more optimism… while sober.
She and the Colonel had been celebrating a lot the past couple days, and I didn't feel up to climbing Strawberry Hill, so I sat and munched on pretzels while Alaska and the Colonel drank wine from paper cups with flowers on them. (thelastday.58)
Do you think that the Colonel and Alaska are drinking for the same reasons? Does Alaska even know why she drinks? And notice that when it comes to alcohol, Miles has a bit more spine that he does about anything else ever—if he doesn't want to drink, he doesn't.
"How drunk was she?" I asked. "Like, did they test her?"
"Yeah. Her BAL was point twenty-four. That's drunk, certainly. That's a powerful drunk." (13after.20-21)
That is incredibly drunk. Alcohol impairs judgment, and Alaska feels so guilty about missing the anniversary of her mother's death, so we can't help but wonder how much of Alaska's death can be attributed to her drinking and how much can be attributed to guilt.
Alaska displayed two of those warning signs. She had lost, although not recently, her mother. And her drinking, always pretty steady, had definitely increased in the last month of her life. (14after.3)
This complicates matters a lot. Why did her drinking increase? That is, what about her life or thinking changed so that her behavior changed?
"You are a nerd, Pudge. But you're not gonna let a detail like that keep you from drinking." Actually, I hadn't drunk since that night, and didn't feel particularly inclined to ever take it up ever again. (27after.5)
Miles (Pudge) has some serious reservations about alcohol and drinking after Alaska's death, but the Colonel doesn't have the same reaction. It might behoove us to remember their backgrounds and think about the pain and suffering that each character experiences beyond Alaska's death. For Miles, quite frankly, it's not much. But for the Colonel, he's got his poverty and his dad's departure from his life, as well as his dad's drinking, to contend with.
"This is awful. This is not fun drunk."
I got up and cleared the coffee table out of the way so the Colonel could walk the length of the room without hitting any obstacles, and said, "Okay, can you stand?"
The Colonel pushed his arms into the foam of the couch and began to rise, but then fell backward onto the couch, lying on his back. "Spinning room," he observed. "Gonna puke." (27after.70-72)
The Colonel is as drunk as Alaska was the night of her death, but he reacts totally differently: he doesn't seek the inebriation, he doesn't enjoy it, and he's lost control of himself. What does this reveal about his character? About Alaska's character? How does alcohol highlight or hide certain character traits?
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