Study Guide

Looking for Alaska Themes

  • Friendship

    This ain't no innocent Toy Story friendship between Buzz and Woody, but the characters definitely value friendship equally as much in Looking for Alaska. Miles wants to leave Florida to seek his Great Perhaps and find friends… and he does. Even though his friends introduce him to booze and mischief, they also accept him for who he is. But the novel also highlights how messy friendship can be—friends don't always like each other, friends tell each other hard truths, and friends get into fights. When Alaska dies though, the bonds that have been created with and around her help her grieving friends come to terms with her death and their role in it.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. How does the friendship between Miles and the Colonel develop into a bond that withstands some serious damage?
    2. How do loyalty and disloyalty play out in the friendships in the novel?
    3. When Alaska dies, why does Miles ignore his other friends?

    Chew on This

    Miles never becomes friends with the real Alaska; he becomes friends with the person he wants her to be.

    If Miles and the Colonel had really been friends with Alaska, they never would have allowed her to leave the night of her death.

  • Intimacy, Sex, and Love

    Intimacy, sex, and love are complicated in Looking for Alaska. Miles both loves and lusts after Alaska, and we have a hard time figuring out, at least in the part of the story before she dies, which it is. And then there's Miles's relationship with Lara, which contrasts his last day with Alaska. After Alaska's death, Miles has to question everything he felt for Alaska and she felt for him—was it love? Was it only lust? Was the intimacy he desired one-sided? He has to come to terms with how mixed up his feelings about love and his sexuality are with Alaska and Lara. It's an unholy mess, but that's the point: it usually is.

    Questions About Intimacy, Sex, and Love

    1. What's more meaningful to Miles in the story—physical intimacy or emotional intimacy? Why?
    2. What role do sex and sexual experiences play in the friends's lives? What does sex mean to Miles, the Colonel, and Alaska?
    3. How are sex, intimacy, and love tangled up in Miles's head? The Colonel's? Alaska's?

    Chew on This

    If Alaska were alive, Miles would never be her boyfriend.

    If Alaska were alive, she and Miles would be an item.

  • Home

    Home for Miles in Looking for Alaska is Florida with his parents. No wait—it's at Culver Creek. No wait—it's with his friends. Miles's idea of home, like his friendships, shifts and changes based on his experiences. And home isn't just a place for him, but the people and the emotions tied up in the place. Miles has a home. The Colonel, as poor as he constantly advertises, clearly has a home full of love, if not stuff. But Alaska says she doesn't have a home and she never likes to go there, which is a giant clue about what makes Alaska tick.

    Questions About Home

    1. Alaska says, "There is no home." What does she mean?
    2. Was it necessary for Miles to leave home to find his Great Perhaps?
    3. What do you think made the dream of a home die for Alaska? Think about events but also the emotions tied to home as well.
    4. Where is home for Miles at the end of the book? What makes you say this?

    Chew on This

    Alaska is home when she's with her friends.

    Home can only be in one place—that is, for Miles, home is either in Florida, or at Culver Creek—not several places.

  • Lies and Deceit

    No pants on fire, but plenty of liars at the Creek in Looking for Alaska. Lying and deviousness abound at Culver Creek when it comes to pranking and breaking rules, but the most meaningful lies lie (pun intended) between friends. That's where the hurt comes in: Alaska lies by omission when she fails to tell her friends about her mother's death; Miles and the Colonel lie about their roles in Alaska's death to others; and all of them lie to themselves—Alaska about what makes her tick, Miles about what he meant to Alaska. It's only when the friends tell the truth that they begin to heal.

    Questions About Lies and Deceit

    1. How does Miles's view of lying and deceit change throughout the course of the book?
    2. Do you think the adult authorities in the book—the Eagle, the Old Man, Miles's parents—realize the extent of deception by the students at Culver Creek? Why?
    3. Some lies are more permissible than others in the book. Which ones, and why?

    Chew on This

    Lying about her mom contributes to Alaska's self-destruction.

    Deceit is natural and normal in the social order at Culver Creek.

  • Suffering

    No one ever said Looking for Alaska was a light-hearted read, and when we see how many characters suffer and the ways in which they suffer, the weight almost seems to drag us down. Miles, whether he wants to or not, is stuck tackling some really big ideas about suffering, stuff like how suffering is related to deceit, pain, and living, and what happens to the dead—and the living—after someone dies. Characters cope with their personal suffering in different ways, and some of these strike a chord with us as readers.

    In the end, Miles and the Colonel come to some pretty mature views of suffering and pain, and the hope they feel makes the pain of suffering almost bearable.

    Questions About Suffering

    1. In what ways do Miles and the Colonel suffer throughout the story? (Think beyond Alaska's death—consider relationships, deceptions, academics, love, and family.)
    2. How does Alaska cope with her suffering before her death? How do Miles, the Colonel, Takumi, and Lara manage their suffering after Alaska's death?
    3. Why does the Colonel choose the labyrinth of suffering?
    4. What does Miles think about suffering at the end of the story?

    Chew on This

    Alaska's pain causes her to commit suicide.

    The pain the characters feel in the story makes their joys that much more meaningful.

  • Mortality

    Looking for Alaska has death running through it: Miles is obsessed with last words, Alaska's mom's death is the central moment in her life, Alaska herself dies, and jokes about death are tucked in amongst the banter (flamingo tie anyone?). You can find death on pretty much every page… but the book's not all about death. Mortality gives Alaska a vivaciousness that draws her friends to her, and Miles and the Colonel come to some pretty important conclusions about mortality of a physical person and of the person's spirit after Alaska dies. So even though death is a central idea in the book, it's inextricably tied to life and hope.

    Questions About Mortality

    1. Is Alaska aware of her own mortality? Does she think of death in the same way as Miles does? Why or why not?
    2. Are Miles, the Colonel, and Takumi guilty of helping Alaska die? What makes you say this?
    3. How do you think Alaska would react to her own death?
    4. How does Miles balance his beliefs about death and his hope about life and life after death in his final essay for the Old Man?

    Chew on This

    Alaska's last words are not worth knowing.

    Miles will never forget his friend Alaska; he will always love her.

  • Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    Any book that has this much death and suffering usually brings up questions about life and existence too. Both before and after Alaska dies (but mostly after), Miles ponders what has happened to her. Is she in her body? Is she elsewhere? The lectures the Old Man give in World Religions give Miles a sort of blueprint to think about these heady philosophical ideas. Mostly though, conversations with the Colonel and quality time spent thinking guide Miles in some of his musings on how we live, how we die, and what gives our life meaning in Looking for Alaska.

    Questions About Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    1. What fear paralyzes Alaska after her mom dies? How does this affect her way of approaching life?
    2. How does Miles's coursework in World Religions change his views about what happens after we die?
    3. What realizations about life and death does Miles make after Alaska's death? Could he have made the same realizations if she hadn't died? Why or why not?
    4. The Colonel asks in an essay why bad things happen to good people. How would he answer that question? How would Miles?
    5. How would Alaska?

    Chew on This

    Alaska doesn't fear death, but Miles and the Colonel do.

    Seeking the Great Perhaps opens Miles up to greater pain and suffering, but also greater friendships and living.

  • Choices

    Even though we never know what Alaska chose in the moments before her death, we get to see how a lot of characters make choices or choose inaction… and how inaction is a choice in itself. Miles ends up choosing to follow a Great Perhaps, and where does that lead him? We can try to find characters's motivations and rationalize their behavior, but one thing Looking for Alaska tries to impart on us is that choice is always complicated. Often we never really know why people—or even we—choose action or inaction. Thanks, John Green, for complicating our lives even more.

    Questions About Choices

    1. How does Miles's inaction and passivity influence his relationship with his friends—Alaska, the Colonel, Takumi, and Lara?
    2. Does Miles become better at making choices throughout the novel? What makes you say this?
    3. Why does Alaska choose the path she's on? Could she have made other choices, or was it inevitable that she would die young?

    Chew on This

    Alaska consistently makes impulsive, poor choices because she's deeply unhappy.

    Miles, the Colonel, and Takumi consciously or unconsciously choose to help Alaska destroy herself.

  • Alcohol

    The teenagers at Culver Creek drink. A lot. But the drinking doesn't just happen for fun, and in its most innocent use, alcohol in Looking for Alaska is tied to breaking the rules and getting away with it. For Miles drinking is a way into social acceptance, for the Colonel alcohol is a way to celebrate and mourn… but for Alaska alcohol is a way to cope with and deaden the pain and guilt that she feels about her mother's death. Whether the characters realize it or not, they use alcohol for particular purposes that stem from their desires, and so the power of alcohol in the book changes depending on who consumes it.

    Questions About Alcohol

    1. How does alcohol use complicate Alaska's character and her death?
    2. How does Alaska's death change how her friends feel about and use alcohol? Do you think they will be consistent in this change? Why or why not?
    3. Are the experiences of the characters at Culver Creek reflective of other high school experiences, or do you think alcohol use was exaggerated in the book? Why might John Green have chosen to portray alcohol and drinking in the way he does?

    Chew on This

    Alcohol changes the decisions that Miles, the Colonel, Takumi, and Lara made throughout the novel.

    If Alaska hadn't been drinking, she never would have died.

  • Rules and Order

    Left foot, right foot… in Looking for Alaska,Culver Creek operates on a strict rules and order basis. There's a social order, there are clear consequences when students break the rules, and even the student pranks have a particular kind of order to them: one social group pranks another, and the mischief is returned. In fact, much of the shenanigans at the Creek involve rebelling against the rules and order imposed on the students: smoking, drinking, having sex, and playing pranks. Maybe Alaska breaks so many rules to feel in control, or to rebel, or to feel alive… We never really know. But we do know that her death upsets the order of the entire Culver Creek community.

    Questions About Rules and Order

    1. What are the unwritten rules and social order at Culver Creek? What do these rules value, and how do they affect how relationships develop and how students act?
    2. What is the Colonel's unwritten set of rules? Miles's set? Alaska's set? Why are there differences between them?
    3. How much does the Eagle know about what goes on among students at Culver Creek? Do you think he knows more than he lets on and permits it implicitly, or is he ignorant of all the drinking and smoking? What makes you say this, and if he knows, why doesn't he do more about it?
    4. How does Alaska's death change the rules and order at Culver Creek?

    Chew on This

    It is inevitable that the students at Culver Creek will break the rules there.

    Some people, like Alaska, were meant to be rule-breakers. Others, like Miles, were meant to be rule-followers.