Discussion Questions for Looking for Alaska, John Green

In the back of Looking for Alaska, there are a few questions intended for a class discussion. I will answer these questions. The following are answers are a combination of my own opinion and the opinions of others on the internet.

*****Major spoilers have been censored, highlight over the black bars to read them*****
  1. Discuss the book’s unusual structure. Why do you suppose Green chose this strategy for telling his story? How else might he have structured the same material? Looking for Alaska is written with a very unusual structure. In Before, the individual passages act as a count down, starting 136 days before, to an event that we as readers do not know about. After the event, the book counts up to the end of the story. This gives the book both a clear climax and also a layer of suspense.
  2. Miles tells the story in his own first-person voice. How might the book differ if it had been told in Alaska’s voice or the Colonel’s? Or in the voice of an omniscient narrator? The book revolves around Miles "Pudge" Halter, and his own personal struggles, and a majority of the book also revolves around Miles's emotions revolving around the death of his friend (and not so secret crush) Alaska. If Green had told the story from Alaska or the Colonel's point of view, the perspective the reader has on these events may have differed, with the lack of emotional connection to Miles. If the story was told by an omniscient narrator, the reader would not have the sense of mystery Green achieves near the conclusion of the novel.
  3. The Colonel says “Everybody’s got a talent.” Do you? I'd like to think I have many talents. My love of theater dictates me to believe that I am a good actor. I'd also like to think I am good at critical thinking and memorization.
  4. Miles’s teacher Dr. Hyde tells him to “be present.” What does this mean? When Dr.Hyde, religious studies teacher at Culver Creek, tells Miles to be present, Miles has been looking out the window pondering one of the fundamental principals of Buddhism, ignoring the actual lesson. Dr. Hyde believes that if you are tuning out his actual lesson, that you might as well be out of the class entirely.
  5. John Green worked for a time as a chaplain in a children’s hospital. How do you think that influenced the writing of Looking For AlaskaGreen's experiences as a chaplain influenced his views on religion and affected the concept of Dr.Hyde's religious studies class. It also affected his own views on death which influenced the way Miles, the Colonel, Takumi, and even Lara viewed Alaska's death.  In an interview included in Looking for Alaska, John is quoted, "All the fiction I’ve written since working at that hospital has in some way echoed some feeling or experience or question that arose while I was at the hospital. In many ways, it was a before-and-after moment in my own life."
  6. What do you think “The Great Perhaps” means? Miles views "The Great Perhaps" as "The Great Perhaps is referring to the future and all the possibilities it brings." (http://dft.ba/-19kV
  7. And how about Bolivar’s “labyrinth?” The labyrinth is a reference to the mythology of Greece and Rome. In the mythology, the labyrinth is a complex maze used as a dungeon of sorts. Bolivar uses the labyrinth as an example of the depth of human suffering.When Bolivar is on his death bed he says "Damn it, how will I ever get out of this labyrinth?" saying that even in death, there is always suffering, and there is no way to escape the perils of the labyrinth.
  8. In the “Some last words on last words” section at the end of the book, Green writes, “I was born into Bolivar’s labyrinth, and so I must believe in the hope of Rabelais’ Great Perhaps.” What do you think he means by this? Green believes that when you are born, you are already suffering, and to get out of the suffering you must achieve a level optimism that you will achieve enlightenment and reach your great perhaps, or as Green put it "The Dutch title of Alaska is Het Grote Misschien, which means The Great Perhaps. But if you type it into Babel Fish, it translates Het Grote Misschien as “The Big Maybe.” I’m undecided as to whether there are ever any truly last words. That’s the big maybe. As for the quote cited above, I mean that I believe in hope, in what is sometimes called “radical hope.” I believe there is hope for us all, even amid the suffering-and maybe even inside the suffering. And that’s why I write fiction, probably. It’s my attempt to keep that fragile strand of radical hope, to build a fire in the darkness."
  9. Has this novel changed the way you regard human suffering? And death? Yes, this book truly makes you think about what human suffering an death truly is and means.   
  10. One of the characters, Dr. Hyde says, “Everything that comes together falls apart.” Do you think the author agrees? How does he deal with this Zen belief in his novel? I believe that John Green does believe in the Zen aspect of the novel, very much so, and that he is drawing on his experience as a chaplain at a children's hospital.
  11. Alaska loves these two lines from the poet W. C. Auden: “You shall love your crooked neighbor / With your crooked heart.” What do these lines mean to you and why do you think Alaska likes them so much? The character Alaska finds these lines fascinating because it relates to her love of others. She interprets it as "'birds of a feather flock together' Or from the bible: 'Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?' In other words, don't judge, you're not less dirtier than he is." (http://dft.ba/-19l4)
  12. Miles writes, “Teenagers think they are invincible.” Do you agree? Why or why not? Teenagers tend to believe they are invincible, because they are young and innocent. 
  13. Was it necessary for Alaska to die? Yes, Alaska's death was necessary because it adds an entirely new layer to the story and makes the story more readable and gives the story a much better message
  14. This novel is filled with wonderful characters. Who is your favorite? Why? Do you know any people like these characters? My personal favorite character is Takumi, because of his secret role in the story. In the end of the story he is the one to "figure out" the reason for Alaska's death  and ultimately reminds me of myself in many ways. 

Can you imagine Miles and the Colonel as adults? What might they be like? What professions do you suppose they might choose? 

Leave your answer to this question (and any of the others) below but please, NO SPOILERS

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