Looking for Alaska: Character Analysis and the Labyrinth Part 3

I finished the previous post in the series by answering how Alaska escaped the labyrinth of suffering. In this post I will explore how Miles chooses a better way out of the Labyrinth.

Miles: How He Experiences and Escapes the Labyrinth of Suffering:

At some point in life “Everyone…gets dragged out to sea by the undertow…we are all going.” In other words, at some point in time we know we are going to die/suffer or someone we love and care for is going to die, how do we deal with this knowledge? Right now Miles’ answer is to believe in an afterlife, however Miles becomes enlightened and he changes his outlook on surviving the Labyrinth.

Something similar to a parable/riddle is then introduced in the novel after Miles makes his inital decision about surviving the Labyrinth. The parable is:

Banzan “Was walking through the market one day when he overheard someone ask a butcher for his best piece of meat. The butcher answered, “Everything in my shop is the best. You cannot find a piece of meat that is not the best.” Upon hearing this, Banzan realized that there is no best and no worst, that those judgments have no real meaning because there is only what is, and poof he reached enlightenment.” How does this relate to the central question of surviving the labyrinth of suffering?

Well Alaska spent her life after her mom’s death thinking about the best and worst times in her life constantly. This parable is directly related to when Alaska suggested that they play the “Best Day/Worst Day” game when out camping with her friends. There she shares the worst day of her life that has overshadowed everything she did thereafter.

The world religions teacher then introduces a zen belief that “Everything that comes together falls apart.” In other words death will happen…”we are all going”…it is inevitable…therefore suffering will only cease when we stopped wishing things would not fall apart. Alaska could not do this and so she did not survive. She could not survive.

The problem is not life but how much emphasis we put on disappointment, pain, and laying blame while trying to hold ourselves together; creating a sense of hopelessness.

Miles then becomes truly enlightened when he realizes that the only way to survive the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive.  When Alaska’s mother died she blamed and could not forgive herself for something that was out of her control and this is what caused her to self-destruct. Similarly, Miles blamed himself for the death of Alaska as he felt he should have stopped her from getting in her car drunk…if only he had stopped her! This thought haunted him but then he realized:

“She forgave us, and that we had to forgive to survive in the labyrinth. There were so many of us who would have to live with things done and things left undone that day. Things that did not go right, things that seemed okay at the time because we could not see the future. If only we could see the endless string of consequences that result from our smallest actions. But we can’t know better until knowing better is useless.”

So I ask again: What is the best way to go about being a person? What are the rules of this game, and how might we best play it? How do we survive as oppsed to escape the labyrinth of suffering? According to Miles it is to forgive. Stop beating yourself up for elements of your life that are outside of your control such as death. Forgive yourself and others for the unfortunate things that happen in life and accept what is.

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment!

Previous Posts in the Series: Book Review Looking For Alaska by John Green, Looking for Alaska: Character Analysis and the Labyrinth, Looking for Alaska: Character Analysis and the Labyrinth Part 2.

Other posts you may like: The Hunger Games: Katniss Everdeen Heroine or Victim?

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37 responses

  1. I am an A- Level English Literature student. I am writing my senior thesis on a character examination of Alaska Young. Even though the information about Miles isn’t exactly relevant, I found this all incredibly helpful in constructing my essay and my creative writing piece.

    You have noted and analysed things I wasn’t even aware of! Alaska’s death: accident or suicide?

    You seem to be a real expert on all this, if you have any comments that could possibly help, I’d love to hear from you.


    • Noor I am thrilled that you found my post series on Looking For Alaska helpful for your thesis. It’s great that I was able to shed some light on areas of the book that you were not aware of. This is why I love discussing books, just so that I can hear what someone else thinks. If you don’t mind, I would love to read your essay once it’s complete as I am sure your ideas on the book can far surpass mine. I would love to provide you with some comments that would be helpful. Please help me do this by answering some questions just so that I can know where to start. What are you thoughts on the book? What specific questions do you have in mind? What characters, ideas, themes etc. would you like me to comment on? Were you wondering whether I think Alaska’s death is an accident or suicide? What do you think? I look forward to hearing from you soon!

  2. hello! I am also working on an essay on looking for alaska, however mine is for an 8th grade summer reading assignment. One of my body paragraphs is about how Miles learns to cope with the death with Alaska; this was a true help! I would write more, but I only have 12 days to finish. Thanks :)

    • Hello “some other girl.” Great name by the way :). I am glad that you found this post to be helpful and I hope you get an A+ for your reading assignment! Let me know how your assignment goes. Your comment is appreciated and I hope I can provide more value in future posts. What other books are you reading for your class?

  3. I am also reading Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson, however I have already finished that assignment. I doubt that i will get an A+ (but there still is a small chance) because the teacher is extremely tough. Last year there were only to As: a 92 and 90. can I email you the (probably not) final copy in 3-5 days for proofreading? thanks again :D

    • You can definitely email me your final copy for proofreading…but email it a day or two before your deadline. Believe that you will get that A, you may just surprise yourself!

  4. wow. this is friken crazy good. i just finished the book and i think that its unbelievablly amazing. im definately reading the rest of hs books!! ad now that you explained it more, i now understand the labyrinth more,, if that makes sense. lol thanks alot!!

    • Hi Jordan,

      I am glad that you liked the book. I felt the same way when I read it! It’s great that your understanding of Looking for Alaska has opened up since reading my analysis. Let me know how you feel about John Green’s other books when you read them. Thanks for the feedback :)

  5. ii have read every single one of his books and theyre amazing !! my absolute favorite would be between Looking For Alaska and Paper Towns . youve done a great job helping me understand it and ii know for sure im getting an A on this :D ! THANKKS !

  6. Hi xD, love your enthusiasm for John Green’s book. Thanks for the positive feedback…I can see that A+ coming! What other books are being read in your classes and what book would you like me to analyze next? This question goes out to all who read this reply.

  7. I didn’t connect the thing with the butcher shop to Alaska’s drinking game until now! Thanks a lot! I absolutely LOVE this blog post series and “Looking for Alaska”. I did a test on it for my Literature class and I actually did quite good (although now my teacher probably thinks I’m depressed because I read such sad books…)

    • Wow Michael I can tell that you are an avid fan of Looking for Alaska. I really appreciate your in-depth comments here on the blog, please continue to provide more comments as they come to you. Also, i am glad that you really enjoyed the post series. Do you have any suggestions for what you would like for me to write about next? I welcome your suggestions.

  8. Can you maybe make a character analysis of the colonel? just a short one would be very helpful.

    • I can definitely do that; however, it will not be done until possibly the ending of next month…thanks for the request and I welcome any other request that you may have, keep them coming!

  9. Ok so i have to make a commercial advertising this book. My teacher told me not to give away the book (meaning Alaska’s death) but im having problems trying to figure out how to make the commercial interesting and make people want to read it, without hinting to Alaska’s death. Can you help me out?

    • Hey Draven,

      I am no expert in producing commercials but you can give flashes of the good times (pranks etc.) before “the event” and then give flashes of what happens after “the event” (friends being upset, arguing, retracing where alaska drove etc.) without even mentioning “the event.” People will then become curious about what happened to produce the change. Is this helpful? Let me know.

  10. I’ve read this book about 3 times now, and each time I read it, it’s more amazing. I guess the more I read it, the more I pick up the little things I missed before. These posts really helped me, it was great. I have a year 8 reading circle project thing and we need to read a whle heap of books about life, and changes and meaning of living and all. SO I was going to do this book seeing as it was on the list. I think that this is a really life changing story and well written. Thanks for your explinations on Alaska and Miles thoughts on escaping.

    • Hi James, the best way to answer your question is to encourage you to look through my archives and read all the post related to Looking for Alaska. The answer to your question can be found in them. Tell me if you find it.

  11. Hey this was really well written! Ummm I had a question on the thesis! could you give me some suggestions for the thesis that would be great! Thanks :)
    <3 Jordan

    • Hi Jordan…I don’t think I can shed any more light on the thesis than what I have already written. I must admit I don’t like giving out answers, I tend to avoid doing so. I like to encourage students and readers to think critically on their own. Read through my posts and the book and provide some thesis ideas here if you like.

      • I am writing my extended essay for IB, on the different ways why people need closure and how they deal with it. This is by far one of my favorite books, since I dont read too much. I would love your opinion on my essay for school and maybe to proof read it. It talks alot about the labyrinth of suffering and different characters reactions towards it

        • Hi Jannik sorry for the late reply, definitely send me the essay, if it’s not too late. Go to my about section and email me through the contact link.

  12. Very insightful thinking. This really helped me think about several aspects of the book that didnt even cross my mind.
    Thank You

  13. Hey
    Thank you very much for your analysis. I’m a student form germany (btw sorry for my mistakes) and we’re actually reading the book in class. We will write a test tomorrow and we probably have to answer to some questiones you explained above. I did not really know the meaning of the labyrinth until I read your text and now I can say that I understand it. So thank you a thousand times for your work.

    • Your welcome Gregor. It is great to have readers from Germany. I know you will do amazing on your test. Best of luck!

  14. Wow. This is amazing. You really analysed this book. I’m studying ‘Looking for Alaska’ in english at the moment and I’m practising writing an essay on how Miles helped solve the answer to the question ” How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?”. Thank-you so much for helping me understand more about the labyrinth and the book. :)

  15. Thanks for your comment George. I am glad that you found my analysis helpful. This book blows me away every time I read it and I find new gems each time.

  16. I was just wondering what literary techniques are used in the novel? I’m doing an essay and to put it lightly I’m pretty shit at picking out techniques (if there are any in the novel)
    By the way, your blog is AMAZING

  17. Hi theLiteraryanalyst.. I know your last response was quite a while ago and I doubt that you are still checking this blog because you are probably super busy with new ones. BUT in case there is ANY chance you are still checking it i’m going to post this. So I need help.. i’m going to be a freshman this year and i’m doing a summer reading assignment kinda like a lot of the other teens you have responded to. At the beginning of the paper we are supposed to be putting a thesis worthy of discussion, so of course I put how do you get out of the labyrinth of suffering because that is the main question in the book. but in the final paragraph of the paper we need to write a personal response about our opinion on the thesis and how it connects to highschoolers.. like I said I wont be mad if you don see this in time or at all but your help would be greatly appreciated!
    I would also like to say that your blog has been GREAT! I absolutely adore how much effort you put into the book! This novel is probably my favorite of all time! I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE it! I posted something on the first blog of this series but it wasn’t too long ago so I doubt you saw it.. haha im going to copy and paste it here. I put a lot of thought into the book but I can never seem to write and form ideas about it like you do. You have a gift!!
    Anyway her is what I put: First off, I have to say that this novel is my absolute favorite novel of all time and i’m a die hard fan.. I want people to read it but then again I want it all to myself. This novel expresses so many hard to think about concepts that you can never truly figure out, that there isn’t a true answer for. Looking for Alaska is a novel that makes you think it was written in a metaphorical sense. Even the title, Looking for Alaska, is metaphore because Pudge and everyone else is trying to solve a mystery that seems to want to stay unsolved. They are trying to look for a girl they never truly knew. Alaska was so caught up in her own pain that she built walls around herself that prevented people from seeing the real her.
    In this novel there are endless symbolic references. One of the symbolic references is the comparison of Alaska and a swan. The Eagle uses both the swan and Alaska to enforce the rules. There’s a link between the white of the swan and the white flowers. And, both the swan and Alaska are beautiful with troubled pasts. Swans are animals that we romanticize only thinking about their nobility and beauty but if you’ve ever actually encounter a swan, they’re a lot more complicated than that. Most importantly, swans are traditionally associated with a passive beauty: They are things to be looked at. But in fact swans are capable of extreme power.
    Another symbolic reference is that Alaska is named after a place, and Miles, a unit of distance. Because of the book’s title and its metaphorical sense, it makes you think of all the miles it takes to get to Alaska, to reach a girl who was, in many ways, unreachable.
    Now to answer your question, how do you get out of the labyrinth of suffering, I don’t know. There are many ways you can think about it, you can think about it like Alaska did and think that solving your problems straight and fast so you can fix them before you cant anymore is one way or you can think of it like Pudge, that you need to forgive to get out of the labyrinth. The labyrinth as Alaska puts it is pain, the pain of bad things happening and the only way to get out of the labyrinth is to forgive yourself and everyone else for letting those things happen.
    A quote in the book is “When you stopped wishing things wouldn’t fall apart, you’d stop suffering when they did.” That I think, is just a different way of thinking about forgiving. If you cant forgive anyone, including yourself, then you will never get out of the labyrinth, you will continue suffering, but if you forgive people for letting bad things happen, because they will happen, then you will stop suffering when they did.

    I posted this before I had read the other two and am pretty proud of myself that I got it kinda close to what you had said!

    If you happen to see this PLEASE RESPOND!! even if its like 5 years from now! I have loved this book since I first read it and doubt I will stop!

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