LfA Discussion Questions (Pg. 1-55)

Hey everyone, Scott here.

So as discussion leader this week, it is my job to get us readers really thinking about what the characters are going through, what John Green is trying to get us to think about, to feel, and learn.

In the very beginning of the story, it's easily evident that there isn't much going for dear old Pudge.  His social school life is almost nonexistent, he's done nothing "out of the ordinary," he simply hasn't found his Great Perhaps.  He decides to leave his home for a boarding school to finally begin his story, his Great Perhaps.  Very soon into this venture, he meets the Colonel (and then Alaska who sells the pair a pack of cigarettes).  They leave to the edge of the beach and the Colonel offers Pudge a smoke.  After only asking if the area was safe, he participated in smoking his very first cigarette.  Now, for someone who's kept his nose clean his entire life, why would he now choose to do something that is frowned upon by so many.  Why wouldn't he just do things like this when he was going to his regular school?  And what is it about the Colonel that Pudge trust so much, so quickly, that he would loose his smoking virginity with him?

Now we have the issue of Pudge's intense initiation. In the middle of the night, Pudge is grabbed (as the Colonel waves them off with a "have a good time"), dragged to the beach, duct taped, and then thrown into the water.  After escaping the life-threatening conundrum, Pudge goes to Alaska for an explanation, who waves him off as well saying that she had real problems to deal with, and that he should simply buck up.  This reply sends Pudge into an "I hate Alaska" spiral for days on end, but we all know that he still loves her and still craves her approval above everyone else's. "'She's cute,' I thought, 'but you don't need to like a girl who treats you like you're ten: You've already got a mom.'" (pg. 34)  So, this next question is something that I've wondered about myself as much as Pudge, why are we so drawn into loving the one person we know we shouldn't?

So now we meet Sara, the Colonels (rather uptight) Weekday Warrior girlfriend.  From what we know so far, (and also in relation to the previous question) why on Earth would the Colonel be with Sara?  She is almost exactly the type of person against whom he is constantly preaching; she's a WW, she's somewhat of a b****,  and she makes him wear "fancy" dress clothes when they go out on dates, or at least the one in this chapter.  So why her?

Ah the clover search!  The first time, I believe, Pudge and Alaska were alone together after the initiation incident. They both get kicked out of class by the Old Man for disrupting the lecture, and Alaska takes Pudge on a wild four leaf clover hunt.  This event was a win-win-win, (triple win!) Alaska found her clover, Pudge got to *cough* further appreciate female anatomy, and there was once again peace between the two polar opposite personalities, triple win.  Shortly after, the group rejoins and heads down to the smoking hole where they were, surprise surprise, smoking.  After a short discussion of trying to deduce who ratted out Marya, Pudge noticed how quickly Alaska was going through her cigarettes where she "smiled with all the delight of a kid on Christmas morning and said, 'Y'all smoke to enjoy it. I smoke to die.'" (pg. 44)  This quote is quite famous between the readers of this book, with what we know, why would you suppose that is?  

Once this passes, in my opinion, nothing ground breaking happens.  That's not to say nothing important happens, not at all.  We get so much character development, the Colonel loves breaking the peace by getting kicked out of basketball games, Alaska is a math whiz who shares her knowledge with others at McDonald's, but then we get the T.V. room.  The chapter starts with how Alaska became known as Alaska, then, after a joke about Pudge's lack of math skills, there is that deafening silence between two people feeling romantic pressure.  Pudge kept leaning in closer and closer, we as the readers kept thinking "Finally! Finally! Yeah Pudgie!!"  ..... But then Alaska snaps out of it, and goes on this tangent about how she won't get stuck thinking about the future.  Total anticlimactic genius on Green's part, total alien noises of the broken heart from us readers (don't deny it, you know made the noise).  Finally, from what we know now, how could Alaska continue to tease poor dear Pudge in such a tormenting fashion, when it's clear that she likes him as well.  Sure she "loves" her boyfriend, but if she knows she feels this way about someone else, if she knows that part of her wants to be with someone else, how could she say she loves her boyfriend?

That's all the time I have today, fellow readers, please take my opinions with a grain of salt, but take these questions with like... 12 grains.  Because these are 12 grain questions man!

See you all next week!


Kathy Z said...

Well, given that I have nothing better to do that the moment, may as well get a head start on responding to these.

As for why Pudge would so quickly pick up smoking, I believe that part of it was the idea that he would appeal more to Alaska if he did things that she did. There's also a desperate pressure to fit in. At his old school, he already knew he didn't fit in; just picking up smoking (with the high potential of being caught) wouldn't magically fix his reputation. At Culver Creek, he found someone who accepts him and desperately wants to keep that. At any rate, the fact that his parents told him to not smoke combined with the fact that the Colonel mentions that The Eagle doesn't usually tell parents about their children's misbehavior leads Pudge to feeling that smoking is the "safe" way for him to get an in on Creek social life, especially with Alaska. He trusts the Colonel so much because he's fairly blinded at this point by lust for Alaska.

Next, there's just a certain mysteriousness and excitement associated with loving someone who you can't have or who is "dangerous". I haven't necessarily experienced this on my own, although the "forbidden" aspect of my relationship with my boyfriend (given that he's 18 and I'm 16) is there and may contribute. But the "forbidden love" trope, which generally comes about due to social norms, is essentially everywhere. In this case, it's a bit more subtle. It also fits into human nature - if you tell us we can't have something, we just want that thing more.

As for the Colonel and Sara, relationships in real life often make no sense, and this is just an example of that. It's unhappy, but in the past it may have given the Colonel a social boost, as dating a WW could have given him an in on other WWs; after all, he did seem to know quite a bit about the guys who threw Pudge in the lake.

This quote reveals Alaska's suicidal nature and may foreshadow later events. Unfortunately, there are people out there just like Alaska - people who know that smoking is bad for them and embrace that fact and do it so they'll die faster. Alaska, deep down, is extremely depressed. She's just extremely good at covering up and playing down the depression most of the time, making jokes about it sometimes but mostly not showing herself. This "joke" is just further insight into Alaska's character.

Love is not necessarily exclusive. It is possible to lust after one person and love another, or even in some cases to love two at the same time. Alaska is still battling with herself over whether she really likes Pudge or not and, if she does, whether she likes him enough to break up with her long term boyfriend. Personally, I admire her strength in not immediately going for the boy who is at hand. It should also be noted that, if she were to give in to Pudge, she would have to face a plethora of consequences, none of which she's too keen on facing in her mental state. Despite all that she says and acts, she is depressed and sometimes love is one of those concepts that you just shut out when you feel the way Alaska does. I'd like to add that, when you're in a long distance relationship, it is very possible to develop a crush on a guy who happens to be closer. That has happened to me several times since I started dating my boyfriend. But I always go back to him. And who's to say that other boys like Pudge haven't wandered into Alaska's life? Maybe she's chosen Jake time and time again and needs time to think about who she wants to choose this time. Jake isn't the bad guy in this situation. Just saying.

Audrey Lu said...

Branching off of forbidden relationships, I think Alaska is an embodiment of what seems to be "forbidden", especially to Pudge-- smoking, suicidal, curvy and good looking; almost like a manic pixie dream girl. (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ManicPixieDreamGirl) She shakes up Miles' oh-so-boring life as soon as he sees her, and I think there's a person like that in everyone's life, more or less and in varying degrees.

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