Week 1 Connections

As we wrap up the first week of this project, it is my job to connect pieces of this story to real life. Right off the bat, Looking for Alaska is a young adult, realistic fiction novel. Much of it relates to general coming-of-age tales and as such there are abundant connections to be made.

The book starts out with our protagonist Miles leaving home. Instantly, there is a connection. We will all leave home eventually to seek our "Great Perhaps", as Miles eloquently puts it. And, in a sense, the overarching theme of leaving one life behind for another can apply to each and every middle college student. At around 16, each of us chose to change schools and find our purpose elsewhere, although we all still live at home. Despite the differences between our situation and Miles's, the gist is the same.

Unfortunately, I can relate to the lack of success of Miles's going away party in the first chapter, although not to the same extent he can. Many times I have tried to throw parties with limited success - his general unpopularity is something that many of my peers as well as fictional characters have in common.

Throughout this first section, we find Miles making overlying generalizations about people and life that aren't necessarily true. For example, Miles states that "Marie was the sort of person to guess a lot," (4) which implies that a) Marie falls into a category of people who b) all have a tendency to guess a lot. This is reminiscent of The Catcher in the Rye, as Holden tended to make similar generalizations.

Miles breaks the rules about as often as they're laid out for him. His dad told him to not highlight books, but he entirely disregarded that. His dad also tells him to not do drugs, drink, or smoke, but he smokes on his first day there and picks up the habit fairly quickly. His tendency to disregard the rules is something we see frequently in society as well as in literature. I know several people who don't even make an attempt to follow the rules; this is often associated with the belief that the rules just don't apply to oneself. In Miles, however, this belief is not prevalent.

The feeling of self doubt Miles experiences in his first few days at Culver Creek mirrors a feeling most of us feel as we come of age - that we don't belong, that we won't fit in, that we made a mistake. The fact that it begins to turn out for the better is simply a part of life.

I'm not entirely sure if it's my place to point out literary allusions, but there is an allusion to Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening", which can be found here if anyone wants to read it.

Each character seems to have a specific hobby, which border on obsession. For Miles (now nicknamed Pudge), it's learning and memorizing the last words of famous people. For Chip (the Colonel), it's naming countries. For Alaska, it's reading - her massive collection of books, only one third read. Although they may be more subtle, most people have an "obsession" that may or may not be worth a lot in the real world, but nonetheless makes them unique. Mine is reading, although unfortunately I have very little time for that. For one of my best friends, it's making cosplays (costumes of fictional characters such as superheroes and Disney princesses). These "obsessions" can be seen throughout the world if you get to know people closely enough.

Cliques are a big thing at Culver Creek. Whether you're a regular boarder or a Weekday Warrior makes a huge difference in your social status at the school. There are similar distinctions in real life, although they tend to revolve around intelligence and hobbies more than economic status. At my old school, I was one of the band kids, which put me in a lower social status the same way Miles's status is lowered due to his regular boarder status.

Irony is a big theme, as Miles's nickname is Pudge despite his skinniness. This ironic nicknaming is a trope that is often used in pop culture. In Les Miserables (yes, I just went from "pop culture" to referencing a book from the 1800s...), Cosette is one of the central female characters, although her real name is Euphrasie. Her mother chooses to call her Cosette, which in French means "the indulged". However, Cosette spent much of her childhood in an abusive situation - most certainly not "indulged" - but her abusers continue to call her Cosette. Another example is Robin Hood, in which Little John is not very little (at least by many interpretations).

I would like to note, before I make this point, that I do not smoke. That being said, the portrayal of Pudge's first cigarette is, from what I can interpret and observe, very realistic - generally speaking, one's first smoke isn't graceful or classy.

The parallels between how Culver Creek operates and how most schools operate is fairly accurate. The school doesn't want to lose students or look bad because then they'd lose money. Most real schools try to look as good as possible because if they don't they'll get a bad reputation and lose money, which will only lead to a worse reputation.

The idea that you don't retaliate or tell on someone who bullies you at Culver Creek is very realistic. In most situations, if you retaliate against a bully, you'll be the one who gets in more trouble. Conversely, if you tell a teacher about a bullying situation, you'll get a reputation as a snitch or a rat.

The trio of the Colonel, Pudge, and Alaska as best friends with some romantic tension between two of them is very commonly seen in literature - especially with the two males and one female aspect, as seen with Harry, Ron, and Hermione in Harry Potter, or with Sherlock, John Watson, and Mary Morstan in BBC's adaptation of Sherlock. In general, three is a culturally significant number.

The quick bond Pudge and Alaska form is something I've experienced firsthand. I met my boyfriend at a summer camp and within a day we were essentially best friends. Fast-forming friendships are something that happen quite a bit in real life as well as in literature, such as with Harry and Ron on the Hogwarts Express in their first year.

This is a somewhat less serious connection, but the fact that "You can say a lot of bad things about Alabama, but you can't say that Alabamans as a people are unduly afraid of deep fryers," (22) is entirely true - my boyfriend recently moved from California to Alabama and has mentioned that he's never seen so much fried food in his life.

Pranks in boarding schools are essentially old hat. They're such a cultural "norm" that, even if there isn't actually that much pranking in real life, we just assume that there is.

The question of the labyrinth, posed by Alaska, and how it relates to religion is something that nearly all humans ponder - if there is a way out, if there's life after death, and the nature of death in general. The idea that religion is just as important as history is one that is not common, but it does make a good point. Similarly, the revelation that a myth is just a traditional story that tells of a people and their worldview (and not just a lie) is an important distinction that everyone has to make at some point, as our culture tends to use "myth" as synonymous with "falsehood".

Alaska's outburst that the Colonel is "'...not going to impose the patriarchal paradigm on [her]'" (34) reminds me of something I would say, as I tend to oppose the patriarchy just as Alaska does. In this way, I and several of my classmates are very similar to Alaska, although I have never met anyone who is truly like her.

The realities of relationships and fights within relationships is something we all, just like the Colonel, experience, despite the fact that movies often make relationships out to be either entirely unhappy or entirely happy. In fact, there is an in between, and in that way there is a major connection to the real world.

The teenage hormones Pudge experiences throughout the novel are familiar to nearly every one of my classmates - the realization that Alaska is beautiful, that curves are important, that he just wants someone to make out with, the internal glee at being called "adorable" by a girl he likes, etc. are just parts of being a teenager and are all things that I've either experienced myself or one of my friends has told me they experienced.

Alaska's suicidal nature (which comes along with her mysterious character) is something that I have unfortunately experienced. I have had several friends come to me saying that they want to end their lives. Personally, I've had some suicidal thoughts, but nothing to be worried about. In a way, they're a side effect of thinking too much about the inevitability of death, which is something that I do sometimes and is also something that Alaska does.

Well, 1500 words later, I think I'm done for this week. Apologies for how excessive this was - I ended up going into a lot more detail than I intended.



Scott Dietzler said...

In these books, we could honestly spend all day making connections, haha. John Green just has, not necessarily a way with words, but a talent for reaching out and relating to his readers. Being a teenage boy in high school, I could connect with almost everything Miles was saying, doing, and thinking. It's more than impressive to see that in a book. It's somewhat relaxing to know that, not only am I not alone, but I'm also understood in a sense (I know, I know, how cliche is it to read a book and go "*sigh* he gets me). But honestly, almost everyone in America these days has gone through high school and "normal" family troubles, but the connections made in this book are seemingly endless, in comparison to the other books we "have to" read. Great job finding as many as you did Kathy!

Audrey Lu said...

As Scott said, there are definitely a lot of connections readers could make to everyday life. John Green is good at describing what most teenagers feel every day, which is what makes him such a popular author, especially with younger generations (and thus why his books are often filed under the "young adult" section.) and high schoolers.

(Side note-- you could definitely call Les Mis a pop culture reference now, since the movie is out and it's gained so much popularity c:)

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