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Forgiveness is the way out of suffering in “Looking for Alaska”

Looking for Alaska is the deeply affecting coming-of-age story from the award winning author of The Fault in Our Stars, John Green. Through the eyes of misfit Florida teenager, Miles Halter, Green takes us on a journey that explores the “Great Perhaps”. Green perfectly captures the intensity of feeling and despair that defines adolescence in this hip, shocking, and emotionally charged work of fiction.

Miles has a quirky interest in famous people’s last words, especially François Rabelais‘s final statement, “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.” Determined not to wait for death to begin a similar quest, Miles convinces his parents to let him leave home. Once settled at Culver Creek Preparatory School, he befriends a couple of equally gifted outcasts: his roommate Chip―commonly known as the Colonel—who has a predilection for memorising long, alphabetical lists for fun; and the beautiful and unpredictable Alaska, whom Miles comes to adore.

The kids grow closer as they make their way through a school year filled with contraband, tests, pranks, breakups, and revelations about family and life. But as the story hurtles toward its shattering climax, chapter headings like ‘forty-six days before’ and ‘the last day’ portend a tragic event―one that will change Miles forever and lead him to new conclusions about the value of his cherished “Great Perhaps.”


Looking for Alaska is one of my favourite stories from Green. I read this one a while ago, but I found that I’ve been thinking more and more about the novel recently. Especially even more so about the drizzle/hurricane quote. It was actually the quote what made me want to read the novel in the first place. It said:

“I wanted so badly to lie down next to her on the couch, to wrap my arms around her and sleep. Not fuck, like in those movies. Not even have sex. Just sleep together in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was hurricane.” – John Green, Looking for Alaska

However, although this was what initially captured me to the story, I was captivated by the deeper and inner message that I felt the book contained. The question that whether (and how) one can live a thoughtful, hopeful life in the face of unresolvable ambiguity.

That’s one of the biggest questions in life, isn’t it? When things go wrong with no real justification or reason, can we bring ourselves to see the good in life and allow ourselves to hope that things can get better? Can we go on to lead a hopeful life?

The last paragraph in the novel reads:

“Those awful things are survivable, because we are as indestructible as we believe ourselves to be. When adults say, ‘Teenagers think they are invincible’ with that sly, stupid smile on their faces, they don’t know how right they are. We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken. We think that we are invincible because we are. We cannot be born, and we cannot die. Like all energy, we can only change shapes and sizes and manifestations. They forget that when they get old. They get scared of losing and failing. But that part of us great than the sum of our parts cannot begin and cannot end, and so it cannot fail.

So I know she forgives me, just as I forgive her. Thomas Edison’s last words were: ‘It’s very beautiful over there.’ I don’t know where there is, but I believe it’s somewhere, and I hope it’s beautiful.” – John Green, Looking for Alaska

Green has previously said that there is much significance in these last few lines, explaining that they are “an invocation of hope in the life of the world to come.” I think what Green was trying to show through his novel is that by forgiving people, we can can live a thoughtful, hopeful life in the face of unresolvable ambiguity. We can learn to go on, that life can go on, despite our losses. That it can be good again. As the novel famously teaches us,

“The only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive.” – John Green, Looking for Alaska

Forgiveness is a powerful thing. Not just to make the other person feel good, but to heal us. We don’t need to like the person, we don’t have to love them. But we need to forgive them. If only to set ourselves free and help us let go.

With a bit of research, I found that this is exactly what Green was trying to get at in his novel Looking for Alaska. Green was trying to show that through forgiveness we can live the most hopeful, and fullest life we can. Forgiveness can set us free. He said:

“When I was writing Alaska, I wanted the end NOT to give us what we want. The truth is that in our lives we are all going to encounter questions that should be answered, that deserve to be answered, and yet prove unanswerable. Can we find meaning to life without those answers? Can we find a way to acknowledge the reality (and injustice) of suffering without giving in to hopelessness? Those are the questions I think Miles is confronting at the end, and I wanted to argue that through forgiveness, it is possible to live a full and hopeful life – even if our world is saturated with injustice and loss.” – John Green on Looking for Alaska.

To read my post on John Green’s novel Paper Towns, click here.

To read my post on his novel The Fault in Our Stars, click here.


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