Looking for Alaska

Looking for Alaska

Pdf fan
Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)

Last Words Symbol Analysis

Last Words Symbol Icon
For much of Looking for Alaska, Miles thinks of last words as a way to encapsulate the way a great person lived, and he memorizes many famous people’s last words. Like the Buddhist koans Miles learns about in his World Religions class, these last words seem like guides on how to live life. Miles maintains his love of last words after Alaska’s death, but he ultimately has to accept that he will never know hers. What he has, instead, are Alaska’s lasting words: “To be continued?” Miles points out the difficulty of preserving people’s last words when their death does not seem imminent, and he realizes that last words are not necessarily people’s most important words. By the end of the book, last words come to symbolize the many different ways one could choose to live, but they do not provide any definitive answers. By letting go of Alaska’s last words, Miles learns to live with ambiguity and ultimately comes to enjoy the fact that he does not know what’s coming in his own “Great Perhaps.”

Last Words Quotes in Looking for Alaska

The Looking for Alaska quotes below all refer to the symbol of Last Words. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
How to Live and Die Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Speak edition of Looking for Alaska published in 2008.
1. One Hundred Thirty-Six Days Before Quotes

“François Rabelais. He was this poet. And his last words were ‘I go to seek a Great Perhaps.’ That’s why I’m going. So I don’t have to wait until I die to start seeking a Great Perhaps.”

Related Characters: Miles Halter (speaker)
Related Symbols: Last Words
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

At the beginning of the novel, Miles explains to his parents why he wants to leave Florida and attend Culver Creek. In Florida, Miles' life is entirely predictable, and he is drawn to the idea of going somewhere where anything could happen. Miles loves learning other people's last words and often uses them as guidance for how to live his own life. Here, Miles' takes Rabelais' last words, which refer to the mystery of death, and reinterprets them as inspiration for his life. He doesn't want death to be his "Great Perhaps"; instead, he wants to start seeking adventure now, in life.

Much of Looking for Alaska is about Miles' struggle to make sense of the mysteries of life and death, and this quote helps set up that struggle. While Miles is clearly drawn to these mysteries at the beginning of the book, when his life actually becomes mysterious he has trouble accepting the unknown. This statement also demonstrates how invincible Miles feels early on in the novel. At this point, death is something to "wait" for that will happen far into the future--not something that might happen at any moment. 

A+

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other Looking for Alaska quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!
2. One Hundred Twenty-Eight Days Before Quotes

“That’s the mystery, isn’t it? Is the labyrinth living or dying? Which is he trying to escape—the world or the end of it?”

Related Characters: Alaska Young (speaker), Miles Halter
Related Symbols: Last Words, The Labyrinth
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

When Alaska and Miles meet and she learns of his love of last words, she tells him about the supposed last words of Simón Bolívar: "How will I ever get out of this labyrinth." Miles is unsure what to make of Bolívar's words, but for Alaska the lack of clarity in Bolívar's quote is what makes it exciting and interesting: is Bolívar describing a desire to escape death, or a desire to escape life?

This interaction makes immediately clear how different Alaska's perspective on life is from Miles's. To Miles, life is a "Great Perhaps" and is full of opportunities that must be seized. He is generally optimistic about the future and very much intends to make the most of his life. Alaska, on the other hand, entertains the possibility that life might be something that needs to be escaped rather than enjoyed. Unlike Miles, who thinks of eventual death as a reason to make the most of your life while you have it, Alaska sees death as a potential way out of all of the suffering in the world. And although Alaska often works hard at making herself seem mysterious to others, the "Great Perhaps" of life, which is so attractive to Miles, is not necessarily attractive to Alaska.

At this point in the novel, Alaska still isn't clear on what she believes, and Bolívar's words themselves are still a "mystery" to her. Later in the novel however, Miles thinks back to this moment when he is trying to figure out how to understand the role Alaska played in her own death. 

31. The Last Day Quotes

“But a lot of times, people die how they live. And so last words tell me a lot about who people were, and why they became the sort of people biographies get written about.”

Related Characters: Miles Halter (speaker)
Related Symbols: Last Words
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Lara asks Miles (with whom she's having a strange sexual relationship) why he's so interested in famous people's last words. Here, Miles gives a reason: he thinks that it's possible to learn something deeply important about a famous person (and about life itself) by studying the last thing they say, or are rumored to have said. Famous last words, in a sense, are never random: they're always deeply revealing of the way a person lived.

It's characteristic, too, that Miles is interested in famous last words because he wants to know how to become famous and memorable  himself (i.e., how to get a biography written about oneself). Miles is a young, ambitious, but inexperienced person: he's willing to take any bits of information that he thinks could help him on the way to greatness. Furthermore, we've already seen that Miles is fascinated by the concept of using a "key" to understand a person's entire life. Just as Miles believes that the "key" to understanding Alaska's existence is her mother's death, he believes that the key to understanding a great man's life to learn what he said just before he dies. In Miles's world, nothing is random: everything has an explanation.

“This is so fun…but I’m so sleepy. To be continued?”

Related Characters: Alaska Young (speaker), Miles Halter
Related Symbols: Last Words
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:

in this rather climactic scene, Alaska "dares" Miles to kiss her, knowing full-well that Miles is in love with her. Alaska kisses Miles, and even lectures him on how to kiss better. Miles is in a quasi-relationship with Lara at the moment, but he's so much more in love with Alaska that kissing her is practically the defining event of his life so far.

Green conveys the "asymmetry" of Alaska and Miles's relationship. Miles is deeply attracted to Alaska, and while Alaska knows this full-well, she seems not to feel quite the same level of attraction for Miles. Abruptly, she tells Miles that she's feeling tired, and needs to go to bed. The matter-of-fact way she opts out of the make-out session is, as always with Alaska, intended to be both disarming and confusing: she's always cultivating an aura of mystery and unpredictability. The passage is also a good example of tragic foreshadowing: Alaska is going to die soon, and so Miles and Alaska's relationship will never actually "continue"--thus this otherwise normal moment of teen drama takes on tragic proportions, and Alaska's ambiguous words become her last words to Miles.

32. The Day After Quotes

“I know so many last words. But I will never know hers.”

Related Characters: Miles Halter (speaker), Alaska Young
Related Symbols: Last Words
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:

Miles, we've known for some time now, is obsessed with people's last words. As an immature young man, Miles enjoyed the concept of dying words because it suggested a "fast ticket" to fame: he thought that by studying people's last words, he could know something about what made them so great--what the secret of being remembered was. Now that Miles has experienced the death of a loved one, he's not so glib about the concept of death or dying words. Alaska is dead, and he's no longer thinking about himself at all: he's fixated on her memory.

The passage also reinforces the idea that it's impossible to know people completely. Previously, Miles thought that he had Alaska "figured out." Miles's error is clear, symbolized by the fact that he'll never know Alaska's last words (and, by extension, he'll never know if she killed herself or just had an accident, what she was thinking of just before she died, what kind of person she really was on the inside, etc.). There's a limit to how much we can know about one another, especially when we make an effort to surround ourselves in mystery (as Alaska did).

59. One Hundred Thirty-Six Days After Quotes

“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.”

Related Characters: Miles Halter (speaker), Alaska Young
Related Symbols: Last Words
Page Number: 221
Explanation and Analysis:

The novel has dealt with religious themes, but in the final lines of the novel, Green brings religion to the center of the stage. Miles is trying to come to terms with his own feelings of grief regarding the death of his friend Alaska. He's come to accept that while he played a role in Alaska's death, he forgives himself, and knows that Alaska forgives him, too. Furthermore, Miles here seems to allude to the concept of a Heaven. As with earthly matters, though, Miles doesn't profess to know what happens to human beings after they die. Nevertheless, he continues to hope that somewhere in another life, Alaska is happy and content.

In short, the novel ends on a note of blind, beautiful hope. Miles is still a young man, but he's learned how to take care of himself and show his love for other people. Thus, he hopes that Alaska finds happiness somewhere, even after her death.

Get the entire Looking for Alaska LitChart as a printable PDF.
Looking for alaska.pdf.medium

Last Words Symbol Timeline in Looking for Alaska

The timeline below shows where the symbol Last Words appears in Looking for Alaska. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
1. One Hundred Thirty-Six Days Before
How to Live and Die Theme Icon
Mystery and the Unknown Theme Icon
...in fact going “to seek a Great Perhaps.” Miles loves reading biographies and learning people’s last words , and this phrase comes from the last words of François Rabelais, a French poet. (full context)
2. One Hundred Twenty-Eight Days Before
How to Live and Die Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
...Miles struggles to come up with an answer, but eventually says that he knows people’s last words . (full context)
7. One Hundred Nine Days Before
Identity Theme Icon
Mischief Theme Icon
...refuse. Finally, the Colonel makes him a deal: if Kevin can pick a president whose last words Miles doesn’t know, he’ll agree to a truce. Kevin chooses Millard Fillmore, and Miles responds... (full context)
17. Sixty-Seven Days Before
Loyalty and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Mischief Theme Icon
It finally stops raining, and Miles sits outside thinking about the last words of Civil War commanders. Takumi finds him and the two go down to the Smoking... (full context)
31. The Last Day
Loyalty and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...Then Lara does homework while Miles reads a biography. Lara asks him why he likes last words so much, and Miles realizes that he has never thought about it. (full context)
How to Live and Die Theme Icon
Loyalty and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Memory and Memorial Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
...tells Lara that the way people die is often indicative of the way they lived. Last words give him a lot of information about how someone ended up being interesting enough to... (full context)
36. Seven Days After
Mystery and the Unknown Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Miles turns to the general’s last words and is surprised to find the words “Straight & Fast” written beside the question about... (full context)
39. Thirteen Days After
Mystery and the Unknown Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Mischief Theme Icon
...so drunk that they didn’t know to swerve. Miles asks if the officer heard Alaska’s last words , but he tells them she was dead by the time he made it over... (full context)
45. Twenty-Nine Days After
Loyalty and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...she could come back and marry Miles and have genius kids who knew poetry and last words . Miles is offended, and Takumi tells him that he is sick of Miles acting... (full context)
How to Live and Die Theme Icon
Mystery and the Unknown Theme Icon
Memory and Memorial Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
...wasn’t paying attention for most of it. Miles thinks to himself that no one remembers last words when you don’t know the person is about to die. The group decides that something... (full context)
59. One Hundred Thirty-Six Days After
How to Live and Die Theme Icon
Mystery and the Unknown Theme Icon
Loyalty and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Memory and Memorial Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
...them and he forgives everyone else. He finally accepts that he will never know her last words and thoughts. He realizes that he will love her forever, despite the fact that he... (full context)
How to Live and Die Theme Icon
Mystery and the Unknown Theme Icon
Loyalty and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Memory and Memorial Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
...only change shapes and sizes and manifestations.” Miles ends his essay by quoting Thomas Edison’s last words , “It’s very beautiful over there.” He says that he’s not sure where Alaska is,... (full context)