Looking for Alaska

Looking for Alaska

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The Labyrinth Symbol Analysis

The Labyrinth Symbol Icon
One of the clearer symbols in Looking for Alaska is the labyrinth. Alaska loves the last words of Simón Bolívar: “Damn it, how will I ever get out of this labyrinth!” At the beginning of the book, Alaska isn’t sure if Bolívar’s labyrinth symbolizes life or death, but she eventually decides that life’s most important question is “How will we escape this labyrinth of suffering?” Labyrinths differ from mazes in that labyrinths have only one possible path, winding though it might be, while mazes have many different potential paths. Whether or not Alaska intended to die, she seems certain that her life, tracked through the labyrinth, will be an unhappy one, and that the only way to survive will be “straight & fast”—either to go through it recklessly or not go through it at all. Miles has a more Christian understanding of labyrinths, although he is not particularly religious. In Christianity, with which Green is very familiar, labyrinths symbolize a journey towards salvation. It is not an easy road, and it’s full of twists and turns, but if one follows the path, one will arrive at God’s doorstep. Because life is not a maze, there are no dead ends. Miles embraces the labyrinthine nature of life, and once he decides to move forward rather than look back, he is excited about where his path might take him.

The Labyrinth Quotes in Looking for Alaska

The Looking for Alaska quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Labyrinth. 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.
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. 

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10. One Hundred Days Before Quotes

“Jesus, I’m not going to be one of those people who sits around talking about what they’re gonna do. I’m just going to do it. Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia…You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the past.”

Related Characters: Alaska Young (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Labyrinth
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Alaska tells Miles about her plans to teach disabled children one day, but then stops herself halfway through an explanation: she insists that she doesn't want to become one of those people who talks about the future constantly. In Alaska's view, talking about the future is a kind of cop-out: a way of avoiding the present. Alaska also thinks talking about the future is useless, since one's dreams never come true. This is a cynical (and often incorrect) view, of course, but it fits in with Alaska's persona of pessimism and dark humor.

In short, the passage shows us some of Alaska's limitations and weaknesses. She believes that "people" never achieve their dreams, but that's only because she's sure she'll never achieve her dreams. The irony is that in turning away from the future so willingly, Alaska doesn't embrace the present at all; she just "doubles down" on her past. As we'll see more and more clearly, Alaska is haunted by her life before coming to prep school: she's afraid of the future because she's haunted by her own memories.

59. One Hundred Thirty-Six Days After Quotes

“He was gone, and I did not have time to tell him what I had just now realized: that I forgave him, and that she forgave us, and that we had to forgive to survive in the labyrinth.”

Related Characters: Miles Halter (speaker), Alaska Young, Takumi Hikohito
Related Symbols: The Labyrinth
Page Number: 218
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Miles realizes that he's ready to forgive his old friend Takumi. Takumi has been angry with Miles ever since Alaska's death: he blames Miles for Alaska's death (partly as a way of distracting himself from his own role in Alaska's death). Miles realizes that there's no point in blaming other people: the only way out of the cycle of self-hatred that arises after a loved one's death is to accept blame, forgive other people, and slowly move on. And yet Miles's forgiveness is incomplete: he never gets to forgive Takumi face-to-face.

Perhaps the scene is supposed to symbolize the flawed nature of life: people can't always be honest with one another and open up about their feelings, even if they want to show love for each other. There are always layers dividing people, whether layers of distance, miscommunication, or any other number of things. But even if Miles can't forgive Takumi in person, he can love and forgive himself.

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The Labyrinth Symbol Timeline in Looking for Alaska

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Labyrinth appears in Looking for Alaska. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
2. One Hundred Twenty-Eight Days Before
How to Live and Die Theme Icon
Mystery and the Unknown Theme Icon
...Bolívar died just after saying: “Damn it. How will I ever get out of this labyrinth.” Miles asks Alaska what the labyrinth is, and as she contemplates her answer, he thinks... (full context)
How to Live and Die Theme Icon
Mystery and the Unknown Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
...she promises to find Miles a girlfriend if he helps her figure out what the labyrinth is. Alaska then asks Miles if he ever runs home in the dark because he... (full context)
4. One Hundred Twenty-Six Days Before
How to Live and Die Theme Icon
Mystery and the Unknown Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
...important pursuit in history: the search for meaning.” This phrase makes Miles think of Alaska’s labyrinth. Miles likes the Old Man and looks forward to being taught and lectured to rather... (full context)
19. Fifty-Two Days Before
How to Live and Die Theme Icon
Mystery and the Unknown Theme Icon
...Just as he is about to say it, she says that she’s realized that the labyrinth isn’t life or death, but suffering, which she defines as “[d]oing wrong, and having wrong... (full context)
35. Six Days After
How to Live and Die Theme Icon
Loyalty and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Memory and Memorial Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
...her, and that the love shouldn’t be in the past tense. He wonders if the labyrinth of death could really be worse the labyrinth he currently feels like he’s in. (full context)
36. Seven Days After
Mystery and the Unknown Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
...find the words “Straight & Fast” written beside the question about how to escape the labyrinth. The note is in blue ink instead of black, and is completely legible, so Alaska... (full context)
37. Eight Days After
Loyalty and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...Dr. Hyde decides to write Alaska’s exam question—How will we ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering—on the board, and leave it for the rest of the year. He says... (full context)
38. Nine Days After
Mystery and the Unknown Theme Icon
Memory and Memorial Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
...driving, she saw the jackknifed truck and realized it could be “the end to her labyrinthine mystery.” Miles tells the Colonel that she couldn’t have been thinking about Jake because she... (full context)
41. Twenty 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
...became his Great Perhaps. Now she has left him “Perhapsless” and “stuck in [her] goddamned labyrinth.” He thinks that maybe he can’t remember Alaska correctly because he never really knew her.... (full context)
58. One Hundred Twenty-Two 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
...class. Each person must write about how he or she will get out of Alaska’s labyrinth. He tells them that they don’t need to do any research, and that he would... (full context)
How to Live and Die Theme Icon
Loyalty and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Miles asks the Colonel how he is going to escape the labyrinth, and the Colonel says that he has no idea. Miles responds that that’s not going... (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
...his religion paper. He writes that before he came to Culver Creek, he avoided the labyrinth by pretending it didn’t exist. He and the Colonel messed up with Alaska just like... (full context)