Coming-of-age stories, known as bildungsroman, often begin with a young person looking for the answers to life’s questions, as Miles does in Looking for Alaska. In a traditional bildungsroman, loss or grief would motivate the main character to depart from home and go on a quest for knowledge, while in Looking for Alaska, a death interrupts the search on which Miles has already embarked. Like Looking for Alaska, however, a bildungsroman ends with its main character having gained maturity and self-knowledge. The character who “comes of age” (Miles) who has a less naïve and more realistic approach to life as a result of his experiences.
While all coming-of-age novels are invested in identity, Looking for Alaska is particularly concerned with it. When Miles first arrives at Culver Creek, he thinks that he knows himself. He is well liked by teachers, doesn’t care for sports, and is perfectly happy being alone. His quest, at that moment, is for adventure rather than self-awareness. Once Alaska dies, Miles turns his attention to trying to figure out who she really was. While she was alive, Miles could identify Alaska as beautiful and mysterious and smart, but she was also mean and selfish and irrational, and he struggles to come to terms with the many facets of her personality. Ultimately, Miles realizes that while the process of “looking for Alaska” never brought him any real answers about Alaska, it did help him grow closer to his friends and learn more about himself. Miles matures into someone who knows the value of friendship and forgiveness, and it is only once he realizes that he cares about these things that he truly knows himself.
Identity Quotes in Looking for Alaska
“Y’all smoke to enjoy it. I smoke to die.”
“Well, later, I found out what it means. It’s from an Aleut word, Alyeska. It means ‘that which the sea breaks against,’ and I love that. But at the time, I just saw Alaska up there. And it was big, like I wanted to be. And it was damn far away from Vine Station, Alabama, just like I wanted to be.”
“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.”
“Best day of my life was January 9, 1997. I was eight years old, and my mom and I went to the zoo on a class trip. I liked the bears. She liked the monkeys. Best day ever. End of story.”
“It was the central moment of Alaska’s life. When she cried and told me that she fucked everything up, I knew what she meant now. And when she said she failed everyone, I know whom she meant. It was the everything and the everyone of her life.”
“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.”
“Goddamn it! God, how did this happen? How could she be so stupid! She just never thought anything through. So goddamned impulsive. Christ. It is not okay. I can’t believe she was so stupid!”
“So we gave up. I’d finally had enough of chasing after a ghost who did not want to be discovered. We’d failed, maybe, but some mysteries aren’t meant to be solved. I still did not know her as I wanted to, but I never could. She made it impossible for me.”
“But we knew what could be found out, and in finding it out, she had made us closer—the Colonel and Takumi and me, anyway. And that was it. She didn’t leave me enough to discover her, but she left me enough to rediscover the Great Perhaps.”
“I would never know her well enough to know her thoughts in those last minutes, would never know if she left us on purpose. But the not-knowing would not keep me from caring, and I would always love Alaska Young, my crooked neighbor, with all my crooked heart.”