In Looking for Alaska, characters are defined and even introduced to others by their ability to memorize things. The Colonel memorizes countries, Miles memorizes last words, and Alaska memorizes poetry. Despite the fact that these characters find solace in the words and numbers they memorize, they still struggle with their memories of other people and themselves. Indeed, while Alaska may be outwardly defined by her ability to quote poems about sadness and femininity, she defines herself by the memory of her mother’s death. She is tormented by the fact that she was present for the death and yet did nothing to stop it. The memory of this inaction drives Alaska to be a reckless person, which in turn propels her toward her own death.
While Alaska defines herself by a single memory, Miles is able to look at himself more holistically. His memory of wearing peed-on gym clothes is just as important to who he is as his memory of playing a prank with his new friends at Culver Creek. Miles does, however, struggle to remember Alaska correctly. He is so blinded by his love for her and his hope for what could have been that he forgets that she was frequently, as Alaska describes herself, a “sullen bitch.” Miles spends a great deal of time after Alaska’s death trying to learn everything about her, to make his mental picture of her more complete. Doing this starts driving him crazy, and he finally accepts that he will inevitably forget Alaska, just like Alaska forgot her mother’s death. But while Miles may not be able to remember Alaska perfectly, letting go of the need to remember her exactly lets him memorialize her as she truly was through actions of his own. In addition to the Alaska Young Memorial Prank, Miles, The Colonel, Takumi, and Lara each throw a cigarette into the Smoking Hole in Alaska’s honor. Like a cigarette, Alaska brought others great pleasure, but also a lot of pain. While the memory of some of that pleasure and some of that pain lives on, Alaska will eventually fade away like a cigarette’s smoke and dying embers. As much as Miles likes to fix life into place by encapsulating it with last words, he must come to terms with the fact that everything in life can and will fade away.
Memory and Memorial ThemeTracker
Memory and Memorial Quotes in Looking for Alaska
“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.”
“This is so fun…but I’m so sleepy. To be continued?”
We did not say: Don’t drive. You’re drunk.
We did not say: We aren’t letting you in that car when you are upset.
We did not say: We insist on going with you.
We did not say: This can wait until tomorrow. Anything—everything—can wait.”
“I could hear the Colonel screaming, and I could feel hands on my back as I hunched forward, but I could only see her lying naked on a metal table, a small trickle of blood falling out of her half-teardrop nose, her green eyes open, staring off into the distance, her mouth turned up just enough to suggest the idea of a smile, and she had felt so warm against me, her mouth so soft and warm on mine.”
“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.”
“And POOF we are driving through the moment of her death. We are driving through the place that she could not drive through, passing onto asphalt she never saw, and we are not dead. We are not dead! We are breathing and we are crying and now slowing down and moving back into the right lane.”
“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.”
“Forgetting her mother, failing her mother and her friends and herself—those are awful things, but she did not need to fold into herself and self-destruct. 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.”