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Imagery in "Looking for Alaska"


John Green’s 2005 young adult novel “Looking for Alaska” features depictions of everything parents don’t want their kids involved with: drinking, sex and general mischief. Though the controversial novel has been banned in some schools, it has become a national bestseller, not only because of its bawdy content, but also for the way in which Green crafts powerful images that resonate with the youthful audience for which the novel is intended.

Food and Comfort

Throughout “Looking for Alaska,” food or activities involving food are shown as ways in which the characters deal with problems. The most vivid image of food is the bufriedo, a fried bean burrito that the Colonel and his group of friends use as both an initiation rite for joining their gang, and a coping mechanism for the stresses of boarding school. Imagery of food and eating is well developed and thorough, emphasizing significance to the characters and the storyline.

Obesity and Fitting In

As one might expect in a novel in which food plays a prominent role, a number of characters in “Looking for Alaska” are overweight or are referred to by nicknames associated with obesity. The main character, Miles Halter, is called “Pudge” by his roommate and best friend, Chip Martin; the nickname is ironic, because Miles is tall and slender. Chip is described as short and stocky, as are school principal Mr. Starnes and Dr. Hyde. Each is also considered an outcast in the school, suggesting a correlation between weight -- or weight-related nicknames -- and their ability to fit in.

Pranks War

Miles and his group are constantly battling with the Weekday Warriors, a group of popular students at Culver Creek Preparatory School. In the final prank war with the Warriors, Miles and his crew successfully change the Warriors’ grades and put blue dye in their shampoo and hair gel. This combination ends the prank war, with Miles and his crew the victors. When describing their pranks, the characters reveal the degree to which successful pranking reflects an image of popularity at Culver Creek. The pranks are ritualistic displays of power, and when MIles and his friends are ultimately successful in out-pranking the Weekday Warriors, it reveals their power and prestige at school.

Labyrinth of Suffering

The labyrinth of suffering is a recurrent image, introduced by the title character, Alaska, in a conversation with Pudge. Alaska constantly seems to reflect on this image, which evidently emerges from Simon Bolivar’s last words. For Alaska, the labyrinth of suffering is an image of her own inner turmoil and depression, with which she struggles for the entirety of the novel. This suggests that Alaska is trapped in the twists and turns of her own sadness, and she is incapable of escaping this feeling of suffering. Alaska’s death seems to represent her final attempt at escaping.

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About the Author

Samuel Hamilton has been writing since 2002. His work has appeared in “The Penn,” “The Antithesis,” “New Growth Arts Review" and “Deek” magazine. Hamilton holds a Master of Arts in English education from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Master of Arts in composition from the University of Florida.

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