Peter Van Houten Symbolizing Cancer in The Fault in Our Stars

“I refuse to pity you in the manner to which you are well accustomed. Like all sick
children, you say you don't want pity, but your very existence depends on it… You are a side
effect of an evolutionary process that cares little for individual lives. You are a failed experiment
in mutation” (Green 192-193). Peter Van Houten is a central character in the novel The Fault in
Our Stars. The author is a hero to the novel’s main character, Hazel Grace, serving as a source of
inspiration and hope to the dying teen. Hazel Grace suffers of terminal cancer, and the novel that
Peter Van Houten wrote brings immense comfort to her as she can relate to the health journey
presented in that story. He is the embodiment of Hazel’s most beloved tangible item. However,
as the story progresses, it is revealed that this character presented as an archetype hero is in
reality a crude alcoholic lacking basic manners with an abhorrent need to infect those around him
with the same callous and impaired attitude that he possesses.

Hazel Grace Lancaster is a 16 year-old girl suffering from a terminal form of thyroid
cancer who labels herself as a grenade – she could blow up and die at any minute, creating a
wave of emotional mass destruction in her passing. Her illness leaves her feeling very alone and
weary of becoming close with people for fear of leaving them when she dies. Although, she finds
comfort and a friend in Peter Van Houten’s novel An Imperial Affliction, based on a sick girl
who goes through similar experiences as Hazel. Hazel holds the novel in such high regard that
the day she meets Augustus Waters she tells him to read the book. Augustus is a fellow ill teen
Hazel meets at the support group her mother is forcing her to go to. The two become closer and
Gus announces to Hazel that he will use his miracle wish trip to fly her and himself to the
Netherlands to meet with Peter Van Houten in person, as he has told them through email that he
will answer their questions if they visit him in Amsterdam, which is precisely what the pair plans to do.

Hazel and Augustus arrive in Amsterdam and find Mr. Van Houten’s apartment. The two
kids meet with him and he begins to slowly kill Hazel’s trust in him and the novel. Hazel asks
him questions about the ending of the novel and the fate of some of her favorite characters.
Annoyed, Van Houten starts yelling and finally announces to the pair, “I regret that I cannot
indulge your childish whims… You are fated to live out your days as the child you were before
you were diagnosed, the child who believes there is life after a novel ends” (192). The brutality
of this statement leaves Hazel and Gus momentarily speechless, feeling betrayed and wronged by
a man Hazel viewed as her hero. Van Houten, downing several shots since their arrival and
feeling the effects of previous shots, denies their request to tell them what happened to the
story’s characters and announces that the only reason the kids received anything worthwhile is
because of their affliction with cancer. He crushes Hazel’s dream of learning how An Imperial
Affliction ends. She has put so much trust and faith in his story that she feels as if s best friend
just turned on her. Peter is extremely rude and after a certain point Hazel’s only response is to
scream back at him. Through a seemingly sort of rotten-attitude osmosis, Van Houten’s harsh
words and offensive mannerisms disperse through the room and infect both Hazel and Augustus.
The pair begins to fight back against the drunken man and inform him of what he is lacking in
his life, such as a conscience.

The part of the story that is not so readily obvious is the reason behind Van Houten’s
repulsive attitude. His assistant tries to explain his actions, and states that “circumstance has
made him this way” (154). Later on in the story it is revealed that Peter’s own daughter passed
away from cancer, creating the inspiration for Hazel’s favorite novel. He cannot be around Hazel
and Augustus because it reminds him of his painful past. Cancer as a disease came into Van
Houten’s life, taking away his daughter and replacing her with a lifetime of irrevocable suffering,
while also transforming Peter into a cancer of the soul – he is hostile, angry, hurts those around
him, and inflicts others with that same dismal attitude.

It is clear that Van Houten is incapable of interacting with the general public, responding
by throwing insults and ending dreams. He spreads his bad attitude throughout the room, and
Hazel and Gus leave hurt and angry. Van Houten is a cancer of the soul – he is an angry man
who not only lacks manners but also a heart. He is unable to interact with those who are afflicted
with physical pain and responds by creating an emotional pain and dispersing it throughout an atmosphere.

(C.J. 2015)



Analysis of Names in The Fault in Our Stars

In this literary analysis, L.J. dives into the meaning behind the names and how that compares to the meaning of the work as a whole.

Once upon a love story, John Green describes the heartbreaking tale of Hazel Lancaster and Augustus Waters. Hazel (who is in a war with Thyroid cancer) constantly pushes people away in fear that they will get attached to someone who is a “ticking time bomb”. However, when her path crosses with Augustus Waters (who is fighting against osteosarcoma), her guard breaks away and she falls hopelessly in love with him. These two characters mold their lives with one another and connect in a way that is flawlessly unique.

The word “Hazel” is thought to be mundane and ordinary. It is nothing spectacular and certainly not the color one would pluck from the crayon box. This parallels how Hazel views herself; while Augustus sees Hazel as the most beautiful human imaginable, she looks upon herself with distasteful acceptance. Hazel is also an “in-between color” (Green). This concept reflexes the stage Hazel is enduring in her life right now. She is on a personal journey from sickness to wellness but also from child to adult. Augustus refers to Hazel as “Hazel Grace.” This reference is meant to place emphasis on how beautifully Augustus sees Hazel. Hazel mentions toward the beginning of the novel that she despises having a name without any nicknames, however, Gus conjures a cherished nickname for her regardless of what she previously believed. He takes a supposedly boring name and pairs it with her elegant middle name to create equilibrium and pull Hazel up to the same level as he sees her.

Augustus Waters holds an abundance of meaning within his names as well. John Green is continuously quoted saying that Augustus is named after the first Roman Emperor. This brilliant allusion is able to place a certain confidence and expectation on Augustus to be a leader and a savior for Hazel. Augustus is related to words like dignity, power, and magnificence. However, throughout the entirety of the novel, Hazel is noted calling Augustus, “Gus”. This childish nickname is utilized each time Augustus shows Hazel his sensitive side. When Gus experiences anxiety when the plane to Amsterdam takes off, Hazel views him as a “Gus”, not an “Augustus”. Toward the conclusion of the story, Augustus catches on to this connections and mentions how Hazel no longer refers to him as “Augustus”. “‘I’ve pissed the bed, Gus, believe me. It’s no big deal.’ ‘You used,’ he said, and then took a sharp breath, ‘to call me Augustus,’” (240). This touching moment is used to portray his journey from strength to weakness: the opposite of what an Emperor is expected to do. Ironically, Augustus’s biggest fear is to be forgotten by the world. This is also the exact opposite of what happens to a powerful and beloved emperor who is mentioned in every history textbook.

Not only does Gus’s first name reflect meaning, his last name holds significance as well. Water is usually portrayed as something relieving and a source of nourishment but it can also be disastrous. One cannot live without water, however one has the ability to die from water. While Gus is Hazel’s saving grace, he is also the reason why she spirals into a mental breakdown in the conclusion of the novel.

(L.J. 2014)


The Effect of Quotations in John Green’s Looking for Alaska

In this literary criticism MP analyzes the effectiveness of famous quotations that contribute to the central themes of the novel as a whole.


In John Green’s Looking for Alaska, Miles Halter is introduced as a reclusive teenage boy who longs to find a deeper meaning in his life. In doing so, Miles makes the crucial decision to transfer from a high school in Florida to Culver Creek, a boarding school in Alabama. In the words of Francois Rabelais, Miles seeks a “Great Perhaps”.

Miles has an obsession with memorizing the last words of famous people. The first famous quote he uses is Francois Rabelais’s: “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.” This quote is vital to the idea of finding individuality. Miles leaves his average, unpleasing life in order to find himself and a reason why life is worth living. Upon arriving at Culver Creek, Miles receives much more than he expected. He befriends Chip Martins and Alaska Young, two mischievous yet brutally honest students. It is here where Miles changes drastically. He takes up smoking, drinks alcohol, and assists with pranking the school. Just as he thinks his “Great Perhaps” cannot get any better, he falls in love with Alaska. While seeking his “Great Perhaps”, Miles has the opportunity to start fresh at a new place. He is finally able to break out of his shell and create friendships; first best friend and first love. Miles’s contrasting personality with both Chip and Alaska helps him open himself up to new experiences he would have never had in Florida.

Alaska Young is secretive and rebellious. Many times she refuses to answer questions people ask her. She is a prankster that devises the best prank that Culver
Creek has ever seen. Although she has a boyfriend, Miles still longs to be with her. She shares her favorite quote by Simon Bolivar with him: “How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!”. The labyrinth is symbolic of life. Alaska questions this quote by asking Miles, “Is the labyrinth living or dying? Which is he trying to escape- the world or the end of it?”. Life, the labyrinth, is a series of unescapable ups and downs. This quote becomes extremely important when Alaska’s answer is “straight and fast”. One night Alaska was drinking alcohol when she suddenly remembered she forgot the anniversary of her mother’s death. While taking off in her car Alaska dies in a car accident. Miles and Chip draw the conclusion that Alaska was so angry with herself that she committed suicide by crashing into another car, straight and fast. This was Alaska’s way out of the labyrinth.

A major theme in this novel is the importance of pushing through hard times. Miles overcomes his entire boring, friendless childhood when he starts at Culver Creek. Chip comes from a very poor home where his mother lives in a trailer park and his father abandoned them. He earns a yearly scholarship to attend Culver Creek. Half of the novel takes place after Alaska has died. It shows how Chip and Miles persevere through such a sudden, tragic death. There is no way out of the labyrinth, there is only getting through it.

The two major themes of finding individuality and being able to overcome life’s hardships are emphasized by the use of the two famous quotes. Francois Rabelais’s “Great Perhaps” shows Miles’s urge for adventure while the labyrinth represents how one cannot escape life’s obstacles. Miles’s journey leads him to discover that the people he meets along the way make his “labyrinth” bearable.

(M.P. 2013)



Analysis of the Major Theme of Control in The Fault In Our Stars

In this criticism, MP describes and analyzes the theme of how time, as well as many other things in life, are uncontrollable.


The Fault In Our Stars by John Green follows sixteen year old Hazel Lancaster through her fight with Stage IV thyroid cancer. Hazel learns at a young age that her time on earth is limited and comes to terms with her own mortality. Hazel is content with living a passive life as to not hurt anymore people than she already will when she passes; until she meets Augustus Waters, a seventeen year old fighting osteosarcoma.

Hazel leads a mostly self inclusive life. She prefers to be a homebody and throws a fit when her mother makes her go to Support Group. Hazel is afraid of getting close to people. She refers to herself as a “ticking time bomb”, meaning that when she dies she will end up hurting the people around her. At the age of sixteen, Hazel learns that she cannot control her health and the fact that the cancer can take her life at any moment. On the other hand, she believes she can control the amount of pain other people will feel by secluding herself from most relationships. This all changes when she meets Gus.

Gus and Hazel meet at Support Group. Quickly the two connect and start to fall for each other. Hazel’s instinct is to push him away so she will not hurt him, but the two cannot stay away from each other. Augustus’s personality contrasts with Hazel’s. He wants to be remembered and leave behind a legacy. He wants to be a hero. Augustus plays video games in which he saves people, which shows his longing to be a hero. He wants control over his life. Toward the end of the novel, Gus has a reoccurrence which quickly crushes his dreams. He realizes that he cannot control his life and says that, “Life is not a wish granting factory.”

A central part of the novel comes when Gus uses his Wish to take himself and Hazel to meet their favorite author, Peter Van Houten. They go on a quest to find out what happens after the end of An Imperial Affliction, their favorite book he wrote. When they get there, Hazel and Gus are extremely disappointed. Peter Van Houten is nothing but a mean, alcoholic who will not give them the time of day. This is yet another example of life not being fair.

Hazel and Gus are forced to come to terms with their illnesses early on in their lives. When Gus becomes sick for the second time, Hazel says, “Some infinities are shorter than others.” She also quotes Robert Frost by saying, “Nothing gold can stay.” Time is uncontrollable and life is not fair. Having a terminal illness causes both Hazel and Gus to realize how precious time is.

(M.P. 2013)




The Revelation of Genuine Identity as seen in Paper Towns

(17 June 2013) In this essay, S.K touches upon Green’s placement of the meaning of Paper Towns as a whole being the importance of identity choice in adolescence.

In Paper Towns, author John Green creates a thought-provoking story about the journey of two teens Quentin “Q” Jacobsen and Margo Spiegelman. Green utilizes multiple comparison devices such as metaphors and similes in order to reveal hidden meanings as well essential traits of the main characters. Green had an innovative way of sporadically placing intricate and detailed symbols throughout his novel furthering the illumination of the meaning of the work as a whole being the importance of identity choice in adolescence.

The novel is split into three parts along with the prologue, each accounting for a passage of time covering a specific event. The prologue introduces the first usage of foreshadowing as it sets the scene and briefly develops the characters. When Q and Margo find the dead body in the park at age nine an important theme of the novel is briefly introduced as Margo says “maybe all the strings inside him broke” when referring to the dead, suicidal man. This theme/symbol expands later on as the story unfolds. A bit of foreshadowing can also be noticed as Q “[I] could never stop thinking that maybe she [Margo] loved mysteries so much that she became one” in view of the fact that Margo does become an extremely mysterious character.

Part one begins when Margo shows up at Quentin’s house and asks him to accompany her on a journey to gain revenge on those who have hurt her. Several imperceptible symbols and metaphors are encompassed throughout the following three parts as the novel progress. The characters in the novel are aware of the symbols and have the responsibility of evaluating the symbols themselves. This can be seen when referring to the most prevalent and important symbol, also the title of Part one: “The Strings”. The strings directly relate to Margo as hers begin to break by all the pressure placed upon her by her family and friends to act like someone she is not. Margo is extremely popular in her school; her peers are fascinated by her ability to change and play many different roles. Nonetheless, Margo does not enjoy this life and struggles with the creation of her own identity.

Less noticeable symbols can also be discovered in the novel. In Quentin’s neighborhood, all of the streets are a variation of Jefferson (Jefferson Way, Jefferson Road, etc.); this is to represent the little diversity and originality in the character’s home town. A close friend of Q’s named Radar also maintains an important symbol. Radar’s parents have an immense black Santa collection which symbolizes the significance of altering mindsets. Most children are raised to believe that Santa Clause is a white male, yet Radar’s parents are encouraging imagination as they display Santa differently from how everyone else pictures him. In Part three, Q embarks on a road trip along with his best friends Radar and Ben, and Margo’s best friend Lacey. The road trip symbolizes their desire to be involved in a psychological journey and relocate. One final and crucial symbol is that of Moby Dick. This novel is mentioned a few times throughout Paper Towns. Green makes use of this book by relating Quentin to Moby Dick’s Ahab. Q’s teacher states “Ahab is a fool for being obsessed” as some may also see Quentin’s actions foolish and obsessive. As opposed to focusing on his high school career, he revolves his thoughts solely around Margo and her missing state. The usage of Moby Dick is also a metaphor as similarly to Captain Ahab’s search for the white whale, Q is willing to do anything to locate Margo.

The characters’ choice of words and actions played a large role in developing their personalities and enhancing their qualities. In the prologue, after Q and Margo have discovered the body, “I [Q] took those two steps back, Margo took two equally small and quiet steps forward”. Quentin’s movement takes after his reserved personality while Margo’s movement represents her uninhibited nature as she is not frightened by the dead body unlike a normal child would be. Often times Margo would leave clues behind when she ran away as noted by her parents, “‘Clues everywhere. The day she ran away to Mississippi, she ate alphabet soup and left exactly four letter in her soup bowl: An M, an I, an S, and a P’”. By Margo leaving behind small clues, one can assume that she hopes for people to search for her. This act is very of great importance as it reveals Margo’s mysterious and contradicting persona as she wants to run away, but not for the typical reasons. Margo later on recognizes her alter ego. “‘I [Margo] looked down and thought about how I was made of paper. I was the flimsy-foldable person, not everyone else,’” Margo explains to Quentin near the end of the novel. Margo has reached self-discovery and now comprehends the importance of identity choice in teenage years. Margo was able to change her character without difficulty similarly to folding a piece of paper; Margo experiences self-discovery as her terminology demonstrates. She no longer wants to be the foldable piece of paper and longs to develop one fitting personality.

All in all, John Green’s Paper Towns is a stimulating novel that follows the story of a teenager’s attempt at self-discovery. Metaphors, similes, diction, and symbols are all critical devices utilized by Green in order to reveal the meaning of the novel being the necessity of self discovery in order to achieve happiness. One main character, Margo Spiegelman, does not become content until she figures out that she is playing a double life and changes in order to be true to herself. Green’s story is inspirational and encourages all teenagers (or anyone suffering an identity crisis) to to be patient as only time and growth can divulge a genuine identity.

(S.K. 2013)


Valuable Life Lessons in Looking for Alaska

(17 June 2013) In this essay, S.K examines the valuable life lessons found in John Green’s Looking for Alaska.

John Green’s Looking for Alaska follows a young boy’s journey as he “Seek[s] a Great Perhaps”. Green creates an invigorating coming of age story with protagonist Miles Halter, later on nicknamed “Pudge”, who must experience unfathomable situations in order to reach maturity and blossom. Pudge learns about life along with his friends Chip Martin (The Colonel), Takumi, and Lara. Multiple themes are displayed throughout the novel such as love, guilt, and finding individuality that guide the reader throughout the novel. Green incorporates intricate diction to assist in the understanding of characters’ relationships and symbols as he divulges crucial life lessons. The work is able to encourage young adults in similar situations to stay strong and strive.

After moving from Florida to Alabama, Pudge must make new friends and familiarize himself with his new town. He immediately becomes friends with his roommate known as the Colonel who introduces Pudge to an intriguing girl named Alaska. Alaska touches Pudge’s life and changes the way he sees things as she herself struggles with depression and grief. Multiple themes are noticed here such as finding individuality, overcoming guilt, empathy, and heart break/love. Pudge must develop mentally and physically while he finds out who he is as an individual. Alaska must overcome the guilt she has from her moms passing as she did not call for help when her mom was experiencing an aneurysm. Pudge experiences a feeling of empathy after Alaska’s death as he now sympathizes with her feelings of guilt and sorrow. Finally, Pudge and Alaska both experience heart break and love as Pudge is in love with Alaska yet she does not display mutual feelings.

Early on in the novel, Pudge reveals his obsession for studying famous peoples’ last words; specifically Francois Rabelais’s last words - “I go to seek a Great Perhaps”. Pudge states that this is why he left home when he was so young so he could seek his “Great Perhaps” before his death. The “Great Perhaps” symbolizes Pudge’s optimistic view on life. Another symbol can be recognized while noticing the white flowers. Pudge had originally found the white flowers on Alaska’s bed, but when she died, white flowers were found in the back of her car. Takumi reveals that he had seen her last prior to departure and that she was on her way to her mother’s grave where she had been planning on laying the white flowers. The flowers symbolize Alaska’s remembrance of her mother as she continues to let them thrive in hope of forgiveness.
Diction also plays an extremely important role in Looking for Alaska as the characters are young and do not always think through what they are going to say thus providing the reader with the characters’ raw opinions. This can be noticed in the sexual scenes within the novel. Pudge first has oral sex with his girlfriend Lara, which is portrayed as awkward and unromantic because Pudge and Lara are simply both sexually curious. Almost immediately following this scene, Pudge and Alaska kiss.

“Our tongues dancing back and forth in each other’s mouth until there was no her mouth and my mouth but only our mouths intertwined. She tasted like cigarettes and Mountain Dew and wine and Chap Stick. Her hand came to my face and I felt her soft fingers tracing the line of my jaw.”

Green uses specific terms such as “dancing” and “soft fingers” in order to exemplify the intimacy within the scene. As opposed to Lara, it is clear that Pudge has true feelings for Alaska and their relationship contains much more passion. Pudge’s longing to be with Alaska can also be noticed in the following passage:

I wanted so badly to lie down next to her on the couch, to wrap my arms around her and sleep. Not f***, like in those movies. Not even have sex. Just sleep together, in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.”

In this passage, the reader becomes aware that Pudge idolizes Alaska and has extreme feelings for her; his shyness and complex thought process is noted as he debates confronting Alaska. The metaphor at the end epitomizes the differences between Pudge and Alaska perfectly as he was laid back and toned down while she was an emotional wreck and constantly dealing with pain and sorrow. Therefore, Green’s diction is vital when dissecting Pudge and Alaska’s relationship.

All in all, John Green’s Looking for Alaska demonstrates a situation in which multiple lessons can be learned. Miles’ strong desire to be with Alaska brings about many complications such as heartbreak, guilt, and the struggle to achieve individuality. Miles’ journey assists him in “Seek[ing] a Great Perhaps” which could simply be all of the valuable lessons he has learned from Alaska. Symbols disseminate Green’s life lessons while the detailed diction often times helps in expressing the feelings between Pudge and Alaska. Looking for Alaska is an inspirational story that teaches teens many valuable life lessons, specifically not to take life for granted.

(S.K. 2013)


Analysis of Symbolism in Looking for Alaska


In this criticism, AR discusses the symbols found in Looking for Alaska and how they relate to the development and establishment of the characters.

In the novel, Looking for Alaska by John Green, Miles Halter is introduced to a life in boarding school, where he meets the multifaceted Alaska Young. John Green utilizes diverse symbolism to represent multiple events and character traits throughout the work.

About a quarter of the way through the novel, Pudge asks Alaska what the origins of her name were. She was given the opportunity to pick her name at a young age, and she continued to make similarly large choices throughout the rest of her life. The name “Alaska” is definitely off the beaten path, representing her personality in general. She prefers to live rebelliously, although that brings her into inescapable predicaments on numerous occasions. She has a generally destructive personality, and it’s exemplified through the meaning of the name Alaska: “that which the sea breaks against.” Generally, imagery of the sea breaking against something brings to mind cliffs and jagged rocks. The sea rarely breaks against the shore, unless it is in the context of a hurricane. Either way, the connotation is destructive. Alaska is also the largest state in America; Alaska’s reputation is also the largest on her school campus. She is fond of dramatic flair and attention, which is also shown through what her name represents. Her name contrasts Pudge’s narrow perspective of her as well. He only sees and wants one part of her, which is her body. He has an appreciation for her as a whole person, but his main focus is on her physical traits.

This is further represented through the repetition of his notice of clothing layers. On numerous occasions he counts the layers between his and Alaska’s bodies. “Her underwear, her jeans, the comforter, my corduroys, and my boxers between us, I thought. Five layers, and yet I felt it, the nervous warmth of touching – a pale reflection of the fireworks of one mouth on another, but a reflection nonetheless” (p 75). He later says that he’s not even sure why he likes Alaska, but that he wants to find out. He only knows that he is physically attracted to her, and that’s all. The context of that quote was not even remotely sensual either: Alaska had merely sat down on the bed next to him to talk about her boyfriend and a prank she was planning. There are multiple repetitions of similar scenarios as well, all involving him being too acutely aware of clothing layers.

Contrary to Pudge’s one-way perspective, Alaska’s is extremely diverse and temperamental, as is seen throughout the novel. In one scene, she is constructing a massive candle using the melted wax that drips from other normally sized candles. The result is a multicolored mound of wax, representative of Alaska’s very colorful and emotional personality. She was constantly switching moods, a trait that consistently irritated the other characters of the novel. While she was creating the candle, she allowed the wax to drip closely to her skin, at which point Pudge warned, “Don’t burn yourself” (p 89). Those words turned out to be a bit of foreshadowing, as Alaska ended up burning both herself and her friends with her death. Even at the conclusion of the novel, it was not fully determined if her death was a suicide or simply an accident. The theories were nevertheless painful to the other characters, even though they were searching for solace in knowing how and why she died.

Pudge’s knowledge of last words is also a crucial symbol in the novel. Last words are incredibly important, and they are remembered above just about everything else a person says, unless they say something utterly profound in life. Pudge knows the last words of many people, yet neither the characters nor the audience know what Alaska’s last words are. For his veritable obsession with Alaska, one would think that he would know precisely what her dying decree was, given his passion for knowing last words to begin with. However, Pudge did not know them, showing both how fleeting life truly is and how much people really don’t know about each other.

Cigarettes are a very important symbol as well. Alaska says, on page 44, “Y’all smoke to enjoy it. I smoke to die.” Ironically, Alaska doesn’t die from smoking at all. She was drinking, which no one ever questions, and she crashed her car. This quote holds a large degree of foreshadowing, especially since it occurs in almost the immediate beginning of the story. It also helps lay out the habits of all of the characters throughout the rest of the novel; they all frequently turn to smoking in order to sort out their problems. It is also representative of Alaska’s rebellious nature, as she does exactly what she pleases even after she is ordered not to on threat of being reported.

Finally, the white flowers are symbolic of innocence, purity, and childlike love. When she was young, Alaska’s hair was often decorated with tiny white flowers by her mother. After her mother’s passing, she brought white flowers every year to the grave. However, the tradition slips her mind one night, hence her drunken trip to the cemetery which results in her death. She is reminded about it through a very simple moment of doodling, one of her rare moments of calmness. Like the candle, the flower shows how easily her mood can change, as she went from happily talking on the phone to panicking violently within a matter of seconds. Another interpretation of the white flowers is purity in an ironic perspective. Alaska is far from pure - chaotic personality complete with alcoholism, smoking, and an addiction to sex. At one time it was genuine purity, but it, like Alaska, evolved into something far more destructive, until she was once again pure in death.

Throughout the novel, symbolism plays a large role in defining characters and events, particularly the temperament of Alaska Young. Her complex personality is described effectively through her name, the candle, the cigarettes, and the flowers. Pudge’s character is more particularly described through the repetition of layers and the knowledge of last words, but because the story is about Alaska, aspects of her are found in each of the symbols.

(AR 2014)


Life and Existence in "Looking for Alaska" by John Green

Among many themes found in Looking for Alaska by John Green, is the theme of life and existence. Both before and after Alaska dies, Miles ponders what has happened to her. Is she in her body? Is she elsewhere? The lectures the Old Man give in the World Religions class give Miles a sort of blueprint to think about these philosophical ideas. Mostly though, conversations with the Colonel and quality time spent thinking guide Miles in some of his musings on how we live, how we die, and what gives our life meaning in.


The main character, Miles, has an obsession with knowing the last words spoken by people in history. “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.” said by François Rabelais is one of the most significant “last words” discussed by Miles because it is vital to the idea of finding individuality. Miles leaves his average, unpleasing life in order to find himself and to find a reason why life is worth living. Meeting Alaska Young is essentially what sparks this quest and curiosity for self-discovery, which is prevalent throughout the rest of the novel. Towards the beginning of the novel, Miles says, “People couldn't bear the idea of death being a big black nothing. I finally decided that people believed in an afterlife because they couldn't bear not to.” Miles talks about "people" here, but is he also referring to himself as one of these people? This idea about death and meaning connect to the Great Perhaps he has envisioned for himself because he realizes that he cannot just sit around waiting for death, when he must seize the day and formulate his own opinions and views. Miles does not allow himself to simply believe in something out of fear, or because it is what everyone else around him is doing.


Besides Alaska’s adventurous and invigorating spirit, Miles is also affected by the Old Man who teaches the World Religions class. The teacher once said, “We are engaged here in the most important pursuit in history: the search for meaning. What is the nature of being a person? What is the best way to go about being a person? How did we come to be, and what will become of us when we are no longer here?" The Old Man serves as a starting point for many of the musings Miles has about life and consciousness. The Old Man plays a significant role in Miles’ time at Culver Creek because he is essentially the only adult authority figure that Miles has; his parents are at home, his other teachers are mundane, and he is constantly pranking the Eagle. Miles’ experiences about living life to the fullest without fears are balanced between the actual experiences he has with Alaska and the Colonel, and between the discussions given by the Old Man. Later on in the novel, Miles, the Colonel, and Alaska were smoking by the river. When Miles asked her why she smokes so quickly, Alaska said, 'Y'all smoke to enjoy it. I smoke to die.” This foreshadows that Alaska is going to possibly die young, and that she even has control over it. Moments like this with Alaska, is what intrigues Miles to learn more about her and to seek a “Great Perhaps.”


Once Alaska is deceased, Miles has an extremely difficult time accepting her death. He thinks to himself, “What the hell is an "instant" death anyway? The pain of those seconds must have been awful; there was no air and no blood to her brain and only raw panic. Nothing is instant. I doubt that an instant of blinding pain feels particularly instantaneous.” Miles starts contemplating life and how someone can be living one minute, and then be totally gone the next. Miles' interest with knowing last words is again prevalent here. It is so important to him to know last words since it says a lot about the person who said them. Miles says, “I know so many last words. But I will never know hers.” He is forced to accept the fact that sometimes in life, people die unexpectedly and there is nothing that can be done to stop it.


In conclusion, idea of life and existence is a major aspect of Miles’ journey to self-discovery in Looking for Alaska. He eventually had to come to terms that people come and go on this Earth, and that some things are out of his control.

(KP 2015)


Time and Turning Point in Looking for Alaska
In this literary criticism, C.S. discusses the use of time and a turning point in a work and its role in developing characterization and the work as a whole.


John Green’s Looking for Alaska is a bildungsroman, chronicling Miles Halter’s coming of age from a dorky kid on his way to boarding school through traumatic and life-altering events. Throughout the book, Green uses time to suggest a single turning point in this process.


The novel is divided into two parts, titled “before” and “after,” suggesting a single important event, though it is unclear what that single event is until it is barely about to occur. The novel’s first chapter is titled, “One hundred thirty-six days before,” with the proceeding chapters counting down numerically, sometimes skipping one or more numbers. There is no explanation as to what this counts down to, though there is foreshadowing. This foreshadowing occurs as Alaska tells her friends about her mother’s death. When her mother died, Alaska did not call 911. She blames herself for her mother’s death, though it is unclear whether she could have actually done anything. This traumatic event is described as the “central moment of Alaska’s life.” Of course, Miles soon has an incredibly similar central moment of his life and coming of age when he blames himself for Alaska’s death.
“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 knew whom she meant. It was the everything and the everyone of her life, and so I could not help but imagine it.”


Though the single event of Alaska’s death is the main focus of the novel, it is only one event in the long process of Miles’ growing up. The first impression of Miles is a sad disaster of a going away party which his mother plans before Miles goes away to attend boarding school, and he is characterized as a fairly stereotypical, sheltered dork. His father tells him, “‘No drugs. No drinking. No cigarettes,’” and as a point is made of the importance of staying a good, dorky kid with no friends to come to his party, it becomes obvious very quickly that that is not what is going to happen. And soon after he arrives at school, dorky hometown innocence is immediately tainted by casual conversation about sex and cigarettes. Miles begins making friends, even gets a girlfriend (and a blowjob), and evaluates in his religions class the answers to the important questions of the universe. These are all part of Miles’s process of growing up and coming of age, as not a single event but something that spans the entire work.


As the days count down, the turning point of Miles’ coming of age occurs. Alaska leaves a gathering upset and drunk. Confused, Miles nor any other of her friends stop her from leaving in her car. She dies in a car accident that night-- though whether by simple drunk driving, some kind of self-destructive process, or even suicide, is questioned. The proceeding chapters are named after the number of days after the event, and account Miles’ attempt to reconcile his inaction regarding Alaska’s death and the nature of Alaska herself.


It is at this point that Miles’s coming of age becomes more based on a search for truth than based solely on a slow and steady loss of innocence. “One hundred twenty-two days after” Alaska’s death, Miles and his classmates are assigned to write on a question Alaska had posed earlier: “How will you-- you personally-- ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering?” Eventually, Miles answers this question based on the idea that Alaska’s very essence is something that could never be destroyed and that there is something, though ultimately unknown, more than the mortal existence.


“Although no one will ever accuse me of being much of a science student, one thing I learned from science class is that energy is never created and never destroyed. And if Alaska took her own life, that is the hope I wish I could have given her… We cannot be born, and we cannot die. Like all energy, we can only change shapes and sizes and manifestations… That part of us greater than the sum of our parts cannot begin and cannot end, and so it cannot fail.”


Though this answer is indubitably not the end of Miles’s process of growing up and understanding the ways of the universe, it suggests a resolution of that principal turning point. Miles is different from the dorky kid with the pathetic party, yet has grown in ways more significant than just a loss of innocence. His coming of age is two parts long, a “before” and “after” a single, central moment.

(C.S. 2016)







Character Interaction in Looking For Alaska

In this essay, J.S examines the way one person’s life can affect another in Looking for Alaska.

John Green’s Looking for Alaska tells a coming of age story of an awkward young boy named Miles Halter, or “Pudge”, whose life is changed when he goes away to find his “Great Perhaps” at Culver Creek Boarding School. Here the main character meets a very unique Alaska who will share new experiences with him that will impact his life forever.

Alaska Young, the name behind John Green’s title and one of the most important characters in the novel. Although not the main character, the novel is focused around Pudge who in the novel is either with Alaska or thinking of her. Alaska is unlike any girl Pudge has seen and is the most intriguing girl he has ever talked to. She is constantly flirting with Pudge, which always ends in her reminding him she has a boyfriend. Alaska is impulsive and spontaneous but very moody. A major character development is made halfway through the novel when she shares her worst day of her life. The day her mother had an aneurysm and young Alaska went into shock and did not know what to do. Alaska carries this guilt from not calling 911 or trying to save her mother. She spends years in Vine Station her hometown but eventually leaves to get away from her home “full of ghosts.” Running away from her pain does not help though. She is caught in a maze where she only blames herself. This can be shown later in the novel and later in this essay with the idea of the labyrinth and how Pudge gets caught up in the same guilt and wondering if he could have saved Alaska when she dies.

The novel is split into two parts, a before and an after, Alaska’s death is the middle. Death is a major theme being that the novel literally revolves around it. The part “before” there is death shown with Alaska’s mother, Pudge’s infatuation with last words, and Alaska’s comments on death. At one point when asked about cigarettes and smoking Alaska states “‘Y’all smoke to enjoy it. I smoke to die.” Death has played an important role in her life and after her death it plays an even more important role in the lives around her. After is when Pudge, along with other friends, tries to figure out Alaska’s death; what she was thinking, whether it was a suicide or an accident, and where she was driving were all important questions. Pudge tries his hardest to figure this information out so he can be at peace with it but the reality is that he will never know her last words and will never know the whole story. Death can come in an instant. It is an avoided topic for most people but this novel brings it to attention. Death is inevitable and no one can ever be ready for it and no one can ever be ready for what comes after.

Pudge has a fascination for last words. Early in the novel Alaska introduces him to one that will stay in his mind throughout the rest of his life. Simon Bolivar’s last words in The General in His Labyrinth were “How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!” These words confuse Pudge at first and that’s the mystery Alaska loves, was he trying to escape life or death. Later in the novel Alaska reveals her revelation: “‘Suffering,’ she said. ‘Doing wrong and having wrong things happen to you. That's the problem. Bolivar was talking about the pain, not about the living or dying. How do you get out of the labyrinth of suffering?’’’ Alaska was living a life of suffering and after her death this question is posed for all those around her.

Pudge’s experiences with Alaska can split him into a before and after self-discovery much like the novel’s structure. Before he met Alaska, Pudge was not popular or social at all. Instead of small talk and social interactions he read biographies. This was mainly to find out people’s last words. He explains his love for them by saying, “ 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.” When Pudge first encounters Alaska he is immediately captivated by her. He is vulnerable to her and falls for her at the smallest amount of attention because of his insecurity and shyness. Near the end of the after part of the novel Pudge answers his way out of the labyrinth, his answer has changed from what it may have been before meeting Alaska.

Before I got here, I thought for a long time that the way out of the labyrinth was to pretend that it did not exist, to build a small, self-sufficient world in the back corner of the endless maze and to pretend that I was not lost, but home. But that only led to a lonely life accompanied only by the last words of the already-dead, so I came here looking for a Great Perhaps, for real friends and a more-than-minor life.”

This completely represents his past life, Pudge did not interact with people and went through life all alone. Alaska made Pudge look at life differently. Her death changed his view of the world. Pudge still believes in his Great Perhaps even though Alaska in gone. He goes into forgiveness and forgetting because life will move on for him. Death is apart of life. But now Pudge knows how precious life is and going through it alone in suffering is not a way to spend it.

The theme of self discovery in the novel is given through the experiences when one life affects another’s. Pudge used to be a shy, awkward, and lonely boy who did not do social interactions. Because of Alaska, Pudge becomes completely different and discovers his true self. Alaska helps him learn a lot about himself. When Alaska dies, Pudge discovers a new part of him that is filled with guilt, love, and regret and gets to understand himself better by experiencing all these new feelings and thoughts of life. “I (Pudge)would always love Alaska Young, my crooked neighbor, with all my crooked heart.” But time will go on as will his life and Alaska, the girl who changed his life, will be forgotten.
(J.S. 2016)



Analysis of Identity in the novel Paper Towns, by John Green.


In this literary criticism G.C. describes and analyzes the theme of identity and the importance of self-discovery in adolescents.


Through demonstrating the relationship between foil characters to emphasize personality differences, use of symbolism to develop characterization, and use of metaphors and similes, John Green is able to express the importance of finding one’s identity as an adolescent.
In the novel, the two main characters act as foils to each other. One main characters is Quentin Jacobsen. Quentin can be considered the stereotypical teenage nerd. He gets to school early to hang out at the band room with his not-so-popular best friends. He is constantly being tortured by Chuck Parson. Quentin’s main focus in the beginning of the novel is making sure to keep his record clean in order to make it into Duke. This meant he had to keep up with his school work and also be sure to follow his parents’ rules. Margo Roth Spielgelman can be considered the exact opposite, serving as his foil character. She is known to be fierce and witty. “Margo always loved mysteries, so much that she became one”. Throughout the novel Margo has a mysterious and enticing personality that ultimately lands Quentin in trouble. Showing this difference between these two characters expresses the challenges in finding one’s identity. Margo struggles with self-discovery, whereas Quentin can be considered a more grounded character who has his life in order. Margo doesn’t seem to have things quite figured out yet, causing her to run off in order to help find herself.
Multiple symbols are scattered through the novel. One symbol included is strings. In the prologue, nine-year-old Margo wonders why the man in the park would kill himself. She suggests that “maybe all the strings inside him broke”. She brings up strings later on in the novel stating, “Every girl needs at least one string, right?”. When she does, she is referring to her friends, who consist of people that she does not actually like. Strings represent connections between people, whether they are wanted or not. They stand for the tie between one’s inner-self and the people a person surrounds themselves with. Detective Warren makes an assessment on Margo after she has run away. He thinks of Margo as a balloon. When Margo runs away, she is choosing to cut her own strings herself. Without strings, there is nothing to keep a balloon in place, which is exactly what Margo wants.
Throughout the novel, John Green strategically places multiple similes and metaphors. One simile includes, “I feel like this is an important idea, one of those ideas that your brain must wrap around slowly, the way pythons eat”. Quentin demonstrates self-knowledge when he says this as a realization that the people around him have complex inner lives of their own. This serves as a representation of Quentin’s outlook and growth as a person he has gone through throughout the novel. Coming of age is a gradual process, made up of small realizations that build up over time, into the person Quentin has become by the end of the novel. “We bring the rain, Q. Not the scattered showers”. This metaphor gives a clear sense of the type of personality Margo has at the beginnings of the novel-one that is fierce, yet intelligent. Throughout the novel, Margo continuously uses the phrase, “bring the rain”, as if referring to bringing violence or revenge to those who have wronged her. This contrasts Quentin’s nervous, passive-aggressive attitude. “We play the broken strings of our instruments one last time”. As discussed before, strings are a common symbol present in the novel-strings that hold people together, strings that keep a balloon from floating away. Quentin metaphorically presents the idea of the strings of an instrument that allow people to make music together, even if it is broken.
In the novel, Paper Towns, John Green presents the importance of discovering one’s identity and self-discovery in adolescents. He does this through using foil characters, Margo and Quentin, as a way to emphasize their differences, symbols to develop characterization, and similes and metaphors. Margo’s self-discovery occurs at the same time as Quentin’s. Both make important realizations about their characters as well as what they truly want in life.

(G.C. 2016)