Barbara Bontempo, Ph.D.
ENG694 Teaching Literature
January 20, 2008
PSYCHOANALYTIC ANALYSIS OF LOOKING FOR ALASKA
It seems natural to think about novels in terms of dreams or psychoanalytical realities. Like dreams, novels are fictions, inventions of the mind that, though based on reality, are by definition not exactly and literally true. Conversely, dreams may have some truth to tell but like novels their truth must be interpreted before it can be grasped. Such is the case with John Green's young adult novel, Looking for Alaska. It holds many truths that are relevant to young adults, but to extract those lessons, one must first view the plot and characters through a lens of psychoanalytical theory.
Looking for Alaska follows a year in the life of high school junior Miles Halter, an innocent, "good kid" from Florida who begged his parents to enroll him in the Culver Creek boarding school, the same school his father attended. Miles dreams of starting anew at his elite Alabama prep school, of finding Francois Rabelais's "The Great Perhaps." At school, he becomes instant friends with a rebellious, cigarette smoking prankster, the Colonel, and the beautiful, confused Alaska Young.
These three main characters provide fertile ground for analysis. Even their names are fraught with metaphor: When Miles introduces himself to his roommate, the roommate makes the immediate Robert Frost connection and says "Miles? As in to go before I sleep'?" In fact, as we get to know Miles (who reinvents himself and goes by the nickname Pudge) we see a confused, intelligent young man who indeed has miles to go before he sleeps. He must experience Culver Creek and his own identity as a rite of passage into adulthood.
Miles' roommate, Chip (renamed the Colonel) is a brilliant young man from a broken home his father is an abusive alcoholic and his mother a hardworking woman trying to make ends meet. The ironically named Colonel lacks any...