The only way out is through.
John Greens first masterwork, “Looking for Alaska”, is a novel which gives life to the fierce storm inside every individual. It brings forth thoughts that leaves us in a state filled with many questions and few answers. Our uncertainty and confusion around our existence, our life, our pain and our suffering increases when Green uses the labyrinth to describe the way of life, but what is the labyrinth of life? Can we escape it? Should we escape it? If yes, how?
The Labyrinth, being a place full of blind alleys and deceptive passageways, is a metaphor for the present life we are living. A life we know nothing about. We do not know our purpose in life, why we are here or where we will end up being. Neither do we have perfect universal definitions of what is good and what is evil. We wander blindly through life, having no actual power or control. It is like the dark. We are not afraid of the dark, but rather our unawareness in it. Our lack of knowledge tortures us. Our limitations holding back our thoughts confuses us.
This confusion filling our lives with paths and tunnels in which we get lost easily, is illuminated through the different characters and their lives in this novel. They are all going through some type of suffering and facing different challenges. Each of them is desperately trying to discover a way out to survival.
Alaska Young, a major character in the book, introduces us to the Latin-American hero, Simon Bolivars lifelong mystery summarized in his last words; “How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?” (128before.p.120). Bolivar ended life by questioning life and left us in this infinite maze with a mystery that the characters try to solve. Alaska specifies the mystery by saying; “…Is the labyrinth living or dying? Which is he trying to escape–the world or the end of it? You figure out what the labyrinth is and how to get out of it.” (52before.9-11) Later on, she resolves her own questions and presents her view by explaining; “It’s not life or death, the labyrinth. It is Suffering…doing wrong and having wrong things happen to you. That’s the problem. Bolivar was talking about pain.”
Her philosophical statements resemble the one of a well-experienced traveler in the path of suffering. The reason is an incident which took place when she 8 years old. She froze into paralysis instead of calling 911 when her mother was about to die and keeps blaming herself for her death all her life which later causes her to collapse into her own enigma, thus making her fail her mother, her friends and herself over and over again. Even the protagonist, Miles, recognizes that despite wanting to exit the labyrinth, Alaska’s failure to forgive herself for her mother’s death and her absorption into her pain and suffering causes her to self-destruct.
Alaska continually tries to escape her labyrinth of suffering by seeking temporary pleasure in drinking and having sexual intercourse, but as she realizes that she is a deeply unhappy person, she gets tired of going through the maze and never being able to control the unbridled nature. She wants to live in the present without thinking of the future and that’s why she often chooses the “fast and straight” ways out. We never get to know if her death is caused by herself or an accident, but both ways, she escapes the labyrinth of pain and suffering all together by dying.
Miles Halter on the other side is a shy teenager with a passion for memorizing peoples last words. He transfers to Culver Creek Boarding school in search of his “Great perhaps”, leaving behind his unsocial life in Florida. His new roommate Chip, also known as the Colonel, introduces him to a whole new world filled with drinking, smoking, pranks and Alaska Young. Alaska elicits his thoughts and feelings, challenging him to join her on the journey to find a way out of the labyrinth. His love for her blossoms throughout the story as he is fascinated by her features and lifestyle. He describes her with the very famous statement, “If people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane” (Page 88)
Alaska’s sudden death leads to him falling into the same trauma Alaska went through. He accuses himself for her death, but after accepting the truth, he takes a different turn in the labyrinth. He finds his way out alive and states “…I had just now realized that I forgave him, and that she forgave us, and that we had to forgive to survive in the labyrinth.” (– Page 218) Subsequent to his enlightenment he also recognizes that he was unable to appreciate the present and that he actually was surrounded by the Great Perhaps he came to find the whole time.
As mentioned, Chip is a good friend of both Miles and Alaska, but he has a different way of reflection. He seems to know the labyrinth by instinct, as if he is used to it. He handles every situation remarkably. When they stumble in dust, he is the first one to rise and dust himself of. The labyrinth does not affect him like the others, because whereas Alaska and Miles want to escape the labyrinth, Chip says “After all this time, it still seems to me like straight and fast is the only way out—but I choose the labyrinth. The labyrinth blows, but I choose it.” (122after.12). He admits that the labyrinth is dangerous and its path is harsh, but he is up to that challenge and he wants to live with it. In his opinion, you do not get out of the labyrinth, you just find a way to handle it and stay happy in it. You just find company along the way.
We all know that happiness is nothing without pain and relief is nothing without suffering. You have to experience bad times to value the good ones. You have to go through sorrow to know what joy is. The labyrinth of life is not all about suffering. It is about having ups and downs. Somedays you will make choices that will bring you closer to your destination and make you happy, while other days you will find yourself lost.
We are human. We are alive. We try things. We make mistakes. We fall. We rise again, and then we repeat. As we walk through this maze of life, we change. We grow and we gain. That is the beautiful complex of life. An entanglement, impossible to steer away from. The only way out is through.
The only way out is through.