What is the best way to go about being a person? What are the rules of this game, and how might we best play it?
?What is the best way to go about being a person? What are the rules of this game, and how might we best play it??
This is the central question that Alaska Young and Miles Halter struggle with throughout the novel Looking for Alaska. What is the answer to this question? What do Alaska and Miles conclude? To answer these questions let?s first explore the meaning of the Labyrinth in Looking for Alaska.
What is the Labyrinth and how does it relate to the central question?
What is a Labyrinth? It is a maze or a complex system of paths or tunnels in which it is easy to get lost.
The first time we read about the labyrinth is when Alaska is quoting for Miles her favorite last words said by Simon Bolivar:
?He was shaken by the overwhelming revelation that the headlong race between his misfortunes and his dreams was at that moment reaching the finish line. The rest was darkness. ?Damn it,? he sighed. ?How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!?
How does this quote explain what the Labyrinth is? Even Alaska teased Miles into thinking about it;
?That?s the mystery, isn?t it? 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.?
Even though Alaska challenges Miles to figure out what the labyrinth is, she eventually gives Miles the answer. She explains:
?It?s not life or death, the labyrinth?? ?So what is it??? ?Suffering?doing wrong and having wrong things happen to you. That?s the problem. Bolivar was talking about pain.?
So the labyrinth = suffering + doing wrong and having wrong things happen to you + pain
I also want to add that in Looking for Alaska the labyrinth has a double meaning. The labyrinth refers to the above and Alaska herself is also a metaphor for the labyrinth.
Let?s have a look at this quote:
?I realized the importance of curves, of the thousand places where girls? bodies ease from one place to another, from arc of the foot to ankle to calf, from calf to hip to waist to breast to neck to ski-slope nose to forhead to shoulder to the concave arch of the back to the butt to the etc. I?d noticed curves before, of course, but I had never quite apprehended their significance.?
The different curves of Alaska?s body are like the different curves or angles you experience when walking through a labyrinth or maze.
It is through exploring the Labyrinth of Alaska that Miles eventually figures out how to escape the Labyrinth of suffering and pain leading him to answer the central question: ?What is the best way to go about being a person? What are the rules of this game, and how might we best play it??
How do Miles and Alaska escape the labyrinth of suffering? According to them what is the best way to go about being a person? What rules do they abide by and how do they best play the game of life?
Let?s explore these questions by first looking at Alaska Young.
Alaska: How She Experiences and Escapes the Labyrinth of Suffering:
Alaska watches her mother die and is frozen into paralysis from calling 911 to save her. Alaska blames herself (as does her father) for her mother?s death. This is the main incident that causes Alaska?s subsequent suffering and pain. Her pain further snowballs when she forgets the anniversary of her mother?s death and she feels she has failed her mother yet another time. You can feel the pain Alaska experiences when she says:
?I don?t understand why I screw everything up?I have guts, just not when it counts?what you must understand about me is that I am a deeply unhappy person?God, how many times can I f@#% up.?
The meaning of Alaska?s name also provides a clue for how she deals with pain and suffering. For example her name means ?That which the sea breaks against,? so we already know that Alaska is constantly up against or fighting the ?storms?, issues, troubles and misfortunes in her life.
Alaska likes Moby-Dick as The Colonel says,
?Big white whale is a metaphor for everything. You live for pretentious metaphors.?
The whale in Moby-Dick represents elements of life out of human control and unbridled nature, similar to Alaska who is care free and unbridled and experiences pain and loss that is out of her control. However the sea swallows up the whale as Alaska herself seems to be struggling against and is swallowed up by her pain and suffering leading up to her eventual death.
Even Miles recognizes that Alaska?s absorption into her pain and suffering and her failure to forgive herself for her mother?s death caused her to self-destruct, he says:
?When she f@#%ed up, all those years ago, just a little girl terrified into paralysis, she collapsed into the enigma of herself?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.?
So how did Alaska choose to escape the Labyrinth of suffering? Alaska herself stated, ?Getting out isn?t easy.? Eventually she got tired of going through the maze and never knowing when and if her suffering and pain would end, and she got tired of imagining a future free of suffering. Consequently, Alaska chose the ?Straight & Fast? way out, skipping the labyrinth altogether and the pain and suffering that comes with it. However, Miles chooses a better way out of the Labyrinth.
Miles: How He Experiences and Escapes the Labyrinth of Suffering:
At some point in life ?Everyone?gets dragged out to sea by the undertow?we are all going.? In other words, at some point in time we know we are going to die/suffer or someone we love and care for is going to die, how do we deal with this knowledge? Right now Miles? answer is to believe in an afterlife; however, Miles becomes enlightened and he changes his outlook on surviving the Labyrinth.
Something similar to a parable/riddle is then introduced in the novel after Miles makes his inital decision about surviving the Labyrinth. The parable is:
Banzan ?Was walking through the market one day when he overheard someone ask a butcher for his best piece of meat. The butcher answered, ?Everything in my shop is the best. You cannot find a piece of meat that is not the best.? Upon hearing this, Banzan realized that there is no best and no worst, that those judgments have no real meaning because there is only what is, and poof he reached enlightenment.?
How does this relate to the central question of surviving the labyrinth of suffering?
Well Alaska spent her life after her mom?s death thinking about the best and worst times in her life constantly. This parable is directly related to when Alaska suggested that they play the ?Best Day/Worst Day? game when out camping with her friends. There she shares the worst day of her life that has overshadowed everything she did thereafter.
The world religions teacher then introduces a zen belief that ?Everything that comes together falls apart.? In other words death will happen, ?we are all going,? it is inevitable; therefore, suffering will only cease when we stopped wishing things would not fall apart. Alaska could not do this and so she did not survive. She could not survive.
The problem is not life but how much emphasis we put on disappointment, pain, and laying blame while trying to hold ourselves together; creating a sense of hopelessness.
Miles then becomes truly enlightened when he realizes that the only way to survive the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive. When Alaska?s mother died she blamed and could not forgive herself for something that was out of her control and this is what caused her to self-destruct. Similarly, Miles blamed himself for the death of Alaska as he felt he should have stopped her from getting in her car drunk, if only he had stopped her! This thought haunted him but then he realized:
?She forgave us, and that we had to forgive to survive in the labyrinth. There were so many of us who would have to live with things done and things left undone that day. Things that did not go right, things that seemed okay at the time because we could not see the future. If only we could see the endless string of consequences that result from our smallest actions. But we can?t know better until knowing better is useless.?
So I ask again: What is the best way to go about being a person? What are the rules of this game, and how might we best play it? How do we survive as oppsed to escape the labyrinth of suffering? According to Miles it is to forgive. Stop beating yourself up for elements of your life that are outside of your control such as death. Forgive yourself and others for the unfortunate things that happen in life and accept what is.
Let me know what you think by leaving a comment! What is the best way to go about being a person? What are the rules of this game, and how might we best play it? How do we survive as oppsed to escape the labyrinth of suffering?