Themes, Motifs & Symbols
Theme : Death
A theme is a fundamental and often universal idea explored in literary work. This theme is the main theme in the book because this is what the novel revolves around. Even before the actual death occurs, death is a recurring theme, from Alaska’s mother’s death, to Miles’ trying to find out what happens when you die. Alaska is a character in the book that is fully associated with the theme of death. It has played an important role in her life, and also the future of the other characters. This theme reinforces the storyline because the storyline, in the second part of the book, revolves around Alaska’s death. There are many instances where Miles tries to figure out why this happened, and what life and death is really about. This theme is directly linked to the themes of life and the meaning of life. Death is an important part of life, although many people fail to see it. Death is usually something that most people avoid talking about because it scares them, but it is important to face death and to be aware that it can touch anybody close to you. The book uses death as a theme to show the readers that death is something inevitable but we can never become ready for it.
Theme : Self discovery
The theme of self discovery is extremely present throughout the whole book. By the end of the book, almost every character has figured something out about themselves because of the experiences they have been through. Self discovery is much more present as theme within Miles because he is the character that undergoes the most change throughout the entire book. Miles used to be shy, lonely and very excluded from social tendencies. Because of the Colonel and Alaska, Miles becomes completely different and discovers his true self with their help. Alaska helps Miles discover a lot about himself. When Alaska dies, Miles discovers a new part of him filled with regret, guilt, love, sadness, bitterness and gets to understand himself better by experiencing all these new feelings and thoughts. The Colonel discovers a lot about himself after Alaska’s death also, parts of him he did not know he had.
Theme : Guilt
The theme of guilt is present throughout the whole book in very mysterious ways. It first starts off with Miles’ guilt of leaving his parents behind in Florida. He also feels a lot of guilt towards the fact that he stayed behind at Culver Creek during Thanksgiving, just to spend time alone with Alaska. The theme of guilt really sets in during the second part of the book, after Alaska’s death. Miles, Takumi and the Colonel all feel extremely guilty after Alaska’s death because they all partly blame themselves for what happened. They all felt like they should have known better, and they should have stopped her from leaving. They can’t believe they had acted so careless, and gave her the benefit of the doubt. They had all believed that she was smart enough to know she wasn’t in the right state of mind to be driving, but they all let her go anyways. This is a guilt they will live with forever because they feel as though they could have stopped the whole event from happening. Guilt plays an enormous role in Miles’ life because he feels as though it was his responsibility to stop her, especially because she had just kissed him and made him the happiest guy alive.
Motif : Mischief
The reoccurring idea that helps develop some of themes is the motif of mischief. This is a motif because it helps develop certain themes, like guilt. Most of the characters feed off of mischief, and it is their motto in life to cause chaos and pull pranks. Many pranks explained and executed during the book because of their constant need for mischief. Especially when it comes to Alaska and the Colonel, who are constantly pulling and organizing pranks together. They always became friends because of their shared interest of mischief and how to cause it at Culver Creek.
Motif : Independence
The motif of independence is present throughout the book to support some of the themes. A lot of new independence is given to Miles, and this helps him discover who he is and what he really enjoys doing. He is away from his family and his old school, so he is able to start off fresh and be by himself, living independently.
Motif : Meaning of life
The motif of the meaning in life goes hand in hand with the theme of guilt and even more with the theme of death. Death makes people think about what the meaning of life is, and this is exactly what happens to Miles during the story. When Alaska passes away, Miles questions the meaning of life in every point of view possible. He tried for a very long time to figure out what had happened to Alaska, and why she did what she did, and he does not ever give up although he gets frustrated at some points because of how difficult it is. Miles eventually gets the answers he is looking for, with the help of the Colonel and Takumi, and certain witnesses. Through Miles’ experiences during his first semester at Culver Creek, he learnt more about the meaning of life than he did during his entire life in Florida.
The cigarettes are a symbol that are in direct link with the theme of death, and the motif of mischief. The cigarettes are a big part of Alaska, the Colonel, Takumi and Miles’ life. Although Miles did not enjoy smoking at first, he becomes used to it in order to fit in. Alaska’s body is always marked with the scent of cigarettes and vanilla. After she passes away, Miles always remembers Alaska when he smells a similar scent, and this is what represents Alaska and who she was. The cigarettes also represent tradition because the group always go out to the forest to have cigarettes and figure things out, like pranks and theories about certain things.
Symbol : Lake
The lake is a symbol of independence and of freedom. Every time Takumi, Miles, Alaska and the Colonel need some time to figure something out or find a theory, they always end up going back to the lake. The lake symbolizes their unity as a group of friend because they connect this area to their friendship.
Symbol : White flowers
The white flowers are present in the story as a symbol of purity and of commemoration towards Alaska’s mother. Alaska has a tradition of putting white flowers on her mother’s grave every year, on the the day that she passed away. The white flowers are a symbol of Alaska’s love and dedication to her mother, when she drives away drunk because she forgot to put flowers on her mother’s grave.