What is the Great Perhaps in Looking for Alaska?

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mlsldy3 | Elementary School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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Looking for Alaska is the story of Miles "Pudge" Halter. He is a young man, who decides in his junior year of high school to go to a boarding school. He goes to Culver Creek in Alabama, and has a tendency for remembering the last words famous people have spoken. He quotes Francois Rabelais' dying words about the Great Perhaps.

Francois Rabelais. He was a great poet. And his last words were "I go to the seek a Great Perhaps." That's why I'm going. So I don't have to wait until I die to start seeking a Great Perhaps.

Pudge meets a girl named Alaska and the two start a relationship. Alaska is wild girl who has emotional problems but brings a new way of looking at life to Pudge. Pudge and Alaska have many adventures together, and Pudge feels more alive with her than he ever has in his life. 

Alaska represents the Great Perhaps as is indicated by the title: as Rabelais looked for the Great Perhaps, Pudge is looking for Alaska. She opens up a new world for Pudge, and the tragedy that happens to Alaska affects him greatly.

For she had embodied the Great Perhaps. She had proved to me that it was worth it to leave behind my minor life for grander maybes and now she was gone and with her my faith in perhaps.

The Great Perhaps, as presented by Rabelais' dying words, is the great Truth, the great Meaning of Life and Death. Alska's life opened up the world of living "maybes." Her death closed off, for Pudge, the potential world of after-death "Perhaps." While Pudge began looking for a spiritual, after-death "Perhaps" (a God, a spiritual redemption), he ended by looking for living, "grander maybes" that comprise a major, rather then a "minor," life.

The answer to what the Great Perhaps represents to Pudge is, on one hand, a very despondent darkly existential one that turns away a potential spiritual redemption. The answer, on the other hand, is also an affirmative one that embraces realism, life and living.