What is the Great Perhaps in Looking for Alaska?
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.
In John Green's Looking for Alaska, Miles is fascinated with the last words of the famous poet François Rabelais, who at the end of his life said, "I go now to seek the Great Perhaps." Miles uses this quote as the reasoning behind his decision to transfer from a school in Florida to Culver Creek Preparatory High School in Alabama, where he becomes friends with Chip "The Colonel" Martin, Takumi Hikohito, and Alaska Young.
The "Great Perhaps," as Miles initially understands it, is the pursuit of the next big adventure. It is the willingness to embrace the uncertainty of life and what lies beyond it. Miles wants to move schools so that he can experience this adventure while still living, rather than waiting for it to arrive after death.
Thus, the "Great Perhaps" represents a state of being for Miles. It involves risk-taking, throwing caution to the wind, and attempting to live to the fullest extent possible.
The concept of the "Great Perhaps" is revisited after Alaska's death in a car crash, when Miles is wrangling with his intense feelings of guilt and grief over this loss:
“You can't just make yourself matter and then die, Alaska, because now I am irretrievably different, and I'm sorry I let you go, yes, but you made the choice. You left me Perhapsless, stuck in your goddamned labyrinth. And now I don't even know if you chose the straight and fast way out, if you left me like this on purpose. And so I never knew you, did I? I can't remember, because I never knew.”
Alaska's death has shifted Miles's understanding of the "Great Perhaps," contextualizing it within the labyrinth, or prison of suffering, that she has left him in. The "Perhaps" becomes an escape from that suffering and from the limitations of mortal life, and it is something that was stripped from Miles by losing the girl he loved.