Go Ask Alice
Analysis of Major Characters
Alice begins as a typical adolescent whose insecurities about sex, her appearance, her parents, and her social standing are fairly common. She could be any middle-class girl from the 1960s, and her death, just one of thousands that year, drives this point home. However, her observations and emotions are filtered through her rather uncommon prose in her beloved diary. She seeks someone who will understand her, someone she can open up to and, finding it in no one, dives into the world of drugs and the counterculture. There, she is able to connect at times with others but only through the haze of drugs; more often, she is betrayed and victimized by cruel predators. With support from her family and Joel, she eventually learns to open up to others.
Alice also tries to find herself, a difficult job for an adolescent at any time, not least in the rebellious 1960s. Her initial decision to do drugs is rebellious and escapist, as much a push away from her parents as a pull towards the novelty of experience. As she suffers painful episode after painful episode, she realizes that drugs cause more hardship than they alleviate, especially when she becomes interested in what has caused her, and others, to run away from home. Notwithstanding a few lapses, she devotes herself to being good and joins her two former problems—that of communicating and of finding her own identity—in her dream to become a social worker. Her experience takes on a religious aspect, as she redeems herself with the desire to transform her own suffering into sacrifice for others.
While not an actual character, Alice personifies her diary—she calls it "Diary," as many people who keep diaries do, but she refers to it as her friend and writes to it in a conversational style as if she were speaking to it. It is the repository of all her thoughts and the only thing that travels with her through her journey—from her carefully noted first diary at home to dateless scraps of paper on the road to cryptic descriptions from a mental hospital. Alice seeks most of all someone to talk to, and the diary fulfills this better than any person, promoting her expressive prose style with its ever- ready blank page. She feels she hides her identity when with others, but with Diary, she can be her true self. As she gets further into the counterculture, drugs supplant the diary as the focal point of her life, but she always maintains her devotion to it. The diary's triumph comes at the end since Alice discards it in favor of wanting to share herself with other people—the tool that enables Alice to better communicate and understand herself has served its purpose.
The diary also functions as the engine for Go Ask Alice's epistolary narrative (a narrative composed of letters). The epistolary novel, especially one in which the protagonist addresses only herself, allows us deeper insight into the character's emotional world. Many novels, in particular coming-of-age works, use some kind of device to allow a first-person narrative that does not seem as if the protagonist has somehow magically transcribed his thoughts to a page—note Holden Caulfield's revelation that he has been telling his story to a psychiatrist in The Catcher in the Rye Go Ask Alice, whether or not it is a true diary as it claims, accomplishes this task and makes it all the more real and immediate through the diary.
Alice's parents devote themselves to her recovery each time she returns home, though they are a major part of the reason Alice continues to leave—until the end, she never feels as if she can fully open up to them about anything important, from her drug use to her fears about sex. They have few flaws, being upstanding, cultured citizens, but that is precisely the point: the child of even the best parent can fall into drugs, as lines of communication are not always as open as they seem, and society can injure children in ways parents cannot help. Alice is at war with herself over whether to follow or rebel from their middle-class example and often wonders how devoted they are to their family or to their social standing. Her father, especially, stands at the crossroads of ambition and family; an up-and-coming professor, he fears Alice's hippie lifestyle will tarnish the family's reputation and ruin his chances at the university presidency, yet he drops everything whenever Alice is in trouble. Her mother's nagging, too, reveals anxiety about the family's image and is a force behind Alice's alienation. By the end, however, both learn to treat Alice with more respect and as an adult, and Alice responds accordingly. As Alice reads elsewhere, they discover that parenting means allowing one's child to make enough decisions for herself.
Joel is the character who most draws Alice out of her shell and teaches her to trust others. As someone who has experienced loss (his father died when he was young), he is a comfort to Alice when her grandmother dies. Alice has difficulty relating her past experiences to him, but he accepts her for who she is and loves her more for opening up to him. He restores Alice's faith in romantic love, shattered after so many debased sexual experiences. He is also a paragon of virtue, a dedicated student whom her whole family loves.
Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!