Quote 1

So this guy, François Rabelais. He was this poet. And his last words were ‘I go to 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.

Miles speaks these words in the first chapter of the novel, “136 days before,” when he tells his parents why he wants to go away to boarding school at Culver Creek. Miles’s quest for meaning gives the reader insight into his character by showing that he is on a search for something he has not experienced yet. Although Miles doesn’t explain what “a Great Perhaps” means to him, the fact that he doesn’t want to wait until he dies to start looking for it suggests that he is looking for a life that is greater than the one he will find in the comfort of his parents’ home.

This quote also sets up one of Miles’s defining characteristics—his interest in people’s last words. Throughout the novel, last words provide important ideas about life and death and become a symbol of the kind of life a person led, offering insight into their identity. Last words and the idea of the Great Perhaps are both important threads that run throughout the novel.

Quote 2

I must talk, and you must listen, for we are engaged here in the most important pursuit in history: the search for meaning. What is the nature of being a person? What is the best way to go about being a person? How did we come to be, and what will become of us when we are no longer?

Dr. Hyde speaks these words on the first day of religion class in “126 days before.” In addition to telling the students the important ideas they will consider in his class, Dr. Hyde’s quote states explicitly the key questions addressed in the novel and foreshadows that Miles’s experience at Culver Creek will be a meaningful and consequential one. Miles says he came to Culver Creek in search of The Great Perhaps, and the first line of Dr. Hyde’s quote validates this personal quest for meaning. The questions “What is the nature of being a person?” and “What is the best way to go about being a person?” are questions Miles has not considered, but they are questions Miles will face throughout the narrative as he wrestles with issues of identity and struggles to do the right thing. The last line of Dr. Hyde’s quote indicates that the personal histories of the characters will play an important role in who they are and why they do what they do. It is also an early signal, taken along with Miles’s interest in famous people’s last words, that death will be an important factor at some point in the narrative.

Quote 3

How will we ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering?

This quote comes from the chapter “8 days after,” and is the question Alaska asks in her final religion paper before she dies. Dr. Hyde writes it on the board to memorialize Alaska after her death and to help students the tragic event. The idea of the labyrinth first appears early in the novel, in one of Miles’s and Alaska’s first conversations when the characters are just getting to know each other. They discuss Simon Bolivar’s last words (“Damn it. . . How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?”) and wonder whether the labyrinth Bolivar wants to escape is life or death. Later in the chapter “52 days before,” Alaska comes to believe that the labyrinth refers to the suffering that all people must endure in life.

Like the Great Perhaps, this idea of a labyrinth appears throughout the book. Where the Great Perhaps provides a hopeful view on life and its possibilities, the labyrinth represents the sadness and suffering people must navigate throughout life.

Quote 4

After all this time, it still seems to me like straight and fast is the only way out—but I choose the labyrinth. The labyrinth blows, but I choose it.

These are Chip’s words from the chapter “122 days after,” when he and Miles are talking about the religion class final. After Alaska’s death, Miles and Chip are very aware of the parts of life that feel like a labyrinth of suffering. They’ve become aware of Alaska’s suffering after the death of her mother and the grief and the guilt she carried because of it. They’re also acutely aware of the suffering they themselves are experiencing after the loss of someone close to them. With this quote, Chip is expressing a new awareness of mortality and the value of life, understanding that Alaska’s “straight and fast” escape from the labyrinth means death, which Chip rejects in favor of life.

Quote 5

I believe now that we are greater than the sum of our parts. . .There is a part of her greater than the sum of her knowable parts. And that part has to go somewhere, because it cannot be destroyed.

Miles writes these words in his essay for the religion final in “136 days after.” It is a hopeful and notably mature answer to the question of what happens to people after death and reveals Miles’s growth as a person. When Miles is unable to make sense of Alaska’s tragic death, he is instead faced with trying to make sense of her life, and he devotes his religion essay to doing so. Throughout the novel Miles is obsessed with learning as much about Alaska as he can and frustrated when she keeps parts of herself a mystery. But by time of this quote, which concludes the novel, Miles has matured. He realizes not only that one person can’t possibly know everything about another but also that a person is much more than just a collection of details. By concluding that the important parts of people, the parts that make them who they are, can’t be destroyed, Miles immortalizes Alaska and gives meaning to her life and to his own.