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The Eagle wakes Miles and Chip up and tells them they need to go to the gym because something terrible has happened. Chip guesses that the Old Man died and the staff is going to deliver the news to the student body. In the gym, the Old Man appears but Miles cannot find Alaska. The Eagle announces that Alaska was killed in a car accident the night before. Miles denies that Alaska died, insisting that she is playing a prank, but the Eagle confirms that she is dead. The Eagle tells Miles that she drove into a police cruiser without swerving, probably because she was very intoxicated. Miles thinks about him and Chip helping her leave even though they knew she was drunk, and he feels responsible for her death. Chip sobs and yells that he is sorry. Miles reflects that their heated moment will not be continued and that he will never know her last words.
Miles calls his parents to tell them about his friend’s death. They sympathize with him and ask if he want to come home, but he tells them he wants to be at school. Miles returns to his room and finds Chip memorizing country capitals. Chip, visibly upset, grabs his almanac and tells Miles he is going for a walk. Friends, including Lara, come by to check on Miles, but Miles wants to be alone. Miles has a nightmare about Alaska and wakes up wishing Chip would return from his walk.
Chip finally returns from his walk, informing Miles that he walked 42 miles before getting too cold and walking back. He does not want to sleep because he has nightmares about Alaska and has begun to forget what she looked like. Miles pulls out a yearbook to remind Chip what Alaska looked like, and they recall her moodiness. Chip confides in Miles that he did not try to stop Alaska from leaving on the night of the accident because he did not want to deal with her drama. Miles reflects that he let her drive away drunk simply because she asked him to.
Miles, Chip, Takumi, and Lara drive together to Alaska’s funeral in her hometown, Vine Station. They take back roads to avoid the spot on the highway where Alaska died. Miles reflects on the pain he feels from loving someone and having to live on after that person dies. They enter the funeral home and meet Alaska’s father. Miles mourns that he will not see Alaska again because the casket is closed. He feels remorse for causing her father pain by helping her drive away when she shouldn’t have been behind the wheel. Both Chip and Miles kneel by her casket to apologize to her and again Miles tells her he loves her.
Miles refuses to eat and Chip goes to the cafeteria without him. When Chip returns, he reports that the Eagle ate with him and asked if he and Miles were responsible for setting off the fireworks that helped Alaska sneak away. Chip assures Miles that he did not confess. Chip also reports that Alaska’s aunt plans to clean out Alaska’s room so they should go through her room now in case there is anything there that they want to keep as a memento of her.
Miles enjoys that the smell of Alaska is still in the room as he looks for The General in the Labyrinth, the book with the Simón Bolívar quote. After Chip finds the book, Miles finds a note Alaska left inside of it. She wrote, “Straight and fast” in the book margins as her answer to the question “How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?” As they read the quote, the boys begin to question why Alaska did not swerve to avoid the police car. Chip doubts Alaska was so drunk she could not swerve. Chip wrestles with anger that Alaska may have killed herself, but Miles feels that, either way, they are responsible for Alaska’s death.
Culver Creek classes resume and the Old Man explains that he understands that the content of his religion class has likely become personal because of Alaska’s death. He writes Alaska’s question from the previous semester about escaping the labyrinth of suffering on the board and asks the class how they feel. Chip quietly vents his anger to Miles that other people are mourning Alaska when Chip does not think they actually cared about her when she was alive.
Alaska’s death represents Miles’s biggest challenge in his coming-of-age thus far, as he struggles to process what has happened and his own culpability in it. The shock of Alaska’s death forces Miles and his friends to look inward and ask themselves what went wrong. For Miles, the answer is simple: he and Chip failed to stop Alaska from drunkenly driving her car off campus, and even helped her to do so. It is a simple answer and one that protects Alaska by excusing her own poor decisions, which Miles does because he was in love with her. Chip, on the other hand, had a more complicated relationship with Alaska. Thus, Chip’s response is to not only acknowledge their mistake in helping her leave campus but also to hold Alaska responsible for her own behavior, complaining that “You had to watch her like a three-year-old.” This give and take between Miles and Chip signals that processing and understanding the tragedy will be complex and difficult.
Miles experiences the grief, anger, and confusion that one would expect in the aftermath of a friend’s death, but he struggles most because there does not seem to be any meaning behind it. Because Miles does not know why Alaska was so upset or where she was driving to that night, and does not understand death in general, he is left feeling only her absence. This is symbolized by the dream Miles has of Alaska flying into his room and transforming into a rotting corpse. It is a metaphor for how Alaska has flown into Miles’s life only to leave him just as suddenly. Miles’s feelings of emptiness and sadness make him desperate for answers. Therefore, when he and Chip go through Alaska’s things, they are looking for clues, if only subconsciously. This indicates that the denouement of the novel (“after”) will involve an effort by Miles to understand Alaska’s death and give it meaning.
Alaska’s cryptic answer for how to get out of life’s labyrinth of suffering (“Straight & Fast”) inspires the boys to find out more about Alaska’s state of mind on the night of her death and drives the action of the novel forward. The handwritten note also provides a powerful metaphor for how she lived her life. It conjures an image of Alaska crashing through the walls of life’s labyrinth at full speed, not only freeing herself from suffering but also leaving a trail of destruction in her wake. This image alludes to Alaska’s previous definition of suffering as a result of the choices one makes. Alaska believed that suffering inevitably causes more suffering. Instead of trying to figure out the intricacies of life and how to navigate the labyrinth, it is better—in Alaska’s opinion—to throw caution to the wind and move forward, regardless of any damage you may cause.
Alaska’s take on Simón Bolívar’s labyrinth metaphor will continue to play an important role in the final chapters of the novel, made certain by Dr. Hyde’s decision to write How will we ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering? —A.Y. on the board in front of class. Dr. Hyde’s focus on not letting Alaska be forgotten is an important and loving action, though ironic because Alaska was no fan of “The Old Man.” In fact, Dr. Hyde’s age, wisdom, and maturity means he understands how difficult it will be for the kids to process what has happened. By focusing on Alaska’s philosophical question, Dr. Hyde provides Miles and Chip with a means by which to understand and contextualize Alaska’s life and death, which will prove to be crucial for Miles in particular.