The two books I’m exploring this week are very different from each other. Looking for Alaska by John Green is a young adult novel about a heterosexual teenager and his young love for his peer, Alaska. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin is about an American gay man living in Paris in the 1950s and struggling to find his identity. Though so different, they both seem to find a way to explore identity.
Looking for Alaska
Spoken by Alaksa: “You love the girl who makes you laugh and shows you porn and drinks wine with you. You don’t love this crazy sullen bitch.”
Spoken about Alaska: “Do you remember how she could be a selfish bitch? That was part of her and you used to know it. Now it’s like you only care about the Alaska you made up.”
David: “But I am not a housewife–men can never be housewives. And the pleasure was never real or deep…”
Hella: “It does seem–well, difficult–to be at the mercy of some gross, unshaven stranger before you can begin to yourself…I couldn’t be free until I was attached–no, committed–to someone…From now on, I can have a wonderful time being a woman. But I won’t be terrified that I’m not one.”
Hella: “There are women who have forgotten that to be a woman doesn’t simply mean humiliation, doesn’t simply mean bitterness.”
Hella: “But if women are supposed to be led by men and there aren’t any men to lead them, what happens then?”
Obviously these books speak on different level and thus what I take from them seems to me to be on different levels of profundity. And still, as I sat down and found the quotes that most spoke to me, I felt an instant connection between the two.
I looking for Alaska, there is a clear conflict between who Alaska is and who she is perceived as being. Though Alaska has a deep need to be known for her true self, including the “…crazy sullen bitch,” I also sense a fear in her to share that side of her. She fears that if she does show her true self people won’t love her. So then we see how Alaska is remembered by a boy who does love her. Apparently he has “…made up” his own Alaska who doesn’t ever act as a selfish bitch. But was that because he was blind to this side of Alaska? Was he not willing to accept it? Or is part of love remembering only the good parts of a person? And if you do only remember/love only half of someone’s identity is this real love of a real person, or just love of a character? Is true love despite of someone’s flaws or because of someone’s flaws?
In Giovanni’s Room what I found so interesting is how both these characters struggle with their identities because their identities are entirely defined by their relationships. Specifically, they both believe they must be in heterosexual relationships in order to have an identity. When David tries to actually be in a relationship with another male, he finds himself in a serious identity crisis playing a housewife. For Hella, her entire identity as a woman is entirely dependent upon having a man. Interestingly, David shares a similar sentiment in his struggle to choose between his two lovers. It does seem that Hella cannot allow a true self to even form until she has found a husband.
Giovanni’s Room is honestly a fascinating exploration into gender roles in general, and I highly recommend it as a next read.