Q: Pudge seems to lack autonomy and only does what he’s told to do. Is this intentional?
Yeah, he starts to affect the action in the second half of the novel, but he is very conscious of this passivity. (He calls himself drizzle to Alaska’s hurricane, and the tail to his friends’ comet.) This inability to act is part of what keeps him from following Alaska out to the pay phone, a decision that he’ll have to live with for the rest of his life.
It was important to me when writing the story that Pudge not be blameless. It’s natural to feel guilty in the wake of a friend’s death, but usually, you can eventually say to yourself, “You know what? This wasn’t actually my fault. There was really nothing I could’ve done.” But in Pudge’s case (arguably like Alaska’s case with her own mother), there is something he should’ve done. He should’ve followed her to the pay phone. He should’ve stopped her from leaving. He should’ve acted.
And that’s a much more complicated kind of guilt to live with. Alaska’s death still isn’t his fault, of course. But he will always know he could’ve—and should’ve—stopped her.
The question for me becomes whether you can find a way to live with yourself, whether forgiveness is still available to you even though the person you need to forgive you is gone. Alaska can never reconcile that question for herself with regards to her own mother. Pudge does eventually find an answer that brings him comfort, but along the way he has to become much more proactive about his life and his choices.