The Fault in Our Stars
John Green

by contributor

Nina Calhoun

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Themes
Themes are described as ideas that dominate a particular piece of literature. In almost all cases, pieces of literature will be centered a theme or a number of them.
The insensitivity of the world

A phrase that is repeated continuously throughout the novel is that “the world is not a wish-granting factory.” The things that human beings want to come true often do not, and reality can be completely different from one’s fantasies. A lot of examples of this are evident throughout the novel. Monica, the girlfriend of Isaac, breaks up with him just before his remaining eye is removed. Regardless of all the waiting and his hopes of having a great future with her, he never hears from her again. After Augustus was diagnosed with cancer, he began realizing his biggest fear — that he will never make a mark in the world. Hazel is aware that her lungs will never heal, and that her death is inevitable.

The theme of the insensitivity of the universe is summed up by Augustus’s story about his middle-school science teacher, Mr. Martinez. During their flight back from Amsterdam, Augustus tells Hazel that, at some point in time, he thought of living on a cloud. According to him, the cloud would be an inflatable moonwalk machine. Nevertheless, he learned from Mr. Martinez that he could never survive at that altitude. This is because, in the clouds, there is no oxygen, the temperature is thirty below zero, and the wind blows at one hundred and fifty miles per hour. To Augustus, his teacher specialized in the “murder of dreams”.

The insensitivity of the world underlies much of the novel’s subjects. After the death of Augustus, Hazel remembers a comment that her father had earlier made, “the universe just wants to be noticed.” She reverses this comment by saying that what we want is the universe to notice us. As she puts it, the big problem is “the depraved meaninglessness of these things”. In this case, Hazel suggests that some things that happen to people, such as developing cancer, happen randomly, neither with any malicious intentions nor with any purpose. Even though we want the universe to notice us, it is not aware. The novel’s title speaks to this idea. It is obtained from “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar,” by Shakespeare, where Cassius says “Men at some times are masters of their fates: / The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves”. In this case, the words “stars” is used to refer to fate, and Hazel applies these lines to her situation. She, however, concludes the opposite — that the fault for their dying from cancer is a doing of fate, but not their doing.

Suffering

In a novel about kids dying of cancer, it is unsurprising that suffering is a prominent part of the lives of the characters. In The Fault in our Stars, Hazel, Augustus, and Isaac all endure levels of emotional and physical pain. Hazel’s lungs have a buildup of fluid that deprives her of oxygen, causing an intense pain that lands her in the emergency room. Augustus’s physical health deteriorates, forcing him to take pain medication that is strong enough to leave him incoherent; he also suffers so much that he loses his desire to accomplish the heroic things he had earlier wanted to do during his life. Isaac has to cope with losing his remaining eye; this not only leaves him blind but also leads his girlfriend Monica to break up with him. In the eyes of the characters in the novel, notably Hazel and Augustus, all these kinds of pain are part of living; Hazel might call this a side effect of life. This does not imply that these types of pain are desirable; instead, it means that they are inevitable.

Religion and Philosophy

In their experience with the realities of living with, as well as dying from, cancer, those affected in the novel are left looking for meaning, comfort, and answers for the different situations they find themselves in. A lot of characters turn to religion to obtain explanations for their fates. This is evident from the beginning of the book when Hazel attends the support group, whose meeting point is the church basement. The church is shaped like a cross, and their meeting point is positioned where the heart of Jesus would have been during his crucifixion. Augustus and Hazel joke that their meeting point is “the Literal Heart of Jesus”. In a figurative sense, this point alludes to the some people’s beliefs — that the sick hold a special place in the heart of Jesus.

In the novel, religion offers easy answers for the affliction and also provides a sense of hope that the characters’ fates are resting on some higher power. Nevertheless, for some of the characters, including Augustus and Hazel, religion — or even God — is not enough to explain their situations. These characters turn to other different philosophical explanations to obtain meanings in their lives — and deaths. As mentioned earlier, these explanations span from existentialism to nihilism. Existentialism is evident in Augustus’s search for meaning in life, while nihilism is evident in Peter Van Houten’s philosophical leanings. It is along these philosophical lines that the character of Hazel experiences the most significant transformation.

At the beginning of The Fault in Our Stars, Hazel responds to Augustus’s fear of oblivion by telling him that everything will ultimately die. She tells him that there was a time prior to consciousness, and there will be a time after it. She fears that her death will cause pain to others, and because of this fear, she turns to An Imperial Affliction, hoping to find answers to her worries. Here, she wants to know what happens at the end of the novel, since she believes that this will reveal something about what will happen to her once she dies, addressing the various existential questions that burden her. This philosophical standpoint, however, is transformed through her relationship with Augustus. She comes to realize that after death, people live on via the relationships they had with their loved ones, as well as the impacts they make on other people’s lives. Through this, Hazel’s nihilistic approach turns to a new approach towards life and death that gives her some hope and comfort concerning her fate.

Love

In the course of the book, the reader gets to witness the sweet charm of young love, where Hazel and Augustus flirt as they get to know one another. The attraction of these two is undoubted, and their compatibility is uncanny. The two eventually fall in love with each other, and thereafter cherish, as well as relish, every moment of the remainder of their lives. Isaac also has a girlfriend, Monica, and the two are seen making out as Hazel and Augustus watch them. Monica, however, breaks up with Isaac when he loses his remaining eye.

Different characters in the novel have different attitudes towards love. Augustus appears to love Hazel without caring whether she might die soon, leaving him hurt by her absence. Hazel, on the other hand, holds out from loving Augustus: even after giving in to love, she fails to let him know.

In addition to romantic love, the story also portrays a strong theme of familial love. The parents of Hazel want her to be a normal teenager; hence they recommend she go to cancer support group. But at the same time, they are overbearing and protective. Even though they urge her to mature into an adult, it is evident that they continue to cling on to her youth; they still celebrate her half birthdays, and also ask her to sleep with her childhood teddy bear, Bluie (Green 17). Augustus’s parents react to his illness differently. They plaster their house with platitudinous sayings, constant reminders of them to stay positive. Even though both Augustus and Hazel find their parents annoying, they eventually understand that they simply just love them, and their actions are ways of coping with the situation to the best of their ability. Hazel truly loves her parents, demonstrated by her happiness when she finds out that her mother has been studying for her MSW (Green 83). Further, instead of appreciating her parents for caring for her, Hazel is focused on ensuring that they are happy even after she dies.

The meaning of life and death

The Fault in Our Stars is about youths with a terminal illness. For this reason, the meaning of life and death are incredibly vital subjects to the characters. Throughout the novel, the author gives the reader various points of view on the life and death, via Hazel’s thoughts and conversations with herself, with Augustus and his parents, with Hazel’s father and mother, and with Peter Van Houten. Most notably, Hazel’s points of view on life and death contrast with those of Augustus — where, in his view, to have a good life, one needs to accomplish something tangible. To Augustus, afterlife, there exists something with capital S. On the other hand, rather than making a significant impact on the world, either positively or negatively, Hazel takes the approach on doing as little harm as she can while she is still alive (Pangestu 26). She, however, does not appear to believe in any afterlife. The other characters in the novel rely more or less on science and realism versus comforting “encouragements” and religion to help these youths deal with the uncertainty of life and death.

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