Study Guide

The Fault in Our Stars Analysis

By John Green

  • Tone

    Cautiously Frank

    Why not start with a quote from our spunky narrator?

    I didn't tell him that the diagnosis came three months after I got my first period. Like: Congratulations! You're a woman. Now die. (2.13)

    And hey, how about another?

    That particularly galled me, because it implied the immortality of those left behind: You will live forever in my memory, because I will live forever! I AM YOUR GOD NOW, DEAD BOY! I OWN YOU! Thinking you won't die is yet another side effect of dying. (21.8)

    Oh, and why not one more—just for good measure:

    I went to Support Group for the same reason that I'd once allowed nurses with a mere eighteen months of graduate education to poison me with exotically named chemicals: I wanted to make my parents happy. (1.28)

    Notice a trend? Our girl is remarkably frank. She tells it like it is, even when other people don't like it (read: her mom). She knows she's headed for an early death and feels like there's not much use in pretending otherwise.

    As frank as she is, though, she's also cautious. Even when she's dealing with something as harmless as answering Augustus's parents' questions about Support Group, she weighs her options carefully:

    I paused for a second, trying to figure out if my response should be calibrated to please Augustus or his parents. (2.32)

    And it's not only for Augustus's parents. She's also especially cautious when she's talking to or thinking about Augustus. She doesn't want to admit to her feelings for Augustus outright and doesn't like to consider a wonderful future together. She can't afford to get her hopes up when the stakes are so high, and her word choice makes that abundantly clear.

  • Genre

    Young Adult Literature

    This one's kind of a no-brainer. Hazel, Augustus, and their friends are all teenagers who are looking for their way in life. They may be dealing with all sorts of downer illnesses, but they're still dealing with all the normal teenage preoccupations like flirting, playing with video games, and rolling their eyes at their parents.

    Coming of Age

    Even though Hazel is sixteen years old and whip smart, it often seems like she's a little stunted in her social and romantic growth. But over the course of the book, she really grows into herself and experiences many of normal teenage things involved in the transition from childhood into adulthood. She learns to become a little more independent, starts being more social, and even develops a love interest. Oh, and she loses her virginity.

    And if watching your boyfriend die doesn't force you to grow up, we don't know what does.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    We're going to turn to Big Willy for this one. The book's title, The Fault in Our Stars, comes from a line in Shakespeare's play in Julius Caesar where Cassius says, "The fault, dear Brutus is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

    Deep, much?

    Cassius seems to be saying that it's not fate that dooms men, but instead their own failings. That's right: according to this guy, you are to blame for the nastiness in your life.

    John Green isn't quite on board. The title The Fault in Our Stars seems to argue that sometimes it's not our fault; sometimes the bad stuff just can't be avoided. Hazel and Augustus sure didn't do anything to cause their cancer and it's a fact that they cannot avoid or change.

    But the beauty of the message is that they can still live and make their decisions despite the fault in their stars, even when they know the inevitable fate that awaits them.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    First things first: let's pass around the tissue box. This ending is filled with some emotionally loaded and tragic stuff. The plot point is clear: in the end, the love of Hazel Grace's life, Augustus Waters, dies. He's 17.

    Through his death, Hazel is able to learn some things about herself, her take on mortality, and her role in the world.

    All this time, Hazel's been adamant about keeping her distance from people because she doesn't want to hurt them. But with Augustus, she realizes the closeness was worth it—she wouldn't change it for the world. And that's how other people, like her parents and her friends, feel about her.

    In the end, Hazel reads Augustus's obituary for her. He writes that you can't choose whether or not you'll be hurt, but you can choose what hurts you, and that he's happy with his choices:

    What else? She is so beautiful. You don't get tired of looking at her. You never worry if she is smarter than you: You know she is. She is funny without ever being mean. I love her. I am so lucky to love her, Van Houten. You don't get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices. I hope she likes hers. (25.76)

    And Hazel responds with:

    I do, Augustus.

    I do. (25.77-78)

    Looks like there's some happy ending in there after all.

  • Setting

    Indianapolis

    The Fault in Our Stars is technically set in Indianapolis, but it's not the Indianapolis of tourists or even of normal residents who go to work and school each day. It's the Indianapolis of the sick.

    For Hazel and her companions, their hometown revolves around the places that they can frequent as cancer kids: hospitals, support groups in churches, and occasionally each other's homes. The whole setting is quite stifling and very indoors. After all, Hazel spends most of her time in her room reading the same book over and over again. It's pretty claustrophobic.

    Hazel's totally aware of it, too. She describes Indiana as someplace where she feels confined: "It was a cloudy day, typical Indiana: the kind of weather that boxes you in" (4.48). Even when she meets Augustus and they start doing fun and exciting things together, they're still limited in where they're allowed to go: they go to each other's homes and to support group; they read a lot, watch TV, and hang out with their hovering parents; they spend time with Isaac, who also has similar limitations.

    The Indianapolis that they see is one that is sterile, confining, and utterly familiar.

    Amsterdam

    Ah, Amsterdam. The name itself conjures up visions of cobblestone streets, canals, bicycles, quaint coffee shops, artists, and of course, romance. So you know, basically the polar opposite of the Indianapolis we just left. When Hazel and Augustus go to Amsterdam, it's not just another country or continent for them. It's a totally different life, one that doesn't involve regular trips to the hospital and rolling their eyes as they sit in the "literal heart of Jesus":

    It looked nothing like America. It looked like an old painting, but real—everything achingly idyllic in the morning light—and I thought about how wonderfully strange it would be to live in a place where almost everything had been built by the dead. (11.9)

    These two kids are catapulted into a world where anything is possible, where they can have a romantic dinner outdoors, climb flights of stairs, and even sneak into each other's hotel rooms for sexy times. Even Hazel's mother, who is usually hovering right by her, acts differently when they're in Amsterdam; she allows Hazel and Augustus to go off on their own and manages to enjoy her own time as she tours Amsterdam.

  • What's Up With the Epigraph?

    As the tide washed in, the Dutch Tulip Man faced the ocean:

    "Conjoiner rejoinder poisoner concealer revelator. Look at it, rising up and rising down, taking everything with it."

    "What's that?" I asked.

    "Water," the Dutchman said. "Well, and time."

    – PETER VAN HOUTEN, An Imperial Affliction

    The epigraph is an imaginary quote from an imaginary book called An Imperial Affliction. But who said the imaginary wasn't worth thinking about?

    Time is a big freakin' deal in The Fault in Our Stars because Hazel and Augustus don't have a lot of it left. The two are always discussing infinities and how some people have more time than others. Hazel also references the fact that eventually, all that we know will be gone and fade into oblivion. Sounds a lot like the epigraph, right?

    Looks like the epigraph has done its job to set the tone.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (5) Tree Line

    This one's a little tougher to summit. Not only is the book written with some slightly elevated vocabulary, the themes—cancer, death, teenage sex—are also more appropriate for a more mature audience. But climb on up! The weather's fine up here.

  • Writing Style

    Conversational Snark

    Hazel is just full of opinionated treasures. Hazel is quick-witted, well-spoken, and snarky to boot. Take her thoughts on the Encouragements scattered all around Augustus' house:

    This is an old argument in the field of Thinking About Suffering, and its stupidity and lack of sophistication could be plumbed for centuries, but suffice it to say that the existence of broccoli does not in any way affect the taste of chocolate... "A lovely thought." (2.97)

    Not only does this passage showcase her witty turns of phrase, it also gives us an idea of why she talks like she does, why she tells it like it is. Hazel obviously thinks that trite phrases (like the Encouragements) are just stupid. That means you can be sure she'll never write like that. And we don't know about you, but we much prefer snarky to trite.

    Plus, Hazel's writing is easy to follow because it's written in a conversational way; as if we're sitting down talking to a close friend. And that makes us feel like we really know Hazel.

  • The Ending of An Imperial Affliction

    I understood the story ended because Anna died or got too sick to write and this midsentence thing was supposed to reflect how life really ends and whatever, but there were characters other than Anna in the story, and it seemed unfair that I would never find out what happened to them. (4.6)

    Can you imagine reading a book that ends mid-sentence? What is this, The Sopranos? (Oops: retroactive spoiler alert.)

    The frustration is even stronger for Hazel because Anna's story in An Imperial Affliction is kind of like Hazel's own story. And just like she's dying to know what happened to the other characters in Van Houten's story, Hazel is also dying to know what will happen to the characters in her story when she passes away.

    In a way, her transatlantic search for the ending of An Imperial Affliction is motivated by her desire to know what will happen to her loved ones when she eventually dies. She wants to know that Anna's mom will be okay, just like she just wants to know that her own parents and loved ones will be okay.

    And in the end, when she learns that her mother has been taking classes to become a Support Group leader, she's ecstatic. That's exactly the ending that she was hoping for—one in which her parents could keep living their lives. Especially after meeting Van Houten, she sure doesn't' want that to happen to her parents.

    Uncertainty can be one of the toughest parts about sickness, and An Imperial Affection captures that perfectly.

  • The "Heart of Jesus"

    One of the more hilarious descriptions that Hazel gives us is of the Support Group that she goes to, which is basically just a misguided mess of sentimentality. The Support Group is held in a church basement that is shaped like a cross, and they sit where the two lines of the cross meet. Because of this, their Support Group leader refers to the group as the "literal heart of Jesus."

    Hazel, on the other hand, doesn't see the rainbows and butterflies:

    So here's how it went in God's heart: The six or seven or ten of us walked/wheeled in, grazed at a decrepit selection of cookies and lemonade, sat down in the Circle of Trust, and listened to Patrick recount for the thousandth time his depressingly miserable life story... (1.6) 

    The heart of Jesus reminds us that everyone has their own way of finding solace in tough times. Even though Patrick and some of the other Support Group attendees find it uplifting and comforting to be so embedded in the presence of Jesus, Hazel and Augustus just find the whole thing depressing and absurd. For them, the Heart of Jesus is a confining, suffocating place where they are defined by their illness. And that's essentially the last place they'd like to be.

  • Encouragements

    Augustus's house is all decked out with inspiration. Yep, you know the kind. On every single surface of house, there are encouragements or inspirational phrases:

    A wooden plaque in the entryway was engraved in cursive with the words Home Is Where the Heart Is, and the entire house turned out to be festooned in such observations. Good Friends Are Hard to Find and Impossible to Forget read an illustration above the coatrack. True Love Is Born from Hard Times... Augustus saw me reading. "My parents call them Encouragements," he explained. "They're everywhere." (2.23) 

    Like "The Heart of Jesus," the Encouragements are a tangible form of comfort. Even though Hazel and Augustus don't necessarily agree with them (and sometimes make hilarious fun of them), they know that they provide some measure of comfort and hope to Augustus's parents. When Augustus dies, Hazel even mentions them in her eulogy just because she knows that it will mean a lot to them.

    Bottom line: everyone copes differently. And hey, to each his own.

  • Eulogies

    Eulogies are a bleak topic, no doubt about it. But since Augustus has the will to tackle them, we sure have to.

    As his health deteriorates and he prepares for death, Augustus asks his loved ones (in this case Hazel and Isaac) to write eulogies so he can hear them while he still has some time left. Why is he so concerned about his eulogies? Well, in a way, it's as though cancer has robbed him of his heroic story. He wanted an obituary that would paint him as special and heroic, but he feels like he'll just be another premature death.

    Through the eulogies, Augustus is able to hear and shape the way that he's remembered. He listens to them and—get this—even offers suggestions. (Isaac isn't too keen on that: "and then finally, he said, "Goddamn it, Augustus, editing your own eulogy" [20.54].)

    Augustus may not have control over whether he lives or dies, but now he knows his legacy. And with the loving and kind eulogies that his friends and loved ones give him, it's clear that he has left his mark, even if it's not exactly what he thought it would be.

    For the Parents

    Hazel already has a eulogy prepared, right? So why doesn't she give it at Augustus's funeral? Well, her original eulogy served to offer Augustus some comfort and validation about how much he meant to her; but now it's Augustus's parents who need the comfort:

    I went on spouting bulls*** Encouragements as Gus's parents, arm in arm, hugged each other and nodded at every word. Funerals, I had decided, are for the living. (22.20)

    Classic Hazel, always looking out for those around her.

  • Video Games

    These kids may have cancer, but that doesn't mean they're not just typical kids. In this case, typical kids playing typical blow-heads-off-and-guts-out kind of first-person shooter video games. It may just seem like just another way to blow off some steam, but Augustus takes his game playing very seriously. When Hazel questions why he saved some hostages in the game instead of himself, he responds heatedly:

    "All salvation is temporary […] I bought them a minute. Maybe that's the minute that buys them an hour, which is the hour that buys them a year. No one's gonna buy them forever, Hazel Grace, but my life bought them a minute. And that's not nothing." (4.83)

    Um... are we still talking about video games here?

    The whole life or death situation that is inherent in video games hits close to home for Augustus. Like the hostages in the game, he recognizes that he and his fellow cancer kids are working with a limited amount of time, and that any time bought for them is precious and valuable. Even though the drugs they're on might not save them forever, at least they're saving them for now. And he's right; that's not nothing at all. That's definitely something.

  • Cigarettes

    We'll admit it—we hardly had to do any work to pick out this symbol. In fact, we just sat back in our chairs with our feet on our desks and let the characters explain it to us:

    "They don't kill you unless you light them," he said as Mom arrived at the curb. "And I've never lit one. It's a metaphor, see: You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don't give it the power to do its killing." (1.122)

    Augustus likes having a pack of cigarettes in his pocket, and he likes putting one in his mouth occasionally, but he never ever lights it. For him, the cigarettes are one area in his life where he can have power over his body and what does and does not kill it. He will bring the cigarettes all the way up to his lips, but he'll never let them have the last word.

    In other words, he's giving the ultimate "screw you" to cancer.

  • Narrator Point of View

    First Person (Central Narrator)

    This story is all Hazel's. It makes perfect sense that the story would be told from her first person perspective because she has such an internalized life. She really is in her own little worlds.

    We really like Hazel, so we're pretty stoked to have her as our narrator. And she's always infusing her own thoughts and personality into the story. Remember when she describes how pissed she is that people are putting inspirational messages on Gus's wall online after he dies?

    That particularly galled me, because it implied the immortality of those left behind: You will live forever in my memory, because I will live forever! I AM YOUR GOD NOW, DEAD BOY! I OWN YOU! Thinking you won't die is yet another side effect of dying. (21.8)

    This girl doesn't hold back.

    Because she has physical constraints, Hazel relies on her words, thoughts, and feelings to give her the full experience of life. She and Augustus are often overblown and wordy, but it's how they're able to communicate their affection for each other without physical contact.

    Hazel brings us into her world with her words—and it's one that's hard to leave.

  • Plot Analysis

    Exposition (Initial Situation)

    A Girl Without a Mission

    This exposition isn't the happiest of Disney-fied beginnings. In fact, a great deal of the exposition has to do with the very depressing topic of "What it's like to be a teenager with a terminal illness?" So, as we get introduced to Hazel, our beloved heroine, we get to see the ins and outs of a day with cancer, which includes not going to school, being hovered over obsessively by one's parents, watching lots of reality television, and going to Support Group in the basement of a church.

    Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)

    Boys, Boys, Boys

    Things start to pick up when Hazel meets Augustus, a rather attractive boy in her Support Group. Pretty soon, they're swooning over the same books and having phone calls into the wee hours of the night. With his arrival, Hazel starts seeing the possibility of a life more exciting than her cancer-ridden one… and Augustus agrees. Augustus starts corresponding with Hazel's favorite writer (something she's never been able to do) and lo and behold, they get an invitation to go to Amsterdam and learn more about the ending of Hazel's favorite book.

    Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)

    Euro-Trip

    The climax of the book might as well be called "When in Amsterdam…" because everything dramatic goes down in the European city. First of all, things do not go well with Peter Van Houten, and there's an explosive scene at his house in which Augustus yells at him. Secondly, Augustus and Hazel finally give into those raging hormones. And thirdly (as if there could be any more!), Augustus breaks the news to Hazel that he recently had a PET scan and his cancer has returned aggressively. So now it's him who's dying?

    Falling Action

    The Sad Decline of Augustus Waters

    The falling action in the story happens in accordance with Augustus' failing health. Poor Hazel has to deal with the heartbreak of watching her first love get weaker and weaker. All she wants to do is be there for him, and watching him die takes up her whole life. When Augustus dies, it's unimaginably hard.

    Resolution (Dénouement)

    And Then There Was One

    In the end, Hazel is full-on mourning Augustus's loss. But she reaches some closure when she talks to Peter Van Houten at the funeral and learns that he had a daughter who died of cancer, which is why he wrote An Imperial Affliction. She also discovers a eulogy that Augustus wrote for her before he died—one last word from her first love.

  • Allusions

    Literary and Philosophical References

    Pop Culture References

    Natalie Portman