The Fault in Our Stars | Study Guide

John Green

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The Fault in Our Stars | Chapter 1 | Summary

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Summary

Hazel Grace Lancaster is a 16-year-old diagnosed with thyroid cancer and metastatic tumors in her lungs. Because of Hazel's depression, her doctor and her mother, Mrs. Lancaster, suggest she attend a cancer support group. She finds the support group to be generally pointless and would have preferred to continue her self-imposed solitude—until the day she meets Augustus "Gus" Waters.

Augustus, or Gus, is attending the meeting as a friend of Isaac, a 17-year-old with retinoblastoma that has already taken one eye and will take the other during surgery in two weeks' time. Gus had osteosarcoma approximately a year before that led to the amputation of his leg. In contrast to the other members of the group, Gus is not solely concerned with survival and death as the end goal of life, but rather with the idea that his life can mean more. His greatest fear is oblivion, that he will be forgotten after he dies; Hazel rebuts him, saying everything ends in oblivion and there is nothing you can do to stop it.

They are immediately attracted to one another, and after the cancer support group meeting Hazel decides to join Gus at his house and watch V for Vendetta. They go outside to wait for Hazel's mom to pick them up. Isaac makes out with his girlfriend, Monica, and they whisper the promise "always" in each other's ear. Gus pulls out a cigarette as they watch and wait; Hazel explodes at him, convinced it is his hamartia, or fatal flaw, until Gus explains it is a metaphor for putting a cancer-causing thing that can kill him in his mouth but choosing not to light it. She tells her mother she will be going over to Gus's house that evening.

Analysis

The first-person point of view limits what the reader can know initially about how other characters see Hazel, but the story is just beginning. Constrained by the cancer flooding her lungs with fluid and weakening her ability to interact with people, Hazel retreats into her books and herself. She feels guilty even as she knows there is nothing she did to cause the cancer. What she wants more is to lessen the pain she thinks she is causing her family rather than make an impact on the people around her.

In contrast, Gus is convinced life must have meaning. On one hand, the difference in their outlooks is based on their current situations; Gus has been cancer-free for almost a year whereas Hazel's body is in the thick of its fight against her cancer. She is depressed and wondering how much longer she has to live. Hazel's main concern is in the pain she is putting her family through, but Gus's main concern is how others perceive him as exemplified by his placement of an unlit cigarette between his lips as a visual metaphor of his defiant stand against the disease that took his leg. Hazel is attracted to him in part because he is decidedly not depressed and is quite an interesting and engaging boy who is also quite good-looking in her eyes.

They soon discover they both place great importance in words. Gus uses lots of metaphors and names things because naming something places the power in his hands. Hazel's concern is with the use of words and the impact they have on people. The importance and power of words and names is a theme that runs through the novel. For example, the author choses characters' names carefully. The name Augustus harkens back to Augustus, the founder and first emperor of Rome around 27 BC, with the meaning "exalted one." Augustus Waters wants to be remembered for heroic deeds himself. Hazel, in Germanic and Norse mythology, symbolizes life, and in Celtic mythology, wisdom and inspiration. Isaac, a Jewish prophet in the Old Testament of the Bible, was blind.

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