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The Fault in Our Stars | Symbols



Water is used throughout the novel as both a symbol of life and death. Hazel battles water and fluids everyday as it drowns her lungs and causes her admittance to the hospital after her lungs fill with a liter and a half of fluid. At the same time that water threatens to kill Hazel, its beauty is celebrated. For instance, Amsterdam is a city built on water, flowing with canals. The first night Hazel and Gus arrive, they take in the beauty of the city with dinner at a restaurant that sits along the side of a canal. Even so, the danger within the beauty of water is acknowledged with the recitation of the end of the poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot—"till human voices wake us, and we drown"—foreshadowing the pain to come, both in the meeting with Van Houten as well as with the reemergence of Gus's cancer.

Gus's Cigarettes

Gus's cigarettes are very clearly a symbol of his attempt to instill a sense of control over the cancer that eventually results in his death. When Hazel first meets him, he puts a cigarette in his mouth, and Hazel initially berates him for smoking after having cancer until he explains, "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." Later when Gus is in the midst of his cancer treatment, he tries to go out and buy a pack of cigarettes just to "do one little thing" himself. However, he ends up needing to be sent to the emergency room because of that trip, a sign he does not have control over cancer no matter how hard he fights against it.

An Imperial Affliction

The importance of An Imperial Affliction is in Hazel's treatment of it; she feels the book resonates with her views of living with cancer. Initially readers only learn the book concerns a girl with cancer who refuses to be defined by it. Readers don't know the title gives a hint as to the actual meaning behind the book. The title is taken from "A Certain Slant of Light" by the American poet Emily Dickinson and refers to despair; Hazel is overcome with despair, believing her cancer is only causing pain, not only to her but also to the people around her. When she finally realizes Van Houten is not the enlightened author she had constructed in her mind, she questions the message that life is essentially meaningless in the novel, precipitated by conversations with Gus. Her rejection of Van Houten and his novel is a recognition that her despair has changed into an acknowledgment of the power and persistence of her cancer without letting it destroy any happiness she manages to find.

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