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The Fault in Our Stars | Themes

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The Power of Names

Names are important because of the power they impart or take away from a person or thing. When Gus first meets Hazel, he insists on calling her "Hazel Grace" despite Hazel's insistence she's "just Hazel" as a claim to ownership in the same way that Hazel consistently says "Augustus Waters" rather than "Augustus" or "Gus," as he is called by his parents. As the novel also contains many religious references, Augustus may also say Hazel's second name, "Grace," as a religious allusion referencing her importance to him. Notably she starts to call him Gus, a fact he picks up on only after he starts cancer treatment and transitions from someone she is actively having a relationship with to someone who is sick and dying. Their relationship changes, as does her naming of him. Hazel had previously noted this difference in naming herself: "When surprised and excited and innocent Gus emerged from Grand Gesture Metaphorically Inclined Augustus, I literally could not resist" kissing him on the cheek.

Places and events are often capitalized because of their importance to Hazel. For instance, the location of the cancer support group is known as "The Literal Heart of Jesus" because it imbues it with a sense of ridicule that allows Hazel to reduce the seriousness of the meeting while still acknowledging its importance through the act of naming it: "I thought we were in a church basement, but we are literally in the heart of Jesus." Equally, the Night of the Broken Trophies is a reference to the night Isaac smashes Gus's basketball trophies after being dumped by Monica. The name identifies it as a day of importance because of the pain Isaac was expressing.

The Importance of Words

The importance of novels and poetry as a medium for understanding the world is enforced throughout the novel. Novels are a way for writers to express their descriptions and views of the world. For instance, Hazel's relationship with An Imperial Affliction is essentially religious: "The book that was as close a thing as I had to a Bible." Hazel rereads it many times with the belief that it understands her in a way little else can. Later when she meets Van Houten, a man akin to God in her mind, she is so devastated that he is not what she had hoped he'd be. Equally, it is why Gus feels she has shared something important with him when she gives the book to him to read. The book becomes important to both of them and becomes the initial reason why they travel to Amsterdam in the first place; their relationship is built, initially, on a book.

In addition, literary references pepper The Fault in Our Stars. Hazel takes literature classes and is constantly referencing literary terms, such as a hamartia, or fatal flaw, as well as bits of poetry from authors such as Emily Dickinson, Allen Ginsberg, and T.S. Eliot. Hazel uses poetry as a method of comfort—such as when she recites "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams to Gus as they speed toward the emergency room. Whether it is the idea that novels and poetry are ways of creating the world around you or escaping from a current situation—though these are not necessarily mutually exclusive—the importance of words is integral to the novel. Moreover, the act of reading and writing becomes important during the second half of the novel when Hazel is searching for the last words Gus wrote for her. The words he writes in his eulogy about his beloved Hazel finish the novel. These words are the last words of a dying young man, and the author ends the novel with them so they become more memorable.

The Importance of Life over the Afterlife

At the outset of the novel, Hazel is concerned with the impact her death will have on those around her and thus is obsessed with lessening the amount of pain she causes in her lifetime. Her feelings are enforced, in part, by her idolization of An Imperial Affliction, which espouses the belief that life is essentially meaningless and the death of humanity, Earth, and even the sun is inevitable. Despite not believing in the afterlife, she is extremely preoccupied, not with the impact she will have during her life but the impact her death will cause. Gus is also concerned with how he will be seen after death through the impact he had on society and other people.

However, by the end of the novel both Hazel and Gus realize this mentality may be less important than living the life you have and the impact you have during your life, rather than the one you leave after your death. Gus comes to appreciate the time he spends with Hazel, and the value she sees in him, while not an adoring crowd, is enough for him. After Hazel's world is initially rocked by the revelation that Van Houten is not all-knowing and wise but an angry drunk, she comes to understand that rather than worrying about the impact her death would have on people she should just live her life as best she can. Reacting to the news of Gus's recurrence of cancer in Chapter 13, she says, "Only now that I loved a grenade did I understand the foolishness of trying to save others from my own impending fragmentation." The grenade she refers to is the common feeling among those with cancer that the disease can be so aggressive it can suddenly draw the life out of you in days and weeks. Falling in love with someone terminally ill seems unwise, but living life to the fullest together with loved ones is better for everyone than withdrawing into solitude so as not to hurt anyone.

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