The young people in The Fault in Our Stars confront the issue of dying on a daily basis. Although the characters try to live by their support group mantra, “Living our best lives today”, every action, relationship, and experience is cast in the shadow of their impending mortalities. The theme of life and death unfolds through Hazel’s relationship with Augustus. It is no mistake that Hazel first forms a bond with Augustus through a dialog about death and oblivion during their support group. Both Hazel and Augustus are particularly sensitive when it comes to their own mortalities. They are forced to confront questions that most young people do not have to face, but their concerns revolve around common existential dilemmas, for example, how do you find meaning in life and death? How do you leave behind a legacy? How does one’s death affect others? Is there an afterlife, and if not, what is there? Their development as characters occurs through the exploration of these questions.
Their personal concerns around death develop along different trajectories. Augustus is afraid of fading into oblivion after he dies, that his life will be meaningless, and nobody will remember him once he is gone. After bringing this fear up in the support group, Hazel responds by intellectualizing the fact of her impermanence. She states that everything will die, that there was a time before consciousness and there will be a time after it. Despite her intellectualization, however, she is still deeply conflicted around the issue of her own looming mortality. Unlike Augustus’ self-centered fear of fading into oblivion, Hazel views her approaching death as an event that will severely damage those around her—like she is a grenade waiting to explode. She is primarily concerned with protecting those around her from the pain of her death. This concern causes her to distance herself from her peers and family, which limits her desire to do the things normal teenagers do. Her fear of hurting others through her passing leads to her obsession with the fictional novel, An Imperial Affliction. She identifies with the book because it presents an accurate portrayal of death and dying, but Hazel becomes obsessed by what happens after the novel's abrupt ending. Hazel longs to know the fate of the family in An Imperial Affliction after the main character passes, believing this knowledge will give her insight into the impact her death will have on her family.
Hazel and Augustus come to terms with their impermanence through their relationship. Augustus is able to realize his one act of heroism by sacrificing his wish from “The Genie Foundation” to take Hazel to Amsterdam. In a meta-textual sense, this act allows him to survive after death, as his story is told in the novel and will continue being accessed by readers of The Fault in Our Stars. Within the text, however, his legacy lives on with Hazel and her parents. Hazel also develops new understandings of life and death through her relationship with Augustus. Through their relationship, she is able to step out of her isolation and live her life for the first time, even in the face of her impending death. When Augustus’ cancer comes out of remission and he passes away, she is able to experience what it is like to lose someone you love and work through it, which allows her to come to terms with the fact that her family will be able to make it through her own death. Hazel also comes to understand that death is an event that allows us to value life. She demonstrates this understanding during Augustus’ eulogy when she says, “without pain, we would not know joy,” she understands that death is an event that allows us to live and love to the fullest. In the end, it becomes clear that life is defined by our relationships with others, and the importance and meaning of these relationships is demonstrated through the pain felt when a loved one dies.
Life and Death ThemeTracker
Life and Death Quotes in The Fault in Our Stars
Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time thinking about death.
There is only one thing in this world shittier than biting it from cancer when you are sixteen, and that’s having a kid who bites it from cancer.
There was a time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be a time after. And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God knows that’s what everyone else does.
Cancer perks are the little things cancer kids get that regular kids don't: basketballs signed by sports heroes, free passes on late homework, unearned drivers licenses, etc.
“That’s exactly what we found with families at Memorial when we were in the thick of it with Gus’s treatment…Everybody was so kind. Strong, too. In the darkest days, the Lord puts the best people into your life.”
Cancer kids are essentially side effects of the relentless mutation that made the diversity of life on earth possible.
“Oh,” he said. “Caroline is no longer suffering from personhood.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said.
“I’m sorry,” I said. I’d known plenty of dead people, of course. But I’d never dated one. I couldn't even imagine it, really.
“Not your fault, Hazel Grace. We’re all just side effects, right?”
“Barnacles on the container ship of consciousness,” I said, quoting AIA.
“I’m like. Like. I’m like a grenade, Mom. I’m a grenade and at some point I’m going to blow up and I would like to minimize the casualties, Okay…I just want to stay away from people and read books and think and be with you guys because there is nothing I can do about hurting you; you’re too invested, so just please let me do that, okay?”
“You are not a grenade Hazel, not to us. Thinking about you dying makes us sad, Hazel, but you are not a grenade. You are amazing. You can’t know, sweetie, because you’ve never had a baby become a brilliant young reader with a side interest in horrible television shows, but the joy you bring us is so much greater than the sadness we feel about your illness.”
Everyone in this tale has a rock-solid hamartia: hers, that she is so sick; yours, that you are so well. Were she better or you sicker, then the stars would not be so terribly crossed, but it is the nature of stars to cross, and never was Shakespeare more wrong than when he had Cassius note, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars/But in our selves.”
I could feel everyone watching us, wondering what was wrong with us, and whether it would kill us, and how heroic my mom must be, and everything else. That was the worst part about having cancer, sometimes: The physical evidence of disease separates you from other people.
You could glance at Augustus and never know he was sick, but I carried my disease with me on the outside, which is part of why I’d become such a homebody in the first place.
“I’m in love with you,” he said quietly.
“Augustus,” I said.
“I am,” he said. He was staring at me, and I could see the corners of his eyes crinkling. “I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasures of saying true things. I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have and I am in love with you.”
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.
Van Houten pursed his lips. “I regret that I cannot indulge your childish whims, but I refuse to pity you in the manner to which you are well accustomed.”
“I don’t want your pity,” I said.
“Like all sick children,” he answered dispassionately, “you say you don’t want pity but your very existence depends on it…sick children inevitably become arrested: You are fated to live out your days as the child you were before you were diagnosed, the child who believes there is life after a novel ends.”
“You get to battle cancer,” I said. “That’s your battle. And you’ll keep fighting,” I told him.
“Some war,” he said dismissively. “What am I at war with? My cancer. And what is my cancer? My cancer is me. The tumors are made of me. They’re made of me as surely as my brain and my heart are made of me. It is a civil war, Hazel Grace, with a predetermined winner.”
I took a few breaths and went back to the page. “I can’t talk about our love story, so I will talk about math. I am not a mathematician, but I know this: There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million… There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I’m likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for Augustus Waters than he got. But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn't trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”
“Would you like to share a memory of Augustus with the group?”
“I wish I would just die, Patrick. Do you ever wish you would just die?”
“Yes,” Patrick said, without his usual pause. “Yes, of course. So why don't you?”
I thought about it. My old stock answer was that I wanted to stay alive for my parents, because they would be all gutted and childless in the wake of me, and that was still true kind of, but that wasn't it, exactly. “I don’t know.”
I missed the future…I would probably never again see the ocean from thirty thousand feet above, so far up that you can’t make out the waves or any boats, so that the ocean is a great and endless monolith. I could imagine it. I could remember it. But I could never see it again, and it occurred to me that the voracious ambition of humans is never sated by dreams coming true, because there is always the thought that everything might be done better and again.
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.
I do, Augustus.