Hazel wakes up early the next morning too excited to meet Van Houten to go back to sleep. After breakfast she gets dressed to look like Anna from An Imperial Affliction, putting on a shirt with a screen print of Rene Magritte’s painting of a pipe, titled, Cecil n’est pas une pipe (This is not a pipe), which is referenced multiple times in An Imperial affliction. The shirt confuses Mrs. Lancaster. Hazel explains that all representations of a thing are inherently abstract.
Hazel’s shirt speaks to the theme of existential philosophy, which questions the true nature of things. In this chapter, Hazel will begin to realize the discrepancy between expectations and reality, and also between fiction and reality which are important elements of one’s coming of age.
Augustus arrives and they head to Van Houten’s house. When they knock, they hear Van Houten yelling for Lidewij. He tells her that there are two apparitions at his door. Lidewij tells Van Houten that they are his fans coming to visit. Van Houten responds by telling her that she must make them leave—he left America, he says, to avoid Americans. He asks Lidewij to tell them that he’d intended his invitation to be read symbolically. Eventually, Van Houten opens the door and Hazel is immediately surprised by Van Houten’s disheveled appearance.
Haze and Augustus’ expectations are immediately broken as they are greeted by the erratic, rude, and disheveled Van Houten. He calls them apparitions, which suggests they are not real, or worse, that they are ghosts (implying they are dead). By stating that his invitation was symbolic suggests that even the invitation was not what it had appeared to be, highlighting the ambiguity of an object's nature.
In the living room, Hazel sees two trash bags behind the couch. Van Houten reveals that it is eighteen years worth of fan mail. Van Houten asks Lidewij for a drink of scotch and begins drinking. Hazel cuts right to the chase and brings up An Imperial Affliction. She tells Van Houten that his book brought her and Augustus together. Van Houten quickly notes that they aren’t together.
Van Houten is vastly different than Hazel had imagined based on the novel and his emails. They discover Van Houten is not only a recluse, but also the trash bags of mail show that he is a spiteful man who is fleeing reality. His comment about them not being together suggests that he does not have the capacity to recognize their relationship and love for one another.
Hazel asks Van Houten if he remembers the questions she’d asked in her email, which he doesn't. Suddenly, Van Houten brings up Zeno’s Paradox of the tortoise, which suggests that some infinities are bigger than others. He quickly connects the theories to Swedish hip-hop. Augustus asks if Van Houten is playing some king of prank on them, to which Van Houten replies that if they cannot deal with his cryptic babbling, his work is not for them. Hazel quickly turns the conversation back to An Imperial Affliction. Van Houten immediately goes back to Zeno’s paradox. Hazel says she does not understand, and asks what happens after the end of An Imperial Affliction. Van Houten promptly tells her he disavows everything in the novel. He tells her that the characters in the novel are fictions, and that nothing happens to them after the novel ends. It’s ridiculous, he says, to think that the author of a novel has any idea what happens to the characters after the novel’s end.
In this scene, Van Houten’s rambling seems completely insane, but the idea of Zeno’s paradox comes back later in the novel, providing Hazel and Augustus a way to understand the time they spent together in a positive way. Although he does not provide the answer to the end of the novel, he does provide Hazel a way to imagine her relationship with Augustus. His statement about fiction is a shock to Hazel, but this shock is a part of her coming of age. She begins to enter the adult world where the line between fiction and reality becomes set firmly in place.
Hazel pushes herself to her feet and refuses to believe Van Houten’s explanation. Van Houten tells her that he cannot indulge her childish whims, and he will not pity her that way she wants him to. Hazel tells him she does not want his pity, but Van Houten ensures her that, like all sick children, her existence depends on pity. He continues by positing that all sick children are arrested in development and their parents pity this, even though they are just side effects of an evolutionary process—a failed experiment in mutation.
In this moment she begins to resist the difficult truth that Van Houten does not have the answers she wants. His comment about Hazel’s desire for pity is particularly harmful because Hazel works hard to resist the clichés of cancer kids. Van Houten’s comment about cancer kids being side effects shows the depth of his nihilistic philosophy.
Lidewij begins crying and quits her job, but Hazel is not harmed. She reveals that she has spent plenty of time in hospital beds thinking of the most harmful ways to imagine her illness. Hazel steps up to Van Houten, calling him “douchpants”, and demands to know what happens to Anna’s mother. He tells her he can’t tell her because he doesn't know. Something inside of Hazel wells up, and she smacks the glass of scotch from Van Houten’s hand. Van Houten immediately asks for another drink. Hazel tells Van Houten that he promised to tell her, but he only asks her why she cares so much. Before the altercation can go any further, Augustus grabs Hazel’s arm and leads her out.
As someone who has lived with cancer, Hazel has had plenty of time to develop her philosophy of illness, which does not coincide with Van Houten’s. Van Houten, as someone who has never had cancer, is unable understand why Hazel is so adamant about wanting to know what happens.
On the walk back to the hotel, Augustus apologizes and tells her that he will write her an epilogue himself. He pulls Hazel into him and lets her cry into his shirt. Hazel feels guilty that she spent his wish on Van Houten, but Augustus reminds her that she spent it on being with him in Amsterdam. As they talk, Lidewij approaches them from behind.
Augustus attempts to cheer Hazel up by telling her he will write the epilogue himself, showing the way in which he attempts to be a hero, but he doesn't realize Hazel is not as upset about not getting the answers as she is about wasting his wish. By “wasting his wish” she feels like she has caused harm, which is one of her biggest fears.
When Lidewij catches up to Hazel and Augustus, they notice her mascara is running down her face. She invites them to the Anne Frank house. Augustus doesn't want to go, but Hazel insists, noting that she doesn't want to waste her last two days in Amsterdam by letting Van Houten ruin them.
Hazel is determined not to let Van Houten to get to her, so she decides to go. This decision is her way of resisting what she feels a normal person with cancer would do.
As they drive, Lidewij apologizes, telling them that Van Houten is very sick. She says that she thought his meeting with Augustus and Hazel would help him. She tells them that Van Houten is rich because of a family fortune, but he is a disgrace to his family in America. Lidewij says that his circumstances have made him into an evil man.
Hazel’s expectation of Van Houten as an author who would be kind, wise and insightful, was incorrect, mirroring the way in which expectations and clichés are often wrong. He, like Hazel and Augustus, is ill (emotionally) and his illness has also separated him from his family, connecting his situation to others in the novel.
Inside the Anne Frank House, Hazel struggles to climb the stairs, but perseveres, making it to the attic. As she makes her way up, she feels worried that she is holding everyone up below her. Hazel continues through the attic rooms, going up eighteen more steps because she feels she owes it to Anne Frank because she was dead and Hazel wasn’t, and she wanted to see the world that Anne Frank had lived in for years.
Hazel feels a connection to Anne Frank as a young person whose life is being cut short. Her connection to Anne Frank, and the fact that she is still living makes her feel she owes it to Anne Frank to persevere up the stairs.
She almost passes out, but finally arrives in the place where Anne Frank spent years hiding. Lidewij tells Hazel that the only member of the family who survived was Anne’s father, Otto. Hazel thinks of Otto not being a father anymore after his children died. At the end of the hall, there is a book listing all of the names of the people from the Netherlands who had died in the Holocaust. Hazel is saddened by the fact that there are thousands of names, but nobody remembers those people the way they do Anne Frank. She resolves to pray for those who will not be remembered, noting that she does not need to believe in a “proper and omnipotent” God to pray.
Hazel thinks about Otto not being a father anymore because she worries about her mother after she dies. Hazel identifies with all of the names that have been forgotten in the book because she feels the possibility of being forgotten. By pledging to pray for them, she attempts to counteract this. This is a philosophical change for Hazel, who has held a nihilistic philosophy up until this point.
Hazel goes with Augustus into a room with a video of Otto Frank playing in it. Augustus wonders if there are any Nazis still out there he could bring to justice. He says that he and Hazel should team up and fight injustices in the world. Hazel turns to Augustus and wants to kiss him. She thinks that Anne Frank would like the fact that two young broken people shared their love there. Hazel and Augustus begin to kiss. As she kisses him, she notes that she really likes her body, despite all of its imperfections. As they kiss, Hazel opens her eyes and realizes other tourists are there. She is afraid they will be insulted, but they all begin clapping, and shouting “Bravo!”
Augustus’ dream of bringing Nazis to justice reflects his desire to be remembered for doing something heroic. Hazel again connects herself to Anne Frank as a young woman who died early in life. Although the Anne Frank House is somber in nature, their kiss brings an element of youthful joy to the place, which is a reminder that during the time Anne Frank lived in the house there were happy moments, moments of love, too. Ant the crowd responds to the positivity Hazel and Augustus bring to the melancholy atmosphere.
When they arrive back at the hotel, they go to Augustus’ room together. Before undressing, Augustus warns Hazel about the scar on his leg. She tells him to get over himself, and they crawl into bed together. They struggle to get comfortable with one another. Hazel’s oxygen tube makes it difficult to get on top of him, and then her shirt gets tangled in it as Augustus attempts to take it off, but they laugh about it together. Finally Augustus takes off his pants and his leg. Hazel runs her hand down his thigh onto the stump. Then they make love.
This scene is a major passage for both Hazel and Augustus in their coming of age. Augustus’ concern over his scar shows that he is self-conscious, but Hazel's touching his scar is a gesture that tells him that she accepts him. Their first sexual encounter is complicated, but since they both understand the struggles of cancer, they laugh it off together. The moment is both realistic and romantic.
Hazel notes that the experience was not what she’d thought it would be. It wasn't particularly painful or ecstatic. There were some problems with the condom, but beyond that it was slow, patient, and quiet. Afterward, Augustus falls asleep. Hazel writes him a love letter in which she draws a big circle and writes virgins in it. Then she places a little circle right on its edge with an arrow pointing at it, and writes, “17-year-old guys with one leg”.
Part of coming of age is realizing the reality about the adult world. Hazel had built up her first sexual experience in her mind, but found out that it wasn't what she thought it would be. The love letter is Hazel’s way of telling Augustus that she has accepted his love, and that being different does not prevent one from having normal experiences.