Although the teenagers of The Fault in Our Stars are in many ways normal teenagers who are obsessed with music, videogames, popular culture, and dating, they are constantly reminded that they are different than their healthy peers. Their physical differences—prosthetics, oxygen tanks, puffy cheeks—are glaring signifiers of their difference, but in a more subtle way, their illnesses often make other people feel uncomfortable and alienated, creating separations between those with the illness and those without it. This separation shows through while Hazel is shopping with her friend, Kaitlyn. While shopping, Kaitlyn nonchalantly says she would “die” if she had to walk in a pair of heels she has found on the shelf. She stops and looks as if she wants to apologize, as if it is wrong to mention death in front of the dying. Hazel is not offended by her comment, but the fact of her cancer makes Kaitlyn unable to talk in the way she would with a healthy peer. Later a young girl asks Hazel why she has to carry an oxygen tank. The little girl's mother is mortified by her daughter’s question, but Hazel simply explains her situation to the girl, limiting the distance between them.
This otherness is not just projected on those who are ill from those who are healthy. Often, people with cancer begin to define themselves based on their experience with cancer. This self-definition through one’s cancer is one that the sick characters fear, as shown through Augustus’ question to Hazel whether she is, “One of those people who become their disease.” While Hazel does not define herself by her cancer, she also works to break down cancer stereotypes, constantly pushing back against the clichés that make people dying of cancer different than normal people. She speaks to the way in which healthy people often hold ideas about those living with cancer that make them seem heroic or overtly tragic. The novel depicts those living with cancer in ways that limit such cancer. The depictions in the novel make the argument that the young people with cancer are not any more noble, valiant, or spiritual than other kids—they are just normal kids living with an illness. Augustus becomes a clear example of the reality of young people who are living with and dying from cancer. After his cancer reemerges, Augustus, the high-spirited, funny, confident, and attractive boy is reduced to a frail, terrified, and humiliated individual. The honesty with which Hazel depicts the end of his life does not allow his illness to place him in any special category of person, and therefore limits the difference between him and any other normal person who is dying.
Through their shared experience of being different, however, Augustus and Hazel form an unbreakable bond. They understand what it is like to be pitied, gawked at, showered with cancer perks (“make a wish” type gifts given to dying children), and just simply misunderstood. They quickly move past the thing that makes them different from others and begin to form bonds based on their identities beyond their illness, the appreciation of the other’s intelligence, beauty, and personality. In this way, Hazel’s narrative depicts the way in which difference can lead to companionship, but ultimately it is the person that exists beyond the illness—who is no different than anyone else—that allows them to develop a deep bond with one another. This perspective allows Hazel to limit the thing that causes their difference, and allows them to move closer to the normalcy that is denied by common misunderstanding that creates separation.
Being Different ThemeTracker
Being Different 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 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.
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
Augustus half smiled. “Because you’re beautiful. I enjoy looking at beautiful people, and I decided a while ago not to deny myself the simpler pleasures of existence…I mean, particularly given that, as you so deliciously pointed out, all of this will end in oblivion and everything.”
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.
I liked my mom, but her perpetual nearness sometimes made me feel weirdly nervous. And I liked Kaitlyn, too. I really did. But three years removed from proper full-time schoolic exposure to my peers, I felt a certain unbridgeable distance between us.
Any attempts to feign normal social interactions were just depressing because it was so glaringly obvious that everyone I spoke to for the rest of my life would feel awkward and self-conscious around me, except maybe kids like Jackie who just didn’t know any better.
“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?”
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 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.