The Fault in Our Stars not only explores the ways in which cancer affects those who are diagnosed, but also shows the ways in which their families and friends react to their diagnoses. The parents of the young people living with cancer react to the loss of their children in different ways. The reactions of Hazel’s parents shows the way in which a cancer diagnosis places parents in a difficult situation as they attempt to parent a teenage child. They want her to be a normal teenage, which is why they recommend she go to the cancer support group and meet other young people, but at the same time, they are protective and overbearing. As they urge her to mature into an adult, they continue to cling to her youth, the time in which she was healthy, as shown by their continued goading that she sleep with “Bluie”, her childhood teddy bear, and the celebration of her “half birthdays”. Augustus’ parents react differently, attempting to battle the cancer by staying positive. They plaster their house with platitudinous sayings that are a constant reminder for them to stay hopeful.
Both Hazel and Augustus find their parents annoying, but ultimately understand that their parents just love them and are coping with their situations to the best of their ability. Hazel, however, feels a great sense of guilt because of the way her condition affects her parents. She knows that her very existence causes her parents immense pain, stating that, “They might be glad to have me around, but I was the alpha and the omega of my parents' suffering”. She also feels immense guilt over her parent’s lack of money and the time they sacrifice to make sure she is safe and cared for. Hazel also fears that her death will tear the family apart. This fear is another factor in her obsession with the novel An Imperial Affliction. For Hazel, the novel’s characters come to represent her own experience. In An Imperial Affliction, the main character, a young girl named Anna dies because of her cancer. The novel ends suddenly with Anna’s death, which leads Hazel to seek out answers about what happens to Anna’s mother and her mother’s partner, the tulip man, after the novel’s end. She believes that gaining insight into Anna’s experience will allow her to know what will happen to her parents after she passes.
Hazel and Augustus go to Amsterdam to find out what happens to Anna’s parents after she dies, but their hopes are crushed after then the novel’s author, Peter Van Houten, drunkenly tells them that nothing exists after the novel ends. This answer becomes a great concern for Hazel, leading her to believe that after her own death, nothing, including her parents and family, will exist. This belief, however, is replaced by the end of the novel in several ways. First, Hazel experiences Augustus’ death, and watches his family come together and work through it. Secondly, she learns that Peter Van Houten had written An Imperial Affliction about his own daughter who had died of cancer, suggesting that even though the novel ends with Anna’s death, Van Houten has continued to exist, even though her death has pushed him over the edge into alcoholism and fierce resentment. Finally, Hazel learns that her mother is studying to become a cancer counselor for young people, which allows her to know that even after she dies, her mother will continue to love her through loving other children fated in the way she was, and that her parents will not falter in the way Peter Van Houten has.
Family 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.
“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.”
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.
“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.”
Mom and Dad left us alone, which felt awkward. I worked hard to meet his eyes, even though they were the kind of pretty that’s hard to look at. “I missed you,” Augustus said.
It’s not like I had some utterly poignant, well-lit memory of a healthy father pushing a healthy child and the child saying higher higher higher or some other metaphorically resonant moment. The swing set was just sitting there, abandoned, the two little swings hanging still and sad from a greyed plank of wood, the outline of the seats like a kid’s drawing of a smile.
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.
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.”
“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.”