The Fault in Our Stars Themes
The themes in The Fault in Our Stars are the transience of life, family and support, and love and coming of age.
- The transience of life: Before Hazel meets Augustus, her terminal cancer diagnosis keeps her from being close to people, but after his death, she realizes that even a brief experience can be incredibly meaningful.
- Family and support: The novel emphasizes the importance of not only family but also chosen friends for Hazel, Augustus, and Isaac.
- Love and coming of age: Hazel’s experiences in falling in love with Augustus and learning more about life mark her transition from adolescent to young adult.
Last Updated September 6, 2023.
The Transience of Life
Perhaps the primary theme in The Fault in Our Stars is the transient nature of life itself. From the beginning of the story, the reader is aware that the narrator, Hazel Grace Lancaster, is suffering from cancer that will eventually kill her. Hazel knows that her life will be brief, and this defines how she approaches it. She chooses not to waste her time on what others believe to be “cool.” She wants to do things that will make her happy. However, at the same time, she spends an enormous amount of her time thinking about a single book, An Imperial Affliction, rather than seeking out another favorite—perhaps for the comfort of knowing that she is already familiar with this story, despite its frustrating lack of resolution. At the same time, her terror of hurting others by dying means that she creates layers of isolation around herself.
This situation only changes for Hazel when she falls in love with Augustus, a boy whose approach to life is entirely different. Tellingly, however, it is really when Augustus goes into decline, eventually dying, that Hazel truly recognizes a fuller meaning of even a transient life. She finds that she is “happy” to have known and loved Augustus, even if only for a short time, because this is what life is for them. When she met Augustus, neither of them thought that he would be the one to die, but their brief relationship—driven by Augustus’s determination to seize the day and take what he could from life—leaves Hazel a wiser, happier, and more open person. She is no longer too terrified of her own mortality to be close to people.
Family and Support
Both of the main characters in The Fault in Our Stars have supportive families, but in both cases, these families often struggle to interact with their children. Hazel feels that her mother is often driving her to do things she would rather not do, such as attend celebrations and do things other girls of her age might enjoy. She recognizes that this is because her mother loves her and wants her to be happy, but at the same time, she fears that Mrs. Lancaster’s life revolves entirely around her daughter and her cancer—and that this form of love will leave her unable to cope in a world without Hazel.
At the same time, Augustus’s family draws comfort from a religion which no longer really resonates with their son. They rely upon a support system that helps them but does not really bring them closer to their child.
The difficulty for these families is that they cannot possibly understand what their children are going through. For this reason, the children of the cancer support group also rely heavily upon a “found family” of their own design. When Isaac’s girlfriend, Monica, who is a healthy teenager, breaks up with him, it is Augustus and Hazel who comfort him, accepting and encouraging his right to be angry with the world. And when Augustus arranges a “prefuneral” for himself, it is Hazel and Isaac who give the eulogies, a task that would normally fall to a family member. Hazel is pleased when Augustus completes the circle by writing an obituary for her, too.
Although the teenagers in the story certainly love and are loved by their families, in a situation as isolating as theirs, they also need their secondary chosen family in order to feel completely understood.
Love and Coming of Age
Many coming-of-age novels involve a first (or early) relationship that is definitive for the protagonist. The protagonist will...
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firmly believe that they are in love; to the reader, though, this may be less clear. That is the case inThe Fault in Our Stars, in which the relationship between Hazel and Augustus is pivotal for them both, but might not have lasted had the pair not been working through their very singular situation.
When Augustus dies, Hazel is initially devastated, but she comes to realize that his impact on her life has been a positive one—not only because Augustus serves as her introduction to a world of romance other teenagers have already enjoyed, but because he makes her realize that everything does not have to last forever to be worthwhile. Hazel debates for weeks as to whether she should allow Augustus to get close to her, or even to kiss her, because of her fear of hurting him. She is attracted to him and impressed by his mind, and most importantly, she is drawn to the fact that they have shared histories and experiences. Hazel’s real “coming of age” is not that she falls in love with Augustus, exactly, but that his zest for life enables her to put down her barriers and become close to him, thus giving her an experience which, however brief, changes her.
Another motif in coming-of-age stories found in this book is that of being disappointed by one’s idol. Hazel and Augustus both grow as people when they discover how unprepossessing a person Peter Van Houten truly is in the flesh. They also learn that, while there may be reasons for his cruelty and alcoholism, these reasons are not excuses, and that it is certainly possible to respond to bad situations poorly. Peter Van Houten is an example of how to impact the world around you in a negative way; Augustus’s impact on Hazel, however, is ultimately a positive one.
Hazel may be “coming of age” only for her life to be cut short; as she wryly thinks when her diagnosis comes a few months after her first period, “Congratulations! You’re a woman. Now die.” Even so, her experiences with Augustus help her grow from “cancer kid” to young adult.