“To repeat something I’ve said again and again, the writer’s intention is irrelevant…Whether the author intended a symbol or theme or whatever is irrelevant; if you find that it aids you in your observation and interrogation of the universe, then it succeeds regardless of its authorial intent.” -John Green
I read this book for the first time a long while ago, have read it countless times since then, and decided to write this review in honor, reflection, and recognition of its movie trailer release last month. I know there has been an abundance of reviews on this book already, but no one has captured or reflected upon this novel as I have mentally– which I guess would have been impossible, for “no two persons ever read the same book” (Edmund Wilson). Although I consider the following a (brief) critical analysis, remember that reading a good book is detective work: the further you look into it; the closer you pay attention, the more it will reward you.
CAUTION: SPOILERS AHEAD!!
One reccurring motif in TFiOS is the fictional novel that exists within the actual novel, called An Imperial Affliction. An Imperial Affliction is a non-cancer book about a girl with cancer with whom Hazel is able to empathize, stating that the author “was the only person [she’d] ever come across who seemed to (a) understand what it’s like to be dying, and (b) not have died.” Later, this book plays a bigger part in the unraveling of the plot when Gus and Hazel travel to Amsterdam where they are invited to meet the author. During this disappointing encounter, Peter Van Houten reveals that the Dutch Tulip Man—an undecided con man, a mirage, a mysterious enigma to the book’s readers—was meant to be a metaphorical representation of God.
John Green, whether consciously or not, portrayed Van Houten to his readers as some sort of metaphysical prophet in the eyes of young Hazel, which is alluded to when she states that his book, An Imperial Affliction, “was as close a thing [she] had to a Bible.” Peter also doesn’t give any clarification regarding the fate of Anna’s mother (this being a critical reminder to readers that we—and Hazel, for that matter—are unaware of what will happen to Hazel’s mother subsequent to Hazel’s inevitable death sometime following the resolution of the story).
I am still trying to decide whether or not Hazel’s internal realization that fiction is only fiction was somehow directed at us as readers. John Green once wrote (regarding Augustus and his unadulterated fascination with metaphorical resonances), “…he’s a character in a novel that’s about how fiction is important and ‘real’ even though it is made up and not real.” Thus, his metaphor obsession and Hazel’s eventual realization that fiction is not meant to dictate our lives may only be included to remind us of this, as it is frequently addressed throughout the story.
During my first reading, I believed the swing set to be an allegory for Hazel’s youth, and her resistance to leaving it behind. However, now I feel it could be deeper than that, foreshadowing her decision to allow herself to love Gus; its presence made her feel lonely and burdened until he persuaded her to remove it completely.
The translation of a Latin phrase, ‘that which sustains me, annihilates me,’ is present almost constantly throughout this novel. Water is what keeps Hazel alive, yet the ‘water’ in her lungs is internally drowning her. She is in love with Augustus Waters, yet she is opposed to admitting it because it would hurt her to know it would inevitably hurt him. Amsterdam is a city powered by water, yet that water will almost definitely flood it sometime in the future.
The scrambled eggs, I felt, were a metaphor for the immortalization and glorification of people with cancer. Therefore when Gus had a hamburger for breakfast, it was his way of deciding to view them as they really are, as he does with Caroline, when he described her to Hazel in TFiOS.
Augustus explained his ‘smoking habit’ as a metaphor for “putting the killing thing in [his] mouth, but not giving it the power to do its killing,” but later in the story, we discover that it is more than that. Smoking to him was proof that held power and jurisdiction over his health (lo the fact that he was unable to obtain cigarettes when his despicable G-tube malfunctioned in the parking lot).
When John Green was asked why he named Hazel ‘Hazel’ he replied, “Because it’s an in between color and she has an in between life. In between health and sickness, in between adolescence and adulthood, in between swimming and drowning, etcetera.” She believed that to live a good life was to walk lightly upon the earth, one of the more major things that she and Gus disagreed about. The origin of ‘Augustus’ is pretty self-explanatory [To nerdfighteria: yes, Gus is Gus as in “Gus Is A Bug.” I do believe this served as inspiration when naming the more less-encountered, tragically desperate side of his character].
John Green supposedly first addressed Hazel’s vegetarianism when talking to a friend. ‘She said, “So she’s a vegetarian right?” And [he] blinked ever so slightly and said, “Yes, of course,” as if [he]’d thought of it years before.’ As someone who has been vegan since birth, I personally loved this “I-just-want-to-minimize-the-number-of-deaths-I’m-responsible-for” aspect of Hazel’s character. I also found it an appropriate choice for someone of her medical condition to make.
TFiOS is such an exceptional book. All that said, I SERIOUSLY hope the film will do it justice.
“You cannot separate metaphor from reality. Metaphor is a part of reality. Metaphor is an exploration of the nature of reality.” -John Green
-Danielle K., 8th grade