The Fault in Our Stars, The Metatext

The extraction of the metatextual references made in The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Every other week is an exploration of a chapter. Submissions are welcome!

Crossed Stars

“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 ourselves’” (111).

The reference of crossed stars alludes to the familiar prologue of Romeo and Juliet:

Two households, both alike in dignity,

In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,

Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes

A pair of star-cross’d lovers take  their life;

Whose misadventured piteous overthrows

Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.

The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,

And the continuance of their parents’ rage,

Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove,

Is not the two hours’ traffic of our stage;

The which if you with patient ears attend,

What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

The term “star crossed” means “fated” or “destined” for people’s stars to cross and their lives to intersect. Van Houten illustrates the contradiction between the idea of star crossed lovers, or, people completely at the whim of a greater power (such as fate), and faults being not in our stars, “but in ourselves.” He argues that Shakespeare was wrong and declares that the injustices of life are not merely human faults but the product of an indifferent universe. The great irony Van Houten emphasizes is the magnitude of Hazel’s illness against Augustus’s health, but rather than express anger or sorrow, he acknowledges that “it is the nature of stars to cross,” and it is as inevitable as oblivion.

Grenades and Illness

“My healthy self looked very little like her healthy self. But our cancer selves might’ve been sisters” (96-97).

Though not necessarily metatextual, the idea presented here touches upon another spectrum of illness; companionship. Caroline Mathers and Hazel would have had nothing similar about them were they both healthy, but their illness forged a connection between them. Illness binds the ill together just as much as it isolated them from the ‘healthy’ population. Hazel expresses a desire not to be a “grenade” to the people around her. While her concern may seem relevant to just the sick, it also becomes a concern of the living. Given the inevitability of death, and thereby oblivion, Hazel’s fear of hurting the people she loves touches upon the inevitability that the everyone eventually dies and loving people ends with loss. However, Hazel’s parents address the reality that loving outweighs the pain that comes with it, saying, “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” (103). The joy in living and loving keeps Hazel tethered to these pursuits, just as it allows others to live and love despite the accompanying pain.

Lancaster: An Etymological Breakdown [Submission]

Caveat: Spoilery Post

Lancaster Look up Lancaster at Dictionary.comLoncastre (1086) “Roman Fort on the River Lune," a Celtic river name probably meaning "healthy, pure." The Lancastrians in the War of the Roses took their name from their descent from John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=Lancaster


I was thinking today about how authors often give metaphorical significance to the names of their characters, and how we already know that “Augustus Waters” is chock full of meaning, so of course I just had to look up the etymology of “Lancaster.” I found 2 points of interest, the first being “fort on the river.” Water, of course is hugely symbolic in this book, (“Conjoiner rejoinder poisoner concealer revelator. Look at it, rising up and rising down, taking everything with it.”) But a fort on the river? A symbol of strength and safety and stability? That seems like no coincidence to me — Hazel’s family is her strength & support system. The Lancasters, her parents, are her fort. And then of course, there is the ironic etymology: “healthy and pure.” This makes no sense in Hazel’s case, unless you put her into the context of her love for and with Augustus. She is, in comparison to him at least, “healthy.” She is, after all, still alive.

Thank you for your submission!

Waiting for Godot & Sisyphus the Hamster

"But let me submit that the real heroes of the Wish Factory are the young men and women who wait like Vladmir and Estragon wait for Godot and good Christian girls wait for marriage" (88). 

The reference here to Samuel Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot, highlights an absudist motif that appears in TFIOS. Recognized as an absudist play, The characters Vladmir and Estragon wait (in vain) for the arrival of Godot, a man they admit they would not even recognize. This is not the only absurdist refence in chapter 5, as Hazel mentions in her letter to Van Houten that she wants to know what happens to “Sisyphus the hamster.” The greek legend of Sisyphus, the man who must perpetually roll a rock up a hill only for it to fall back down again, is also an absurdist tale. Absurdist literature focuses on characters who can not find purpose in their existences, and attempt to construct meaning in their lives through their actions and experiences. In this quote, Augustus suggests that the true heroes are the ones who wait for their wish, or sacrifice the potential of their wish for something better. Augustus derives meaning from his idea of heroism. However, as both Hazel and Augustus remark throughout the text, the world ‘is not a wish granting factory.’ Augustus references a type of heroism that applies to a wish granting factory, but in reality the sacrifical type of heroism is a Romantic ideal or fantasy. Hazel also notices this, saying later of their picnic, “It all felt Romantic, but not romantic” (93). With Augustus’s reference, we begin seeing the flaws in the idea of sacrifical heroism.

"In the distance, soaked in the unblemished sunlight so rare and precious in our hometown, a gaggle of kids made a skeleton into a playground, jumping back and forth among the prosthetic bones " (87).

Funky Bones, the installation described in this quote, references an idea expressed in a vlogbrothers video of whether the living owe anything to the dead and what that would be. As Augustus remarks, “‘First, the bones are just far enough apart that if you’re a kid you cannot resist the urge to jump between them. Like, you just have to jump from ribcage to skull. Which means that second, the sculpture essentially forces children to play on bones. The symbolic resonanaces are endless, Hazel Grace” (87). Though the idea of playing atop death may seem morbid, it can also be reassuring, suggesting that life continues onward, making the best of what the dead have left behind. The cyclical nature of children playing on bones also has ‘symbolic resonance,’ in which the very beginning and end of life interact harmoniously.

Liminality

"I almost felt like he was there in my room with me, but in a way it was better, like I was not in my room and he was not in his, but instead we were together in some invisible and tenuous third space that could only be visited on the phone" (72).

What Hazel seems to describe here is a liminal interraction with Augustus,an interraction which mimicks her as a character. Merriam-Webster defines liminal as:

"of or relating to a sensory threshold; of, relating to, or being
 an intermediate state, phase, or condition (in-between, transitional)”

Hazel herself seems to represent liminality, being in a constantly transitional place in her life. She’s a teenager who is not entirely sick, not entirely healthy, struggling with being a creature of the land and yet harboring water within her (which we see later when she compares herself to Amsterdam). The liminal space Hazel and Augustus share over the phone seems to suggest companionship in place Hazel had once experienced alone. The connection they forge highlights the isolation that accompanies being trapped between child and adult and between being sick and healthy, but reinforces the idea that love is capable of alleviating this isolation. 

The Last Good Kiss

            

"Then he told me that the sixth Price of Dawn book, The Blood Approves, begins with a quote from a poem. It took him a minute to find the book, but finally he read the quote to me. ‘Say your life broke down. The last good kiss/you had was years ago’" (71).

The quote beginning The Blood Approves is taken from the poem, Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg by Richard Hugo (a line which later gave title to the detective fiction book, The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley). Hugo’s poem seems to emphasize the passing of time and the corrosion of all that was once familiar and dear, yet it also highlights that which remains inside the soul despite inevitable change and deterioration. Considering the nature of The Price of Dawn series, in its perpetual war and the infinite life span awarded the self-sacrificing, Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg is a stark contrast to what The Price of Dawn seems to stand for.  While The Price of Dawn (and, presumably, The Blood Approves) highlight the glory in sacrifice (and therefore the immortalization of the inevitably mortal), Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg instead winds its way through the corrosion of everything humanly created. Hugo’s poem illustrates not only the nostalgic yearning of a time passed, but what was once promised in that time (and in that last good kiss), much like Augustus and Hazel’s yearnings for the promised potential in their time.

Max Mayhem Never Dies [Submission]

Caveat: Slightly Spoilery Post

Both Hazel and Augustus read the book series based on Counterinsurgence 2: The Price of Dawn, and naturally, since this is John Green we’re talking about, there is some sort of metaphorical resonance involved. This series is most intimately described in the scene where Hazel is reading in the mall, and Max Mayhem survives seventeen bullet wounds.

Hazel, however, has confidence in Mayhem in his cohorts, despite his life-threatening wounds. She knows that no matter what grievances fall upon the heroes, the figurative schoolchildren will be saved from the hypothetical terrorists. As Augustus so valiantly cries, “You can’t kill Max Mayhem.”

Max Mayhem is immortal, and our protagonists like him because they aren’t. Hazel and Augustus possess limited infinities, and Max Mayhem’s is infinite (pun intended). We always want what we can’t have, and our lovely narrator isn’t going to get the infinitude that the Sargent has been blessed with, and she knows it. Augustus can throw Mr. Mayhem on top of a grenade as many times as he pleases, because the game always restarts and Max comes back, gritted teeth bared. If you couldn’t start over, obviously the pixelated hostages wouldn’t be as much of an issue. Max Mayhem doesn’t have to choose his battles, doesn’t have to decide whether to combat breakfasty conventions or osteosarcoma, because he can do both. 

Thank you for your submission! The quote you’re referring to, “Twenty pages from the end of Midnight Dawns, things started to look pretty bleak for Mayhem when he was shot seventeen times while attempting a rescue (blond, American) hostage from the Enemy. But as a reader, I did not despair. The war effort would go on without him. There could—and would—be sequels starring his cohorts: Specialist Manny Loco and Private Jasper Jacks and the rest” (Green 46). And then later, when we begin seeing his infinitude, “I liked being alone with poor Staff Sergeant Max Mayhem, who—oh, come one, he’s not going to survive these seventeen bullet wounds, is he? (Spoiler alert: He lives.)”

Semper Augustus [Submission]

                                            

Thank you anon who messaged saying,

"One of those extinct species of tulip that people paid so much for was called ‘Semper Augustus’, too.”

Tulipomania


"AIA is about this girl names Anna (who narrates the story) and her one-eyed mom, who is a professional gardener obsessed with tulips…" (Green 48)

Tulips are mentioned in a couple other sections of the book, and in this particular circumstance of Anna’s mother (and by extension in Hazel’s mind, her own mother) being obsessed with tulips. The vlogbrothers video above discusses how the most beautiful and prized tulip above all others was also carried the disease which made it beautiful. This parallels the idea in TFIOS of beauty in disease that began with Thoreau’s quote on consumption and the hectic glow. Anna’s mother being obsessed with tulips appears to be not just a horticultural disposition, but a mother’s own obsession with her beautiful and sick child.