page 1 of 2
It's finally the day they're scheduled to meet with Van Houten. Hazel decides to emulate the way Anna dresses in An Imperial Affliction. She wears jeans, Converse sneakers, and a t-shirt with a René Magritte print. Hazel and Augustus arrive at Van Houten's address, and when they ring a man with a bloated belly and sagging jowls opens the door. Hazel is shocked to learn that this is Van Houten. Van Houten is rude from the start. He initially denies having invited the young Americans, and pressed further he says his invitation was merely rhetorical. He didn't expect them to actually show up. Lidewij is present during the meeting and admits to having arranged everything. She thought it would be good for Van Houten. As all this goes on, Van Houten, who is incredibly pompous, keeps drinking scotch. Once he is good and drunk he asks crudely if Hazel intended to dress like Anna on purpose. Trying to steer the conversation in the right direction Hazel asks if Van Houten recalls her list of questions. Van Houten replies cryptically, citing the paradox of Zeno’s tortoise, and then inexplicably making a connection to Swedish hip-hop.
Eventually Van Houten’s convoluted logic leads him to prolifically state “some infinities are bigger than other infinities.” He suggests this idea ought answer Hazel’s childish questions. Deeply unsatisfied by Van Houten’s drunken gimmicks, Hazel presses further. Finally Van Houten disavows his novel altogether. He ridicules Hazel’s belief that an author has special insight into his own characters. The chaotic scene comes to a halt when Van Houten accuses Hazel of being dependent on people's pity and a side effect of evolution. Hazel responds by smacking Van Houten’s scotch glass to the floor. As Van Houten demands to know why Hazel’s “silly questions” are so important, Augustus drags her outside. There he promises to write his own epilogue to An Imperial Affliction for Hazel. Lidewij, who has been polite through the encounter, resigns her position as Van Houten's assistant in disgust and follows the young couple outside. There she explains that Van Houten is the black sheep of a family whose wealth dates back to a 17th century cocoa fortune. She says he wasn't always so cruel and alludes that circumstance made him a monster. Attempting to rectify the situation, Lidewij suggests they tour Anne Frank's house.
The tour involves climbing a number of steep staircases. Hazel struggles through it, determined not to give up, though she nearly blacks out climbing the final set of steps. At the top of the house, Hazel and Augustus wonder how Otto Frank, the family’s sole survivor, carried on after his family was gone. Hazel considers Otto Frank’s not being a father anymore. They enter the next room, where a video of Otto Frank speaking in English plays. Augustus says they should team up to hunt down evil-doers around the world and protect the weak. Tales of their exploits will live on as long as the human voice, he says. Hazel looks at him, thinking it's not an appropriate place to kiss but that even Anne Frank kissed someone there. Suddenly they're kissing as Otto Frank speaks behind them, and when Hazel opens her eyes she sees a crowd of people watching them. She worries they're angry, but the crowd breaks into applause and shouts of “Bravo!” After the tour, Hazel and Augustus return to Augustus's hotel room. Hazel tells him she loves him, and they make love for the first time. It's not exactly as Hazel expected, neither as painful or as ecstatic, and they fall asleep together afterward with Hazel's head resting on Augustus's chest.
Hazel's meeting with Van Houten emphasizes perhaps more than anything the difference between expectation and reality. This idea appears right at the beginning of the chapter in Hazel's t-shirt, which bears a print by the Belgian painter René Magritte. The print, which shows the image of a pipe, points out that the image is, in fact, not really a pipe. As Hazel explains to her mother, it is strictly the representation of a pipe, not the thing itself. This notion carries through Hazel's and Augustus's meeting with Van Houten as Hazel learns that the idea she'd formed of the author based on his novel doesn't at all correspond to reality. She appeared to expect someone who was kind, sympathetic, and understand her particular struggle with cancer, and what she encountered was a pompous, cranky old man who cared little for her or her illness. What's more, Hazel realizes that just because Van Houten wrote An Imperial Affliction doesn't mean he knows what happens to the characters after the novel ends. The novel exists independently of Van Houten at this point, and the relationship Hazel has developed with the book has nothing to do with Van Houten. What Hazel is disappointed to understand is that her idea of Van Houten and of the characters in An Imperial Affliction were just representations in her mind, much like Magritte's pipe.
Hazel and Augustus reach new levels of intimacy in this chapter. They share their first passionate kiss that's more than a peck on the cheek or lips. Hazel also tells Augustus she loves him for the first time, and most notably, the two make love. Before this point their relationship had been based primarily in emotion. While there was physical attraction between the two, most of their interaction revolved around talking. The move into physical intimacy is a significant step, particularly given the complicated relationship each has with their body. Augustus, for example, has previously joked that 17-year-old guys with one leg are all virgins, which suggests that he's at least somewhat self-conscious regarding his missing leg. That self-consciousness comes up just before they undress, with Augustus showing some discomfort as he prepares Hazel for what his leg will look like. Hazel has her own issues regarding her body. When they kiss in the Anne Frank house, Hazel describes her body as “this cancer-ruined thing I'd spent years dragging around.” The kiss makes her feel for the first time that she likes her body and that it has some worth. Both clearly don't love their physical forms, and yet when they make love both forget about these shortcomings and embrace the physical parts of themselves. Their cancers and whatevers scars each one's cancer has left behind cease to matter. It's their bodies they use to connect with one another, redeeming the body's worth.
The setting of Anne Frank's house carries a great deal of symbolic meaning, as does the fact that Hazel and Augustus share a passionate kiss there. The house commemorates Anne Frank's life as well as memorializing how Anne and many of her family members died. The house is a sad place as a result. It's a reminder of the pain suffered by Anne and of her early death, which is why Hazel initially worries that it's the wrong setting for her and Augustus to be kissing in. But it's also notable that Hazel is young and terminally ill. She is in a way like Anne, who was similarly young and found herself in the midst of a horrible situation. What Hazel's and Augustus's kiss does is to highlight the joy and exuberance that the young experience in moments like first kisses, which Hazel points out Anne herself had in that house. It becomes an affirmation of life in the face of suffering and death, and not just death as represented by the Holocaust, but also death as represented by cancer. It's something like a victory for Hazel, and perhaps for Anne by extension since she and Hazel share those key similarities, and so it makes sense that the crowd would cheer and applaud.
John Green has also published Looking For Alaska, Paper Towns, An Abundance of Katherines, Will Grayson, Will Grayson (with David Leviathan), and has worked on a number of short stories and anthologies, most notably This Is Not Tom and Let It Snow (with Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle).
4 out of 5 people found this helpful
As a die-hard fan of John Green novels, I have read The Fault in Our Stars six times. Augustus Waters is actually seventeen, not sixteen.
46 out of 62 people found this helpful
Take a Study Break!