The Fault in Our Stars is a novel of love and loss with the perilous uncertainty of childhood cancer as its backdrop. Throughout the narrative, both Hazel and Augustus must contend with the realities of their illnesses while also discovering how they fit into the complex world around them. One of the most difficult aspects of life to navigate, especially for Hazel, is forming meaningful relationships knowing that they will eventually end. She worries that her death will leave her parents lost and without purpose, and she attempts to resist Augustus’s affection in order to shield him from unnecessary suffering. Hazel ultimately struggles to allow herself to love and be loved by others for fear of the pain she may cause them, a tension which serves as the novel’s central conflict. While the terminality of her cancer raises the stakes of this internal struggle significantly, Augustus’s relapse adds another dimension to their ill-fated relationship. Loving and losing Augustus allows Hazel to finally understand the importance of connecting with others and gain a new perspective on her own mortality.
As the novel begins, Hazel appears as a rather guarded and defeated girl who tries to avoid engaging deeply with the world around her. This attitude, which her straightforward and pessimistic tone reflects, represents the outward manifestation of her fears regarding her impact on others. She tries to get out of going to a childhood cancer support group and infrequently spends time with her friends, both of which add to Hazel’s self-imposed alienation. Her perspective begins to change, however, when she meets Augustus Waters at Support Group. This moment, which serves as the novel’s inciting incident, invites her to venture beyond her small social circle and interact with someone new. While Hazel admits right away that she is attracted to him, she does not allow herself to get wrapped up in fantasies about what a future with him might look like. If the distance between Hazel and Augustus on the couch as they watch V for Vendetta is any indication, she tries to avoid becoming emotionally attached to him because of her desire to minimize the painful impact that she believes her presence has on others.
Hazel’s attempts to maintain a boundary between herself and Augustus, however, fail as he continually makes an effort to show her that she matters deeply to him. Not only does Augustus read and discuss An Imperial Affliction, her favorite book, with her, but he manages to get in touch with the author’s assistant, something that Hazel has attempted to do for years. His most significant display of affection is his selfless decision to use his Wish from the Genie Foundation to take Hazel to meet Peter Van Houten in Amsterdam, a gesture which symbolizes his commitment to care for her. Despite his thoughtful and wholehearted acceptance of her, Hazel still finds herself hesitant to embrace his love throughout the rising action of the novel. Before they leave for Amsterdam, for example, Hazel reflects on how tense she felt when Augustus touched her face during their picnic. Her physical response reveals her internalized and almost instinctual fears of hurting him.
After a stay in the ICU, successfully traveling to Amsterdam, and an unfortunate visit with Peter Van Houten, Hazel finally allows herself to fall in love with Augustus only to find out that his cancer has returned and spread throughout his entire body. Their unique experiences in Amsterdam, particularly the way in which they stand united against Van Houten’s disparaging comments, render Hazel and Augustus nearly inseparable. Their kiss on the top floor of the Anne Frank house symbolizes the peak of Hazel’s emotional transformation, overcoming years of anxiety and seclusion in order to love Augustus.
The climax of the novel occurs when Augustus, who has made Hazel’s transformation possible, becomes seriously ill and dies of cancer. This turn of events puts Hazel in the position that she imagined her loved ones to be in when she died, and although her heart breaks, she comes to realize that their love is worth the pain. Hazel takes on a kind of caretaker position in Augustus’s final days, especially when she drives out to help him at the gas station in the middle of the night. The new perspective she gains from this situation makes it possible for her understand the transcendent nature of love. While it takes time for Hazel to grapple with the senselessness Augustus’s death, the novel’s falling action ultimately reflects her changed outlook regarding her own mortality. She no longer fears the impact of her death on others, and discovering the eulogy that Augustus wrote for her in his final days reminds her of the beauty that can come from connecting with the world around her.