“Such efforts attack the very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species.”
This line comes from John Green’s Author’s Note at the beginning of the novel, and it establishes an important framework for understanding the narrative as a whole. While much effort goes into revealing the realities of living with cancer, Hazel’s story is ultimately a work of fiction. Green suggests that the fictional nature of The Fault in Our Stars is precisely what gives it the power to impact readers, allowing them to see elements of themselves within the world of the novel. Hazel has a similar experience when it comes to An Imperial Affliction as she finds comfort in reading a story that reflects her situation.
“I hadn’t read a real series like that since I was a kid, and it was exciting to live again in an infinite fiction.”
After reading The Price of Dawn at Augustus’s recommendation, Hazel purchases the next two books in the series in Chapter 3 and becomes invested in their stories and characters. Her interest in this “infinite fiction” highlights the sense of escapism that fiction can offer to readers. While An Imperial Affliction is significant to Hazel because of the way in which it reflects her life, The Price of Dawn series gains its power from the fact that it allows her to lose herself in an alternative reality.
“This comment, however, leads me to wonder: what do you mean by meant? Given the final futility of our struggle, is the fleeting jolt of meaning that art gives us valuable? Or is the only value in passing the time as comfortably as possible?”
Peter Van Houten responds to Augustus’s email in Chapter 5 with this rather existential look at the impact of fiction, offering a perspective that contradicts the argument in Author’s Note at the beginning of the novel. Rather than deriving value from its impact on readers, literary fiction, Van Houten suggests, is only valuable as a distraction from the meaninglessness of the universe. The fact that an author makes this case against fiction is ironic, and associating it with a heartless character like Van Houten helps Green guide the reader toward his more positive view of literature.