Summary: Chapter 22
Hazel and her parents attend Augustus’s funeral, which is held in the sanctuary next to The Literal Heart of Jesus where support group meets. Hazel offers her condolences to Augustus’s parents, and Augustus’s mother tells Hazel how much Augustus loved her. Before the ceremony begins, Hazel removes her oxygen tank and approaches Augustus’s casket. His face looks plastic. He’s wearing the same suit he wore at Oranjee. Hazel says “okay” a number of times before sneaking a pack of Camel Lights into the casket. The funeral starts, and the minister talks about Augustus’s courage and how he’s an inspiration. Hazel feels about ready to erupt when she is startled by Van Houten, who whispers in her ear from behind that the minister’s words are a load of “horse crap.” As the funeral continues, Isaac and Hazel give eulogies. Isaac is serious and tells a story about Augustus visiting him after he had his eye removed. Hazel begins hers with a quote that hangs in Augustus’s house: “Without pain, we couldn’t know joy.” She doesn’t tell us about the rest of her eulogy except to say it was full of encouragements for the living.
Following the burial, Van Houten requests to ride back with Hazel and her parents. After making introductions, Van Houten says he used the Internet to keep tabs on Indianapolis obituary notices. He and Augustus had maintained correspondence throughout Augustus’s final days. Augustus intimated that Van Houten could make amends for his behavior in Amsterdam if he were to come to Augustus’s funeral and tell Hazel the fate of Anna’s mother. Van Houten reveals the fate thusly: “Omnis cellula e cellula,” which means “All cells come from cells.” When asked if she would like a further explanation, Hazel declines and instead calls Van Houten a pathetic drunk before kicking him out of the car. That evening back at home Hazel’s father comes into her room. He says he’s sorry Augustus died and that it’s total bullshit. But he says it was a privilege for her to love him and says that’s how he feels about her.
Summary: Chapter 23
A few days after the funeral Hazel heads to Isaac’s. The two decide to play “blind-guy” video games. Inevitably they begin discussing Augustus. Isaac asks if Augustus was in pain, and Hazel says he was. They agree that dying sucks, and Isaac points out that Hazel seems angry. She thinks back to her first time meeting Augustus when he said he feared oblivion. Her response was that oblivion was universal and inevitable, and that the problem wasn’t really oblivion or suffering but the meaninglessness of these things. She also remembers her dad saying the universe wants to be noticed, and thinks what we want is to be noticed by the universe and to have the universe care what happens to each of us. Isaac interrupts Hazel’s introspection by saying Augustus really loved her, and he mentions Augustus was writing something for Hazel during his final days.
Hazel drives to Augustus’s home, hoping to find whatever it was Augustus’s was writing on his computer. She’s startled, however, by the drunken presence of Van Houten in the backseat of her car. He claims he merely wants to apologize for ruining the Amsterdam trip. Broke down and liquored up, Van Houten says that Hazel reminds him of Anna. Then he tearfully confesses that Anna was based on his own daughter, who died of cancer at the age of eight. Hazel surmises that An Imperial Affliction was a way for Van Houten to give Anna a second life as a teenager. Following this revelation, Hazel recommends that the author return home, sober up, and write another novel. While taking a swig of whiskey, he agrees, and then gets out of the car.
At Augustus’s, Hazel has lunch with Augustus’s parents and mentions he was writing something. They say he didn’t use the computer much in the last month but she’s free to check it. All she finds, however, is a response paper to Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. She finds no handwritten notes for her either. Augustus’s father points out that Augustus was probably too sick to have written anything during his final month.
The motif of existential questioning regarding life’s meaning comes up again in these chapters as Hazel deals with Augustus’s death. Hazel has made it clear repeatedly that she doesn’t believe in an afterlife, and she emphasizes that belief when she sees Augustus’s body in the casket. When she speaks to his body, she says she doesn’t believe that he’s able to hear her. In other words, as Hazel sees it Augustus’s consciousness is gone, and nothing like a soul remains to observe her. Later, Hazel’s thoughts about her first meeting with Augustus elaborate on her beliefs about oblivion. She remembers Augustus saying he feared oblivion, and her response was that oblivion isn’t the problem. The problem is its meaninglessness. What Hazel suggests is that ceasing to exist when you die, as has now happened to Augustus, could be tolerable if there were some meaningful reason for it. She doesn’t specify what would create meaning, but she seems to connect it to having some greater force acknowledge our existence. It’s this notion she seems to have in mind when she remembers her father’s comment about the universe wanting to be noticed and thinks that what we want is the universe to notice us. Hazel thus implies that the “meaninglessness” of our deaths, and by extension our lives, comes from the fact that the universe doesn’t notice us. We live briefly and die and the greater universe takes no notice.
The dual nature of pain—that pain is, of course, awful, but that it can also be directly linked to joy—is a prominent theme in this section. This idea, which is a very important one in the novel as a whole, is the most significant part of Hazel’s eulogy for Augustus. While she doesn’t bother to describe the rest of her eulogy, she does mention a quote that’s hanging up in Augustus’s house which they both took comfort from, which implies that it’s particularly notable to her. The quote is “Without pain, we couldn’t know joy.” The underlying idea is that it’s the contrast between joy and pain that separates them and makes each one distinct. By bringing up the quote in her eulogy, Hazel suggests that the pain she and Augustus dealt with was worth it for the joy they experienced, and perhaps that the pain made their joy that much greater. Her father brings the notion up again when he says later that it’s bullshit that Augustus died but that it was a privilege for Hazel to love him. What he hints at is that the pain in such instances is more than justified by the joy it brings. It’s also significant that he tells Hazel that’s how he feels about her. Hazel worries a great deal about the pain she’ll cause her parents when she dies, but here he lets Hazel see things from his perspective. She immediately recognizes that, in the same way she wouldn’t give up what she had with Augustus even though his death hurt her, her parents wouldn’t give up their time with her. Finally she understands that she’s not a “grenade,” as she’s often put it, to her parents as she’s believed.
Hazel learns the reason for Van Houten’s unpleasantness as well as the genesis of An Imperial Affliction when he turns up in her car a few days after Augustus’s funeral. She also discovers why she seems to particularly bother him. Van Houten’s revelation that he lost his eight-year-old daughter from cancer many years earlier makes a number of things much clearer. First, it’s suddenly clear why he’s so disagreeable, and drunk, most of the time. He’s very obviously never recovered from her death, and in the same way that Augustus’s illness caused Hazel to lash out at others, he similarly lashes out. Second, as Hazel realizes, An Imperial Affliction essentially served as a way for him to give his daughter the chance she never had to be a teenager. It makes sense, then, that the novel comes across as extremely accurate and honest to Hazel. Although Van Houten’s daughter never lived to be a teenager, as Anna is in the novel, Van Houten and his daughter still experienced all the suffering and loss that come with terminal cancer. It’s for this reason that Van Houten was able to convey those emotions so clearly in the novel. Lastly, it’s also evident why Hazel seems to draw Van Houten’s ire more than anyone: She reminds him of the fictional teenage daughter he created. When Hazel first met Van Houten in Amsterdam, she was even dressed as Anna dresses in An Imperial Affliction. Hazel is a reminder to Van Houten of everything he suffered and of his loss.