Summary: Chapter 10
On the morning of her departure for Amsterdam Hazel wonders why certain foods, like scrambled eggs, have been labeled breakfast foods. Hazel and her mother go to Augustus's, and as they approach his door they hear crying and shouting. They turn back to the car, and minutes later Augustus emerges from his house, seemingly unaffected. At the airport Hazel must disengage her oxygen tank in order to pass through security. She describes feeling a certain freedom being without it momentarily. At the flight gate Augustus says he's hungry and leaves to get breakfast, but it's a long time before he returns. He says the line was long, and they talk about certain foods being stuck in the category of breakfast foods. Eventually Augustus admits the food line wasn't long. He didn't want to sit in the gate area with all the people there staring at them. It makes him extremely angry, and he doesn't want to feel angry today.
On the plane Hazel is astonished to learn that Augustus has never flown. He's afraid at first but fascinated as they takeoff. Hazel feels happy to see the excitably innocent Gus emerge from the “Grand Gesture Metaphorically Inclined Augustus.” Looking out at the sky from the plane window, Augustus quotes from An Imperial Affliction: “The risen sun too bright in her losing eyes.”
During the flight Hazel and Augustus watch the movie “300.” The movie is too violent for Hazel’s liking, though she revels in Augustus’s enjoyment of it. Afterward, the two discuss the total number of living people versus the total number of dead in the history of mankind. Augustus has actually researched it and says there are about fourteen dead people for every person that is currently living. Augustus asks Hazel to read aloud from Ginsburg’s Howl, which she's reading for class, but she chooses to recite a poem from memory instead. When she finishes, Augustus tells Hazel he loves her. He says he knows oblivion is inevitable, and he knows the sun will one day swallow the earth, and he loves her.
Summary: Chapter 11
The trio arrives in Amsterdam and takes a cab to the Hotel Filosoof. Each of the hotel's rooms is named for a philosopher. Hazel and her mother stay in the Kierkegaard room while Augustus stays in the Heidegger room. After waking from a long nap Hazel is delighted to find that Lidewij has made reservations for her and Augustus at a restaurant called Oranjee. Hazel puts on her best summer dress and Augustus his most handsome suit. They take the tram to the restaurant admiring the scenic canals, boats, and old architecture along the way.
When they arrive at the restaurant they are ushered to a table outside overlooking the canal. The waiter brings them champagne on the house. The meal is like nothing either has ever experienced, each course more wonderful than the last. At Augustus’s request, Hazel recites the final lines of the “Prufrock” poem she recited part of on the plane. A woman on a passing boat raises her glass to them and shouts something in Dutch. When Augustus yells back that they don't understand, someone else offers a translation: “The beautiful couple is beautiful.” Augustus reveals that the suit he is wearing was originally intended for his funeral. He asks Hazel if she believes in an afterlife. She says “No” but makes it clear she's not totally certain. Augustus says he does. Augustus cites the same line he did on the airplane from An Imperial Affliction and explains his belief in God through it. He says he fears not having a meaningful life and doing something extraordinary, to which Hazel responds with annoyance that it's unfair of him to say that the only meaningful lives are the ones where people live or die for some cause.
After dinner as they walk Hazel asks Augustus what happened with Caroline, hoping to reassure herself that he'll be ok after she dies. Putting a cigarette in his mouth, he says people idealize kids with cancer, but the truth is that Caroline's brain cancer changed her personality. She died slowly over nearly a year, and she progressively became meaner toward Augustus. At the end he couldn't tell where her real personality ended and the effect of the cancer began. Hazel says she doesn't ever want to hurt him like that, but Augustus replies that it would be a privilege to have his heart broken by her.
Hazel's and Augustus's dinner together is a significant scene in the novel because of its romance and intimacy. It's not entirely free of any thoughts of cancer, since it's so perfect that Hazel can't forget it's a cancer perk and they do discuss dying and the afterlying. But even so, it's the closest thing to a normal date Hazel and Augustus have yet had. They are able to go out alone and have a romantic dinner with no other motives or concerns besides enjoying their time together. The meal is terrific, and everything is made somewhat magical by the fact that they're in Amsterdam, which is obviously novel to them both. They're also able to drink champagne for the first time. Despite the tension Hazel feels knowing that everything has been arranged because of her cancer, it's still clearly a special event.
The existentialism motif is very prominent in this section. It begins at the start of Chapter 10 with Hazel's questioning of why certain foods are considered breakfast foods. It's a tongue-in-cheek way for the motif to make an appearance, but examining and deconstructing conventions are important parts of the philosophy. The motif is hinted at directly in the names of the hotel rooms in Amsterdam. Soren Kierkegaard and Martin Heidegger, who Hazel's and Augustus's rooms are named for respectively, were prominent philosophers associated with existentialism. More serious existential thoughts and questions appear as well. When Augustus tells Hazel he loves her, he puts it in the context of knowing that oblivion is inevitable. Among existentialism's concerns was how a person can find meaning knowing that he or she may simply cease to exist upon death, and Augustus couches his love for Hazel in similar terms. In doing so he suggests that humankind's inevitable oblivion doesn't prevent his loving Hazel. It's an important point because it also indirectly hints that Hazel's inevitable death doesn't prevent Augustus from loving her either. The existential questions continue during their dinner at Oranjee and after, as they talk about their beliefs in the afterlife and, notably, what makes a person's life meaningful. Augustus implies that one has to do something extraordinary or heroic to give life meaning, but Hazel, knowing she'll likely die without doing either, contends that value doesn't come exclusively from those sources. It's worth noting that they don't arrive at any consensus. Existentialism focused on raising these questions, but there's never been a consensus on what the answers are.
One of the novel's major themes, the realities of terminal cancer, plays a prominent role in this section as well. It appears in instances like the looks Hazel receives as she waits with her oxygen tank to board the plane, but the most notable place it shows up is Augustus's story about Caroline Mathers. August starts his story by bringing up the conventions about kids with cancer—that they fight their illness heroically and never complain, etc—and then goes on to deflate those conventions. Caroline, we learn, did not die a hero inspiring those around her to greater things. The type of brain cancer she had changed her personality, and contrary to the conventions about cancer kids, she became mean and “unpleasant,” as Augustus puts it. Augustus no longer liked her, and he stayed with her out of guilt. He didn't feel he could dump a girl who was dying. What Augustus's story makes clear is that dying of cancer, and particularly that form of brain cancer, is a slow and painful process, not just for the patient but for his or her loved ones as well. His story isn't full of hope and courage but shame and a great deal of pain.
The distinction between “Augustus” and “Gus” becomes more clearly defined in these chapters, and we learn more about his character beyond his “Augustus” persona. We see the first slight chink in Augustus’s façade of heroic masculinity and charm when he reveals that he couldn't bear to deal with people at the gate staring at them. It's an uncharacteristic move for him. Rather than use some dramatic gesture to handle the situation, he essentially hid. Another side of him comes out on the plane. He's visibly afraid when the plane begins to take off, and Hazel, in a reversal of their usual roles, has to comfort him. Once they're up in the air he can't help but show his pure excitement at the fact that they're flying without any pretense. Up until this point in the story, only Augustus’s parents have ever referred to him as Gus. Suddenly, however, Hazel begins to as well as, and she notes the difference between the two personas. She describes the emergence of “surprised and excited and innocent Gus” from “Grand Gesture Metaphorically Inclined Augustus.” It's a less guarded version of Augustus than we've ever seen, and Hazel obviously recognizes as much, and likes it, because she responds by kissing him on the cheek. This unguarded, unperformed version of Augustus remains throughout the rest of the section as he and Hazel talk about death, the afterlife, and Caroline Mathers. “Augustus” is still there, as he makes clear when he suggests he wants to do something extraordinary to make his life meaningful, but there's also a new vulnerability to him that we previously haven't seen.