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The Philosophies of ‘The Fault in Our Stars’

I first encountered The Fault In Our Stars in an Instagram post of a friend and since then, I’ve been intrigued by the title. This catch phrase of John Green’s fourth solo novel was derived from Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar where one Roman nobleman, named Cassius, says to another:

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

In the context of the play, the line makes perfect sense. These two men did not suffer from unjust destiny but have rather made decisions that led them to their fates. In the words of John Green himself, the said quote has since been “decontextualized over and over and used universally as a way of saying that the fault is not in the stars (i.e. fate or destiny) but in individual people… But there is plenty of fault in our stars.”

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The Fault In Our Stars is one poignant story narrated by a sixteen-year-old cancer patient named Hazel Grace, who is forced by her parents to attend a support group, where she subsequently meets and falls in love with the seventeen-year-old Augustus Waters, an ex-basketball player and amputee. Despite being billed under the Young Adult genre, and sometimes consorted with chick lit and romance novels, The Fault in Our Stars bears underlying philosophies and musings that will leave one pondering on his very existence:

1. FAITH – Hazel is in love with the novel “Imperial Affliction” (whose title came from a line from Emily Dickinson’s poem “There’s a certain Slant of light”) albeit having one peculiar and hair-ripping quality of ending in mid-sentence. All her life, Hazel has been dying to know (pun intended) whether the Tulip Man, the one who played the savior, is a con or otherwise, that she even set up a meeting with the novelist himself to find out the answer. Like Vladimir and Estragon who wait for a certain Godot, Hazel’s search for the truth is like all of us who seek for answers and meanings behind the contingency that is life.

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2. POSITIVITY – The book has depression written all over it: from the first scene of Hazel being forced to attend the dismal support group, to the last page at which point a reader might have already been sniffing. But positivity is best highlighted against the backdrop of hopelessness. If I may, I think The Fault in Our Stars echoes the extraordinary bestseller of Mitch Albom, Tuesdays With Morrie, which profoundly tackles hope amid dying. If reading about a person being able to describe himself as “grand” while at the hands of hospice care doesn’t uplift you, I don’t think anything would.

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3. OVERCOMING – Though the pages of The Fault In Our Stars is full of suffering, it is full of the overcoming of it, too (c.f. Anne Frank). Probably the most unforgettable line in the novel, “pain demands to be felt”, sums it all up. We cannot escape reality. Positivity is essential but we can never overcome unless we learn to accept that life is not a wish granting factory.

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4. LOVEThe Fault in Our Stars is not the usual tragedy. Hazel and Augustus are star-crossed lovers not because they are separated by clannish feud or ideological differences but because of their mere incapability to exist. It presents that love isn’t just about red roses and four-leaf clovers but can also be about orange tulips from a cancer patient. That not because they carry oxygen tanks and have lungs that suck at being lungs doesn’t mean they are emotionally impaired or insensitive.

However, I have one but striking misgiving about the way the novel depicted love. I will sound a bit preachy at this point but The Fault in Our Stars sends a subliminal message that fornication is okay since they’re dying anyway. Though it passes by subtly, it leaves a strong statement on moral values especially since the characters are teenagers.

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5. LIVING – The words “death” and “dying” have been used so frequently that they sometimes become interchangeable throughout the book. For a person with a terminal illness, it seems that everything is a side effect of dying. Despite this, the protagonists scream of being alive. While saying so much about death, The Fault in Our Stars reveals so much more about life.

Augustus Waters, for instance, lives out metaphors. He puts a cigarette in his mouth without ever lighting it, with the logic of putting the killing thing right between the teeth, but not giving it the power to do its killing. For Hazel Grace, dying means being a grenade, ready to explode, and then leaving a mark, which is more of a scar, to the people who care about her—precisely the reason why she’s striving to keep herself alive. After all, dying is pretty much like ending a book in mid-sentence.

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John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars is downright philosophical. But more than just heaps of quotable quotes and countless metaphors, this cathartic tale simply reminds us to be grateful for being alive and challenges us to defy limitations by crafting our own fate. Although spiritually speaking, there is more to life than this physical, earthly existence, it is uplifting to see things from a different perspective. Ultimately, only by living a life beyond the confines of the circumstances we find ourselves in can we truly subvert the very fault in our stars.

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References: An Interview with John Green
Photos from: Google Images and Tumblr

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6 thoughts on “The Philosophies of ‘The Fault in Our Stars’

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