Creative Characterization within The Fault in Our Stars

By Taylor Whittemore

A novel is an author’s canvas, allowing them to paint whatever picture they desire by using literary tools in the way an artist would use various types of brushstrokes. Among these tools are creative writing devices such as plot, characterization, point of view, description, dialogue, and voice. Like mixing colors to create a different effect, an author may blend multiple techniques to add further dimension to their novel. They may also use one method to strengthen another. In The Fault in Our Stars, John Green developed detailed characterization of Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace Lancaster, and through this, he was able to construct a plot driven by the characters.

John Green crafted Hazel and Augustus with specific desires that would build the plot. Hazel’s primary desire is to discover what happens after the conclusion of An Imperial Affliction, for Van Houten stops the novel in the middle of a sentence to represent the unpredictability of sickness and death. Her longing to know the fates of Sisyphus the Hamster, Anna’s mother, and the Dutch Tulip Man is expressed through her first person narration when she thinks, “… there were characters other than Anna in the story, and it seemed unfair that I would never find out what happened to them” (50).  This desire, which she shares with Augustus once she introduces him to the novel, eventually leads to their trip to Amsterdam, a critical plot point that aids in developing the relationship between them. John Green bestowed this desire upon her rather early on so there would be logical reasoning for the trip to Amsterdam later in the novel.

Although Augustus also yearns to learn what happens to the characters after An Imperial Affliction, his greatest desire is to be remembered throughout history so he will not fade into a void. This is introduced when the reader first meets Augustus’ character during Support Group. He inadvertently admits this desire when Patrick asks about Augustus’ fears, to which he responds, “I fear oblivion” (12). His desire is also strengthened when the reader learns that Augustus purposely loses at a video game by throwing his character, Max Mayhem, over a grenade to save children that were taken hostage. Though the game claims the mission is failed, Augustus feels otherwise because he dedicated Max’s life to a worthwhile cause. John Green included both of these moments because, though they may seem trivial at the time, they add depth to Augustus’ characterization. His desire to be remembered as something great is not achieved within the book, unless the reader would include the alterations he had inspired in the lives of Hazel and their friend Isaac. Green purposely did not allow him to achieve anything memorable because it makes his death even more tragic, and it leaves the feeling of Augustus’ lost ambition resounding with the reader. The desires of both Hazel and Augustus are critical because together they drive several conversations and events that inspire the plot of the novel.

Furthermore, human complexity is another literary element that can affect the plot of the novel, and John Green utilizes this aspect of characterization multiple times in both Hazel and Augustus. A large portion of Hazel’s complexity revolves around her feelings towards Augustus, especially in one of the earlier chapters after he had proposed the trip to Amsterdam to her. Though Hazel understands that she does harbor affection towards Augustus, even to the extent where she acknowledges that she has had fantasies about him, she reflects upon how she tensed up once he touched her. Between this and observing the Facebook profile of the deceased Caroline Mathers, Augustus’ ex-girlfriend who died of cancer, Hazel realizes her disease makes her like a grenade that is eventually going to go off. She texts Augustus later that night saying, “Hi, so okay, I don’t know if you’ll understand this but I can’t kiss you or anything… when I try to look at you like that, all I see is what I’m going to put you through” (101). John Green purposely gave Hazel these two conflicting qualities, for although she is aware of the emotions she feels towards Augustus, she will not allow herself to be close to him. These qualities introduce a conflict of inner turmoil that enhances the plot.

Hazel appears to be a compassionate character, often restraining her own feelings to protect others by regulating what she says, but she occasionally has outbursts when she simply cannot contain it anymore. Near the conclusion of The Fault in Our Stars while Augustus’ health is rapidly deteriorating as the cancer advances, Hazel explodes from constrained emotions when she says:

I just want to be enough for you, but I never can be. This can never be enough for you. But this is all you get. You get me, and your family, and this world. This is your life. I’m sorry if it sucks. But you’re not going to be the first man on Mars, and you’re not going to be an NBA star, and you’re not going to hunt Nazis. I mean, look at yourself, Gus. (241)

Human complexity is also shown through multiple arguments with her parents, especially the one near the end of the novel after Augustus’ passing. Hazel, in a state of emotional torment due to her boyfriend’s death, says, “I’m not eating dinner, and I can’t stay healthy, because I’m not healthy. I am dying, Mom. I am going to die and leave you here alone and you won’t have a me to hover around and you won’t be a mother anymore, and I’m sorry, but I can’t do anything about it, okay?” (296). This is particularly hurtful because Green previously established that while Hazel was on her deathbed, her mother said she was not going to be a mom anymore after Hazel was gone. Hazel’s mother never became aware that Hazel heard what she said until Hazel’s outburst. John Green designed these portions of dialogue to show Hazel’s sudden insensitivity to people’s emotions despite otherwise being portrayed as a relatively compassionate and empathetic person. Because the two characteristics are contradictory, it is categorized as an element of human complexity. John Green used both of these quotes to create tension in Hazel’s relationships, whether it be between her and Augustus or her and her parents, while adding dimension to her character by providing a realistic character flaw.

Augustus was also designed by John Green with human complexity to increase the depth of his character. As mentioned before, Augustus craves a worthwhile life above anything else, but the evidence in the text reveals that he does not act upon this desire. This is contradictory because Augustus is also established as a very bold character. He asks Hazel to his home after meeting her earlier in the day to watch V for Vendetta, and he blatantly states he no longer denies himself the “simpler pleasures of existence” (16), such as staring at beautiful people. Furthermore, Augustus’ devotion to Hazel Grace seems to be unshakable. He tells her he loves her while they are flying to Amsterdam, yet just hours before he abandons Hazel with her mother in the airport because he cannot withstand people looking at them due to Hazel’s oxygen tank. Not only does this clash with the idea of Augustus’ boldness, but it also affects the way the reader views his relationship with Hazel, making it seem like he does not value it enough to protect it against strangers. John Green specifically chose these actions for Augustus to support that element of human complexity and make it evident to the reader while introducing additional conflict.

Cancer, the disease that inhabits both Augustus and Hazel, also provides another element of human complexity. It is a part of their body, a sickness that consumes the physical being to the point of fatality, though they make it evident that they refuse to allow themselves to be dominated by cancer. Augustus says something to support this claim, and it is, “Don’t tell me you’re one of those people who becomes their disease. I know so many people like that. It’s disheartening” (32). Though it is certainly killing them, Augustus says that cancer is not the bad guy because “cancer just wants to be alive” (246). John Green deliberately gave this disease to Hazel and Augustus to increase the human complexity, for they are forced to overcome the hindrance of their cancer. This is another conflict introduced by the author. Green integrated human complexity so deeply into his characters because this often leads to conflict, whether it be between two people or within oneself, and it strengthens the plot by adding smaller struggles that intrigue the reader’s interest.

Throughout The Fault in Our Stars, the characters are presented with the opportunity to change, and whether or not they seize the chance is their decision. At the beginning of the novel, Hazel exhibits several traits that an isolated individual would possess, for she hardly displays interest in socializing and romantic relationships. Her mother has to persuade her to visit Support Group, one of the few places where she is around people in a similar age group. However, Hazel’s experiences throughout the novel shapes her into a teenage girl who acts her age. For example, her mother tells her that she is being “very teenagery today” (99), whereas Hazel’s mother was encouraging her to engage in what is typically considered a teenager activity in the beginning. Furthermore, Hazel feared becoming a metaphorical grenade due to her disease, meaning she would destroy everyone around her with her inevitable death. She attempted to distance herself from her parents and Augustus because of this. After Augustus’ death, her opinion shifts during a conversation she shares with her father. “He grabbed my head and pulled it into his collarbone, and he said, ‘I’m sorry Gus died… But it was sure a privilege to love him, huh?’ I nodded into his shirt. ‘Gives you an idea how I feel about you’” (278). This statement helps Hazel understand that though it may be painful after somebody’s death, especially if you loved them, it may be worth the agony for the memories. Hazel also becomes aware of what it is like to love and be loved for who you are in a romantic situation. These changes were implemented by John Green to show that Hazel has been affected by the plot just as much as it has been affected by her, and this relationship increases the depth of the novel.

Though Augustus is also provided the chance for change multiple times, he remains a rather static character through several events until the ending of the novel. For example, Augustus is presented with the opportunity to change when Hazel nearly dies due to the cancerous liquid filling her lungs or when he is initially diagnosed with cancer again, but his personality is not affected by either of these dramatic events.The most drastic shift in Augustus accompanies his cancer, for the reader observes the rapid decline of his physical and mental state, yet this change is arguably not as important as several of the others. As mentioned before, Augustus frequently speaks upon being remembered, for there is nothing he yearns for more than becoming a part of history. He still craves to be remembered prior to his death, but through Hazel he was able to determine that the “real heroes anyway aren’t the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention” (312). This newfound realization John Green included in Augustus’ letter to Van Houten is an example of change in Augustus’ thinking. Like Hazel, Augustus eventually comes to a conclusion about blowing up like a grenade after his death, and he also states this in his letter when he says, “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices. I hope she likes hers” (313). John Green included this line in the letter because, in addition to displaying character growth, it also shows insight to the connection between Hazel and Augustus, for she feared harming him whereas he is glad he chose her in spite of it. John Green designed the ability to change and the changes that do occur to show the result of the plot, usually through gradual progression as events slowly begin to cause transformations within the character’s personality and thinking.

As an artist can utilize multiple brushstrokes to emphasize different portions of the final painting, various aspects of characterization can add unexpected vibrancy to a novel and the elements within it, such as plot. John Green expresses his expertise in this situation by including multiple facets of his characters within the story, making them fully dimensional, and having them integrated into the plot in such a way that the plot and characterization are utterly inseparable. This blending of techniques extends throughout The Fault in Our Stars. However, a story requires all of the methods mentioned above, and it is the writer’s decision as to how they would like to exert the force of these literary methods. A writer has the ability merge the elements of creative writing together in a story of their creation, and if they manage to do it correctly, the reader will be so immersed in the novel that it creates an alternate reality in their mind that is as realistic as their own.

 

Works Cited

Green, John. The Fault in Our Stars. New York: Dutton Books, 2012. Print.

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