* WARNING: This post will contain SPOILERS *
Last year, I took Young Adult Literature at my university. In the second week of the course (and after a semi-unbearable week of reading a coming-of-age dime novel about a poor little boy who happens to be luckier than most adults I know), I finally read the much-anticipated and overly-hyped teen romance novel of the year- The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I had actually wanted to read this book for some time after seeing clever quotes from it all over Pinterest boards, and rumors foretold of a movie around the corner.
If you aren’t familiar with the story, The Fault in Our Stars is about a sixteen year-old girl named Hazel Grace Lancaster, and her romantic relationship with a rather handsome and clever guy named Augustus Waters. The clincher? They both have cancer. As you can imagine, this book (and film) leaves many women drowning in their tears and simultaneously declaring Green nothing short of a literary genius. I hope to not sound critical of the book because, in all truth, it goes beyond the typical teen romance fluff and is written well.
Reading the book for my class was a good experience. However, it wasn’t until I watched the movie that I saw the possibility that the story contained a hidden worldview about society and God.
Now, before we get too technical (and I assure you, this post will get technical), I would like to say that I have very little information regarding John Green’s religious affiliations. John and his brother Hank have a vlog channel on YouTube where they provide educational and cultural awareness videos in engaging and funny ways. I have not watched many of these nor have I watched many of John’s interviews, but from what I have seen, I would guess John Green believes God exists and that there are multiple ways to reach Him. I don’t think John Green is a Christian, but he probably doesn’t think Christianity is wrong. Or Buddhism. Or whatever you want. His mentality appears to be that people are basically good, and they should pursue what they feel gives their lives meaning. Again, I would like to emphasize that this information is not verified.
This being said, I will now present my theory that the character of Peter van Houten represents God.
In The Fault in Our Stars, Peter van Houten is the author of a fictional book called An Imperial Affliction. Hazel Grace is obsessed with it, and its plot is similar to her own. The book ends mid-sentence because the main character dies, and Hazel Grace is left to wonder what happens to the character’s family. A similar question plagues Hazel: When she dies from her cancer, how will her parents survive? Will they be able to move past the grief and live a life they enjoy?
The similarities in the plot of An Imperial Affliction and Hazel’s own life are no accident, and since God is sometimes viewed as the author of a person’s life, it seems as if Green is drawing a parallel or at least inviting readers to consider the possibility that van Houten is a God-like figure.
Even the novel’s title suggests this. Taken from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the original line reads, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” John Green’s clever title puts an appropriate spin on this idea. If the fault is in the stars, people are not to blame for what unfolds in their realities. No one would dare to accuse Hazel or Gus for their suffering. So clearly, the fault is in someone else or the stars. It’s a metaphor. Okay? Okay.
To go even further, Hazel’s connection to van Houten is not unlike a person’s experience with God. Hazel is so desperate to find out the unpublished ending to her favorite book. She sends emails to van Houten, and he never responds. Finally, she gets a response, and her and Gus use their cancer perks to visit van Houten in Amsterdam. When she finally meets him to discuss the book, Peter van Houten is extremely rude, drunk, and arrogant. He refuses to talk about his book, swears, and kicks Hazel and Gus out of his house. It also becomes clear that he is not who he claimed and that the email communication he had with Hazel was actually his secretary who simply felt bad for Hazel and Gus and arranged the whole trip for them.
I should have noticed the signs, but the way Peter van Houten is similar to God (or a distorted view of Him) did not really hit me until the movie scene of Gus’s funeral.
Funerals are times when people think about God, whether they are Christians and go to church or hate God and church. Everyone contemplates God at funerals, if only to make themselves feel a little better. So who shows up at Gus’s funeral? Peter van Houten. He stows away in Hazel’s car to deliver a letter from Gus, and of course, Hazel wants nothing to do with him.
I can’t help but wonder if John Green uses Hazel’s interactions with Peter van Houten to mirror the current spiritual state of society. People are searching for meaning and answers, just as Hazel did, and people approach God from preconceived notions about Him. Yet, so many people are disappointed with their interaction with God, and when God resurfaces in their lives (especially in times of difficulty), they are reluctant to embrace Him.
This is just one of the ways The Fault in Our Stars succeeds in transcending the typical teen romance trope. I am looking forward to the day when I will have time to enjoy Green’s other novels, such as Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns.
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