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The Fault In Our Stars And “You Used To Call Me Augustus”

A screenshot from the film adaptation of The Fault In Our Stars, which shows the main characters sitting on a bench in a semi-embrace

Screenshot from The Fault In Our Stars (film), copyright © 2014 Temple Hill Entertainment. This post is about the book as the film does not include the subject discussed.

“You used to call me Augustus.”

There are many metaphors in The Fault In Our Stars and of note is the fact that most are obvious. I know I personally appreciate this and Green’s further efforts to the same effect, because his topic would not do to be drowned in the need to study. This is a particularly interesting point when you think of the way disease is often hidden due to distaste, fear, and trying to pretend it doesn’t exist.

What I’m thinking about today is something that can slip under the radar until Green tells us: Hazel’s transition from calling her boyfriend Augustus, to calling him Gus. The theme begins upon Hazel’s noticing, whilst Augustus’s condition deteriorates, that his sisters call him Gus in a context of pity. She notes that they see him as frail, as a person who needs looking after.

As the book gets closer to the end, Hazel adopts this new term herself. She adopts it as Augustus’s sisters have, but seems unconscious of it. (She never mentions the change and as it is her narrative, you would expect that she would have, had she realised.) A person in a similar position to the one dying is going to understand that person and is very likely to see them as their equal, at least in terms of health and so forth. They will see them as a full person as they, too, are, unfortunate circumstance be damned. At the same time, the fact that Augustus is dying (or is it that we should see him as already dead and replaced by a ‘Gus’?) lends itself to the change, to explain things. If you, the reader, catch Hazel’s transition when it happens then it’s surely a subtle head’s up as to what is going to happen later on.

In Augustus’s statement, the quote above, we see the difference in perspective. Augustus sees himself as no different. He’s dying, but that doesn’t mean he’s changed in the ways that matter. That he’s in a relationship with Hazel hasn’t magically changed with the switch in health. Hazel sees a difference, however, and she is technically rendering her boyfriend as different no matter his thoughts. Certainly the romance is altered.

You could go further and say that the possession in “me”, as spoken by Augustus, shows a reluctant submission to the term and change, although by that same possession we can see that he’s noticed the difference in attitude and doesn’t like it.

The statement ends the discussion, for us at least, bringing us full circle on that theme. And it’s the literal nature of it, that we have something textual to compare to Hazel’s earlier analysis, that closes the thread. Poignantly, although the film replaces the last line of the book (why it does, and the consequence, is a question for another time), in the book, Hazel reverts to ‘Augustus’ by the end. Did she need the distance to remember who he was?

What personally strikes me most about this theme is the way Green comments on the larger society. There is the sense throughout of a slightly wider message, plain when you think of the humour, that cancer sufferers may be in pain and be limited in various ways, but they are still the people they always were, not weak and helpless. Yes, they need physical help and emotional support, but they are the same intelligent person they always were. I saw this as in the context of cancer, of course, but as also applicable to many other situations – accidents, disability, old age, and so forth. People have their ideas and listen to the (often wrong) opinion of the majority and people who generally have no first hand experience, and treat those categorised by a stereotype in accordance to that belief, no matter the individual they are dealing with. It may be that the book is about cancer, and it may be that not everyone will view the themes as owing to a wider context, but I think the wider context is there for the taking.

Book cover

Just thinking of the Anne Frank house episode furthers this. On IMDB there is a discussion about the relative moral values of this (filmed) scene (warning: bad language), which invited comment on the reaction of the ‘audience’ when the couple kiss. Were the audience clapping a cute couple, a cute oh-poor-dears couple, or were they applauding triumph? Green provides no answer, the answer depends on the reader and will possibly change over the course of their reading depending on where they were when they first approached the book.

Instead of writing any more, because I could but I’d inevitably start repeating myself, I’ll ask you.

What did you make of the naming transition? What did you make of the scene at Anne Frank’s house? And what do you think of the possibility of a wider message? If you’ve not read the book/seen the film, feel free to comment on what’s been discussed as you will – after all, the theme is by no means limited to the text.

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July 16, 2014, 9:04 am

Pretty sure I will watch the movie first

Literary Feline

July 16, 2014, 4:22 pm

Like Hazel, I did not notice the switch in what she called him until he pointed it out–and it was such a revealing moment. I felt sad for both Augustus and Hazel in that moment.

As for the scene in Anne Frank’s house, I thought the book did a better job of conveying the significance of the moment than did the movie. That may have just been me though. I certainly got the wider message, but the people in that room with them? I think the reactions were likely mixed. Some probably felt sorry for them. Some were happy for the romantic display (ie cuteness), and others may have seen it as a triumph. It’s funny because I did wonder about it–what they were thinking. Could they really know what that moment meant for the two of them, both personally and on a wider scale? I am not sure. They hadn’t been reading/watching the story like we all had been.


July 16, 2014, 8:14 pm

To the extent that I noticed that switch my first time through, I reacted to it as part of the loss of dignity inherent in having to go to the hospital. Medical people are always calling one by one’s first name or nickname and dealing with very personal parts of life.
The last time I was in the hospital, I remember admiring the way a nurse prefaced her request that I remember they were measuring everything I excreted by saying “some people pee in the shower and that’s fine, you know, sometimes they don’t even realize they’re doing it…” I took note because before that, I wouldn’t have thought that it was something many people would do. And maybe it’s not, but she was very sensitive about how she phrased her reminder that I must not do that on that particular day.

Tracy Terry

July 17, 2014, 5:47 pm

Hoping to read the book first I had reserved it at our library. Only problem being so had every other reader. I’m now thinking we may well have to put off watching the film until it comes out on DVD or I’m going to have to buy a copy of the book.

Laurie C

July 27, 2014, 2:10 pm

I’m going to skip the movie because I liked the book!



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