|The Hunger Games Trilogy|
My sister lent me her books, none of which are actually hers. The first one, The Hunger Games, is borrowed from my cousin. Fine. But when I opened to the first page behind the hardcover, written in pen is “Age 14+” in black pen. In adult handwriting. My cousin is a teenager. Where did she get this book and who wrote this? I can’t contact her for a while, but when I do, I’ll ask.
Something that I have noticed is people groaning that either a) adults should not be reading The Hunger Games or b) that The Hunger Games is inappropriate for young people/teens to read. Well then, the question remains: who the hell should be reading these books? Here’s the answer: everyone.
Elaboration on point A is unnecessary, as I can write a whole post on people should mind their own fucking business and let other people read whatever they want. A rant on this topic is warranted, as I find people like to poke their noses into all areas of others people’s business. So, side note: stay out of other people’s business, damnit.
But what I really want to write about today is The Hunger Games. Point B, at the core, is much more involved. I’m going to write about why teens should read these books.
The argument against these books that I hear most is that they contain violent imagery and violent concepts. The actual Hunger Games is a game/reality television show set up by the government as a means of suppressing future rebellions. Children aged 12 to 18 are put into a draw, and one female and one male from each District have to enter an arena and fight to the death. Only one comes out as the victor. Yes, violent indeed. My sister, let’s call her Lil’ Bunny, is 12 (below the “Age 14+”). She’s afraid of everything. Seriously. You can’t even watch the show Cops around her because it makes her think criminals are out to get her. Did this book, with all the killings freak her out? She says no. She says that she hates the thought of Clove’s head after Thresh puts that fatal dent into her head with a rock. The image of the dent preoccupies her, and she wonders how the movie will portray the dent (we are going next Saturday).
All people are different, though. Will this freak out some readers? Of course. But some adults read “adult” books and are freaked out or insulted, etc by the slightest things too (I kind of want to tell them to grow a pair and stop reading instead of complaining about the damaging effects of violent imagery or opposing viewpoints, but who would be around to argue with me if I did that?). The story is intriguing and you genuinely want to continue reading. With this kind of story, you know that 23 of the 24 contestants should die, and while the protagonist is up for being murdered in the arena, it is pretty obvious that she won’t die. It comes down to some complicated emotions and concepts that readers are faced underneath the violence of the Games.
Lil’ Bunny and I talk extensively about the dystopia of Panem, and what it means to be oppressed, the politics involved, and what it means to stand up and rebel (and I speak ad nauseum about V for Vendetta all the time). How the government gives its people “bread and circuses” (food and entertainment) in exchange for their right to participate in the government. It is the government of Panem that has decided to oppress their people. They also reap all the goods from the Districts and give luxurious lives to those who live in the Capitol with those goods. The Games are in place not only to quell dissent among the poorer Districts, but as entertainment. People say “but dear God that’s disgusting! Who can watch children murder each other?” Then you get into issues of desensitization, especially those who live in the Capitol and the richer districts. They have grown up with these games, which are mandatory to watch, and are celebrated like no holiday we have. The richer Districts have Careers-people who train from a young age to compete because they want to win for the glory-and the poorer Districts...they face starvation, everyday. If you win, you get money, a house, and your district is rewarded with grain and oil for a year. Not that you have a choice to decline, though someone might volunteer to take their place, which is what Katniss does for Prim.
The moral issues in these books are prominent, especially in the last book, Mockingjay. In real life we have to make moral judgements all the time. Some people epically fail in the moral development area. We might hate them for their disgusting behaviour, but that is also a moral choice (forgiveness or revenge or eternal hate?). Focusing on Mockingjay, the morality of the characters really come to light. As Peeta has gone insane and is trying to kill Katniss every couple of hours, she has to decide if she can, and should kill Peeta. Katniss is being used by Coin, leader of District 13, for her own personal gain. She resents Coin but Katniss uses the opportunity to aid in the rebellion, though she is hell bent on killing President Snow. In the Games, you will probably have to kill in order to survive, and quite possibly you will have kill someone you know from your District. One moral dilemma is obvious even to younger readers: Katniss is torn between Peeta and Gale, and she lets both love her without rejecting or accepting either one. Morally, this is a terrible thing to do to two people, yet it is understandable why she does it. In the first book, she probably will not survive the Games and she doesn’t want to marry and have children in a Panem that reaps its children for the Hunger Games. In the second book, she has to go back into the arena. In the last book...well, I can’t say I’m so impressed by Katniss. Hey, Katniss, can you maybe not kiss both men and string them along? Although, she does admit that she isn’t the most adorable person in the world, and her negative characteristics is what keeps her from being a flat character like Bella Swan.
One thing my sister and I spoke about is Katniss’s final decision to marry Peeta and reject Gale. Not only does she reject Gale, it seems to me like he never comes back. I’ve thought about this, and I think Katniss would have been better with Gale if she could come to terms with Prim’s death. Prim dies trying to tend to the wounded children in the Capitol-a scene in the book that had me choked up (don’t judge me!). Silver parachutes descend from the sky from a hovercraft-parachutes usually have relief items of some kind-and they exploded, killing or wounding the children who had them. Once the medics came, including Prim, they exploded again, killing the people trying to save them. This kills Prim and sets Katniss on fire as she was trying to run to Prim. What does this have to do with Gale? Gale was working with someone else on weapons that are based on hunting strategies, namely, to trap or kill one animal to attract the real prize in a second trap. What complicates this further is that Katniss does not know if the Capital ordered the parachutes, or if the rebels did it “for the greater good” and sacrificed some lives. While she believes that she will never know who set the parachutes (though she doesn’t actually try), she believes that Gale at least contributed to Prim’s death because he designed the strategy. That’s like blaming all gun related deaths on the person who invented guns! Morally, Gale is alright with sacrificing some people to get the job done. Should she be angry with Gale? Obviously I don’t think she should be blaming him for her sister’s death.
In conclusion, I think the whole “OMG what a deplorable, violent concept! Shield our children/young people!” is true, to an extent. Yes, the concept is violent. As a society should we shield our children/teens against everything? I don’t think so, and these books are written to not be splatter porn. They certainly do not glorify killing people. In fact, you read more about how the Games has emotionally and mentally damaged Katniss and other victors. Reading these books can make young people think about oppressive governments and moral choices. (Hell, they can make adults think about these things too.) Critical thinking is always a good thing that should be encouraged, not stifled.
The only preconception that I have is that Katniss has been whitewashed. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what race a character and their film version actor are. Sometimes, like in this case, it does matter. Katniss is “olive skinned” with dark hair and eyes-she looks like everyone else in her District, District 12. Her mother and sister, Prim, are fair hair and light skinned. While Katniss provides for them, there is still an obvious element of “otherness” to Katniss that I believe is vital to the story. She is not like her (remaining) family in the way that she can hunt and provide and in the way that she looks. Katniss is also not like Prim, who is a sweet girl who matures into a calm figure of steady wisdom. Katniss is the opposite in looks and character.
I read a while ago that a Japanese film called Battle Royale is extremely similar, with being even more violent (yay!). I then realized that I actually have this movie. A review of this will come shortly, as I love me some Japanese horror film. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_Royale_(film)