Archive for September, 2012

Disclaimer: this is not a brief overview of the books in question, this is an in-depth looking of these books; as such there will be spoilers. If you do not want these stories to be ruined for you, do not read ahead. If, however, you want to read my personal opinions about The Hunger Games Trilogy, read on, “and may the games be ever in your favor.”

            I decided to start my book reviewing (although dissecting with a philosophical intent seems better, but much more wordy) with the Hunger Games Trilogy mainly because I just finished it and I found some profound messages contained within the books.

I thought at first that The Hunger Games was just in the same line of ho-hum fiction that is presently being written, but my interest was piqued when I saw a TV interview of the author Suzanne Collins, during the whole Hunger Games craze earlier this year. She said she got the actual idea of The Hunger Games (the event not the books) from watching a reality TV show where, as she put it “young people were competing against each other”, and from seeing news footage on the Iraq/Afghanistan War. From these two dissimilar thoughts would meld into The Hunger Games.

But The Hunger Games wasn’t just about teens killing each other; no, there was something much more going on in the books, something that a lot of modern-day books don’t have: a point.

There was a point, a reason, for the writing of these books, and I believe they stand as an omen for those who are willing to listen to scribblings of Collins’ words.

The first can be found in the name of this futuristic, post-apocalyptic, America: Panem.

Panem is Latin, it is most commonly associated in the phrase “Panem et Circenses ”, which means ‘bread and circuses’ which basically explains the way that the Roman Empire was able to wrest away control of the government from the people: make them content and distract them.

Thus, when humans have become content to the point of complacency, we generally have a tendency to cease caring in those ideals that got us to the place of contentment. But then we allow contentment to override our ideals, because relaxation and pleasure is more appealing to us than hard work and sacrifice. It’s the human dilemma, fictionalized; and sometimes that is the best way to get around the walls we build up in our minds.

Perhaps no character better represents the human dilemma than the heroine Katniss Everdeen. Katniss, starts out as an anything but typical sixteen year-old young woman, even for Panem standards, one who breaks the law in her district (this future America is divided up into thirteen districts with another “district” called the Capitol, whose function is as obvious as its name) to put meat on the table for her family, by hunting in the restricted areas and selling the excess for profit. She is the breadwinner for her family ever since her father was killed in a mine accident years ago, causing her mom to go into a sort of permanent shock.

Katniss thus exhibits the good traits of selflessness and sacrifice, but with that responsibility she has gained a shell of hardness and resistance towards others. She is also reluctant to help others outside her family (with the exception of another family whose son is her only true friend); epitomized by an episode of an unknown girl running away from the Capitol and is captured while Katniss only watches, hiding in terror. She ultimately regrets not doing anything, a common theme for her in the story and also in ours; regretting what we should have done instead of what we did do.

Katniss exhibits that most precious love when the unthinkable happens to her younger sister, Primm. She gets selected to participate in the infamous Hunger Games; where two “tributes” (one boy, one girl) from each district, making a total of twenty-four contestants, duke it out to the death as a reminder of the failed uprising against the Capitol seventy-four years ago. She volunteers to take her sister’s place, even though she faces almost certain death; although to be honest we would have despised her had she not done such an action, nevertheless such an action takes extreme bravery, or as Collins writes in Katniss’ words, “Family devotion only goes so far for most people on reaping day. What I did was the radical thing.” A sad social commentary of humanity throughout the ages.

On the train trip to the capitol she gets to know two people that will forever change her life: Fellow tribute Peeta Mellark and the only living winner from District Twelve, now turned alcoholic drunkard, Haymitch Abernathy.

Peeta is mentioned after the selection in a flashback of Katniss’ when she was eleven and on the brink of starving to death. He had intentionally burned two loaves of bread to give to Katniss, who befuddled by hunger and extreme cold wonder if it was perhaps by accident; although as we all find out it is because of his genuine kindness and his feelings for Katniss that he did so. Because of Peeta giving Katniss bread, it gave her time, which in turn gave her hope as she discovered she could survive by hunting and foraging, using the skills her father taught her. She isn’t sure if she owes Peeta, but one thing she know for certain, she hates owing people; here Katniss again represents humanity in our feeble and self-righteous attempts to become God, as we latch onto our pride, thinking that we can only lift ourselves up by our own efforts, that accepting help is weakness.

Of course Haymitch represents humanity’s botched efforts to cope with the decisions and choices we have made, but sometimes it seems like the only logical effort we can ever make. What drives a person to forget life at the bottom of a bottle, I hope no one else must experience, but that does not mean we write off our addicts, they need help just like Haymitch does, let us not leave them to die a slow horrible death. Sometimes we have to venture into the nastiness of their problems to help them get out of it (like Peeta showering a vomit-covered Haymitch), sometimes that is the only way addicts can get back on the path of normalcy.

Which brings us to the Capitol, the futuristic center of hedonism. Excess is the norm to the point of absurdness, the citizens drink the equivalent of castor oil to throw up so they can continue in their glutinous orgies while others (like the families in the districts) starve; they dye their skin, wear gaudy hairstyles and dresses, and go through grotesque plastic surgeries for fads that change as quickly as a modern-day stoplight. And the only things they talk about is the latest gossip, especially the Hunger Games, where they have an morbid absorption with it, for winners of the Hunger Games become the Capitol’s biggest celebrities; and everything in the Capitol is about bringing as much attention to yourself as possible.

Our culture reflects the culture in the Capitol, because like the Capitol citizens, we live in a culture of immediate gratification and it has us convinced that whatever material things we can get here and now is far better than what we could ever potentially receive in the future. It’s a win-win we tell ourselves, getting everything for next to nothing; but everything has its price.

Oh how well Collins has portrayed our society and all societies past that have fallen away from vigilance and selflessness and sacrifice. The results are truly terrifying.

Katniss continues to be suspicious of Peeta’s every action, thinking that he is trying to put himself into a better position over her, trying to get the edge during the games; but he does all of this out of a pure heart for himself and Katniss. Peeta is in essence, the hope of humanity, the sort of person we all look to for stability, the one who will not err; but sometimes even the greatest of us fall. But Peeta will not fall, not yet, while Katniss emerges as a master manipulator, first for Capitol citizens, then Peeta, and soon it will seem like everyone else has been duped at one point or another by the girl on fire. So many masks Katniss puts on, while she struggles to find herself.