Late last night, when I should have been sleeping to give my body much needed rest so I could focus on the coming work day, I finished reading The Hunger Games. I borrowed them from a friend a couple weeks ago thinking the three books would take me several weeks to read as I generally only have time during my 30 minute bus commute to work and back home. That’s how it started too; I would read a little here, a little there. Sometimes I had to stand on the bus, or couldn’t focus because of the noise, so I would only get a couple of pages turned. This was the first book – I already knew the storyline from watching the movie, but then one day I looked up from the bus to find I had missed my stop. I kept reading on the extended walk back home. The second and third books only took me about a day and a half each. I devoured them.
And even so I’m not too sure how much I like the series. Funny how that works.
If you haven’t read the books, go away right now. I’m not really sure what I’m going to write about regarding the books, but there will be spoilers. I hate finding out how something turns out in a manner the author didn’t intend, I’d rather you don’t either, and I don’t want to whisper, so go away.
Right, like I said, I’m not really sure what I’m going to write. I was texting my friend Laurel who let me borrow the books that I’m looking forward to discussing them with her, but I still feel the need to work things out in my head, and that’s what I’ll be doing here.
First let me say that I won’t be going off about the violence of the books. I remember seeing a few headlines about this in the past. I never read them because I figured I might end up reading the books, so I’m not really sure what they were about, but they sounded condemning. I won’t be doing that here. If you have a problem with violence in books that star children, you should discuss Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow first.
This morning, as I was mulling over what I read as I finished the book last night, I thought I may as well start reading Orwell’s 1984 to cheer myself up. Yeah, maybe the world’s most famous dystopia would be a more cheery read. A story about one man and one woman’s ultimately hopeless and fruitless fight against a tyrannical state that does not end at all how you hope versus a story about a one-girl-sparked rebellion, that ultimately wins out, told through the lens of brutal child wars? I suppose that’s not really a happier story, but at the least I don’t remember getting so connected to the story in 1984.
I think that’s what made it an impactful and difficult read: that I was drawn in and empathized with the characters so much. At first I was thrown off by the first-person present-tense style of the storytelling, but once I got used to it, I think it was very much to the books’ advantage. I kept imagining myself sitting with Katniss around a low burning fireplace as she recounted to me her story. You could still see the scars on her body, the remembered exhaustion in her eyes, and the desperation in her voice.
Maybe it’s just me and how much I allow myself to get drawn into a story, especially one about a girl, not much older than my niece, who could seriously use some protection, but for a few days everything in my actual life seemed more gritty and desperate. There was a heavier weight on my shoulders walking to and from the bus. Well written, but I hesitate to say that I liked it because of that.
If I dig deeper, perhaps that pressing weight was because the love story highlighted short-comings in my own short-lived romance with a girl I once dated. Which is odd because it’s the romance piece of the story that I found the least well conceived. I kept finding myself thinking, This was obviously written from a female perspective. Peeta is too perfect through 2 1/2 books – pretty much the entire time he’s rational and in his right mind. What boy at, what is he, twelve when he throws her the bread, falls completely in love with a girl and never looses sight of that even the slightest? Everything he does and says is for her. While she is flighty, irrational, and honestly kind of how I would expect a teenage girl to act in her horrific situation, he is selfless, solid, and unbowed. It’s too much a fairytale. With so much realistic grit, this shows up too clean. Of course, maybe I don’t like that because it’s not what my relationship was like. I wasn’t selfless, I wasn’t a perfect romantic with just the right words at the needed time. That stings some. Am I overly cynical, or does Peeta actually exist?
But then there is Gale. The best friend for years. He knows her inside and out, he can predict her completely, words are almost unnecessary anymore. And because he’s passionate about a cause, he’s thrown to the wind by the end of the story and she assumes he’s so easily and cheaply cast her away for another lover. Isn’t it said you are supposed to marry your best friend? Honestly, I think Katniss ends up with the wrong guy. That didn’t play out right. Maybe by indirectly killing her sister he lost that avenue completely, but I get the feeling that that was just the final nail in the coffin to make sure we as listeners knew it was never meant to be. A convenient (and heart-breaking) final nail. Gale knew her, Peeta more or less stalked her prior to the Games.
While I’m doing a bit of gripping on storyline pieces I didn’t like, I still cannot understand Katniss’s decision to vote Yes for a final, symbolic, Hunger Games to punish the Capital for it’s 75 years of atrocities. Everything she has ever worked and lived for since her father died was to keep her little sister safe. She’s drawn to help those in pain as part of who she is in her core. Rue, Gale when in pain, the hospital in District 8. And yet, in the very end she votes to kill two dozen relatively innocent children, after just watching and being horrified by the merciless killing of dozens of children at the hands of the rebels. This is a 180-degree flip in her broken personality. Coming from a girl who grieved for the tributes she killed and their families, this just does not make sense.
Of course, none of that happens and perhaps she was just playing with Coin so she keep the secret of who she would really kill hidden until the end. But it didn’t read like that.
The hardest thing for me about her decision is it undermines so much that the book is working towards. Of course holding a sadistic, twisted version of gladiator games with children to keep the peace is wrong. That most humans’ basic nature would revolt from this is what the book is built upon. It constantly is serving as a warning to us (as all good dystopias do) to be vigilant to not even put a foot on the path to this possible future. It pushes that the entire time, through it’s characters wanting to stop the capital, Peeta not wanting to lose who he really is in the Games, and Katniss’s own refusal to play by their rules. She even is against destroying the mountain fortress near the end of the war. How can you convincingly tell a story trying to condemn such violence and acts of revenge by turning it all around at the end? It falls apart.
Please, someone tell me if I’m missing a piece of the puzzle.
The only piece that, depressingly, gives credence to Katniss’s decision to vote for one last Hunger Game is her Solomonic thought that “Nothing has changed. Nothing will ever change now.” (see Ecclesiastes 1:9)
Engaging books, thought provoking, a constant wringing of emotions (I need to shake it off so I can trust people again; it was just a story), but, in the end, Katniss has lost her humanity. I’m not sure a handful of pages of broad-stroke storytelling and a short epilogue and change that.
I think you’re right. Katniss as a character was broken in that she didn’t always make the right, ideal choice. I think that allowance by the author to have Katniss make poor decisions that show she didn’t learn from her own experience makes for a thought provoking ending. Too often, the main character, if it is a “good guy”, will always make the ethical decision in the end. I appreciate that in this book, written for youth whose ethics are still developing, that we have a main character who makes such an abhorrent choice. I have noticed that in western culture, it is often considered true that whatever the good guy does is good, because he is the good guy, and whatever the bad guy does is bad. The action itself does not make the character good or bad, but his designation makes the actions good or bad. For an example, look at pro wrestling. The good guy characters will be cheered on by the crowds for doing the same thing that, if done by a villain, will cause the crowd to boo. Perhaps the nebulous nature of Katniss’s decisions will help young readers to learn how to self evaluate, without the bias of a belief in personal goodness.
Oh, and I also agree on the Peeta/Gale issue.
I enjoyed reading your thoughts, since you actually read the books. I just read a synopsis and figured I probably wouldn’t be able to handle the books or the movie. It’s been great to hear opinions from others – positive or negative, and to get a glimpse of their reasons and reactions.
Thanks for your thoughts guys.
Gin, why did you figure you’d never read the books?
DW, it isn’t that she made an abhorrent choice that bothers me so much. It’s that I find that choice so completely at odds with who her characters is and has been built up all series long. It’s like a different person was suddenly introduced. Alongside that, because that decision is so drastically apart from her character, there is no monologue about the magnitude of that choice where there should be.