It has been about a month since I read the first Hunger Games book, saw the movie and wrote about the conversation that it started for me. If you don’t want to take the time to read my original post, basically I wrote that while the story was intriguing and the characters were interesting, I found myself repulsed by the parallels between the world of Panem and our world today.
Now I have finished the two other books and feel ready to continue the conversation. My dueling minds continue as I have to admit that I am truly fascinated by the luxury and excess of the capital. And the ways that are invented to torture and kill inside the arena and out are sickeningly brilliant. Panem attacks all senses. From the ticking clock in the arena to the death pods in the Capital. But this opulence contrasted with the brutality of war and add in the relationships and my mind can’t handle it all.
The second book, Catching Fire was necessary to get us to the boiling point in Mockingjay. But I found myself more emotionally involved with Mockingjay. Last night as I closed the book for the final time I had three conversations that I wanted to have and all of them were comparisons and starting points for looking at our own selves and the world that we live in.
#1: The Capital. Are we (in the United States and maybe the West in general) that different from the people in the capital? If we just look at three basic comparisons, I see the similarities are more evident then the differences. Our love affair with food, our love affair with entertainment and our love affair with our own image.
The food objectification is obvious in both books. The crazy banquet in Catching Fire where people throw up, just to gorge themselves again. People are starving but they still feed their faces. It’s delicious but food is no longer looked at as a means of survival but instead another activity and form of entertainment. In America we glorify food too. We eat too much and throw out food while others starve. While most of us don’t do this out of malicious intent, we still are culpable. I love food, food is good, we are meant to eat, we need to eat but when food becomes an obsession at the expense of others, then it’s too much.
Entertainment runs the lives of most people in the capital. The Games are the obvious example of this and the brutality of this doesn’t need to be further explained. Our entertainment in the United States hasn’t made it to the point of children killing children but we do put a premium on entertainment. Think of all the money spent on concerts, ball games, movies, etc. It’s not all about violence and like food, entertainment itself isn’t bad but glorifying it is.
And finally self-image. The Capital is all about over-the-top image, to the point where people dye their skin color and reconstruct their features until they no longer even look human. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder and at some point the capital has crossed the line from beauty to ridiculous. I love the conversation that Posy has with Octavia. She tells her that she would be pretty in any color. I am not saying that how we present ourselves isn’t important, we all have two eyes and no matter how hard we try, we will still make judgments based on how people look. However, I am saying that the US (and maybe it’s a bit skewed in California) but we do put a very high price on looks. Think about the amount we spend and the importance we place on hair, nails, skin-care etc. Even plastic surgery is the norm in some circles. Tattoos and body art aren’t uncommon. But at what point do we cross that line?
#2 The Effect of War on Children. Do we really understand what happens to children who grow up during a war? Do we understand what it means to have lived in survival mode? Innocence once lost can never be regained. The children can never go back to the way they were before. There isn’t enough history to go back. Killing is something we shouldn’t ever take lightly. But in Panem killing became necessary for survival. Despite her apparent ease when shooting to defend, Katniss never becomes hardened to the effects of killing, especially face to face. And she even struggles with what to tell Gale when she starts to see anger and indifference building up in him. I would argue that it is indifference and distance that is the most dangerous. In the United States we can live in our safe bubbles and not see the reality of poverty, violence, hunger or and number of other things that are not uncommon in the rest of the world. This distance allows us the luxury of being apathetic and then leads to the next step of indifference. This is not an argument for exposing our children to too much, too early either. But I think at the end of the book (the epilogue actually), Katniss does have the right idea with how she deals with the history and moves forward with her own family. It is all about balance, let us teach history so that we can learn from the past but still be able to focus on acts of goodness the are repeatedly happening and part of our lives now.
#3 Revenge. Another Hunger Games for the Capital kids? Really!? This is probably the only part of the book that made me mad. And I think it is because after being in Papua New Guinea, I have seen firsthand how a culture lives with the idea that revenge is the only way. It’s not pretty and it never solves anything. It just escalates to the point where no one has anything left to give or take. I think if anything the Tributes would have seen through their own experiences that another games wouldn’t solve anything. But I guess it is human nature to say that if I have suffered then someone else should have to suffer too. If anything it should have been those who created and ran the games who should have to experience the horrors they created firsthand, not the innocent children. But even this isn’t merciful and doesn’t really solve anything. I guess I saw this more in Papua New Guinean culture then in American culture but it exists here as well. Our justice system struggles with this during punishments for criminals. Sometimes the victims family wants ‘justice’ but that’s just a code-word for revenge. The family feels very justified and vindicated but sometimes the family calls for mercy and leniency. What reasons cause these differences? Can people take advantage of mercy? How can mercy change the story? I guess for this one I am just left with more questions then answers.
So I end here with the same mixed feelings as before. These books are no doubt entertaining but the questions and conversations they leave me with still make my skin crawl. The conversation is still ongoing and definitely worth having.