Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Hunger Games: Part Two

I should probably start out with mentioning that I’ve only read the first two books, the third one I’ve got lying around, but just haven’t gotten the motivation to read it. Not sure I ever will either, and here’s why.

There are a few good points about the book that gave it the merit in my eyes worth reading two out of three books in the series, but, there are also some marks against it. Now this is an opinion piece, I’m just going to forgo precursoring every bold statement with “in my opinion” from this point on since I understand opinions differ. I’ll start with the pros of the book.

The story was a little better than average—intense and intriguing. Suzanne Collins certainly did write a great lead character. Katniss is one of the more memorable characters in recent years, and one I feel will stay valid and cherished for a good lustrum to a decade more. Who knows, maybe even beyond that, but I doubt it. Like I mentioned in my previous post, I really wish there was more of an even balance between strong (emotionally), skillful, useful, intelligent male and female lead characters. I think literature is coming along, but still, it’s rare to see characters like Katniss.

Why does it even matter that we have female lead characters you might ask? Well, I guess for me, it all comes back to a lead character I knew and read about growing up. His name is Drizzt Do'urden. Let me tell you a bit about him. Actually, I’m going to be a bit lazy here and pull a quote from Wikipedia.

“The character has been a mainstay for author R. A. Salvatore, appearing in his novels for over 20 years. Drizzt is a drow who acts against the drow stereotype, favoring friendship and peace over hatred and violence. His unusual personality creates the conflict that allows Salvatore to create so many novels with stories about courage and friendship. Drizzt fights the dark traits that are inherent in the drow.”

That’s Drizzt in a nutshell. He’s a morally good guy in the midst of a whole civilization of evil. Eventually, he leaves his people in search for a more benevolent society, leaving the underground metropolis where he grew up, entering the surface world. This creates a bittersweet conflict. He bears the mark of his evil drow heritage (he’s an ebony colored elf) which strikes fear and hatred in the hearts of all goodly races on the surface. He is continually questioning his actions and beliefs while others are instantly judgmental of any move he makes. This combination results in a highly charged moral conflict that left me, as a teenager, questioning my own actions and moral alignment. Drizzt caused me to better myself and look deep inside to find what I was really doing with my life. He was a character that I looked up to. He was strong-willed and, though he didn’t always, he tried to do the right thing. Even though he made mistakes along the way, he learned from them and broke bad habits before they became detrimental to his righteous aspirations.

Drizzt changed my life. I related to him. I would hope for the same types of goodly role models for females—that help increase introspection, help develop a spiritual/moral attunement, creating a more whole person; in effect, the opposite of Effie Trinket. There just aren’t many strong lead characters in books for teenage, or adult, girls.

And is Katniss even that? Sure she is a strong lead female character, but does she inspire introspection into oneself, help develop spiritual/moral attunement, and help create a more whole person?

I'll pick up on themes and morals tomorrow.


  1. Semi-spoiler alert for those who haven't read the third book - Paul ;)

    Generally in books there's a focus of good v evil, and it's a trend that holds true for the vast majority. Suzanne Collins was obviously brilliant to pick up on and use today's trends to create a dystopian future with her main character fighting against the establishment; however, this is trend easily picked out in dystopian novels such as 1984.

    If you're read the entire Hunger Games series through, I think by the end that you find that the books are less about Katniss overall, and more about the problem of any revolution: when you tear down the establishment, how do you keep the new government from turning into what you just tore down? Though it may seem entirely unrelated, the Hunger Games connects to the revolutions in the Middle East; just like the people involved in those revolutions against their governments, by the end of the third book Katniss undoubtedly regrets her role in the revolution, which has scarred her physically and mentally with no clear sign that her actions during the revolution did any good until ten years later.

    So in sum? I'd say that Suzanne Collins digs under the surface of news coverage and politicians' words when they talk about revolutions. Often, for us Americans, a revolution somewhere else in the war is reduced to a single sentiment, ignoring the complexities and difficulties present in that area of the world. Not so long ago, when Bush declared "Mission accomplished" in Iraq, it was supposed to give America the collective sense that the oversimplified war the media fed us was over. That was far from the truth, of course; we accomplished what WE set out to do, but the Iraqi people were left mulling in the wreckage of their recently deposed government. One can't help but wonder if Collins wrote the Hunger Games so Americans could see a revolution closer to home, so they could see the consequences of tearing down an establishment that despite its cruelty, works well, and then present the question of what you replace that government with.

    All told, I would agree that the Katniss isn't a particularly inspiring character, but I would also argue that the books are less focused on the individual, and Katniss serves the role of exactly what she should be: a teenager trying to make sense of a twisted political world where she and the others know what they're fighting for, but they're uncertain, and scared to a degree, of what comes after victory. All in all, I think that Collins does a supreme job of driving home a slamming point entirely relevant to our day: there are consequences for revolution, costs that are inflicted on everybody but most heavily on the people whose government is being overturned. The point Collins makes most transparently by the third book is that to prevent a recurrence of the revolution described in the series, the monumental task of changing tradition, mending fences, and setting up a different, higher-minded government has to be undertaken.

    So the Hunger Games. . . good not for the characters, but for the concepts they convey.

  2. Awesome points. Some I haven't even thought much into. I think that's another reason why so many are interested in this book and it's subject today. It strangely has many connections to happenings in our time, even though it is a work of futuristic fiction.