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Friday, April 13, 2012

Short Reflections on the Book: The Hunger Games

I know that the wave of popular furor is probably about to crest and then subside, but I finally got around to reading The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. I read it along with 2 teenagers that are in my Homeschool co-op. I have been taking them through classic literature all year (The Iliad, The Three Theban Plays, Sophicles, etc), and the carrot at the end of the stick was, if they finished their class early we'd work our way through something more "modern." They finished early and they chose The Hunger Games.

As we pondered the story we asked the 4 worldview questions I've been using all year long. According to the story, how would the book answer these questions: Where are we, what are we, what's the problem, what's the remedy? The following are a few reflections I had on the book in answer to those questions. None of these are to be taken as a negative or positive endorsement. They're simply observations as I pondered the story.

1. The constructed world of the story has a very Greek and Roman flavor. While the tributes are struggling in the grip of life and death, they are also trying to woo unseen spectators to favor them with aid for the moment. The normal pattern is a quid pro quo, do-this-to-get-that structure. Katniss and Peeta are seen offering voiced petitions to the out-of-sight sponsors who are viewing them from outside the arena, performing various merit-winning acts to attract those sponsors' attention and sympathy. The result is that on occasion they are paid off by gifts coming from above on silver parachutes. Though many Christians have found Christ-themes in the story (for example, look here), this Greek and Roman world seems to be the primary, undeclared presupposition in the story.

2. The intoxication of entertainment also plays into the "Where are we and who are we?" questions. The story line is an uber-reality show, and the main character is so thoroughly conscious of this that she is often thinking about performance and appearances. So much so that she becomes buried inside the reconstructed character Cinna and Haymitch have fabricated, and struggles to find her way out. Collins, whether intentionally or not, portrays an excellent critique of the Reality TV society that melds entertainment with "boots on the ground" war snippets by embedded reporters.

3. My final thought on the book-now-turned-movie. It appears to me that its popularity may rise for at least two emotional-psychological reasons; (a) here is a genuine girl (a "girl on fire") having thoughts in her head that are confused and mixed, that will resonate with a teen-female readership. Someone knows what they've been thinking and has printed it, and this confused girl is not a dork but a hero. This leads to the second reason,  [b] there is also the "savior" complex of Katniss, the main character, that would jive with many girls/women and not a few boys/men. Katniss, and then, Peeta are rescuers. Peeta passes on bread to a pre-teen Katniss who is starving. Katniss saves her sister Prim from a dumb-struck mother, and then from the Capitol. She saves Peeta. She also saves her district, with Peeta's help, by winning the game.

To wrap this set of reflections up: the book is a nice piece, well written, and easy to follow. I'm not sure how serious the "Christ-themes" are in the book, but there are some ethical decisions made by the characters, several of which could easily come from a societal Christian hangover. If you've read the book, take these reflections and rethink the story and see if they fit. And then let me hear from you.

Cheers,
Mike

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