bryan's Reviews > The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
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Mar 04, 12

bookshelves: fiction-fantasy-sf-horror, fiction-young-adult
Read in March, 2012

Teen melodrama set against the backdrop of an evil, fascist state in which children are tortured and forced to kill for the entertainment of the masses. The moral implications of the protagonist's situation are not adequately addressed. The author lets Katniss off too easy, being too afraid of making her hero unsympathetic or showing the real emotional trauma and deep psychological scars she would have suffered. (Perhaps she does in the later books but I have no interest in reading them.) After the murder, killing, and torture it all comes down to teen love? Blech. Collins creates a very, very dark world and doesn't have the courage to deal with its consequences.

You don't set a story in Auschwitz and then make it all about boys.

EDIT: For the hell of it, I decided to write a longer review.

The Moral Issue

To me the most interesting question of the book is how someone copes in a situation in which one is asked to kill innocent people to save one’s own life. Although I’m not entirely sure, my understanding is the major religions would prohibit such an action. In Collins’s story, though, this issue is almost completely side-stepped. It never crosses Katniss’s or anyone else’s mind that, although the government of Panem is clearly evil for having the Games in the first place, even the participants themselves are morally culpable for not resisting. The government will kill their family if they don’t play? OK, but isn’t it well-established in American and English common law, to say nothing of common sense morality, that duress and necessity are not defenses to murder?

Katniss demonstrates no moral sense about what is being asked of her. She is a slave being asked to commit acts of pornography to gratify a decadent and sick public. Does she not resent being exploited this way? The scenes where the book really began to trouble me were during Katniss’s makeover and the interview before the games started. The argument can be made these scenes were meant to satirize reality TV, but I agree with those who say they instead seem to celebrate it.

The person that bothered me the most during this part of the book is Cinna. He’s a disgusting human being, isn’t he? His job is to make these children attractive and beautiful before they’re sent off to slaughter each other, debased like animals. How does he sleep at night? How does he live with himself knowing that he is perpetuating such a system? What if his job was to make the girls pretty so they would look their best before being raped? Isn’t that what we have in this story, only worse?

I began thinking about Cinna and the larger society that supports these games. I remember Collins saying that “everyone” watches the games. If true, that is not a society worth saving or caring about. Are you telling me there are no conscientious objectors? There is no protest movement? There is no peaceful or passive resistance? There are no parents who have instructed their children that, if chosen, they should refuse to play and that the family is willing to suffer the consequences to not be a part of such a vile pathology?

If you think I’m taking this idea too seriously, look at how people reacted to the Kony video. Children kidnapped or pressed into fighting a war, and it becomes the fastest viral video perhaps ever.

Katniss

Some have described Katniss as “totally vicious” or “selfish, unsympathetic, and straight up awful.” Please. She is nothing of the sort. She is the hero we are clearly meant to admire and identify with. I don’t know if she’s vicious or awful because SHE’S NEVER ASKED TO MAKE ANY DIFFICULT DECISIONS.

Her one act of bravery and sacrifice comes at the beginning of the story when she volunteers in her sister’s stead. After that, she must survive, but her character is never truly tested. Collins is too afraid of making her hero unsympathetic, she’s too afraid of alienating her readers, she wants too much to be liked, to push her heroine to the dark places such a situation demands. For example, killing Rue. Or killing Peeta. Or, mirroring her act of sacrifice to save her sister, by letting Peeta kill her. Instead, Rue is dispatched by one of the “bad” guys. Katniss only kills those who “deserve” it, i.e. the Career tributes. She is spared from having to kill anyone good.

People, even children, are capable of far, far worse when the situation is sufficiently extreme. Take the story of Shin In Geun, who was born in and spent the first 23 years of his life in a North Korean prison camp. Indoctrinated by the state, when he was 13 years old he discovered his mother and brother were planning to flee the camp. Like a good North Korean, he informed the officials of their plan. Both were executed:

“Execute Jang Hye Gyung and Shin He Geun, traitors of the people,” the senior officer said. Shin looked at his father. He was weeping silently. When guards dragged her to the gallows, Shin saw that his mother looked bloated. They forced her to stand on a wooden box, gagged her, tied her arms behind her back and a noose around her neck. She scanned the crowd and found Shin. He refused to hold her gaze. When guards pulled away the box, she jerked about desperately. As he watched his mother struggle, Shin thought she deserved to die.

Shin’s brother looked gaunt as guards tied him to the wooden post. Three guards fired their rifles three times. He thought his brother, too, deserved it.


The biggest issue Katniss faces? Which boy she likes.

Story Problems
1.The sponsors are unnecessary. Given that the government can change the rules at will, and they control all aspects of the game, what do the sponsors get out of helping the kids? (Perhaps commercials. “That slit throat is brought to you by Coca-Cola.”) The main reason Collins includes the sponsors is to provide her weak storytelling with a deux ex machina. Whatever Katniss needs most periodically falls out of the sky.
2.But the most egregious problem is the rule change that allows both Katniss and Peeta to live. This is presented as one of the diabolical things the government does to mess with the contestants, but really it’s an easy way for Collins to provide a cheap plot twist and sustain the stupid Katniss-Peeta-Gale love triangle. Yes, the government changes the rule back, but it’s the laziest sort of manipulation.

It’s my understanding that Collins, the daughter of a military officer, was trying to convey the experience of war. But it’s war as a video game with no real stakes, no real consequences other than whether the winner will be Team Peeta or Team Gale (which I assume is dealt with in the subsequent books).

If you want a great story about children being forced into warfare, read Ender’s Game.
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02/26/2012 page 21
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Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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Brendan Howard Smashing review.


Synesthesia (SPIDERS!) Urg. Ender's Game. I'm sick of OSC.

But I think the whole point of the games was to intimidate people to keep them from resisting...


Lord Nouda Ender's Game ftw!


Tami Really good review. You bring up things I never thought about in the book.


bryan Synesthesia wrote: "Urg. Ender's Game. I'm sick of OSC.

But I think the whole point of the games was to intimidate people to keep them from resisting..."


Yeah, I understand that was the point of the games, but the more interesting aspect to me is how people would actually react to such a thing. EVERYONE would be cowed? EVERYONE would explicitly or implicitly acquiesce? NO ONE would resist?


Brendan Howard I would think the second and third books in the series would explore the extent of the burgeoning rebellion. We know it exists, because a Capitol person had escaped the city ON PURPOSE and had her tongue cut out for her crime, her partner killed.

I love your critique, but I think you're unfairly judging the responses of people in complicated situations. Katniss is headstrong and only progressively thoughtful about her role in working with or fighting against the system. Where are her examples for rebellion? A decimated population, a salted-and-nuked area. A young woman who was de-tongued and another rebel who gets a flying spear through his gut. A town populace who will grudgingly send people to the Hunger Games, but will make a silent-and-secret gesture of respect to Katniss for volunteering for the Games, something other children in other areas do without prompting.

People ARE resisting, I'm sure. We've seen it already in the instant when Katniss saw the capture of the man and woman (referenced above). But SHE doesn't know anything about it. It's also clear that the ambivalence and nuanced responses of some people in the Capitol, like her designer, hint at secret machinations and discontent in the heart of the city itself.

Also, you should remember that this is speculative fiction and as such is not representation of what would happen if Americans or Europeans or Africans or any culture we live in would react to history's change to this. Why do so many people in 1984 believe in double-speak? Why do so many wallow in cheap highs in Brave New World? Why don't the women in A Handmaid's Tale rise up and stab the men with forks and knives?


Brendan Howard The issue of whether or not you find the romance compelling, which I do not, is somewhat a matter of taste. The Young Adult genre, as I'm coming to understand, employs the love triangle A LOT. But then so do a TON of romances, comedies, sitcoms, etc.


bryan Well, in matters of art, EVERYTHING is a matter of taste, right? I don't begrudge anyone enjoying this book/series.


bryan >>I would think the second and third books in the series would explore the extent of the burgeoning rebellion.

Yeah, I'm aware the subsequent books deal with rebellion. But I saw nothing in this book, standing on its own, to make me care about it.

>>People ARE resisting, I'm sure.

I would be more interested in those stories, not the Twilight/video game treatment we got here. As for 1984, yes many people believe double-speak, but Winston Smith rebels.

Does this mean I think all dystopian stories must be stories of rebellion? No. How and why people conform can be just as interesting. But this book isn't about that either.


bryan Misa wrote: "Really good review. You bring up things I never thought about in the book."

Thank you. That's a nice complement.


Oliver Hassani Urg. Ender's Game. I'm sick of OSC.

But I think the whole point of the games was to intimidate people to keep them from resisting...


Yeah, because that is how the world works. People only rebel when the government doesnt have any power at all -_-


Synesthesia (SPIDERS!) But, and I posted that reply two years ago, now that I think about it, tormenting them this way just makes people angrier and angrier. When they are starving pointlessly and working hard so the capital gets all the food, they will just want to rebel anyway because they have nothing to lose.


Oliver Hassani Synesthesia wrote: "But, and I posted that reply two years ago, now that I think about it, tormenting them this way just makes people angrier and angrier. When they are starving pointlessly and working hard so the cap..."

haha you know, i never actually look at the dates on these things? hahaha


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