Thursday, July 12, 2012

Reflections: The Hunger Games

After much hype and recommendations, I finally finished the popular Hunger Games trilogy. I’m sure everybody knows what the series is about, but just to continue the tradition of this blog, I will follow the usual format.

This is a dystopian novel set in futuristic North America. The human species has managed to destroy much of civilization and democracy, and now all that remains is the country of Panem. Panem has a dictatorial capital - The Capitol, surrounding which are 12 Districts, each of which specializes in manufacturing a specific class of commodity. Katniss Everdeen is a teenage girl from District 12, the Mining District. Katniss’s life is as gray and sooty as her district. She is the only bread-winner of her small family. Life is pretty much reduced to basic survival for most people in the Districts, whereas the privileged people in the Capitol lavish and waste themselves with excesses that others in the Districts would die for. In order to cruelly stamp its power and dictatorship over the oppressed people of Panem, it is the Capitol’s tradition to host The Hunger Games every year. Two tributes - a girl and a boy (below 18 years) are randomly chosen from each district to compete in the deadly, Hunger Games - a fight to death until one survivor emerges. The Hunger Games are televised as reality entertainment for all people, but only the citizens of the Capitol derive any measure of entertainment from them. Young Katniss finds herself as a participant in the games. The other tribute from her district is the kind boy, Peeta, who harbors feelings for Katniss. Pitted against each other in an unimaginably cruel circumstance, Katniss and Peeta struggle to save each other, their friends, their family, but most of all their self and their mind, before the Capitol robs them of everything they ever were.

The premise of the book is surely very very disturbing. I struggled to get past it, but couldn’t. The thing that disturbs me is not the author’s conceptualization of a cruelly twisted premise, but the knowledge that human-beings can indeed sink to such depths. We are aware of the absolute lows that humanity touched during the wars, so it perhaps is just a matter of more time and degradation of our civilization and humanity before the world comes down to such games. The possibility of this being true in a far away future, is the most scariest of all.

And of course, with America’s current obsession with reality TV, and a million cut-throat game-shows, this book surely (or hopefully) makes people think about drawing boundaries on what makes “entertainment”. The Hunger Games reminded me of shows such as the Bachelor and Bachelorette. Competitions and Games that directly affect people’s lives and emotions cannot ever be part of entertainment! See what I mean when I say this generation is not too far away from the era of the Hunger Games? In fact, the Capitol is the author’s metaphor for all the capitalist excesses and vices that represent America.

So, needless to state, this was a very addictive page-turner. Although some things are predictable, the gore, violence and cruelty really rattled me. I am definitely surprised that a young-adult book contains so much disturbing violence. I can’t say I “enjoyed” reading the book. And I would be loathe to say the book was “entertaining”.  But, it does provoke thoughts. I didn’t pay much attention to the writing because it tends to slip in the background with all the action grabbing one’s attention in the foreground. I’m glad the author addresses the inner-dilemmas of Katniss. Katniss seemed very real and believable (if not always likeable) and I appreciated how her thoughts change and mature over the course of the series. Peeta is extremely loveable. I had to remind myself that he is a fabricated character that came out of the author’s ideal fantasies!

I didn’t find the climax to be a total surprise. From the start of the book I was wondering as to why none of the contestants ever thought of rebelling in a similar way. But it is surprising that the author chose to use this climax as the catalyst for the rest of the series.

The stark realities of survival are harshly portrayed through this series. Well, hopefully teenagers who love the series look past the adrenaline boosting violence and romance, and pay some heed to the subtler warnings and messages the author weaves in.

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