Sunday, April 29, 2012

Reflections on THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins


My previous post gives an overview of THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins. This post will give my reponse to this novel.

PAGE TURNER. This book is a real page turner. I found that I could hardly put it down. Many of the chapters end with an unexpected twist that compels one to keep reading.

ACTION AND RELATIONSHIPS. While the action in THE HUNGER GAMES is of great interest, the personal relationships are highly interesting, too. The other tributes are not just targets to be killed, but persons with lives and families and interests. Katniss and Rue, the slight twelve-year-old girl tribute from District 11 (the agricultural district), develop a brief but intense relationship that leaves Katniss grief-stricken when Rue is killed. Katniss also admires Thresh, the burly boy tribute from District 11, who spares her life because of her kindness to Rue and who plays the Hunger Games on his own terms -- by disengaging from the fray, hiding in the tall meadow grasses, and using his survival skills. Katniss is truly sad when Thresh is killed by Cato, the vicious boy tribute from District 2.

TECHNOLOGY. The technology of the Capitol is fascinating in itself, even though we often see it aimed against the districts. One area that the Capitol has developed extensively is genetic breeding of animals. Such animals are called muttations.

The jabberjay, for example, is a bird bred to spy on people in the districts. Jabberjays are exclusively male and have the ability to repeat entire human conversations. They would be sent out to the districts, would listen to what was being said, and would fly back to the Capitol and repeat the overheard conversations verbatim. The people in the districts soon caught on and began feeding back all sorts of nonsense to the Capitol through the jabberjays. The Capitol then realized that the jabberjays had become useless and released them into the wild, where it was believed that they would simply die off.

But here's the very cool thing. The jabberjays didn't die off as they were expected to do, being exclusively male. The Capitol hadn't counted on the jabberjays' drive toward life and reproduction. The jabberjays simply courted female mockingbirds, many of whom were happy to mate with them. The offspring of the male jabberjays and the female mockingbirds are called mockingjays. They do not have the ability to reproduce human speech, but they do have the ability to reproduce human melodies, even complex ones. When a human sings a lovely song, a mockingjay will often light on a nearby branch, cock its head, and listen intently. It reproduces the entire melody, which is often picked up by other mockingjays, so that the melody cascades through the trees. This is an absolutely gorgeous (and completely unintended) effect of the Capitol's abandonment of the jabberjays.

ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT THE LIVES OF OTHERS. We often imagine that we know what others' lives are like. The reality, though, may be very different from what we imagine.

Katniss, for example, imagines that the people of District 11, the agricultural district, have enough to eat since they grow and harvest the food. But then she meets Rue in the Hunger Games and learns differently. Rue has rarely had enough to eat. The people of District 11 are severely punished for taking any of the harvest for themselves. Their Peacekeepers, as the law enforcers of Panem are called, are very strict and brutal, far more so than the Peacekeepers of District 12, who turn a blind eye to Katniss' hunting outside the boundaries of the district. The news that people in the agriculatural district are as hungry as the people in District 12 is an eye-opener for Katniss.

Katniss also assumes that Peeta, as the son of a baker, has enjoyed good bread and delicious pastry throughout his life, but she learns that this is not so. Delicious bakery items are luxuries reserved for rich customers. Peeta's family eats only stale bread, the bread that cannot be sold.

SILVER PARACHUTE. I love the silver parachute. During the Hunger Games, tributes sometimes receive gifts from their sponsors to help them survive. These arrive in a silver parachute. Katniss receives medicine for her burned leg, broth for Peeta when he is ill, and a loaf of bread from District 11 after she cares for little Rue -- each in a silver parachute. This is a lovely image of giving and receiving unexpected help.

DANDELION. When Katniss is eleven years old and nearly starving after her father's death in a mine explosion, Peeta throws her the lifeline of a simple loaf of bread. The next day, when she sees Peeta in the school yard, their eyes meet and then Katniss looks down -- and sees a dandelion. Free from hunger and thus able to think more clearly, Katniss' mind makes important connections. The dandelions are now out. So are other edible plants. Katniss, her little sister, and her depressed mother won't starve. Katniss can gather edible plants to keep them alive. She can revive her hunting skills in the forest just beyond the boundary of District 12. And in a few more weeks she will turn twelve years old and be eligible to sign up for rations of tessera.

OVERALL THOUGHTS. For me, these two thoughts stand out from Suzanne Collins' THE HUNGER GAMES.
  • Notice the dandelions.
  • Send silver parachutes.

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