Our required book for this week was Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games. I have to say, this book was really intense--and I loved it for that. The idea of two children fighting to the death as punishment for a rebellion that happened before they were born is so full of tragedy and pathos that I couldn't help but be sucked in.
The Hunger Games (which is apparently the first book in a trilogy that also includes Catching Fire and Mockingjay, both of which I'll have to check out now) takes place in a post-apocalyptic future, in the nation of Panem, which rose from the ashes of what used to be North America. Panem is divided into thirteen areas: the Capitol, where the affluent live in luxury, and twelve poorer surrounding districts. At some point before the story begins, the districts staged an unsuccessful rebellion against the Capitol; the Capitol responded by forcing each district to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen (called "tributes" in the story) to the Capitol to participate in the Hunger Games, a deathmatch in an outdoor arena where each child must fend for him or herself until only one is left standing. The tributes are chosen by lottery, and when young Primrose Everdeen is picked to go to the Games, her older sister Katniss volunteers to go in her place.
I read an interview with Suzanne Collins in Publishers Weekly, in which she talked about her inspiration for this book. She claims her inspiration came from channel-surfing on TV one day, and the lines between a reality show and coverage of the Iraq War "began to blur in this very unsettling way." She also says she drew inspiration from the ancient Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Now that she mentions it, I can see those inspirations come out in the story. Katniss is totally a futuristic version of Theseus, but that brings up a whole other point that I'll get to in the analysis section of my response.
Anyway, getting back to Collins' inspiration, I love moments like that. You'll be sitting down, not really being creative or whatever, and then something will just appear to you, whether in front of your real eyes or in your mind's eye, that makes you say, "How come I never thought about X like that?" It quite literally hits you like a thunderbolt: everything is illuminated for one glorious instant, and that instant is what produces ideas. It happens to me every once in a while, when I'm working an overnight shift or otherwise up late doing nothing. Something will just click, and I'll write lyrics for my band or a story for a class or whatever comes out. Collins took a moment like that, and crafted it into an entire universe with its own history, landscape, and norms. Something like that doesn't just happen every day.
I especially liked this story's themes of rebellion, and Collins makes effective use of that theme by filtering it through her adolescent characters. I've said in previous responses that growing up and going through puberty is one of the scariest, most confusing times in a person's life. You don't know why you're angry all the time; you don't even necessarily know who you're angry at. All you know is that you feel like something's wrong and has to be changed. I think that's why this book appealed to me so much. I never lost touch with the angry fifteen-year-old I used to be, and I still cheer inwardly when I read a book or see a movie in which a wrongfully persecuted kid outsmarts his adult oppressors. Katniss' defiance of the Capitol's wishes at the end of the book--to kill Peeta so there is only one winner of the Games--spoke volumes to me. It told me that Katniss was not content to just do what she was told, but to make her own way. It's also an excellent example of an adolescent taking adults to task for their behavior. Over the course of the Games, the leaders of Panem change the rules several times in order to make the Games more exciting for viewers at home to watch. Since audience support can be critical to a tribute's survival of the Games, and Katniss and Peeta band together to give themselves a better chance of survival, the authoritarian leaders change the rules to say that two tributes from the same district can win the Games as a pair. But when the rules are changed again in order to force Katniss to kill Peeta to increase viewership, the former threatens to commit suicide instead. This supreme act of defiance is imbued with a subliminal message of reversal: kids change the rules mid-game, whereas adults are supposed to abide by the rules no matter what. It speaks volumes about Katniss that, at least in this one way, she is more mature than her leaders.
That brings me to the point I was going to mention earlier. The fact that Collins chose the myth of Theseus as a basis for this book raises all kinds of interesting questions, particularly about human nature. The foremost observation in my mind was that not much has changed since Theseus entered the labyrinth and slew the Minotaur. People are just as obsessed with blood now as they were then, and may very well still be far into the future. In ancient Greek legend, Crete required Athens to send youths of both sexes to be devoured by the Minotaur as tribute after losing a war. Today, we watch UFC and other mixed martial arts on TV. In the future (or at least the future that Collins envisions), we will have the Hunger Games. The main point I'm trying to make is that human nature does not change, not even after a catastrophe that quite literally changed the world as we know it. Katniss, her family, and her friends exist in a world that is very different from ours, but also so alike that it's uncanny. In both worlds, the government is the ultimate authority; people have very little actual say in what happens to them (all illusions of freedom, choice, and independence to the contrary). In both worlds, people still watch bloodshed for amusement; the desire for entertainment at the expense of someone else's well-being is the same, and only the venue has changed. I think that was one of the main points Collins was trying to make in writing this book, and indeed, the whole trilogy: that no matter how advanced we think we are, we haven't changed much since leaving our caves thousands of years ago.