Tuesday, 25 February 2014

The Hunger Games

Late to the party as always, I only recently read The Hunger Games.  Twice in a row even.  I take little notice of what is on at the movie theatres, the prices of tickets being to my mind fairly ridiculous.  I do splurge occasionally - once a year lately as opposed to once a decade. All that by way of saying I had become aware that this was the first of another popular series made into films.

I chose this book at the library because it is on Gretchen Rubin's recommended reading list.  Her website gives one all sorts of options for purchasing, but of course I seek these first at my library, flea markets and thrift stores.  I may put them on my Christmas or birthday wishlist. Actually buying a book is at the bottom of my list; I need to think I will want to read and re-read it.

I can't remember where now, but somewhere I read that for some members of the younger generations The Hunger Games is analogous to modern times if not yet a complete mirror.  I'm not sure how representative this statement might be but I have considered this viewpoint while reading the book (both times).

Without telling too much to spoil the story, here are some of the points I could compare:

The Hunger Games are televised throughout the country.  Reality TV anyone?

The fighters in the Games, called tributes, are selected from the age group 12-18, two from each of twelve districts.  Food is scarce, especially for the poor, but can be bought with putting one's name into the Games selection more than it would otherwise be.  I was a teen during part of the Vietnam war and remember watching my male peers approach the draft age. The only way to avoid it was to get into college. Those without the means to get to university - brains and money - were more likely to be drafted. 

Life in the Districts is basic, perhaps on a par with the 19th century, tough even for the middle classes. Everyone lives with some degree of hunger. Starvation is common, though never acknowledged by the authorities. The Districts mainly labour to produce for the benefit of the Capitol. Life in the Capitol (a separate district) has every modern convenience, advanced medicine, luxurious foods, ridiculous clothing and hair styles, affected accents, self-centered lifestyles. No one in the Capitol fights in the Games. I wouldn't pretend to ever have been truly poor, but I do remember what it was like not to be able to afford healthy food. This is an issue often debated in the media today. Unlike previous recessions during my life which went unnoticed, I saw early in this last (current?) one that the middle class was losing ground. I find that quite worrying. Surely no one with any sense of humanity would like to return to the feudal days?  

To win the games, one needs strength, speed, wit, skill...and the capacity to kill. Growing up in the U.S. I've always understood that 'success' depends on hard work and a certain amount of intelligence; that I'm responsible for pulling my own weight in society and can't expect a 'free ride'. I also know that in my youth there were always jobs with benefits, that a university degree was attainable even if you had to attend night school for years, that good workers had some job security. My 'talents' were tenacity and eventually frugality; I'm not sure those would be good enough to start over with, though better than none at all.  Of course hunting is part of the culture in the US; many people there have the capacity to kill. I have myself killed (and dissected) rodents we trapped as part of a field study.  Presumably anyone who owns a gun believes they could at least injure someone. I started to say I've never owned a gun, but I did inherit a rifle from my Dad and a .38 pistol from my Mom - I sold them both before moving to Britain, where they would be illegal. I've never fired a gun and doubt I have the ability to kill another human being, but who knows until they are tested?  

I'm not sure how many more analogies one can draw without losing sight of one's usual realities. Of course that is the pleasure of reading fiction, to lose oneself in a story. The fact that I could easily find this many parallels is the hallmark of a well-written book, one that those in the Capitol would be pleased to turn to their own financial advantage (Bill's comment, did he mean 'capitalists?'). Mature, well-grounded people no doubt return to real life when they put down the book. Some of us linger a bit longer.

Have you read The Hunger Games?


Gam Kau said...

I have't read the book, but I did manage to watch the film during a flight. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it, so much so I've watched it twice now. I never go to the cinema and don't watch television so I am always very behind on pop culture.

Shelley said...

GK - Interesting that I read the book twice, you watched the film twice. Will have to be on the lookout for that DVD in the library / thrift shops!

sanda said...

I haven't read it, nor have I seen the movie. But your very succinct analysis has piqued my curiosity to read the book. Books that make one think -- that's what I like! Thanks!!

Anonymous said...

Shelley, here are my thoughts on the book/movie back when I was writing "Stepping My Way to Bliss"

Great post!

Gam Kau said...

Inevitably, if I've read the book first I always much prefer the book to the film so I don't know how much you'll enjoy the film interpretation. I can't think of a case where I preferred the film. I think the 2nd part of the series is now released as well?