Friday, September 10, 2010

Reading Round-Up ~ August: The Hunger Games Edition

Warning: Spoilers ahead. You might not want to read if you have not yet finished The Hunger Games trilogy.

Disclaimer: I am no expert at literary analysis. This review is not intended to reveal the author's intentions, rather only my personal interpretation.

Credits: Thank you to Susan at Short on Words, the ladies at The Well-Trained Mind Forums, Christina, and Mom for helping me hash out the ideas presented in this review. Susan, thanks for the word 'innocence.' Christina, thanks for the word 'hope,' and helping me understand why it was a hard thing for Katniss to grasp.

I finished the third Hunger Games book, Mockingjay, some time ago, but it is the kind of book that keeps you thinking long after reading. It was only today that I felt that I had solidified my ideas enough to write a review. Thanks, Christina and Mom, for the exceptional, engaging conversations today!!

I first opened The Hunger Games at the end of last year. It was outside of my normal reading fare, but I was intrigued after reading reviews by Seth at Collateral Bloggage and my friend Trish at Bringing Creativity to Life. I read the book in one day. It was impossible to set down.

A short while later, I gave in to temptation and read the second book, Catching Fire. In one day. I don't know when I have been so fired up at the end of a book. Catching Fire leaves the reader hanging by the thinnest of threads. And I had months to wait until the final book was released. I did what I have never done before: pre-ordered the book on Amazon and waited with no patience, whatsoever.

I marked the day out on my calendar. Nothing was going to stop me from reading Mockingjay the moment it arrived. The UPS guy drove up and I raced out the door (shoving Russ aside, as he was fighting me for first dibs). The UPS guy looked at me (wrestling with Russ) strangely, told me that he always knew what house he would be visiting when he had an Amazon box on board (is this where I admit an addiction?), shook his head, and drove away.

After a couple of weeks of mulling it over, here are my vague, hopeful, transcendent thoughts on the subject:

The series was about human nature and the choices with which we are faced in this life. Katniss represented freedom (and strength) of thought and action. The government represented oppression. Gale, self-sufficiency and intelligence.

Katniss was a realist. In the beginning, survival of the present was her main goal. Gale's strengths were tangible (food, protection, wits) and of the highest importance.

But Katniss's inherent goodness was her value of human life. She was willing to sacrifice herself to save her sister. Prim represented innocence. Katniss headed to the arena, determined to tackle whatever she might face (in the present) on her own (independence).

What she didn't see coming was Peeta. He represented hope (future) with transcendent gifts (creativity in words and painting). He was able to move people, lodging in their hearts, but Katniss was unable to believe in his love because it didn't make sense in her world. Little by little, as they lived through the experience of the arena together, she was influenced and inspired by him, resulting in an ending that was beyond what seemed possible.

The violence in the arena wasn't random violence for it's own sake, but calculated violence by the government (oppression) to take the strongest toll on each player's spirit (not to mention the message the games were sending to the districts). Rue's death represented the beginning of the loss of innocence that must take place in war, no matter what side one is fighting for.

When the present struggle subsided, Katniss was faced with a tough choice: Gale or Peeta. She and Peeta now shared something that she couldn't ignore, but it was also something without definition. Gale again became an essential part of her reality. Which was more important?

With her freedom and strength of mind and action, Katniss had rallied an entire nation and Peeta had infused them with hope. But the oppression continued to beat them down. It was back to the arena. This time, Katniss was determined to keep Peeta alive because she understood how much the people needed him, but she didn't quite understand the weight of her own role.

Katniss's ability to see value in people played a much larger part the second time around. Suddenly, teamwork was imperative, and understanding that everyone had something to give became essential. The world was placing their bets on the Sauls, while Katniss searched out the Davids. She had to learn to trust and have faith, to see outside her box of the present reality. She had to figure out who was the real enemy.

By the third fight, she was out of steam. Peeta was gone. Reality returned with Gale. Katniss realized that the choice was hers, and she chose to keep going even when hope was much less tangible than before. Her internal freedom was her fire.

She had to learn the hard way that with human nature, 'power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.' That oppression for the good of the people is still oppression. That self-sufficiency and intelligence are not, in and of themselves, goodness. That victory isn't the end of the story. That war is sometimes inevitable but it is always costly and comes with a loss of innocence and scars that don't erase. That history cycles over and over again.

She had to learn that she was given the freedom and strength of mind and actions to choose hope, even when it would take extraordinary faith in the unseen and unfathomable. That having the free will to choose hope is better than power and glory. That the manifestation of hope on this earth might be different from what one imagined it to be in the adrenaline of battle. That the vibrant green grass will return to cover the meadow, but the bones and scars and sacrifice will still be underneath. That her children, in innocence, would only see the green grass and not fully appreciate the bones and scars, but that was the very purpose for which she fought.

The End.

The capacity for hope is the most significant fact of life.It provides human beings with a sense of destinationand the energy to get started.

~Norman Cousins

And now I need a really funny book to read. Any suggestions?


Jen~ Lipstick and Laundry said...

That sums it up for sure... I am with you,I started the book series this week, reading one a day, with NO break and literally feel drained...
I need a light hearted funny love story... hahaha

Seth said...

Great review and analysis!

I recommend A.J. Jacobs for humor. "The Year of Living Biblically" is hilarious yet profound.

penandview said...

oh my, needed to speed scroll past this bc I am in the middle of reading Mockingjay. Like I just walked down from my bed to check my email and then stumbled upon your blog and there was this post. Yikes! So, didn't really read it until I saw your last line about needing a funny book: Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas. Laugh out loud hilarious. And it's true story. She also has written a sequel which is equally as funny.
Ok, am off to read and will come back here in a day or so to read your review!

Skeller said...

Gosh, I swear, Tracey and I are going to be real-life friends some day. She just recommended the exact book I was going to tell you about when I read your need for a funny book!!! And I didn't know there was a sequel (squealing with glee!!). And I'm really REALLY in need of a funny book, because I'm currently reading The True Story of Hansel & Gretel (right on the heels of Mockingjay) - and it's dark, depressing, gratuitously violent & disgusting. Not funny at all.

I will recommend Broken for You. It's not funny, per se. But it is hopeful-feel-good and it's filled with quirky enjoyable characters.

Heidi - I always love your book reviews!!

April said...

I am having withdrawals now that it's over. I even re-read I & II before reading III just to drag it out a bit. I, too, keep thinking about the characters, the story. These were also outside my normal literary realm, but I can't remember the last time a book kept me up til the wee hours as these did. Great review, as usual. I am now reading "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" per your suggestion.

penandview said...

Ok, just finished and came back to read your review which you articulated so well. The thing that sits with me so profoundly is the truth that flawed human nature and it's frailty resides in all, whether we are "for" or "against", "good" or "bad". This truth is evident when District 13, in their desire to separate themselves, became misguided. War never highlights the good in man, ever.

I can't also help but think that Susan Collins was highlighting our very real obsession with appearance and superficiality. The people in the Capitol were part of the "machine". Part victims and participants of a culture that seeks to distract them from seeing and thinking about things that really matter. Although in the Capitol we see the extremity of this (died skin, flashy clothes, shallow behavior, gluttony) it is only a visual of what we all have the capability to become should we stop fighting for our right to think/work/believe on our own. And in President Snow you see the perverseness of such a life lying underneath all the "makeup". You see the grotesque sickness.

Okay, that is all for now. I used to be a highschool English teacher, would have loved to read through this with them, talk about it.

Shannon said...

Am-ma-zing review of a brilliant, painful, thought provoking book! I love how you summed it up, made sense of the chaos and really pulled out the heart of it. Nice work Heidi! Also-so far out my usual realm of literary choices. April, I hope you like 'Elegance of the Hedgehog'. It has stayed with me.