Final Post, 5/08/14

I wrote in my first post at the beginning of this semester that I wanted to come to understand the Hunger Games series on a deeper level, and I believe I have. I think I can see where and how it is drawn from reality, and in fact I think this course has made me better at drawing those kinds of parallels from other forms of fiction as well. Of course, I may have enjoyed some discussion topics more than others. I think that gender, for instance, is a fascinating topic to apply to the Hunger Games. The work, as Danielle F. said in her project, creates a brand new type of heroine that I think we will be seeing more of in the next few years and hopefully beyond. It creates a role model for young girls that is neither over-sexualized nor weak, and it also shows men that they don’t need to be hyper-masculine to succeed, to earn respect, or to ‘get the girl,’ so to speak.

The discussion of Appalachia in relation to the Hunger Games that we had in the beginning of the semester really appealed to me. Having grown up on the West Coast, I had little to no knowledge of the region. I certainly didn’t know about the tragedy of mountaintop removal that is subjugating communities and destroying one of the most beautiful parts of this country. The section on music and poetry in Appalachia was really remarkable to me. I feel I have learned about a rich and beautiful culture, and I wish the hypothetical field trip we had proposed to the Appalachian mountains would have panned out. I want to continue learning more about the culture and issues of this region–this was one of the topics we discussed in this class that really moved me.

In addition, I really enjoyed the discussion of good and evil from a few weeks ago. I think it’s a pretty fundamental question, and it applies to so many stories, including the Hunger Games. I also happened to watch Sophie’s Choice that week, which was a bit rough paired with Ruben Sztajer’s talk. I feel fortunate that this class has been able to expose me to all these different venues of knowledge and experience. I truly feel I have grown as a result of it.

All in all, I have enjoyed the subject matter of this class immensely. Not only do I find myself frequently applying details in my daily life to the Hunger Games (not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing), but I have given serious thought to some of the topics we have discussed in class. I put a good deal of work and emotional energy in this class–I really tried to commit to each blog post and reading, and I wrote my final paper on a topic I love–and I think I got out even more than I put in. I would wholeheartedly recommend this class to everyone considering taking it. It made me think–far more broadly and far more intensely than I ever expected.

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Entry 13, due Sunday May 4th

Prompt: Write a critical reflection on one of the presentations you have seen this week. Make sure to be objective and very constructive in your criticism.

One of the presentations from this past week that I found fascinating was Danielle’s, which centered on the topic of Gender in the Hunger Games. I believe this is such a relevant topic to this series because of the widespread analysis of the Hunger Games series as a feminist novel, and especially the reception of Katniss as a feminist hero.

One point that really struck me from Danielle’s presentation was her analysis of several different types of female heroines throughout the past few decades. I agree in her classification of Katniss as a completely new type of protagonist. She is not over-sexualized like the Charlie’s Angels type of heroine. She is not preoccupied with shopping and typically feminine pursuits like the 90s “girl power” figures. She is simply a character doing what she must do to survive. Truly, the story would change very little if Katniss were male and Peeta and Gale were female. This is absolutely remarkable in media terms–The Hunger Games is a rare glimpse into the nebulous concept that gender doesn’t really matter as much as society likes to think it does. The characterization of Katniss, not as a girl, but as a person, is a bold move by Collins that has had far-reaching effects. We can only hope that other authors, film-makers, television writers, etc., will follow suit.

Danielle’s analysis of the different settings and characters in the books was likewise enlightening. While gender roles do still exist in this future society, it is truly a breath of fresh air to notice how seldom they are ever relevant. Unsurprisingly, the traditionalistic District 12 retains much of what we would think of as traditional gender roles, with men working in the mines and women typically being homemakers. This is not, however, a strict division. Katniss is the provider for her family, something that might be called a more masculine task. Is it because there is no man in the house that she must adopt this role, or is it simply because she is the oldest child? Katniss’ mother and sister do no such work, but Collins clearly explains that it is their gentle nature that makes them suited to healing work, not their gender. Furthermore, an important distinction is made in that the reason that the Everdeen family falls on hard times after the death of Katniss’ father is not because they no longer have a man to support them, but because the catatonic state of Katniss’ mother left her unable to care for her children.

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Katniss is perhaps more traditionally masculine in character and behavior than many of her peers, but neither is she anti-feminine. She does not wear dresses because they serve her no purpose during her hunts, but when the Reaping requires one, she makes no comment and dons her dress as if it were–radically–simply a garment and not a reflection of her character. Similarly, Peeta has many traits that make him traditionally more feminine than, say, Gale, but his femininity is never remarked upon. His love of painting does not make him any less a man, just as Katniss’ skill with a bow does not make her any less a woman. To Collins’ eternal credit, she allows her characters to act like people with a variety of responsibilities, interests, and personalities without commenting on how this makes them strange or different.

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The thing that is so refreshing about the Hunger Games series is that gender doesn’t really matter as much as it does in so many other books and films. Characters of both genders exist in positions of great power. Both genders can be seen caring very much about their appearance, as well as not caring very much at all.

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Both genders can be sensitive, cold, strong, weak, selfish, caring, and any other trait you could imagine. The beautiful thing about Collins’ books is that any and all of these differences are treated with no value judgement or recognition that this may be unusual. Nobody once comments on the fact that Coin, a woman, is the leader of an entire district, and the head of a revolution at that. The Everdeen family exists with no one wondering how they get along without a male head. Collins has made one of the crucial first steps toward truly advancing gender equality. By refraining from commenting on these situations, she does not ignore gender. Rather, she allows nontraditional gender definitions to exist without so much as batting an eye. In fact, she challenges the concepts that readers may have of what men and women can do, and she does it so flawlessly that none of it seems the slightest bit out of place. The Hunger Games is one of the best examples of the ideology that neither men nor women need to behave in any certain way. Instead, it acknowledges that people are individuals that can have any number of personality traits. Gender is a part of their characters, but for the vast majority of people it is not the most defining facet. And truly, the whole idea of gender equality is founded on the concept that neither gender is better than the other and neither gender need behave in a prescribed way. For successfully supporting this idea, I think the Hunger Games deserves a round of applause for its truly progressive values.

Entry 12, Due Sunday April 27th

Prompt: Write a reflection on the nature of Evil in our times and in The Hunger Games.

To be honest, I am surprised that there has been as much objective study as there is on the nature of evil, considering the subjective nature on the topic. I suppose the fact that it’s a very emotional subject might make it even more important to discuss the issue dispassionately. For me, as a psychology major, the nature of evil always boils down to the Milgram experiment, which Dr. Baron discussed in some detail. Conducted by Stanley Milgram, this iconic experiment essentially disproved the idea that evil acts were only committed by a tiny proportion of the population–veritably evil people. The horrifying truth, as Milgram illustrated, is that most people are willing do something of questionable morality if someone in a lab coat and clipboard is telling them to do it. This invokes the words of Hannah Arendt, who said that evil is banal–ordinary and universal and frighteningly common.

Dr. Baron’s theories of ethics were of considerable interest. There’s Utilitarianism, in which the right action in a conflicted situation is one that maximizes utility. There’s the deontology of Emmanuel Kant, which states that the right action is independent of consequences and based solely on duty and obligation. There’s Aristotle’s virtue ethics, in which everyone seeks the Golden Mean of behavior, the moderate course of action that avoids tempting and corrupting extremes. All of these theories have their merits, and I cannot fault their creators or followers for their beliefs, but my own beliefs are that they are all essentially pointless.

Not to get too philosophical, but I’m of the opinion that the nature of evil itself does not exist apart from human perception. I don’t see the universe as inherently moral, nor do I see mankind or people or even actions as inherently moral or immoral. By this logic, none of the above theories can be any more correct than the other two, except of course in the mind of the person who believes it. The end of Dr. Baron’s lecture delineated an evil act as on from which the doer derives pleasure from causing harm and defined an evil person as one who commits evil acts due to apathy toward others’ humanity. This encompasses many, many people throughout history; by this definition, every dictatorship regime is filled to the brim with evil people. Nazi Germany seemed a breeding ground for evil people. What are the odds? Was it bad genes? At least they didn’t seem to think so.

Let’s consider this example further. Thousands of SS officers would qualify, according to the above definition, as evil people. Yet when they went home to their wives and children, their family certainly wouldn’t call them evil. And what about the SS officer’s wife? If she hates the Jews and supports their imprisonment, is she an evil person, even if she has taken no action against them? By the strict definition, no, she isn’t, but it becomes clear that intention is important.

Let’s examine a hypothetical individual (with no personal opinions being implied) who is a vegan and an animal rights activist. In the eyes of this person, an animal has the same right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as a human being. They see the needless torture and slaughter of animals for the sake of human consumption to be immoral and evil. A different person, say a worker in a slaughterhouse, has no qualms with eating meat, sees animals as less than human, and even derives some pleasure from kicking around the pigs on their way to slaughter. Is this person evil? In the eyes of the vegan, yes. By the qualifiers of the given theory, maybe not, but the area is becoming more and more gray.

One more example: let’s consider abortion. To a huge section of the population, abortion is evil. It is the taking of a human life. Some even derive pleasure from it (apparently there is a good deal of gallows humor at abortion clinics from doctors and patients alike), and this means they are committing evil acts. Yet there is another percentage of the public of approximately equal size that believes abortion is acceptable: it is a choice made by women concerning their own bodies and the embryo that is killed in the process is not human life. So who is right and who is wrong? The answer hinges on whether an embryo is a human life, and on this society has reached no consensus. My point is that evil is in the eye of the beholder. One man’s evil is another man’s deer hunting trip. In times of genocide, one man’s evil is another’s betterment of society. We know very well that growing up in an environment that allows a certain act instills a permissiveness toward that act. The Holocaust, American slavery, and a hundred other tragedies would have been impossible if this weren’t true. If every one of us is vulnerable to committing evil acts, as Milgram’s study suggests, it’s not so far-fetched to imagine that evil is not hard-wired into an individual, or even that no immutable definition of evil exists, and therein lies my point.

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This all being said, we can recognize that the Holocaust and other acts like it are wrong. I know that what was done to Rubin Sztajer during World War II was immoral to a horrendous extent, but I think it’s fair to say that this judgement is valid in my eyes only. Many others believe the same thing, and this is evidence for the fact that there exists a moral majority built out of a worldwide society that values certain principles, among them human life and dignity. I cannot speak for anyone else’s judgement of evil, but I can and will speak for my own. To me, the definition of evil acts and evil people given by Dr. Baron is a fair one, but I believe it’s important to keep in mind that these definitions, especially of evil people, cannot be considered static. If we begin to think that people are evil from birth, rather than made evil as a result of their environments and experiences, we come dangerously close to grouping entire sects of people together on arbitrary principles and demonizing them. Needless to say, especially considering Mr. Sztajer’s lecture this week, this is something to avoid at all costs. Essentially, I believe that evil exists as an arbitrary construct, but that does not imply that it does not exist. To me, you, and everyone on this planet, evil is a very real thing. It just may not mean the same thing to all of us, and that is worth remembering.

Entry 11, 4/20/14

Prompt: Do you believe in the End of the World? Why? Why not? Which scenario is according to you most likely to happen? Discuss that topic and makes sure to include the lecture by Dr. Krebs and the readings in your reflection.

I don’t think my own beliefs would qualify as any sort of apocalypticism. The destruction of the Earth seems pretty far-fetched, as it’s been around for 4.5 billions years or so, and I don’t expect anything humanity-driven will make much of a dent. The planet itself, as well as the existence of life on its surface, is quite resilient, and I don’t believe humanity has the power to eliminate either. It seems infinitely more likely that humanity could destroy itself, and leave the Earth intact, although I can only imagine this happening through some environmental apocalyptic theory. I am not religious, so I don’t believe in a Rapture. Call me pessimistic, but if anything does occur to bring humanity to its knees, I can only assume it would be less likely to “save us all,” as millenialists like to suggest, and more likely to slowly make the planet inhospitable to humans. That said, I believe the problem of chronic pollution and climate change, if and when it becomes urgent enough, will spur scientific innovations that prolong the lifespan of humanity even past the point of natural habitability.

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Alternately, of course, there is always the possibility of a catastrophic event, akin to the Mesozoic asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs, annihilating the planet altogether. However, anything less serious would likely leave a few of us standing. We have the technology even today to detect such a celestial body many years before it would become a threat. I have no doubt that human ingenuity, coupled with desperation, could result in a bunker, likely underground, capable of supporting life for several generations. In fact, this would not be unlike District 13 of the Hunger Games series.

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There is always the eventual death of the Sun to contend with, and if humanity were to hypothetically last long enough to see it, we would live to see our planet destroyed before our eyes. It is possible, however, and even probable, that the human race would be observant enough to see this coming. Space travel is now nearly de rigeur; with the added motivation of preserving the species, I don’t doubt that sufficient advances would have been made by then to preserve some vestiges of human life in more habitable, perhaps colonized areas of the galaxy. If an International Space Station can function well enough, I don’t see any major theoretical limitations to expanding such a structure to support a larger population. The human race is very stubborn, and, try as she might, the planet has not managed to wipe us off its face. I suspect it would take the Earth’s veritable death to truly threaten humanity, and even then, we just may be able to outsmart nature.

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Children of Men, due 4/13/14

The 2006 Alfonso Cuaron film, Children of Men is set in Britain in a dystopian near future in which the human race has been struck with infertility and society has largely collapsed. Immigrants are hunted like animals and deported, killed, or confined to refugee camps, and rebel groups fight for equal rights. The film follows Theo, an Englishman who was once a revolutionary but settled into quiet discontent after the death of his son. Theo resolves to help Keye, a young woman pregnant with the first child to be born in over eighteen years, flee to refuge for her and her child. While at first the two may seem only superficially related, Children of Men is in fact a close parallel to Suzanne Collins’ series.

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The protagonists of the two stories, Theo and Katniss, are quite similar in character. Both oppose the ruling regime but ultimately want to avoid making trouble, preferring to retain their own safety rather than fight for idealistic action. Both characters have suffered loss and conceal their pain from others. Katniss remains strong for Prim after the Reaping and cries for Rue only when alone. She misses her father terribly and keeps his memory close but never seeks solace in others for the grief that she still carries from his death. Similarly, Theo breaks down and cries after the gruesome and unnecessary death of his ex-wife in his arms, but only for a moment and only after physically distancing himself from the rest of his party. He also remains haunted by the death of his son, Dylan, of whom he doesn’t speak. When others bring up Dylan to him, Theo does not reply or changes the subject.

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Both characters are also more familiar and comfortable with marginalized sectors of society than they are around wealthier people and areas. Katniss is at home in District 12 but feels awkward and false in her Capitol makeup and attire. Theo visits often with his friend Jasper, who lives pastorally in the woods, but is visibly out of place in his wealthy cousin’s opulent home.

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Society itself bears striking similarities in the worlds of Children of Men and the Hunger Games. Xenophobia is rampant, visible in the war against immigration and heavy racism in Theo’s world. In Panem, the people of different districts know little about each other except that there are differences that alienate them. The animosity between the outer districts and the near districts is even greater. Those that live in the Capitol and near districts deal with the stark inequality in Panem by either real or feigned ignorance. Similarly, when Theo asks his cousin how he stands to see the world the way it is, the cousin responds, “I just don’t think about it,” much to Theo’s astonishment.

Diversion abounds in both worlds, as we often see in tales of the darkest of times. Drinking is popular in both stories; Haymitch in the Hunger Games is a well-known drunk, drowning the demons of his past life, and Theo carries a bottle of brown liquor with him everywhere he goes that only disappears as he becomes more and more involved with saving Keye. Gambling is available in the form of betting on greyhound races, which serve the same purpose of mindless distraction from reality as the Hunger Games do to the Capitol in Collins’ books.

The governments in both societies are oppressive. Propaganda is seen in the Hunger Games in the form of the country’s founding story. In COM, commercials in the metro blare the nationalistic message, “The world has collapsed. Only Britain soldiers on.” Citizens are forced in both worlds to submit to the government’s invasive demands. For the people of Panem, this means offering their children to the Hunger Games every year. In an eerily close parallel, the citizens of Britain in COM must submit to mandatory fertility testing, offering up their very potential to have children to the government.

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Rebel groups exist in both worlds. In the Hunger Games, the District 13 resistance fights (ostensibly) for equal rights for marginalized districts. In COM, the “Fishes” fight for equal rights for immigrants. Both groups are subject to corruption. The Fishes use violence amongst themselves to keep order and are willing to sacrifice the wellbeing of Keye and her child for the good of their mission. In Panem’s rebel group, individual wellbeing is set aside for the good of the cause, leading to bombings and mass killings in which innocent citizens are frequently caught in the crossfire.

In both stories, marginalized people become figureheads of a revolution. In the Hunger Games, it is Katniss herself, who is unwillingly pulled into the cause by her love for her family, seen when she volunteers in the first book to save Prim. In COM, Keye is this figurehead–an immigrant who is otherwise abused by society but becomes a commodity as she falls pregnant. Much like Katniss, Theo becomes involved in a greater cause unwillingly: he agrees to play a small part to help his ex-wife Julian, whom he loves, and becomes committed when Keye tells him that Julian told her to trust no one but Theo.

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Perhaps the most over-arching of the similarities between the two stories is the horrific way in which total war is portrayed. In COM, long, un-cut scenes of gunfire, blood spatter, and wailing wounded underscore the severity of Theo’s situation just as bombings in District 8 and the user of children as a human shield in Mockingjay showcase the horror that Katniss endures. The two both live in a world where life is brutal and pain is everyday and the future is uncertain, and they both must play a role to ensure the survival of humanity as they know it.

Hero’s Journey, due week of April 7th

Dr. Mazeroff spoke this week in class about the Hero’s Journey, a Jungian archetypal story that has become a universal part of storytelling across cultures. The Hero’s Journey consists of several oft-repeated standard tasks, or benchmarks that the hero faces in his or her quest toward completion of a goal. The major steps associated with the Hero’s Journey include Departure, Initiation, Atonement, Apotheosis, and Return, among several others that are often, but not always, included. The Hunger Games, like most fiction, fits the criteria of the Hero’s Journey, although some parts of the archetype are less obvious than others in Katniss’ journey.

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At the beginning of the Hero’s journey, the Hero must cross the first threshold, separating him or her from home. At some point, the Hero must often spend time in a metaphorical “belly of the whale,” during which time the hero is isolated and transforms by way of self-annihilation. Katniss crosses her first threshold soon after the reaping, when she must board the train to the Capitol with Peeta. Cut off from her family and home district, she must face the belly of the whale alone, emotionally if not physically. Here, she steels herself against what she must do in the Hunger Games, leaving behind the fear that she felt at the Reaping.

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Often, a Hero’s journey includes the gathering of allies. For Katniss, this includes Peeta, Rue, Haymitch, Cinna, and even Effie and her design team. A hero frequently carries an amulet or special weapon. For Katniss, this is visible not only in her Mockingjay pin, but also in the bow and arrow that she finds in the arena. A meeting with a goddess is another typical step along the Hero’s Journey. Typically, this involves a male hero connecting with his anima, or the feminine side of his character. For Katniss, who embodies many traditionally male characteristics, this step is visible in her communion with Prim in Mockingjay, during which she discusses her thoughts and feelings regarding Peeta in an uncharacteristically vulnerable way.

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The Atonement step of the Hero’s journey is traditionally the hero’s atonement with his father. Katniss’ father died in her youth, and since then she has held her relationships with men at arm’s length. A symbolic representation of atonement with the father could be seen in Katniss’ meeting with President Snow after the rebels’ capture of the Capitol. When she finally elects to kill Coin instead of Snow, we can interpret this as further rejection of the femininity that Katniss has scorned for most of her life. Alternately, we can see Coin as a negative reflection of Katniss, a cold and uncaring individual who has repressed her own desire for love. By killing her over Snow, Katniss could be choosing to embrace the possibility of positive influence from men in her life and rejecting her old manner of isolating herself emotionally. After returning home, Katniss lives with Peeta in relative peace, suggesting that she may have finally accepted him as a source of happiness, love, and companionship.

We see aspects of Katniss’ Hero’s Journey in her return home. In Catching Fire, she is plucked from the arena by the rebels in a hovercraft, an example of the “rescue from without” that becomes necessary for some heroes near the end of their quest. We see Katniss as the typical “master of two worlds,” especially in Mockingjay, when it becomes clear that Katniss has developed an understanding of the Capitol (for instance, in empathizing with her prep team) that Gale cannot reconcile with the Katniss he knew before the games. Finally, when she and Peeta return to live in District 12 at the end of Mockingjay, Katniss has found her “freedom to live” in that she must no longer live in fear of the Capitol. She even has children, which years of fear of the Hunger Games had previously made her reluctant to do.

The Hunger Games series is a long and complicated tale of Katniss’ life, and the Hero’s Journey can be seen in each book separately as well as across the entire narrative arc. Although Katniss’ story is dark, and she is ultimately left damaged by her journey, her epic fight against the Capitol follows a formula that has existed in mankind’s consciousness for millennia.

Post 8, Due 3/30/14

Prompt: Write a reflection on the lecture by Dr. Shibley Telhami and the Arab Spring (uprisings, regime change, civil wars, intervention from the outside) and relate that to the Hunger Games.

It is often said that no writer works in a bubble–literature frequently displays some of the concerns and current events of the time period in which it is written. For the Hunger Games, which were written in the contemporary world, this means that Collins’ writing provides a window into the world environment in the past decade. The Arab Spring, which refers to the wave of revolutionary protests that have been occurring in the middle east since 2010. Many leaders and regimes have been displaced in this time, notably in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. This is paralleled closely by the Hunger Games, especially in Mockingjay, by the revolution that ultimately forces President Snow out of power, restructuring the government of the entire nation of Panem.

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Much like in the Arab Spring, the first acts of defiance in the Hunger Games were nonviolent. Katniss and Peeta’s suicide threat with the nightlock berries is reminiscent of the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi, a Tunisian man who protested the government’s destruction of his livelihood by the repossession of his vegetable cart. The collection of citizens in District 11’s main square during the Victory Tour in Catching Fire reminds us of the occupation of Tahrir Square in Egypt, wherein the citizens of Cairo collected to protest the government’s wrongs. The people of District 11 peacefully expressed their support for the Mockingjay, and yet the old man who initiated the gesture is beaten and shot by Peacekeepers. Similarly, many of the peaceful protestors fighting against injustice in the middle east have been brutalized by police and military forces.

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Dr. Telhami’s lecture focused on many aspects of the recent uprisings in the middle east, including public opinion surrounding them (he himself works with public opinion polling on the topic). He mentioned that even dictators often must take into account the people’s approval of their policies. In such cases as they do not, these dictators do not remain in power for long. Although President Snow of the Hunger Games series is a successful leader in that he has been able to keep relative stability in Panem for many decades, his Machiavellian policies return to haunt him after all. In his frantic attempt at keeping absolute power, he tightens his grip on the districts further and further until he is ultimately unable to control the violent backlash of rebellion that follows.

Post 7, due 3/09/14

Prompt: In chapter 16 of Mockingjay, Collins writes about District 12 “We may have been the smallest district in Panem, but we know how to dance.” Discuss the importance of music and dance in The Hunger Games compared to Appalachia. Make sure to talk about at least one of the 3 songs mentioned in the trilogy: “Deep in the Meadow,” “The Valley Song,” and “The Hanging Tree.”

Music plays an integral part in the culture and history of the people of Appalachia, so it only makes sense that it would be similarly important to the citizens of Panem. In Appalachia, music is a social occasion. Usually played live on traditional instruments, it is a way of bringing together friends and family and celebrating both the joy and anguish of life. It is also a method of storytelling, passing on old stories that are a part of cultural history. Because the more isolated people of Appalachia have historically often been illiterate, the oral tradition perpetuated by song and dance has been especially critical in passing on their culture from one generation to another.

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In Mockingjay, this same love and joy is apparent in the scene of Annie and Finnick’s wedding, when a single fiddle player revives a long-dormant sense of celebration in the refugees from District 12. The song connects every person in attendance to each other. Similarly, music is a thread that connects Katniss to her family throughout the book series. Most notably, the traditional songs of District 12 are linked to Katniss’ memory of her father, who used to sing them to her and to any birds and animals that would listen. When Katniss finally comes to align herself with the rebel cause and becomes less afraid of the memory of her father, she remembers the songs and begins to sing them. Just as they did for her father, the mockingjays stop their whistling when Katniss sings.

Because music is so connected with District 12, it becomes a part of the rebellion against the Capitol. When Katniss was a child, her mother forbid her or her father singing “The Hanging Tree,” an eerie tune about a hanged man urging his lover to join him in death. The song is banned by the Capitol for many years until Katniss resurrects it by singing to Pollux, an event that is captured and broadcasted in a propo across Panem. Here, the defiance inherent in the song is blatant, and Katniss’ singing is a reclamation of her culture that flies in the face of President Snow’s regulations.

Other District 12 songs are also representative of the rebellion, albeit less directly. “The Valley Song” is mentioned when Peeta recalls seeing Katniss for the first time. On the first day of school, when they were both children, she enthusiastically volunteered to sing the Valley Song, drawing Peeta’s attention. Not only does this link Katniss to her roots, her father, and her past, but it is a memory of Peeta and Katniss’ relationship that has nothing to do with their Hunger Games performance. Rather than being false or jaded, it is a moment of childhood affection captured in a fond memory long before the Capitol took control over Peeta’s and Katniss’ lives.

“Deep in the Meadow” is a lullaby that Katniss sings to Prim on the morning of the reaping and, later, to Rue as she dies in the arena. It serves as a link to Katniss’ family and home, but it also comes to symbolize unity between the districts, and major spark in the initial steps of the revolution. By singing this song in front of all of Panem, Katniss brings her oppressed culture front-and-center while breaking down the walls of suspicion and ignorance meant to separate the districts. Rue’s four note mockingjay song plays a similar role, representing life in her district and eventually becoming a symbol of the rebellion itself, whistled over and over by the defiant people of Panem.

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It is unlikely, but perhaps all the more fitting, that the music of the most downtrodden district becomes the soundtrack of the revolution that brings down Panem. The roots of District 12 are as deep as those of Appalachia, and in more ways than one they are woven from the strings of a fiddle.

Post 5, Due Feb 23rd

Prompt: Which of the three books did you like the most or the least? Why? You must be specific and elaborate on why you liked/disliked the book. What did you like about it? Character development, storyline, ending…

Despite our conversations in class, despite rampant criticism to the contrary, and despite my own reservations, I’m writing to defend Mockingjay as my favorite of the Hunger Games series. I will never say that it is a perfect book, and I acknowledge it does leave much to be desired. It’s rushed, especially toward the end. Some instances of emotional buildup are left unresolved. The writing style is rather short of poetic. But what it does have is unbelievable poignance and excellent storytelling that sets it apart from the previous books as well as much other popular young adult literature on the market today.

Call it a masochistic streak, but I love sad stories. My favorite movies have always been the likes of Forrest Gump, The Pianist, Brokeback Mountain–I’m of the opinion that a story that leaves us in tears, grappling with a feeling of existential emptiness that lasts for hours or days at a time, is all the more worth telling. Mockingjay achieves this on multiple levels. First, there is the all-too-obvious gratuitous violence. I don’t think, however, that Collins displays an overly heavy hand with her blood and gore. The story is about an angry war fought against a cruel dictatorial government–there is bound to be some loss of life. In her descriptions of the more horrific of scenes, Collins is often liberal with her application of detail. The mention of “undersized body parts” strewn everywhere after a bomb detonates in a group of children is gruesome, but it serves a literary purpose. With each atrocity that Katniss witnesses first-hand, she loses a little more of herself. As is to be expected in a young girl experiencing far too much trauma, she has difficulty handling things. The detailed descriptions of violence are frequently followed by quiet scenes of Katniss alone. The juxtaposition of motion to stillness helps us follow  the progression from Katniss’ hysterical distress to–what, exactly? What does one do when they’ve witnessed the fires of Hell and then are gently prompted to report to Reflection time after a calorically balanced dinner? We as readers are frustrated alongside Katniss, convinced that such inanity can’t possibly matter after what she has witnessed.

The effect of this explicit violence on the characters brings about another feature of Collins’ carefully crafted feeling of desolation. The characters have suffered deeply, as we are reminded by their nightmares and marred functioning. The victors especially. As the story is told via Katniss’ point of view, for the first part of the novel we are keenly aware of the rift that has grown between her and Gale. She has seen a kind of darkness that he has only imagined, and his frustration with her confusing motives is matched only by her hopelessness in the face of their broken relationship. The oldest friendship she has, the comfort that saved her so many times in her past life, is becoming dimmer and farther away, and we feel as powerless as Katniss herself to stop it. Even those fans on Team Gale must begin to reevaluate what is best for Katniss, as her situation has long ago moved past complicated.

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Katniss’ loss of Gale and the ongoing horror that is her life makes for some of the most emotionally satisfying moments in the entire book. Somewhat of a paradox, I admit. Her fellow tributes share with her a bond that becomes, for all of them, desperate and nearly fearful. They are all damaged, haunted by nightmares that no one else can see, and the interactions that connect these characters together become a breath of fresh air in the midst of their drowning. It is these moments that kept me turning pages. Finnick teaches Katniss to tie knots in order to delude herself away from the reality of Peeta’s madness. In any context, this is purely unhealthy, but Finnick understands without explanation how badly Katniss needs denial to survive. Katniss brings a satchet of pine needles to Johanna in the hospital so that she can be close to her home district by smell if nothing else. This would seem an odd gift, but it derives from an understanding and an empathy that cements their friendship beyond what any bought token ever could. In the Capitol, when Peeta is inches from losing his mind, Katniss kisses him and holds his wrists, pleading, “Stay with me.” Her acceptance of him and care for him, even in his most dangerous state, brings him back to his senses enough to answer, “always,” a nod to the days before the Quell when they comforted each other through their nightmares. These interactions are at best unusual and at worst disordered, but they are utterly necessary for the characters’ sanity. With nothing left for them in the world of other people, they cling to each other, seeking some measure of comfort in their agony.

When Gale sees Katniss going to Finnick when her sanity threatens to leave her, his first reaction is amorous jealousy. He and the type of relationship he offers is so far removed from what Katniss can manage that the choice between him and Gale is no choice at all. Much of the fan contention in this series is about Gale versus Peeta, when for Katniss it has never been about romance. Peeta becomes the obvious choice because he can provide her with something so much more important to her than a husband with whom to have children–he anchors her in reality and draws her back to the light in the same way she did for him when she gripped him by the handcuffs in the Capitol and made him promise to stay.

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On that note, many people complained that the ending of Mockingjay is the destruction of a feminist hero because Katniss goes on to live with Peeta and have children with him. I have to resent that. Katniss’ eventual decision to stay with Peeta was a long time coming and quite beneficial for her mental health. They do well for each other, and while she could have chosen to live alone, it would benefit no one. Her decision to have children, many say, goes against everything she believed in the first book; this is purely false. In the first book, her fear of having children derived from the Games and the fact that she could never bear to see them suffer the same fate she did, either at the hands of the Capitol or in the grips of starvation. When Peeta finally ‘wore her down,’ convincing her to have children, it was clearly no case of a shrinking violet of a woman bullied into submission by her chauvinist husband–the idea is ludicrous. Katniss will always be independent, strong-willed, and capable of providing for herself and those she loves. In fact, she continues hunting after the games and is likely the main breadwinner between the two of them (no pun intended). The decision to have children in itself is in no way anti-feminist; for Katniss, it was a combination of her own acceptance that the danger of her youth was behind her and a desire to please the man who became the most important person in her life, just as she was for him. Even before the first reaping, Katniss’ life was never planned out, but rather a frightening and uncertain future doomed to follow a path of hardship. Her settling down marked the beginning of her well-earned safety, and her decision to have children with the man she loved makes Katniss no more a victim of traditional female gender roles than Haymitch.

Post 4, Due Feb 16th

Prompt: Compare and contrast the second book with the film. You can either focus on a few similarities and differences between the book and the film or on one aspect of both, either storyline, characters, staging, portrayal of capitol and district 12, etc.

Again, the film adaptation of Catching Fire stays remarkably close to the book. Even much of the dialogue mirrors Collin’s words exactly. Only a few differences are major enough to mention, and of those, most of them follow the vein of the first book, offering points of view outside of Katniss’ narration alone.

The Capitol’s media manipulation of Gale into Katniss’ cousin is ignored. Katniss’ assigned ‘talent’ of clothing design, likewise, is never mentioned. Plutarch Heavensbee’s mockingjay watch goes unseen. The two escapees from District 8 in the woods are never found. The touching last day spent between Katniss and Peeta before the Games is overlooked. Most of these are likely choices meant to pare down the run time of the film and do not effect the story substantially. A larger omission is Peeta’s prosthetic leg, which, as mentioned previously, may be due to the filmmakers’ desire to minimize images of gruesome personal destruction for the sake of younger viewers.

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In the opening minutes of the movie, the filmmakers add a scene that serves to dramatize Katniss’ post-traumatic mindset still further than the book. While hunting in the woods with Gale, she hallucinates, thinking she has shot a tribute. This emphasizes that Katniss has changed since the first film and is profoundly affected by the aftermath of the Games.

The kiss between Gale and Katniss at the beginning of the books is retained, and a second, initiated by Katniss of her own volition just before the reaping, is added. This is a crowd-pleasing moment for those viewers vouching for Katniss to be with Gale, but it ultimately undermines an important point Collins makes in the books: Katniss is too traumatized and emotionally damaged to commit to a relationship, either with Peeta, Gale, or anyone else.

A curious addition is the reddening of President Snow’s champaign as he takes a sip during the Victory Tour party. This detail is unclear, but presumably related to the scent of blood on Snow’s breath that Katniss repeatedly mentions in the book.

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An important added scene is a conversation between Katniss and Prim in which Katniss voices her concern over how her actions will affect her family. Prim responds, “You don’t have to protect me or Mom. We’re with you.” This vital moment not only shows how much Prim has matured since Katniss saved her from the reaping, but it outlines the growing sense of rebellion within the Districts. Even gentle Prim is now on Katniss’ side, the side of defiance. It foreshadows the final act of rebellion to come in the third and fourth films.

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The many asides that follow Plutarch, rather than elucidating his character as a rebel, serve to sow animosity toward him in viewers. He is depicted throughout the film as aligned with the Capitol. He lacks the moment of empathy that was present in the books’ through the reveal of his mockingjay watch at the Victory Tour party. This creates an unanticipated twist when, at the end of the film, he proves to be on Katniss’ side.

Overall, the differences between the film and book are extremely minor. For the most part, they serve to shorten the film, provide additional points of view outside of Katniss, and allude to the coming rebellion in the movies to follow (suspense, after all, has a way of drawing viewers to theaters. The filmmakers are quite loyal to Collins’ vision, a truly commendable feat when the storyline in question is difficult to film and already so beautifully done.