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.

Post 3, 2/09/14

Prompt: Compare and contrast the first 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.

The Hunger Games movie, for the most part, is a remarkably faithful adaptation of the book. Although slight differences abound, most of them are insignificant to the plot and can be attributed to an attempt to limit the length of the movie. Some, however, are clear inconsistencies that appear to have more meaning behind them. The filmmakers emphasize and embellish upon some details in the book while downplaying others, telling a story that is more centered upon the societal implications and far-reaching consequences of Katniss’ actions than an exact translation of the novel might have been. By omitting other details, however, the filmmakers have de-emphasized the physical brutality and emotional trauma endured by the tributes, perhaps in an attempt to make the movies more palatable for younger viewers.

In the book, readers must rely on Katniss’ narration as the only source of information. This restriction is lifted in the film, allowing the filmmakers to expand on impressions and implications in the book. For instance, Seneca Crane, who is essentially a faceless name in the books, becomes a character with whom the viewer can sympathize. His motivations reveal further detail about the true nature of the Capitol’s control over the districts and the Games. Haymitch is shown encouraging citizens of the Capitol to sponsor Katniss and even negotiating with Crane himself for the good of his tributes. In another scene, a riot in District 11 occurs after Rue’s death. The events of the book implies that these things may well be taking place, but it is these crucial added scenes that create an image of the Games that is intricately controlled and vitally important to Panem’s government. These brief scenes sidestep from Katniss’ main narrative, providing a broader view of the tension within Panem. With these inclusions, the filmmakers begin building toward an impending climax–of turmoil and, ultimately, revolution–in the following films.

Certain details of the films are altered or omitted entirely in order to minimize the horror endured by Katniss, Peeta, and the other tributes. One of the more notable is the manifestation of the dog-like muttations that kill Cato. Not only would human-like eyes on a dog and Katniss’ quiet realization that the mutts reflect the dead tributes be difficult to portray on film, but it may be entirely too much for younger viewers, and it is a reasonable alteration to the storyline. Cato’s death itself is also very much downplayed. Rather than being eaten away by dogs for hours upon hours until he can barely plead for death, he dies mercifully and quickly with little graphic violence depicted. Physical injuries to our main characters are also diminished. Katniss’ hearing loss, while ultimately impermanent in the books, is never mentioned in the film. The loss of Peeta’s leg is also left out, even though it comes to affect his performance in the second Games in book two of the series. It may be beneficial for younger viewers to keep these gory details to a minimum, although it does take away an important aspect of the story: these games are brutal. They ravage the bodies of twenty-four children in gruesome style and then destroy the minds of the few who survive. Perhaps a young child doesn’t need to see the ultimate horrific insult added to injury as Rue in mutt form attacks Katniss, who is still wracked with guilt from the girl’s loss. Perhaps they are better off not learning that Cato, the villain, was ultimately nothing more than another scared little boy in the end. But readers of Collin’s books can still bear witness to these details in all their bloody glory, and for many reasons, it may be a horror worth knowing.

Post 2, Due Sunday, Feb. 2nd.

Prompt: Write an analysis of the parallels between the tributes in the arena and the gladiators in old Rome. How can we apply the notion of “panem et circenses” to The Hunger Games.

The similarities between Panem’s tributes and the gladiators of ancient Rome are many and varied. The vast majority of the tributes begin their journey unwillingly, plucked from their homes and forced on a journey to the Capitol. Most gladiators were slaves or criminals, forced to leave behind their families and homelands to begin their training in Roman cities. Some, however, volunteered their lives willingly to the pursuit of gladiatorial combat and the opportunity to achieve glory and a raised social status; this same circumstance is illustrated in Collins’ books by the Career tributes, who are said to often volunteer for reaping, as winning the Hunger Games is, to them, a high honor to be pursued.

Both the tributes of the Hunger Games and Roman gladiators were forced first to train in deadly weaponry and then to fight to the death in an arena built specifically for public displays of bloodshed. Even the technological innovations that allowed beastmasters to raise wild animals into the Colosseum on platforms and flood the arena for mock naval battles are echoed by the many futuristic manipulations of the Hunger Games arena, which allow the Gamemakers to produce fires or muttations or the like to make the games more interesting. 

The audiences of ancient Rome watched the bloodshed of the gladiator battles with glee, treating the spectacle as a social event to be gossiped about. Just the same, the citizens of Panem, particularly the Capitol, watch enraptured as tributes are killed off one by one in the Hunger Games. The fanfare and fame surrounding the most well-known gladiators bears a resemblance to the concept of sponsorship in Collins’ books. 

Perhaps one of the most important similarities between the two games is the least visible. One of the original purposes behind gladiatorial combat was a form of control by Rome over its conquered lands. By claiming slaves of the defeated people of faraway countries, Rome proclaimed its indisputable power over its territories. Similarly, Katniss notes repeatedly in the Hunger Games series that the Capitol’s insistence on the Games, as well as the macabre celebratory attitude that must accompany them, is meant as a cruel reminder to the districts that rebellion is not only foolish, but unfeasible. 

The Capitol’s control of the districts can be summarized by this, the principle of fear, as well as the Roman phrase “panem et circenses.” Meaning, “bread and circus,” it refers to the idea, echoed in dystopian literature such as Huxley’s Brave New World, that if a population is provided necessities such as food and distracted with entertainment, contentment will quell the urge to dissent. Just as the Romans did, Panem’s Capitol provides the “circus” in the form of bloody battle that is eagerly watched by hordes of citizens. The “bread” in Panem is ubiquitously available in the Capitol, but is only provided for the districts in the event of a winning tribute. The citizens dare not fight against the Games for fear that they would miss out on the chance for food, should their tributes win. In fact, to raise their voices agains the Games may mean that they go hungry for the next year. In the Capitol, just as in ancient Rome, bread is power because hunger is frightening, and whoever wields the supply of food and pays for the circus holds the nation in the palm of his hand.