published Sunday, April 1st, 2012

My Life: 'The Hunger Games' has lessons for today

Corin Harpe

Last spring, I took an adolescent literature class for my master's degree, reading fiction and nonfiction books that relate to young adult issues instead of my usual textbooks and case studies.

Of all the books we read, one stood out from the rest, "The Hunger Games." I never really got into the Harry Potter mania or the Twilight series, so when it came to reading "The Hunger Games," I was skeptical.

But once I started reading, I could not put it down. I did not sleep, eat or move until I had finished the book. Not only was it a page-turner, but it was unlike anything I had ever read.

The author, Suzanne Collins, intricately wove together many themes to create a creative and compelling story. But what I enjoyed most about the book were the critiques of our society.

I was impressed with the protagonist, Katniss, and the resilience, determination, skill and self-efficiency she displays. I did not realize Katniss was a woman until well into the first chapter, because the author characterized her through actions rather than descriptions.

Katniss was the main provider for her family after her father died in a coal-mining accident. Therefore, she had to find ways to deliver for her family and herself. She tended to break rules without any sense of fear, such as sneaking outside an electric fence to hunt.

When Katniss participates in The Hunger Games, gender becomes prevalent. In preparation for the televised reality show, Katniss is taken to a room where her legs and eyebrows are waxed, and she is given a stylist, Cinna, "to make her look pretty." Her physical desirability will make her more likable, which will help her win sponsors and support in the games. Her survival is no longer based on her bravery, initiative and skill but on how she appeals to audience expectations. The author causes readers to question the importance placed on beauty and appearance for women in society.

The love story in the novel bothered me, because it revealed that in order to survive one must conform to social stereotypes. Such as, to fall in love. Instead of being recognized for her abilities, Katniss only gains audience approval as a star-crossed lover. I am sometimes aware of this pressure in my life.

There is an overbearing expectation for women in their 20s to get married.Without a significant other, a woman is seen as abnormal or told "you will find the one." The idealization of an independent woman, while given lip service, is often a farce in our society.

Last spring, I heard announcements about a movie of "The Hunger Games." This bothered me because another theme of the book was society's obsession with reality TV and how we will go to such great extremes, children killing children, for the sake of entertainment.

How could a movie be made indulging the same thing that the book was criticizing?

I saw the movie this past weekend, and I was impressed. The movie brought out details that were not as apparent to me in the book, such as the sense of revolution within the districts and the stark contrast between the rich and the oppressed.

I felt the movie reached a greater audience, and more people might actually read the book after seeing the movie.

I hope our society does not just consider "The Hunger Games" as another form of entertainment but instead a critique of the issues facing us today.

Email Corin Harpe at corinharpe@gmail.com.

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