March 18, 2012

Thoughts on The Hunger Games

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Faith, Fiction tagged , , at 7:09 pm by catsinboxes

I must admit that I have a hard time liking Katniss Everdeen.  That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy reading the Hunger Games trilogy.  Suzanne Collins has created a series that is hard to put down.  But she has also created a series, a setting, and a cast of characters that presents many questions: questions that Katniss Everdeen never seems to answer.

When I read the series, I was struck by the feeling that is created.  Imagine a future America that is divided into 13 districts.  Imagine a future where young people, 2 tributes from each district, are sent to participate in the Hunger Games, a televised slaughter in an artificially created “arena” that will leave only one victor.  That is the world that Katniss Everdeen introduces readers to in the opening pages of the Hunger Games.

Katniss’ world feels dark, old, depressing, and by contrast the Capitol is gaudy to the extreme.  It is such a different world that it is almost surprising to find references to things we know, like the fact that Katniss’ family has a television.  And when in the midst of the second book we find out that District 13 specialized in “nuclear development” it seems just plain out of place!  Does this world feel real?  Not to me, at least, but it is a story.

I do have a couple bones to pick when it comes to the genre.  I cannot believe it possible that a world sometime in the future would have no recollection of God.  There is no religion in the Hunger Games, no mention of any greater being or any remnant of religion preserved from the past.  Realizing this, it is not surprising that there is no common sense of morality in the series.  In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis points to the fact that we all have an inward moral law: a moral law that will point us toward the right thing to do, a moral law that will sometimes cause us to do the right thing even when it’s the last thing we actually want to do.  In the Hunger Games, Katniss often battles with herself, wondering why she does things, but she never seems to conclude that it is simply because it is the right thing to do at that time and place.  In the Hunger Games each character is operating for a different reason and there is not a unifying theme.  Instead of black and white, there are many shades of gray.  Indicative of this is the fact that the rebels, instead of being the good guys, are a weird kind of totalitarian force who wear gray uniforms.

In the Hunger Games there is not a sense of true beauty or joy, instead there is only darkness and confusion.  I believe it is good to read the Hunger Games to get a sense of our times.  I find it intriguing that this has become such a best seller.  Honestly though, I don’t believe that this will become a lasting classic.

I know that a lot of Christian parents are wondering if their children should read the Hunger Games.  I think that is a personal decision to make, but I will tell you two things I observed which I personally found disturbing.  These reasons are why I would be hesitant to recommend the Hunger Games trilogy to anyone younger than a mature and analytically inclined high schooler.

Reason 1.  Throughout the trilogy there is intense violence almost to the point of desensitization.  Granted, given the premise, of course this is going to happen, but it almost seems to be gratuitous at times.  One example of this that stuck out to me came from Katniss’ description of one of the tributes in Catching Fire:  “Enobaria looks to be about thirty and all I can remember about her is that, in hand-to-hand combat, she killed one tribute by ripping open his throat with her teeth.”  It’s one thing to read about violence, about the Holocaust or about genocide or a battlefield, when it really happened.  It is quite another thing to invent such violence, and it doesn’t seem right to me, not in this much detail.  By the end of the Hunger Games trilogy, I found myself desensitized to all of the death.  Character after character had been killed off, often in gruesome detail.  It’s not like in Harry Potter when death takes you by surprise . . . when you have time to miss a character . . . no, this was just a LOT of dying and a whole lot of violence.

Reason 2.  While there is no sex in the Hunger Games, I would argue that there is a lot of sensuality.  Some of it comes from statements . . . like the fact that Katniss stands unclothed while her male stylist Cinna is studying her.  Call me a prude, but that made me squirm.  There is a good bit of kissing and little details thrown in that stick with you: Gale smells like oranges the first time he kisses Katniss.  Peeta and Katniss sleep together in the same place during the Hunger Games and then later on multiple occasions.  Nothing goes on, but Katniss emphasizes how nice and secure it is to have Peeta there.  Lastly, I just kept picking up on little details about Katniss: she wishes she were alone so she could strip off her clothes and dive naked into a lake . . . 11 times during the series Katniss refers to her naked body.  Several of these times happen at night when she strips off her clothes and sleeps _____ you can fill in the word!  I really don’t feel like this is appropriate, especially not for any juvenile male readers.  There is so much sexuality in our culture, you might say this isn’t that bad.  But it’s there . . . and I’d rather know about it in advance if I’m trying to determine the appropriateness of any book.

For me, the most telling part in the entire series was the conversation Katniss overhears between Peeta and Gale.  They wonder who will wind up with Katniss if they all come out alive and Gale says: “Katniss will pick whoever she thinks she can’t survive without.”  As the reader, I was inclined to agree.  Over the past two books, Katniss had shown herself as intensely selfish in how she relates to others.  But as the reader, you also want Katniss to prove that she’s not that bad, that she does care for others, that she doesn’t operate solely on that plane.  But it never happens.  Do you understand why I have such a hard time liking Katniss Everdeen?

Obviously this is my opinion of the Hunger Games trilogy.  Do you agree?  Do you disagree?  What were things you noticed or things that bothered you?  I know there’s a lot more that could be discussed, and I would love to hear your opinion!  


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7 Comments »

  1. Alison said,

    I think you made a lot of good points. I know I was desensitized to all the violence.

    I think Katniss was almost written to be a difficult to like character. You try to like her early on because she takes care of her family and ‘saves’ her sister but the more the book goes on it’s harder to like her. I realize in 2 & 3 she does have PTSD but it still makes her cold.

    I think in Mockingjay after Peeta is hijacked he says something about Katniss being cold and basically calls her out on her selfishness. That was a slap in my face about how cold she is. Knowing her POV helped lessen the impact of her actions but once he put out all the cards like that it was really hard to overlook.

  2. catsinboxes said,

    Hey Alison, thank you for your comment! That’s a great point about Katniss getting progressively harder to like.

    I remember having the same feeling when Peeta gave Katniss such a candid opinion of her character. You can’t believe he is saying that, but knowing what Katniss is like . . . it’s hard to disagree with him.

    BTW, I really enjoyed looking at your blog. I love reading YA books, too! I look forward to reading your reviews of The Hunger Games trilogy 🙂

  3. thewildbrain said,

    I am a Hunger Games FANATIC!!!!!
    And i really love to see blogs talking about Hunger Games!!
    Totally awsome posT!

    • catsinboxes said,

      Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed my post; the Hunger Games are such a popular topic, especially with the movie coming out!

      • thewildbrain said,

        Yeah I cant wait to watch the movie. Actually I bought a ticket for the advance screening. Ill be seeing the movie this upcoming March 21! ahaha I cant wait to watch the movie and right a blog about it!

  4. Drew said,

    I don’t get how you can hate the hunger games this much and still think that reading Harry Potter is okay. Harry Potter revolves around sorcery and that’s all I really know and I haven’t read the books but the bible warns against all forms of magic. So comparing this book to Harry potter and saying Harry potter is okay to read, but the hunnger games is not okay to read is very inaccurate.

    • catsinboxes said,

      Hey Drew! Thank you for reading my post. Actually, I wouldn’t say that I hate the Hunger Games. They are definitely an interesting series. As far as Harry Potter goes, that’s another thing altogether! I know Harry Potter raises a lot of issues for Christians, and the reason I mentioned it here was to compare Hunger Games to another best-selling series . . . it helps give some context for people.


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