Second part of my Love & Revolution conclusion on The Hunger Games:
I’m still here, I know more about living, life and the earth than I ever did – I’m safe, I’m fed and I’m well. I know that my despair and paralysis in the face of pain and injustice is a privileged and perhaps empty struggle. Does it help that I remember a man sitting in the dark with a cow all day, that I heard about street children whose toes were being eaten by rats, that I heard a woman talk about being violently beaten and then put in a bath of bleach?
Echoes & Aches
The Hunger Games talks about violence and trauma really well. It has some fast paced, terrifying and gripping scenes filled with fear, brutality and death. It does not shy away from pain or injury but it does not make it glamorous or heroic. Whilst I felt proud and inspired by Katniss’ skills with a bow and arrow the books left me with a sense of the impact of so much violence, destruction and injustice. Trauma (the shock and effects of violence) is incredibly underplayed, minimised and ignored in our culture. Particularly in the West where most heavy war is conducted via remote consoles, abuse and violence in the home is talked about publicly in a very victim focussed/victim blaming ways and terrorism is framed by macho language of war and overcoming. The Hunger Games is thoughtful and emotional about not only injury and memory, but about the dead passivity that can creep over people who see violence endorsed and promoted by their protectors and leaders and witness violence and pain multiple times in the name of something important or worthy. There is no shying away from either loss nor its impact, wounds nor their scars and the gravity of violence committed by both individuals and systems of power sits heavily upon the characters and the reader to the trilogy’s conclusion.
Power & Revolution
As the first book opens we’re incredibly aware straight away that the tradition of the ‘reapings’ (selecting which children shall participate in The Hunger Games) and the poverty and dereliction depict an oppressed community and society. For the reader and the characters there is an absurdist element to this instituted system peace and justice. Yet, it doesn’t take long before you begin to see the parallels between this ‘absurd’ post-apocalyptic society and justice and the very way that our world works today. A world where certain violence is committed in the name of preserving peace and in the name of justice. Where the rich and the good looking hold powerful over the poor, the ugly, the ‘othered’ and the scared. A world where the media and certain ‘realities’ manipulate and preoccupy the public with the important and the unimportant – playing both these things off against each other to numb and dupe the public into ignoring and minimising the oppression around them.
What happens is that Katniss is and becomes the unexpected hero; she subverts much of the system’s predictability concerning power and strength which then inspires others to believe that they may be able to subvert and challenge the power over them too.
A friend of mine said when reading the trilogy that she loved the way the books were inspiring a whole generation into/about revolution. The books become a tool for analysing power and oppression and for talking about how the weakest and poorest can become the voice and icon for justice and liberation. If this is inspiring for the young people reading them then this is a good thing. For me, it reminded me of some of the zeal and passion I lived with as a younger person. It reminded me of the absolutes I used to define and decide myself and my course a decade ago. More than an intellectual response to words on a page these stories, words and characters evoked in the way that a particular song, flavour or scent can transport you, the emotions and convictions deep within me about people, compassion, liberation and justice. Where perhaps I believed then that changing the world was only a few degrees removed from me, I know can feel paralysed and overwhelmed by the weight of injustice and the collusion with these systems by so many people of influence. I believe that this is the journey that many of the characters travel in the trilogy. They experience revolution, they experience possibility of change and difference and then encounter doubt, fear, deceit and power in a different guise. The characters experience the cyclical dynamic of injustice, revolution, peace and then injustice and there creeps in with the effects of the trauma of war and violence and revolution let it be said, a weary apathy and paralysis which I can certainly identify with.
Whilst I read the trilogy over the course of ten days I became incredibly tuned in to nature. The books write a lot about how the characters survive off the land and the descriptions in the books are so vivid and tangible. I found myself listening to birds, noticing lush greenery, the roots and bulbs of plants, the colour of the sky and scents in the air. The Hunger Games creates an atmosphere that is hard to shake off – and still a year later I am noticing birdsong, the earth and growth and decay. The books add a layer to the view of the environment or the planet by bringing in most apocalyptic phenomena/mutations. These are obviously fantasy but it echoed again for me with the books I read as a teenager that speculated about a post-nuclear landscape, the trauma of war, violence and radiation which was the big fear and threat on the landscape in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The books tune you into the environment and left me with an awareness or sensitivity to the way that war, violence and injustice is massively wrapped up in the planet. Scorching, smoke, explosions and dead bodies all take their toll not only on humanity but on the interconnected planet of which we are only a part. I’m grateful for the evocative beauty of the world captured in the books – and it’s prompted me to spend a lot more time sniffing the air, holding wood and feeling rocks – because who knows how much of this beuatiful, assumed world will be left in however many years time.
I found the books incredibly and powerfully romantic. Not just for the sexual/romantic triangle between Gael, Peeta and Katniss, but the intense and fierce protection all the characters hold over and for each other, rooted in loyalty, honour and responsibility. Defending and protecting, rescuing, sheltering, healing and holding each other – these are qualities and experiences that moved me so much as a teenager and still do now. The Hunger Games is a story that is ultimately about subverting, challenging, overthrowing, critiquing and resigning ourselves to oppressive power systems and authorities. In amongst this narrative people are building relationships, sharing experiences and holding and healing each other. Perhaps this is what makes any revolution ultimately effective, its not about the power structures that exasperate us and depress us it’s about watching and feeding the undermining web of strengths – the intimate celebration of what moves us to protect and shelter each other.
There’s a desperate sadness about the conclusion to this trilogy – I was massively disappointed that there was not an predictable movie ending moment – there was just a sense of eras ending and moments passing. This makes me feel incredibly sad about the ravages and damage wrought across history – continuing today in a way that appears that nobody has learnt a thing about peace and flourishment. I think that is what The Hunger Games always meant to do though – and for a new generation reading these books in school as well as me the older person who was once roused to be and live differently by similar tales and fiction – they are prophetic and an oracle in many ways.