19 August 2010

Literary Discussion: The Hunger Games

Excitement is sweeping the young adult literary nation this week as they count down to the August 24 release of the final book in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games series. Personally, I haven't looked forward to a book release this much since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out in 2007.
I have resisted the Hunger Games books for about a year now. I recall reading on Stephenie Meyer's website that she loved the book and couldn't put it down, but I was in grad school and pregnant at the time and didn't have a lot of free time left for reading. Now that school is over and Sam doesn't require my constant attention (ha ha), I have had a lot more time for books on my hands. I requested The Hunger Games at the library, but was number 155 on the list to check it out.
One hundred fifty-five? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I knew instantly that I was missing out on something good. No way I was going to wait for 154 slowpokes to finish the book before I got a crack at it. My good friend Mary responded to my Facebook plea for help, showing up at our apartment with both The Hunger Games and its sequel, Catching Fire. That was a Monday night. I promised Mary I'd try to get the books back to her in a week.
It took less than 24 hours. That's right, almost 800 pages, devoured overnight. That's how good these books are. I stayed up Monday night reading as fast as I could, and pretty much ignored Sam and Ryan the next day (they got over it). So let me say, without further ado- READ THESE BOOKS. The third one, Mockingjay, comes out next Tuesday. I am number 285 on the library's hold list, though Mary assures me I can borrow it from her when she's done with it.
At this point of the blog post, you should stop reading if you haven't read Hunger Games yet but think you might. If you've read the books and like overanalyzing them, read on.
First of all, what struck me immediately about the books is how dense Katniss is when it comes to interpreting the feelings and motivations of others. She pretty much assumes that the world is a certain way, and has great difficulty seeing past her own viewpoint. This is a very handy strategy used by Suzanne Collins to intentionally deceive us in order to twist the plot. She's not the first to use this strategy. Remember in the first Harry Potter book, how Harry is absolutely convinced that Snape is trying to steal the Sorcerer's Stone? Because the book is written from Harry's perspective, we are unable to consider the possibility that someone else might be after the stone. When JKR reveals that it's actually Quirrell, we're blindsided. And good thing too! How boring would it have been to suspect Quirrell the whole time and be right? No, readers enjoy being wrong. Suzanne Collins enjoys misleading her readers into being wrong, and bravo to that, I say.
Here are a few examples: In Hunger Games (THG) when Katniss is saying goodbye to her friends, Madge insists that she take her mockingjay pin, not only to the Capitol, but into the Hunger Games arena itself. Why? It doesn't seem to be a bit odd to Katniss, but if you reread the scene it certainly stands out as a little bit weird. And how about Cinna constantly removing the pin from Katniss' discarded clothes to return it to her? Why should he give a crap about her pin? Again, Katniss glosses over how odd this is, but we as enlightened readers should not. By the end of Catching Fire (CF), the mockingjay has become the symbol of the rebellion. Madge and Cinna (if he's not dead) probably both have big parts to play in the coming book, as shown by their attachments to the symbol of the rebellion.
Another example along the same lines: In CF, Plutarch Heavensbee, the new Head Gamesmaker, shows Katniss his watch with mockingjay hologram during a dance. Katniss, with her disdain for all people associated with the Capitol, assumes he's just another idiot jumping on the mockingjay bandwagon. And then at the end of the book, you find out that Heavensbee is part of the rebellion! Katniss was surprised, but I was not. By then, I had learned what an unreliable narrator Katniss is, and decided not to trust her opinions about people.
If you have time before Mockingjay is released, go back and reread THG and CF. Don't trust Katniss' evaluation of things, and you'll find that a lot of the surprises in the books make sense. I expect that as Katniss is growing up more and more, she will become a more reliable narrator, and we'll see more careful thought from her in Mockingjay. I'd love to hear your thoughts on Katniss as an unreliable narrator and predictions for the 3rd book in the comments!
And I also can't wait to see what will happen re: Gale and Peeta. Yep, I'm a sap.


Erin Chorak said...

1) Love this post! LOVE the hunger games! We're total nerds, you and I.

2) Cinna is most certainly dead, or at a minimum, "altered" per that capitals disgusting mutilation techniques. I say that with a broken heart. From the very beginning I knew he was special. He may be the bravest person it the whole series.

3)I actually really love Kat's narrative. You're right that she doesnt always see things as they are... but only at first. And I think that suspicion is what makes her a survivor. Plus I get it, I once viewed the world that way too. You know I was sold within that first few chapters. As an oldest sister, I would have done the exact same thing to protect my sisters. I relate to Katniss more than any literary character I've come across in a very long time.

4)I'm putting all my money on Peeta. The last chapter of Catching Fire absolutely convinced me of that. They are a great balance to each other, and i think in Mockingjay Kat is going to putting everything on the line to save him.

And dare I say it? I predict Gale will end up with Madge. Forgive me for being arrogant, but I'm pretty good at this. I called Harry/Gina and Ron/Hermione by the end of Chamber of Secrets.

Can't wait to read Mockingjay and hear your thoughts on it!

Kara said...

I really love Katniss' narrative too; her voice is refreshing. I don't think she's being intentionally unreliable in her narration (just like Harry wasn't in SS), it is more of the natural limitations of the world in which she lives. I do see it as an intentional strategy on Suzanne Collins' part, which is why this young adult novel is more than meets the eye.

Ty and Ber said...

I think that they all die. OK not really, how lame would that be. I am with Erin and that it will be Peeta in the end. The Gale/Madge duo is quite interesting and could possibly work. Hmmm??
It is easy to say how unreliable Kat is as a narrator and how she doesn't catch on to everything but as readers we have an outside perspective. When you are living in the moment sometimes you don't catch on to everything and you brush off the odd and unexplainable. Besides books are lame if the main character figures everything out.
I loved these books.I am looking forward to reading Mockingjay next week.

Lindsay said...

I love your literary insights on "The Hunger Games". I can't wait for "Mockingjay" myself. I am a little nervous to see how things turn out with the love triangle. (It must be impossible to write young adult fiction and not have a love triangle.)

I love your family photos!

Anthony and Rene said...

Hey Kara, ok so we texted Andy and he never got back to us. I will try calling him and see when they can come over. But I just wanted to let you know we still want you to come over!!!1 I hope you guys are doing well.