by K.A. Lewis
The Hunger Games: Katniss wins! Katniss wins! While fighting to survive a televised fight to the death she's developed a complex relationship with a boy who's life she saved: a boy she feels once saved her. She and Peeta are left to sort out these complexities under the rueful eye of the Capitol, whose leaders can't help but see the final twist in the games that saved them both as a very public act of rebellion. So. We'll see where the discussion takes us, but from here I'm going to try to stick to overarching themes and save major plot considerations for later posts.
First, setting. Of the superb details employed to create the post-apocalyptic world of Katniss Everdeen for our fancy, it strikes me that one of the foremost literary strengths are those that remind us of our own. Sure, the Seam and the Districts, the nature of their government, these aspects need description. But we need no explanation of the nature of reality television; it has been around so long the audience barely registers shock, much less outrage. We've lived with Survivor for 10 years (10!). 13 years ago in June we might have watched people lining up on an L.A. overpass to wave at O.J.'s slow-moving white Bronco (just as those in the Capitol greeted the tribute train). There appears to be a constant stream of rich people who are willing to have their petty grievances aired directly from their home to ours, and I once heard someone describe a program called "Faces of Death" which showed stunts caught on film that end in the worst possible way. It is a very small leap to a staged death match, which I'm going to guess is The Point.
Second, class. The contrast between the tributes and those living in the Capitol paints a clear picture of having and having not in Panem. Those in the Capitol are never hungry, they are wasteful and petty, they never want for necessities or luxuries, and therein they are so detached from any reality other than their own that they have lost some of their humanity. How else can they watch starving children kill each other for sport? Only a tragic love story, fabricated and edited for emphasis, can motivate compassion. (Even that empathy is rooted in selfishness, for Katniss and Peeta's story is no longer their own but shared by all.) I love it when Katniss describes her inability to feel embarrassed as she stands naked before her prep team because they are so strange, cosmetically altered and ridiculously dressed, that she can't help but feel they are more like three colorful birds than discriminating humans.
Third, power. The power of the Capitol is made to seem absolute. Beyond the constant threat of death for any "crime" or the daily prison of poverty in which the Districts are held, the games represent the ultimate show of authority. It is a punishment that lasts generation through generation, and it is worse than death; it is death for your most dear, your children. And no one is safe. The town square gathering and false holiday atmosphere of the Reaping is reminiscent of that wretched classic short story I know I was assigned to read as an 11-year-old: "The Lottery." The twist of additional entries for the poorest families through tessarae reinforces the class issue and shifts the odds in an interesting and terrifying fashion.
I think that it is Peeta who first realizes that the Capitol cannot, in fact, overpower them completely. Katniss doesn't understand his intentions when he confides in her on the roof the night before the games, but the reader can see in retrospect that Peeta is prepared to die. However, at the same time he hopes to retain some of himself: to show that even in death he is not simply a pawn but his own person beyond the Capitol's full reach. Katniss is a survivor, so initially this instinct alone informs her plans which in no way include the subtle rebellion Peeta has described. In the end, of course, they both play the games on the fringe of the Capitol's power. Peeta plays to save someone other than himself, Katniss understands his declaration when she gives Rue beauty and respect in death, and finally she defies the rules to save them both with a handful of poison berries: a survivor turned accidental rebel.