Spoilers ahead for Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games.
Yes! It's the final two classes for young adult lit, the ones you've all been waiting for -- the classes on The Hunger Games, the dystopian sensation that's sweeping the nation.
We kicked off the class by quickly going over the difference between a utopia (a perfect political state) and a dystopia (a "bad place" by definition). But what made The Hunger Games a dystopian? What tied it into our country to make it a dystopian of what we have now?
Well, there's the obvious.
But here, have a list!
- spectacle culture (entertainment -- reality tv)
- how people treat the Earth & our habits of consumption
- government control
- class stratification (through fashion)
- poverty & distribution of wealth ("first world problems")
- a draft (The Hunger Games v. war)
- war & rebellion (the rebellion v. Occupy Wall Street, Egypt, etc.)
- decline & fall of empires (gluttiny -- think Rome)
- genetic engineering ("Forget about genetically engineered corn -- how about genetically engineered hornets!?")
- surveillance ("It's almost a kind of assimilation.")
- the withholding of healthcare (Capitol v. Districts; medicine v. herbs)
So there's a lot that makes this a dystopian, and many ways we can tie it into today's culture. (The cultural stratification through fashion was fun to talk about -- lots of discussion on Lady Gaga.)
Shoutouts to any Whovians who understand the joke in the link above.
But what about the book itself? If there are all these things that are shown as bad, certainly it's didactic, right?
Dystopians do ask to be read didactically, and while there are certain elements to it, I don't think [The Hunger Games] is didactic.
Didactic is "an adjective used to describe literature that aims to teach some moral, religious, political, or practical lesson. Although didactic elements are often found in artistically pleasing works, the term 'didactic' usually refers to literature in which the message is more important than the form." We went over this with Go Ask Alice, where the entire story was didactic. This allows you to interpret the message more yourself. You can see it's terrible, but in a way that you're allowed to sympathize with different characters, especially in the movie interpretation and especially as the books go on.
Speaking of characters, what about Katniss? What makes her stand out so much as a character? Why is this a -- you guessed it?! -- bildgunsroman?
(If you haven't figured it out by now, trying to figure out why things are bildungsromans are par for the course, as a bildungsroman is at the core of most young adult literature.)
Despite the fact that Katniss has grown up differently than most people -- when we start the story, she's basically an adult with adult responsibilities -- her bildungsroman plays with higher stakes. Life and death, obviously, and rather than her becoming an adult, hers is discovering who she is and how she identifies realtionships with everybody else. Up until The Hunger Games, she was doing for everybody else; despite the fact that she's trying to win for Prim, the Games are actually the first time the only person she's fighting for is her.
Which is one of the reasons both the teacher and I agree that she has no feelings for Peeta in the first book. She's used to caring for people; he needed to be cared for.
But I digress.
Back to the bildungsroman.
In this story, the problems she has to deal with as a bildungsroman are introduced on a non-personal level -- the Games affect everybody. She fits the trope of a missing parent, as well as the trope of using trauma as a chance to mature. By the end of the story, she's finished the first stereotypical 1/3 of a bildungsroman. (Hence why The Hunger Games makes a good trilogy in terms of character development.)
We breezed over a few other topics as well -- how this is a war versus a game and how it reframes Katniss' crisis; how there isn't violence for the sake of violence; the clash of identity and class; how this falls under science fiction as well as a dystopia.
But we talked mostly about how the Capitol and the Games strip away Katniss' identity.
"It's that objectification that gives me more chills than the killing does."
Despite Katniss being a female protagonist, she acts as a blending of both of the stereotypical gender roles. At home, she does both the stereotypically feminine and masculine things -- she hunts, but she also acts as mother. Her family life and her relationships pre-Games allow her to be both roles.
The Reaping acts as a reassertion of patriarchy. Once she gets to the Capitol, they quite literally strip her of that identity. Despite (or because of) the fact that the people in the Capitol (or at least the men) seem to embody both genders, they force Katniss to take on a decidedly female persona. It weakens her as a person. Katniss is THE girl on fire; she's THE girl from District 12; where she wasn't saddled with the identity of having to be a woman as depicted by the Capitol's standards, she now is forced to play there game. They remove her body hair and shape her until they think she suits what they identify as a woman. (Cinna, an androgynous character, stops them from going to far and doing, you know, plastic surgery.)
But for a bildgunsroman that's all about reestablishing her identity, no wonder it's going to take three books. As Katniss says, "I am no one at all." She has no identity. Not yet.
Though I suppose the other books will fix that...
Question for the comments:
We've got one more class after this! What do you think of the theory of Katniss being stripped of her identity?
Did you miss a class?: