The odds are never in your favor

December 22, 2014

hunger gamesIn this title you might recognize the real truth behind the irony of The Hunger Games famous line: “may the odds be ever in your favor”. I have only recently managed to read the three volumes written by Suzanne Collins (even though it was a Romanian translation) and I have been hooked from the first chapters. I shall try to describe to you why these books are amazing despite the fact that nowadays we get many stories, in books and movies, about dystopic futures.

For those of you who have not yet had the time to read the books or the curiosity to see the movies that were made after the first two of them (the third one shouldn’t take long as well), here is the basic plot without too many spoilers. In a not so distant future (maybe a century or two, it doesn’t matter), the land of Panem appeared where America used to be. It had 13 Districts and a Capitol. But the regime became a tyranny and the Capitol oppressed the other Districts. When they rebelled, District 13 was destroyed and the other twelve were not only enslaved and reduced to poverty (in order to produce goods for the Capitol), but also forced to pay a tribute in blood to keep them in fear. Every year after the rebellion they had to give up one girl and one boy, between the age of 12 and 18 years, to fight to the death for the amusement of the Capitol in a form of a bloody TV show called the Hunger Games. The winner would win freedom for him or herself and some benefits for his/her district until the next games.

The action starts with the 74th edition of the games, when Katniss Everdeen, “the girl on fire”, is forced to volunteer for the games in order to spare her sister, Primrose, the horrible fate. Katniss was good with a bow due to her hunting for the family. Unfortunately, the boy that got picked was Peeta Mellark, a baker’s son, somebody who helped her when she was most desperate and obviously the plot just got complicated. I’ll let you discover on your own the savory details of the games will unfold. Through some cruel twists meant to provoke the players, the game overseers allow, for the first time ever, two winners to exist (as long as they are from the same District) and because Katniss and Peeta take advantage of this they both walk out alive. But obviously, somebody out there is not pleased with the outcome: the president of the Capitol, Snow, who sees this as an act of rebellion.

The two teenagers are forced to mimic a strong, passionate and reckless love in order to avoid trouble. But they fail: the second volume shows us how Snow wants revenge on all of the game winners in order to strike fear into the Districts and the 75th edition of the games begins a little differently, with Katniss, Peeta and some of the other past winners in the fray. At the end, they manage to outsmart the arena and break the game. I will not tell much about the third book because it contains many interesting twists, only that Katniss was meant to be the symbol of the revolution – the mocking jay – only to find more hidden games and deception. When she is taken to Coin, the leader of the formerly-believed-to-be-destroyed District 13, she only finds out that even here lies are better appreciated than truth. She is made to pose as an action figure for the rebellion, but she is not allowed to be a real hero or at least… honest to others. In the end, Coin turns out to be no better than Snow when she decides to have one more round of the Hunger Games, with the Capitol’s children. Do the heroes eventually win in this series? It depends what the prize truly is… and what is, in fact, the sacrifice.

You really need to read these books yourself and enjoy every detail. The movies are actually very good too, with new actors that keep it fresh, but please keep in mind that the books are written in the first person with Katniss being the only one who speaks to the reader. How you approach the story is very different in the books than it is in the movie for this very reason. The movie lets you deduce various things, the book helps you complete the universe Katniss is in and lets you have a better grip on the intense action and the turmoil inside the characters. For example, it is very hard to establish the exact relation between Katniss and Peeta, on one hand, and her and Gale, her former hunting partner. Both of them can be love interests (perhaps the public wants this), but this romantic plot is really only secondary due to the more urgent matters at hand: the collapse of an entire regime… and an entire world too.

I’d like to present to you two aspects that should convince you to read this book. One is the dystopic world it is set in, a great take on this subject that truly goes a long way to show you that great evil actually comes from within. The second one is the structure of the book. Of course there is so much more I could speak to you about each and every character, about how strong the main female lead is and how sincere their fight for good and family is above all else. But these are things you need to discover on your own because we all relate differently to the intimacy of such characters, their values and most importantly, how they decide to follow them. But the tyrannical regime has a different, twisted and dark flavor to it that should also catch the interest of the reader besides the protagonists.hunger games odds

The land of Panem is a classical Dystopia (an anti-utopia). It is lead from the middle, the Capitol, by a cruel President (Snow) and his subordinates that help him maintain a severe security inside and especially over the Districts. The Capitol is helpless without the goods and luxury that the Districts provide, depending on their number: some produce food, other clothing, other coal and so on. The President knows this, and it is important to keep both the Districts subdued through fear *and* the Capitol people blind to the truth of the suffering outside their limited, shiny and false world. Therefore they are offered cruelty and violence as a distraction (see Panem.. et circenses): what can be worse than having your child taken away from you to kill or be killed for the amusement of others who don’t even realize their own loss of humanity? Yet the Capitol people are blind to this truth due the brainwashing they get from the President: they are made to believe the Districts actually deserve this horrid punishment for their rebellion. And that they might willingly accept it to win back the forgiveness and favor of the “benevolent” Capitol that was made to suffer because of their uprising. The method has worked for nearly 75 years, as long as the Hunger Games ran, for the Districts did not dare to rebel again and accepted their gruesome fate. But the odds are never in their favor… even if there is a “winner” of the Games, the book always presents them as losers in life: they became drug addicts, alcoholics, mentally ruined people… or the Capitol’s pawns in various other hidden games. One can never be free.

Of course, we can say that a life such as this might never come to pass for real in our world. It is obviously some sort of extremist view, without which a Dystopia wouldn’t really be that great. And, as the Utopia itself, they are only imaginary places. But they tell us something about what truly lies within us all: what hopes and fears we have. The Hunger Games type of Dystopia comes very close to details that are already happening in our world: the “Big Brother” concept, TV culture, brainwashing, things happening behind our clueless backs, seeing bloodshed as fun or at least a viable method of getting things done… and, of course, a hot topic today, the fear of terrorism and losing control because of which we can accept the most extreme measures and even forsake humanity. This is the worst of all: when we fight monsters, there is a serious chance that we might become some in return.

For example, in order to capture Snow, Coin decided behind Katniss’s back to lure a lot of the Capitol’s people to the children held in the president’s courtyard for safety. When help came to them (both from the Capitol, but also medics from District 13!), she detonated special bombs in order to strike fear into the Capitol’s heart. Amongst the victims was also Primrose, Katniss sister that she had tried to protect all along. She thought everything was over with Snow captured… but then Coin betrayed her just for some political twists and decided to have one more edition of the Hunger Games to exact revenge on the Capitol. Coin and her people in District 13 have endured some harsh conditions, true, but not the Capitol’s regime and not the sadistic Hunger Games. These people had it easy and they do not see the horrid truth behind such actions, they cannot understand that nothing justifies such a monstrous deed, not even to have revenge on the first ones who started it – Snow and the Capitol! It is easy for them to start… yet just another Dystopia. So very frighteningly – easy… how man can be turned to beast.

Besides the entire story and the powerful emotions of the characters, the meaning of the books lies somewhere along these lines. These are the real consequences that living in fear, injustice and hatred for so long has on the human spirit, this is why we imagine and write about Dystopias. They are not always created from the beginning by willing tyrants and monsters – but they surely do create them in return. And there is little recovery from such a tragedy. The heroes will eventually emerge victorious, yes, but… there will be no celebration.

One other interesting aspect of the books is the style they are written in. Personally, I do not get along well with the first person narrative perspective, and even with this book it seemed to me that thoughts become confusing and overwhelming. But perhaps this is just in tune with the entire story and Katniss’s ordeals and it truly does get you closer to their misery. What is truly fascinating is that each chapter ends by leaving you with something more to crave from it. You just can’t stop reading in the middle of it and the ending makes you want to go back as soon as possible. It may be a cheap technique, but it is surely very effective and well done in this book. There are plenty of conclusions to draw for yourself (see mine from above), besides the few ones that the characters already do for you. I would say the books are moderate regarding the amount of thinking they require you to do. You get enough missing information to provoke you, but also enough satisfaction and regular pats on the back when you do good HungerGames logoas a reader.

It is clear to me that this book trilogy was written for teenagers and young adults in a style so catchy and yet so great, so different than the way too cheesy Twilight, for example. Indeed, I read on somebody’s page that Twilight is simply for girls who aren’t smart enough to read the Hunger Games. So go ahead and give these books a try! They will offer plenty of action, raise some questions about ourselves and society today and at least make you want to read more of the great and classical literature about dystopic futures.

by Anca-Raluca Sandu

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