The Dystopian Immorality of The Hunger Games

So, I’ve finished The Hunger Games.  The trilogy.

I’m not sure what to say about it.  I found it always vaguely unsatisfying and too easy with its killing.  It tries to subvert this by the fact that our heroine lives in a world of killing–from the beginning Katniss is essentially most at home as a hunter.

Here’s the takeaway: The world is full of shitty people and you can’t trust anyone and possibly not even yourself.

Of course that’s the world-view of Katniss Everdeen.

All states use their population and states at war use their population to make war.

At the very least, though we always suffer from believing in the realism of our dystopias (yes, people are that way!), the books thrust the neurotic confusion of the protagonist into the forefront of every situation.  Katniss represents the mind unsure of itself outside of its primary context.  So, Katniss in the woods with Gale knows the rules.  Katniss anywhere else is clueless.  This is its very real, though ambivalent, strength: it shows you a mind struggling to make sense out of the senseless with almost no grounding in or understanding of “the good.”

For example, in the rebellion Gale does not split hairs.  If he is ready to kill in one situation to further the end that is the defeat of the Capitol then he makes all killing that serves this end equivalent.  Every hair on Katniss’s head is split by comparison.  We are always in the presence of her confusion.  She seems to always be seeking a JUST kill.  And though I don’t think she ever finds it, or is probably never meant to find it, she keeps on killing.

By contrast, Peeta is never sullied.  He is devoted to one cause, Katniss.  Her protection is his one end to achieve at any cost.

I think it is likely a failure that he is not made to kill to protect her.  He is always a part of the killing action without ever striking an intentional blow.  This leaves him pure in a way that is probably not remotely possible given the constant killing in the books.

So, I don’t think we have a truly principled character, if I except Peeta for the reason above.  We have a whole load of principled thinking and a whole load of rationalizing.  But in the end that means we have a whole load of destruction.

The end being that one repressive government is replaced by another.  They are only two different types of repression enforced by specific oppressions.  But this is, ultimately, a difference that doesn’t make a difference.

The good die, the bad die.  The good kill, the bad kill.  Fashion and entertainment are a locus of the shallow mind (agreed).  A government that dictates your actions is only expedient, a shackle to individual conscience, and so is a failure as regards human liberty.

The soldier is applauded who refuses to serve in an unjust war by those who do not refuse to sustain the unjust government which makes the war; is applauded by those whose own act and authority he disregards and sets at naught; as if the state were penitent to that degree that it hired one to scourge it while it sinned, but not to that degree that it left off sinning for a moment. Thus, under the name of Order and Civil Government, we are all made at last to pay homage to and support our own meanness. After the first blush of sin comes its indifference; and from immoral it becomes, as it were, unmoral, and not quite unnecessary to that life which we have made. (Thoreau, “On Resistance to Civil Government”)

The only good is unmediated, disinterested human relations.  Katniss and Prim (her sister); Katniss and Gale in the woods before they are corrupted by the motivations of the sate; Peeta and his role as protector of his heart’s passion.

It seems a horrific waste of about 1,200 pages to expose 40 million minds to a terrible vision of the future to try to convey this message.  Thoreau did it without the fantasy bloodlust in about 9,000 words

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  1. focus April 8, 2012 at 12:27 am

    I felt the first book was the best of the trilogy and by the third one I was frustrated and somewhat angry at the story line. I know, I know, it’s probably because I was looking for that silver lining, that I wanted what Peeta and Katniss had to be real, to be pure and to be good. I wanted to think that the rebellion could result in something better, not the same with a different face.
    Peeta is a fascinating character. I felt he had a depth and a goodness in him that was truly good. Katniss benefitted from that.
    I agree there is principled thinking and rationalizing but thinking isn’t going to get the situation changed. It is unfortunate that when change comes in the form of rebellion the template utilized is most often a flawed, imperfect form of what they were rebelling against.

  2. Douglas Storm April 8, 2012 at 7:28 am

    I think the point is that rebellion, when it is of the same manufacture as the order of the state, will only be a replication of the worst within us.

    Our very real weakness is an inability to imagine a “stateless” existence–a government in charge of our daily living. though really, all of us live “operationally” in our municipalities.

    I do think that the only thing to trust is your relations unmotivated by interests other than those of face-to-face living concerns.

    Again, Katniss in the woods; Peeta in the bakery. Prim healing.

  3. NVM April 8, 2012 at 9:24 am

    Popcorn for the mind.

    I immediately went and read 4 classic novels to rid my mind of this. It worked. My recipe was Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World and 1984.

    I won’t say it was not enjoyable to read. I did enjoy reading it but I enjoyed it as I enjoy popcorn and not a solid meal. Just my opinion.

    1. Douglas Storm April 8, 2012 at 9:33 am

      True, I think, as fiction is intended for sale, not for thought, though thought can be found there. You listed 3 novels–was there a fourth? This book may be useful for offering those more insightful less bloody books that you suggest. They are stimulating fictions as well as being more concentrated in their aesthetic intent (perhaps). Of course Collins uses 451 as the code number of the “hit” squad that Katniss joins.

      And I think there is a real attempt to make a point, it’s just that what minds find those points persuasive in our current context? The novel offers salvation in the one-to-one…in the space of true being that is relational and honest. In Finnick’s love; in Peeta’s love; in Katniss and Prim and her hunting (no-mind). What other strength is there to fight the common degradations of man?

  4. Focus April 8, 2012 at 10:30 am

    That recipe of Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World and 1984 provides ample food for thought. I did much the same about a year or so ago.
    Dystopian futures are far more frightening to me know than when I was a teenager. There are too many things on those books that have come to pass.
    As a book I found the first Hunger Games engrossing. The movie was true to that book for the most part, something I can’t say about most adaptations of literature to film (lord of the rings did well also.)
    Motivation, action, reaction and self-knowledge. I still believe Peeta is the truest to himself.

    1. Douglas Storm April 8, 2012 at 11:28 am

      From Emerson’s Circles:

      Geoffrey draws on his boots to go through the woods, that his feet may be safer from the bite of snakes; Aaron never thinks of such a peril. In many years neither is harmed by such an accident. Yet it seems to me, that, with every precaution you take against such an evil, you put yourself into the power of the evil. I suppose that the highest prudence is the lowest prudence. Is this too sudden a rushing from the centre to the verge of our orbit? Think how many times we shall fall back into pitiful calculations before we take up our rest in the great sentiment, or make the verge of to-day the new centre. Besides, your bravest sentiment is familiar to the humblest men.

  5. NVM April 8, 2012 at 10:45 am

    Apparently I can’t count LOL. The fourth novel is my attempt to move on to a somewhat different genre…The Great Gatsby. Again.

    I have to agree that HG (Hunger Games) can be used as a tool to move on to more meaty literature. At home that is just what we have done. It set off a cascade really-Brave New World is intricately tied to 1984 and it also opened the door to a re-read of Midsummer Night’s Dream-Delicious!

    As to the larger questions of who exactly finds a persuasive point in HG and what sort of weapons we wield against the “common degradation of man”…I am not certain but I agree the answer might be disturbing.

    Thanks for the forum and the blog. Came upon it on FB.

  6. Douglas Storm April 8, 2012 at 11:22 am

    Interesting. Gatsby is another kind of Brave New World, thought it is already an “evening land” by the time Fitzgerald encases it in the amber glass of fiction.

    I have never yet been persuaded by any human accomplishments (outside of the anomaly of the art of species “self-reflection”) as being truly meaningful.

    Nature begins and ends simultaneously in death and degradation of material being is our constant state.

    The only expansion we are allowed is in thought–and in that space only Art has a chance of escaping degradation.

    However, we are weak and simple and mean on the whole, and in a technologically concentrated way we are MORE mean and weak and simple than ever before and in this way inclined to do so much more damage than ever before.

    Only in this space of mind without material purpose (building and making “things”) can we become something other than the automaton that is organic being convulsed by two events–birth and death. (stealing from HDT there)

    My pleasure re: this place. Come back again!

  7. NVM April 9, 2012 at 10:41 pm

    I’m going to have to resoundingly agree on that!

    Now moving on to War of the Worlds. Loving the second read on all of these.


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