Friday, December 24, 2010

The Question of The Hunger Games

I finished The Hunger Games trilogy today - a disturbing fiction series set in a future North-America divided into 13 districts, tightly controlled by an authoritarian central government and leader.  The main character of the trilogy is a young woman (ages 16 to 18 over the course of the three books) whose life is destroyed and perspective is distorted by war and unending violence.  Suzanne Collins, the author of the series, is a student of how war and violence impact the lives of young people around the world.  Her three books are a creative way to really ask one question: how does the cycle of violence in our world today impact our youth and how does it stop?  Other questions pop up throughout the series - ones about life and death, love and loss, authority and submission to authority - but they are all (in my mind) subsets of the bigger question about the impact and cycle of violence.

In fact, my favorite paragraph in the whole series comes in the second paragraph of page 186 of the final book, Mockingjay, where Katniss (the main character) is having a conversation with fellow rebels about the weapons they are creating to use against the "evil" central government.  Here's the whole paragraph:

"That seems to be crossing some kind of life," I say. "So anything goes?"  They both stare at me - Beetee with doubt, Gale with hostility.  "I guess there isn't a rule book for what might be unacceptable to do to another human being."

In these few sentences, the author shows her hand.  She is asking a great question about the cycle of violence.  When people are hurt by others, they begin to think about hurting back (the natural emotions of vengeance), and usually they process their pain in such a way that the level of violence increases - "I will hurt them worse that they hurt me."  This is not unique to war (it happens in all of our lives), but it is magnified by war.  The violence and death of so many creates a rationalization to use "whatever means necessary" to get back at those who have caused the pain to us.

These questions are theological questions - why should we not treat each other like animals, hurting those who hurt those we love?  Why should we not respond in anger and hatred and violence?  And while Collins' book does a great job of raising the question, I feel like she does a very poor job of answering the question.  In fact, the resolution of her third book has created lots of debate online precisely because it seems her answer is, "just do what you have to survive, to not be controlled by others, and keep on living."  And while I really don't have a literary argument with the conclusion of the book, I have issues with her non-answer answer to her main question.  In other words, is Collins saying by not answering her own question that there is NO answer to the question of stopping the cycle of war and violence and genocide?  This might be the dominant view of our post-modern generation, but it surely leaves the reader wanting a better life philosophy than nihilism (extreme skepticism that denies meaning and truth).  For those who have read the series, am I reading this right?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

The biblical answer to acts of violence is deeper and harder than the answer of the Hunger Games - forgiveness.  I'm surprised with the level of violence in this series that the characters don't discuss God or forgiveness one time.  I don't expect the book to present a Christian worldview at all, but I would think an honest discussion about this level of violence and vengeance and war would include a discussion on forgiveness and how a person's worldview shapes their response to violence.  The series almost seemed to be going this direction several times (when the characters would talk about the need to NOT be a pawn in the games, controlled by the desires of evil leaders) but then would simply resort to the best way to fight back was to survive at whatever the cost.  While an engaging read, I found the lack of resolution disappointing.

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