My students this semester have been really open to the exchange of literature. Every week I await the handing-over of a new favorite book from a student as we make an exchange of books. Most recently, I have read the first book of Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games (American, 2008-2010) trilogy, which is timely since the film is about to be released.
I was pulled in by the timeless Orwellian plot of a country fat with too much surveillance, and reminded of Takami’s Battle Royale with Collins’s mingling of children and violence as entertainment. But what intrigued me the most about the tale was Katniss’s — the main character’s — affinity (and also her distaste) for love.
I was once a sixteen year old girl and I was in love with the idea of being in love, but not so eager to actually commit. Katniss is definitely a sixteen year old girl. Like me, her first love is her younger sister, whom she covets too fiercely.
She feels that she must live and die for her sister, Prim. She must protect her from the cruel world where not everyone loves her. This love makes her an animal. It primes her to walk the line between brutality and love — the mixture that makes a winner in the Hunger Games.
When she is in the games, Katniss must again take a love object or she can’t reach her full potential of brutality…or of love. Her love interest, Rue, is Prim-like: small, girly, reliant on her, a healer. But then, Katniss discovers that Rue is not Prim; she is cunning, quick, animated, capable of surviving. Suddenly Katniss makes a key observation that Rue is a lot like herself. And she dismisses — usurps — Prim with Rue. Pretty much entirely.
Part of winning the Games depends on how Katniss can manifest a love that she doesn’t quite feel for her district partner, Peeta, and the Capital’s censorship of the love that she does feel for Rue. Peeta is portrayed as truly loving Katniss but Katniss can never really make her play at love for Peeta real. She must learn the gestures of love without the emotion. And this is what wins her the game, because sponsors are drawn to their affair.
That isn’t really what wins Katniss the game. Katniss wins, really, because Thresh (a contender from Rue’s district) spares her life when he learns that she showed her love for Rue.
Katniss’s “real” love — for Rue — is the saving love. Yet, her loving act of decorating the young girl’s body with flowers, is censored from viewers: dismissed as if it were too dangerous. The normalized love between a young obsessive boy and a shy girl is what viewers want in the victors.
Love is the overarching theme, for me, in this book: the kind of love that is right and the kind that is wrong. I look forward to reading about how love plays out for Katniss in the next two books