The “Hunger Games” Trilogy

First, my humble opinion…Even though Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy is the young adult answer to the genre of dystopian futures, it doesn’t mean that Collins’ vision is not every bit as chilling.  My problem with the trilogy is the unlikable character of Katniss Everdeen.  For me anyway, the problem with first person present tense is that the lead character is always at the center of the action, and so her gut reactions and on-the-spot feelings are untrustworthy.  Past tense allows a sense of reflection and permanence.  Also, that the character goes in and out of past tense musings seems an afterthought to superimpose depth on a character that is otherwise distant, self-absorbed, and unable to effectively express herself.

That said, the story of The Hunger Games is gripping and in the style of most dystopian literature that went before it: an evil government, an elite aristocracy, the down-trodden and disparaged masses, an end of liberty and human rights, a lone anti-hero.

One thing I didn’t understand about the Collins’ universe, and a question unanswered by the trilogy, is what about the rest of the Earth?  Has the human race been wiped out everywhere except Panem?  Or is contact between continents cut off?  There is only a hint when one of the characters remarks “there used to be a place called Rome.” And there is the sense that the war that left the Capital and District 13 pointing nukes at each other had been a nuclear war that possibly included all of humanity.  In 1984, Big Brother rules the Earth, and one gets the feeling that the wars, so-called, are mere propaganda to keep the masses focused on their mindless, endless work to support the war effort.  In Brave New World, the world controllers control all parts of the planet except the Free Islands, and the Savage Reserves–but really, they control even those areas discreetly.

What I enjoyed most about “Hunger Games” was Collins’ use of setting.  For example, at the beginning of the first novel, she describes the coal miners of District 12 trudging to and from work. I was reminded of F Scott Fitzgerald’s “ash grey men” in The Great Gatsby, and the way he describes them moving “dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.” Faces without hope, crushed beneath the burden of their labor.

One could read the trilogy and feel anger toward the Capital and its seemingly oblivious citizens until one reads between the lines.  The citizens of the Capital are as terrorized as the people of the Districts.  It’s merely that they are tormented in other ways.  President Snow seems implausibly powerful for one man ruling with an iron fist.  His rule topples easily, and in the end, he is only as powerful as those closest to him will tolerate.  Like the Caesars of Rome, if they went too far, they were likely to wake up stabbed to death one morning.

I am actually interested in seeing the movies now, to see how they have been adapted on to the big screen.

Orwell’s “1984” and Other Dystopian Literature

I was wondering how to sum up “1984” in a way that would also translate the feeling I had as I read it.

Orwell’s dystopian universe can be likened to being in a large room where the floor is not level.  You walk across it every day with many others.  Every day you feel like you are walking either downhill or uphill.  You can’t sit in a chair comfortably.  The evidence that the floor is slanted is all around you.  Vases won’t stay on tables–they keep sliding off.  When you set a cup of coffee down, it spills over one side.  Yet, you seem to be the only person who notices how off center everything is.  Furthermore, no one believes as you do–but you can’t be sure.  Talking about it, comparing opinions, is strictly forbidden.  Even thinking about it is subversive and can result in terrible punishment.  So, you try to ignore it.  You try to continue with your day.  You try to believe what everyone else believes–that the floor is completely level.  But you know the truth about the floor.  You can’t argue this with yourself.  And no matter how hard you try, you simply can’t unknow what you know.  The floor is not level!!  It is slanted–and in fact, it slants to the right.  So what do you do with that?

That is Orwell’s novel.  What is wrong is right.  Even is it was right yesterday, it is wrong today, and you must somehow forget that it was wrong yesterday, or that it ever existed as anything other than right.  No wonder why Orwell’s beleaguered hero, Winston Smith, feels like he is losing his mind sometimes, and feels out of touch with what is real–or is uncertain of what is real.  He is a man without a past that can exist outside his own mind.  He has no frame of reference.  Strange indeed that he somehow was born and became a man, yet has no parents–they have been erased–even their existence has been blotted out forever.  He works next to a colleague for years, eats lunch with him, has careful conversations with this man, but when this man is erased, he must continue on as though this colleague never existed.  How can he forget if “doublethink” does not work for him?

Like Huxley’s “Brave New World”, Orwell’s novel attacks the very part of the person that is intrinsically human: we all are, as Descartes said, “thinking things”.  We cannot be any other way, and when we see what is not true, but are told to believe that what is untrue is true, our minds turn on us.  We begin to think it through, to calculate, to reference our environment.  If we see glaring evidence to the contrary, we cannot blindly accept something we know is wrong.  It is unnatural for us.  Yet, in “1984”, this is what Big Brother forces the people of Air Strip One to do every day, and many times during the day.  History is constantly modified, and therefore, the present “truth” must change also.  Both Huxley and Orwell rewrite human history, and while Huxley’s world does it once and for all future generations, Orwell’s world changes history daily, in an ever-confusing cycle of what is correct to think about.  Very disturbing.

Aldous Huxley and his Brave New World: Just a Few Observations

This is my first posting on my first blog…

I am about to write a paper that contemplates the dystopian futures of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy, and then link them to the distorted truth demonstrated by certain fads in popular culture, such as reality television.

Huxley creates a society where all aspects of truth are hidden by World Controllers who are ruthless in their pursuit of a happy and stable world.  Horrified by the violence of the “Nine Year War”, the surviving world population were determined to have peace–at any cost.  The cost was their freedom and individuality.  Huxley paints a beautifully bleak rendering of a world where everyone is smiling, satisfied, well-fed, employed, and over-sexed.  However, they are also high on “Soma” which alters their perception of reality and prevents them from seeing the gilded cage in which they live.

When I say that the truth is hidden, it is actually either erased or forgotten by the people who have now lived in their post-war society for many generations.  The trend is to embrace what is new and abandon what is old.  Citizens are encouraged to buy new things regularly, and dispose of older possessions; to use the newest technology; to enjoy the latest forms of entertainment.  However, all that is old is not necessarily useless, and this is where the society in Huxley’s novel begins to fail.  The history of Mankind has been wiped clean and the people started again.  But forgetting Mankind’s past also meant forgetting Da Vinci, Mozart, Shakespeare, and all the great artifacts of Man including the Pyramids and the Parthenon.  These things that mark the history and development of Man were destroyed and torn down until nothing remained.  Thus, people have no frame of reference, and seem completely alien to the reader.

Because natural childbirth has been outlawed, and children are mass-produced in a factory-like laboratory, the family unit is a thing of the past.  In fact, family, mother, father, son, daughter, these concepts are now considered obscene or “smutty”.  There are no love/romantic relationships.  They are considered unnatural and subversive.  The motto is “everyone belongs to everyone else”, and this is strictly adhered to by the citizens, and supported by the Controllers in the form of free birth control and sex aids.

Because “love” is a thing of the past, no one really knows anyone very well, and although there are friendships, there is no intimacy.  Therefore, no one mourns the loss of anyone else.  Life is not as valuable, and the once important ideal of “human dignity” is forgotten.  This means that the natural urge to explore one’s life through the eyes of another, as in romantic love, and to create a brand of immortality by creating offspring has vanished.  Medications and genetic engineering prevent Huxley’s people from aging, and children are desensitized to death from an early age.  Therefore the truth that we are born, we live, we age, and we die has become distorted.  The truth that we love and grieve, laugh and cry, fear and take comfort is also distorted.  The truth that we give our hearts or bury our parents has been eliminated.  The citizens of Huxley’s world never weep or experience sadness.  They only ever experience a deluded, robotic happiness.  Actually, they don’t truly “feel” anything at all.

All children are genetically engineered to fill roles in Huxley’s strict caste society.  Alphas are the first caste, followed by Betas, Gammas, and the lowly Epsilons.  Where the Alphas are engineered as superior in every way–physically, intellectually, creatively–the Epsilons are purposely stunted–poisoned in their “test-tubes”–to be nearly mindless working drones.  The Alphas rule, and the Epsilons labor.  From an early age, all castes are indoctrinated during their waking and sleeping hours to live in submission to their “happy and stable” society, to work when they should work, play when they should play, sleep when they should sleep, and never attempt to be anything else or search for something more.  To investigate personal truth is forbidden–no one is permitted to be alone for periods of time, and simply spend a few hours in thought painting a picture, or writing a poem.  Solitude is subversive.

The synthetic drug “Soma” is a clever way for the Controllers to suppress individuality and truth.  This is the “happy and contented” drug that is provided to all citizens.  Soma creates an artificial feeling of belonging, safety, and giddy happiness.  People take “soma holidays” sometimes for hours or days.  There are no after effects with this drug–no hang over.  It is the only intoxicant in the world, and it is absolutely ubiquitous.  Citizens take soma and they don’t need anything else.  Even the Epsilons who work in the mines feel that life is wonderful with the help of soma.  In Huxley’s universe, any time one of the characters become something close to unhappy, he or she takes a gram of soma, and all is right with the world once more.  In essence, people have forgotten what actual truth is.  Soma has replaced the truth with impermanent satisfaction.

Okay.  That’s it for now.  On to Hunger Games.



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