A New Colosseum

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The Hunger Games. It’s what everyone has been talking about–the books, the movie, the hype. While I was at college, I didn’t have a chance to sit down with the books. I didn’t go to the movie either, mainly because I don’t watch movies that often, and when I do, I usually like the book version better. Plus, I didn’t have a lot of spare time. So when I got home for the summer, the first thing I did was hunt down a copy of the first book. That proved difficult at first, seeing as the wait list for the English version at my local library was hundreds of names long. The Spanish version had a wait list too, but it wasn’t nearly as long. However, I was hoping to read the books in my first language before I tackled them in Spanish. Fortunately, one of my sister’s friends was more than willing to lend me the book. Once I finished the first, I borrowed the second from my sister, and two days ago my mom brought home the third. I have finished the series. I know I’m just another voice in the many who are shouting out their opinions, but I can’t let this opportunity go. This series is too important.

Let me get something out of the way first, so we can dig down into some of the issues. What’s my opinion on the books? I loved The Hunger Games, not because it was enjoyable to read about children slaughtering each other but because the story captured something very real. I’ll address this more later. When it came to Catching Fire, I was still intrigued. The series had taken a twist that I had not expected. I was reading and feeling with many of the characters. I couldn’t believe what was happening. When it came to Mockingjay, I’ll admit I was a little disappointed. I’m still trying to figure out what I disliked, but I think it might have to do with the predictability. While I didn’t see everything coming, the final book in the series did seem bent on reaching a predictable conclusion. I suppose the first one did as well, but Collins took a few more twists and leaps to reach the end of The Hunger Games than she did in Mockingjay. Overall, I found this trilogy intriguing and important for us to read. No book and no series can be perfect, but I think Collins addressed some fundamental questions and struggles that aren’t so far-fetched as we might hope.

When I was about halfway through Catching Fire, I was chatting with a friend about the series. Suddenly she confronted me with a question: what would you do if your name was called? All of the theory I had been discussing with her, all of my opinions on Katniss and Peeta’s behavior in their first Games, everything I had said became jarringly practical. What would I do? I was honest with her. I think I’d run and hide and pray that the rest of the tributes killed each other. I’d probably be one of the first dead; I’d eat something poisonous or not be able to find water or walk into a Gamemaker’s trap. I don’t think I would be able to kill another kid. Why? Partially because I can’t imagine it. I can’t imagine looking someone in the eye, knowing that they had a family back home who was just as worried as mine, and kill them. I wouldn’t have the guts. It’s pretty well impossible for me to imagine killing someone–a person with a soul, a person who doesn’t just end when their body dies, a person who loves and is loved. Maybe in self-defense, I could. But I don’t know. My reaction would be fear. So, if I killed someone in the Games, it would be out of self defense. Even then, I am a squeamish person. I don’t like blood. It’s gross. I hate seeing myself bleed, and it’s much worse with other people. Just reading the descriptions throughout the series, I frequently had to pull myself away and take a moment to calm down. It was revolting and terrifying. So I’d probably just curl up in a ball in some corner of the arena and die.

When it came down to it though, and my friend and I had talked and talked, I wrote this to her, regarding Katniss: “I feel like the Games changed her. She reverted back to her sinful nature, to what we all could be. Because she was desperate. I’m not saying she was right. I just think she’s a reflection of what we all could be. Just like we could all be Hitler. It’s a fundamentally human thing. Grace is the only reason we’re not. I guess I just see… any person who is afraid and struggling for what’s right but has no good guidance.” And I think that’s the heart of the series for me: what Collins has written is a series of books about a world that is trapped. A world that has no reason–no God, no absolute truth (except the State), no hope–to do anything but accept the Games, endure the horror, and slowly grow numb. In Panem, it took an awful war and nearly 75 years of Hunger Games to reach this particular level of indifference. Surely the Hunger Games were always awful for the tributes’ families, but over time, as long as it wasn’t your child or your sibling, you just kind of hunkered down and waited for next year’s horror. But the Games were numbing. After being forced to watch teenagers slaughter each other every year for your entire life, I’d imagine you’d get used to it. Not that you’d like it or that you’d be happy to watch, but you would probably develop a think skin. Stare numbly at the screen, pray you don’t have to watch too many replays of the gory deaths, and just move on. I guess we do that too in some ways. Our TV shows, our movies, our entertainment all can play off the pain and suffering of others. How many times have you watched someone do something incredibly stupid and dangerous on TV and thought, “Well, I’m glad that’s not me!” Sure, it’s not the same thing. But that’s only a minor example. I don’t know that Collins was trying to make a statement about our nation, but I do see an uncomfortable resemblance. We don’t stop at someone risking their health on Fear Factor or fighting to make it to the end of Survivor. That is only the beginning. As my friend and I talked, I stumbled through what I was trying to grasp. I guess I can see the world potentially turning this way someday. The world isn’t a pretty place. If you want control, what better way than to force people to send their children to be murdered or to murder. It’s the Roman Colosseum, just with children. It’s history repeating itself. It’s kind of a wonder we haven’t done this yet.
Or have we?

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