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  1. superior olive
    superior olive May 12, 2012 at 4:13 pm |

    Right at the beginning of chapter 5, when Katniss’ “purification” (great term, very apt!) was going on, I was pleased that Collins put that kind of grooming in the artifice of the Capitol. Specifically, I’m thinking of the hair removal, and how uncomfortable Katniss is with it, not just the pain of ripping out all her body hair, but the way it makes her feel exposed, raw, plucked. I don’t think I’ve seen a mainstream character who didn’t shave her legs/other body hair, even in Dystopian sci-fi. And it’s not like people in District 12 are dirty, except for the coal dust settling everywhere. Katnis bathes and washes and her mother styles her hair for the reaping. But the whole idea of removing body hair, except facial hair for the men, apparently doesn’t occur to the Districts. (well, maybe District 1.) I wonder if that would get teenagers to start thinking of our own current obsession with hairlessness as the artificial standard it is.

  2. AnneT
    AnneT May 12, 2012 at 5:08 pm |

    Superior olive, I’m glad you jumped in with the makeover part. It reminded me of the scene in The Wizard of Oz (the movie, i dont remember if this is in the book) where they polish up the four. Which made me start picturing the Capitol as Oz and Katniss as Dorothy Gale (hey, there’s that name again).
    Also, her prep team is so made-up that Katniss can pretend they aren’t even human.

  3. Jordan Taylor
    Jordan Taylor May 12, 2012 at 10:22 pm |

    When Katniss criticizes the various elements of gender performance practiced in the Capitol, such as depilation and the wearing of high heels, it is a pointed demonstration of the artificiality of ‘femininity.’ At first, this seems rather feminist of Collins to point this out, but it would be rather insulting to readers’ intelligence to suggest that we don’t already know that performing gender is artificial. What I found interesting about Katniss’ reactions to uncomfortable gendered rituals is that she knows how ridiculous it all is, but does it anyway, while mocking those who encourage her to ‘improve’ her appearance.

    As Katniss reveals her physical appearance to the reader, any criticism of feminine rituals begins to ring rather hollow, since Katniss manages to conform to a feminine standard without even trying. For example, Peeta states that Katniss “has no idea. The effect she can have” and reveals that “a lot of boys like her.” The implication of Peeta’s statements is that Katniss is already attractive and admired, and modifying her appearance is therefore unnecessary. She states that “at least half of the girls [who are tributes] are bigger than I am,” and “while I’m thin, I’m strong.” Petite young women are often promoted as ideal in this society, so Katniss is likely considered ideal in the Capitol as well. (The Capitol obviously parallels the West, given the beauty standards described on pages 124-125: “They do surgery in the Capitol, to make people appear younger and thinner. [...] Wrinkles aren’t desirable. A round belly isn’t a sign of success.”)

    Katniss’ views on beauty standards remind me of men who say that they prefer women without makeup. The implication is not that they don’t mind seeing pimples or a blotchy complexion, but rather that they prefer women to not have flaws which need covering up. This worldview puts women in a bind if they don’t conform to the feminine ideal – they are often considered ugly if they don’t wear makeup, and artificial if they do.

  4. superior olive
    superior olive May 12, 2012 at 11:40 pm |

    but it would be rather insulting to readers’ intelligence to suggest that we don’t already know that performing gender is artificial.

    I think it’s important to remember that this is YA–I was reading YA books like Christopher Pike at around age 12-13 and older. And I would not have had the tools yet to seriously question the beauty standards. There were some things I didn’t bother with–I wasn’t that into makeup–and some I did without question, like shaving legs and underarms. I’m betting a lot of young people reading these books read the beginning with all the poverty and everyone scraping by, yet didn’t think how that would affect more everyday things like shaving.

    And Katniss isn’t performing being thin, or young or pretty. Nor do I think she is admired for her beauty and youth, but rather her will, tenacity, fairness, and other personality traits. Also, the other girls being bigger doesn’t preclude them performing femininity, or being beautiful. I think you’re mixing performing beauty standards and meeting the beauty standards of the day. One is an action and the other is happenstance.

  5. Beaula
    Beaula May 13, 2012 at 4:47 am |

    When I read the comment about her being “thin, but strong” it was in direct reference to half of the girls being bigger and half of the girls being weaker than her. She isn’t saying I’m thin so I’m pretty, she’s saying I’m thin but I’m built. She mentions that the years of working hard for her food have made her lean and fit. This is a different beauty ideal than mentioned, it is neither skinny like the capital prefers, or plump as the districts would like to be as a sign of being well fed. We see her coming out ahead because she is physically strong. Also, I wonder if she would have gone along with it had Haymitch not made them promise to do what they say. Than again, katniss shows herself as determined to win, with how she acts later, letting everyone think peeta loves her to give her an edge etc. , she shows she doesn’t mind doing things she isn’t comfortable with if it means she wins.

    What do you think of her interactions so far with peeta? Everything he says or does she over-analzes and doubts. Do you think that is because of the context of their new relationship, being in the games? Or just her nature.

  6. Beaula
    Beaula May 13, 2012 at 4:51 am |

    Sorry, wasn’t clear – “don’t think she would have gone along with the purification if Haymitch hadn’t of forced them to go along with everything.”

  7. oxygengrrl
    oxygengrrl May 13, 2012 at 9:56 am |

    I thought it was a bit off that in a society that seems otherwise reasonably gender-blind, the fashion is so gendered. In a world where women and men do the same things, and in a decadent Capitol where men and women both wear makeup and dye their hair, the women are in skirts and heels while the men wear pants and flat shoes. It doesn’t tell us, of course, whether or not Peeta was plucked as well, so perhaps hair removal is for everyone. But I wonder. I do think it’s there so that Collins can encourage her young adult readers to question the logic of female-performance based beauty standards (per the discussion up-thread), but I also think it doesn’t quite fit with the world she’s built.

  8. AMM
    AMM May 13, 2012 at 1:51 pm |

    I thought it was a bit off that in a society that seems otherwise reasonably gender-blind, the fashion is so gendered.

    The gendering of fashion struck me, too, perhaps because I’m a guy who likes wearing “feminine” clothes and thus am very conscious of how gendered fashion is in my own society. Note that, as in our own society, the gendered limitations are on the boys, not the girls. Cinna sometimes (not always) dresses Katniss in a dress because he has the choice. Portia’s options are more limited.

    However, I didn’t see the HG society as otherwise genderblind, either, though perhaps less gendered than our own. E.g., my impression was that, in District 12, it was the men who went into the mines.

    My own take on this is that this is a reflection of how far the author thought she could go with her target audience, which is itself a reflection of what society will tolerate. Girls wearing boys’ clothes and boys’ roles is “edgy” and interesting. But had she attempted to put Peeta in anything remotely non-masculine, everyone would have seen the books as being about cross-dressing, and not about young people being forced to kill one another for the gratification of the overprivileged.

  9. Jordan Taylor
    Jordan Taylor May 13, 2012 at 2:46 pm |

    @ superior olive: It’s very interesting that you would state that Katniss is admired for her fairness rather than for her appearance, since a commenter on the other thread (Ch. 1-4) stated that Katniss is not a reliable narrator – which, to my mind, would indicate that she isn’t fair at all. The only positive personality trait Katniss seems to have is that of determination. She’s very judgmental, manipulative, and self-absorbed. I suppose the reason that I consider Katniss to be admired for her beauty is that I can’t see any other reason that she would be admired.

    The underlying issue that permeates the entire novel is the crushing weight of poverty. Collins chooses to portray a protagonist who grows up in poverty as being very individualistic and self-focused. I think that this is the most glaring flaw in the book. It is counter-intuitive: people without financial resources are better off developing people skills rather than focusing obsessively on improving their own lot. Humans did not evolve to compete, but rather to cooperate. I remember stumbling upon a study years ago that demonstrated that wealthy people have less empathy than poor people. There are several studies by Keltner et al. that back this conclusion:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/10/rich-people-compassion-mean-money_n_1416091.html

    http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700183469/Rich-less-empathetic-than-poor-study-says.html

    One could argue that Katniss is unique among her fellow citizens in being very individualistic, but none of the community members in District 12 seem particularly keen on being cooperative or charitable, except perhaps Peeta. Collins is projecting modern capitalist values onto a post-apocalyptic society in which cooperation would be necessary for survival; people in those districts could not possibly lack basic human instinct to that degree.

    As for any argument that “what can you expect, it’s YA,” I find this to be very demeaning to teenagers. Even toddlers can be inspired by intelligent, effective social commentary – I recall Robert Munsch’s The Paper Bag Princess with great fondness. Munsch did a much better job of poking fun at beauty standards than Collins ever does.

    Collins’ narrative appears to be an exaltation of narcissism, and, in this respect, The Hunger Games is similar to Ayn Rand’s diatribes against communists. If Collins wishes to suggest that sociopathy is rewarded in modern society, she is right, but her depictions of rational human behaviour do not stand up to scrutiny.

  10. Mezzanine
    Mezzanine May 13, 2012 at 3:34 pm |

    or example, Peeta states that Katniss “has no idea. The effect she can have” and reveals that “a lot of boys like her.” The implication of Peeta’s statements is that Katniss is already attractive and admired, and modifying her appearance is therefore unnecessary.

    I see it more as Peeta being besotted with Katniss and projecting his feelings about her onto all the boys from their district. It’s not so much that Katniss is utterly gorgeous as that Peeta is THAT into her.

  11. AnneT
    AnneT May 13, 2012 at 6:24 pm |

    One could argue that Katniss is unique among her fellow citizens in being very individualistic, but none of the community members in District 12 seem particularly keen on being cooperative or charitable, except perhaps Peeta. Collins is projecting modern capitalist values onto a post-apocalyptic society in which cooperation would be necessary for survival; people in those districts could not possibly lack basic human instinct to that degree.

    Things like the tesserae/reaping lottery undermine any sense of community. The Capitol turns people against each other for their benefit. It’s not straight up poverty, it’s poverty under a totalitarian regime. Also, this is a capitalist society. Katniss has been unique in opting out in favor of a subsistence hunter-gatherer existence. Peeta has also opts out by helping Katniss.

  12. tigtog
    tigtog May 13, 2012 at 11:17 pm |

    AnneT’s point above regarding totalitarianism is crucial. The Districts are not a functional community with goals of their own about how they want to progress post-apocalypse. They are an conquered population whose options are severely constrained by the rigid regime of the Capitol, so that even if somebody had a brilliant social justice initiative it would only result in them ending up arrested, detained and deported to somewhere else to cut out the infection of those ideas.

    I don’t agree that it’s truly a capitalist society though. Everything about the way that the Capitol treats the Districts screams planned-economy to me, although the Capitol appears to allow its own citizens to run a secondary free-market system for the allocation of non-essential resources for their consumer fripperies. More of a mixed-economy, with the government always poised to shut down any enterprise it views negatively.

  13. Azalea
    Azalea May 13, 2012 at 11:35 pm |

    Kind of, but remember that at the end of chapter 4, Haymitch told Katniss and Peeta to do everything the stylists told them to do without questioning. She goes along with it because she’s been told it’s a necessary step if she wants to survive.

    That is something to keep in mind, Katniss was very very strategical- almost everything she did was done to win and winning meant LIVING, SURVIVING. This wasn’t simply a girl trying to conform in order to be accepted, she did those things thinking it gave her a better chance at going home alive. With that in mind, I think her critique was valid.

  14. oxygengrrl
    oxygengrrl May 14, 2012 at 7:29 am |

    E.g., my impression was that, in District 12, it was the men who went into the mines.

    I thought that was weird, as well. And perhaps just not fully thought through by Collins.
    In re the Capitol (why’d she spell it that way, do we think?)

    and so they haven’t had necessarily had the motivation to enact social change like subverting gender roles.

    I don’ t know that at this stage we’ve seen enough to know what gender roles do or don’t exist there–we know the president is male, stylists are both male and female, at least one chaperone is female… And that’s about it.
    But it doesn’t seem like anyone is particularly interested in subverting what gender roles exist. Katniss didn’t want to go to the mines, and her problem with the clothes, etc. is that they make her uncomfortable, not that it’s gender that gets them assigned to her. If you read Collins’ earlier work, for even younger readers, she does try to create a gender-blind society in the Underland. So I do think she’s trying to make a point here. But beyond getting a less informed reader to question this stuff, I’m not sure what it is.

  15. Brennan
    Brennan May 14, 2012 at 11:15 am |

    However, I didn’t see the HG society as otherwise genderblind, either, though perhaps less gendered than our own. E.g., my impression was that, in District 12, it was the men who went into the mines.

    It’s a blink-and-you-missed-it reference, but Katniss does talk about the “men and women” who work in the mines. It’s implied that not everyone is strong enough for mine work, which may be why neither Katniss’s mother nor Gale’s work in the mines, though both are working class. However, Katniss also mentions that Gale is “strong enough for mine work,” implying that not all men are. So, that seems to cut both ways. At the other end of the spectrum, Peacekeepers, the soldiers/police force of the Capitol, have both men and women in their ranks. So, aside from fashion (which is by nature performative), I don’t see a lot of codified gender roles in Panem.

  16. Katya
    Katya May 14, 2012 at 2:00 pm |

    Collins chooses to portray a protagonist who grows up in poverty as being very individualistic and self-focused.

    I disagree with this on two levels: One, Katniss is incredibly devoted to her little sister, to the extent of being willing to die in her place. And I have to second (or third) the point that she doesn’t just grow up in poverty–she grows up under a totalitarian regime. Poverty can, in fact, cause people to become more selfish, to look out for “me and mine” at the expense of others, etc. It may be true that people in poverty would be better off cooperating, but that’s not always how they actually behave. But District 12 isn’t just poor, it’s occupied. People have their children taken away from them at random and killed. Their children can earn extra food for their family by increasing the odds that they will be taken away and killed. Someone else’s child being chosen means your child is safe.

    The regime in 12 seems pretty relaxed, in that Katniss can trade her illegally-obtained game with peacekeepers and government officials, but it’s still there. Cooperation to improve residents’ living conditions would not be tolerated by the Capitol, which survives by extracting resources from the districts in exchange for a minimal existence. Totalitarian regimes succeed, in part, by turning neighbors against each other; by fostering suspicion, resentment, fear; by replacing community and cooperation with self-protective conformity. Here, that technique is exemplified in the Games, which pit the districts against each other, but also all the families in the districts against each other in the lottery.

  17. Jordan Taylor
    Jordan Taylor May 14, 2012 at 2:16 pm |

    @ AnneT: The idea that a form of conscription would cause communities to turn against each other is not consistent with any history I’m familiar with; if anything, people turn against the government in such cases. Suspension of disbelief in this case is obviously dependent on what the reader’s null hypothesis/default assumption is: I believe that human beings only turn against each other if they have a reason to do so, and Collins does not establish a valid reason for the Districts to do so. If the author had instead created a scenario where the citizens were required to inform on each other – SS-style – for not acting sufficiently individualistic, then an atmosphere of hostility would be far more plausible. The argument of “Because totalitarianism!” simply doesn’t work for me if this argument entails ignoring the assumption that human beings are rational.

    @Azalea: I’m aware that Katniss is behaving strategically, as women and men tend to do when performing gender. That doesn’t negate the fact that her mockery of people who are trying to help her survive is hypocritical.

    My frustration with Collins’ depiction of poverty is that it seems completely outlandish. Anyone who has ever volunteered at a food bank would know that people don’t reminisce about being given a measly loaf of burnt bread. If they were thus overwhelmed by such a minimal act of charity, they would be extremely deluded, since one loaf of bread won’t feed a family for very long. I’m not expecting Suzanne Collins to suddenly morph into Jeannette Walls or Charles Dickens, but a little research could go a long way.

  18. DonnaL
    DonnaL May 14, 2012 at 2:33 pm |

    The idea that a form of conscription would cause communities to turn against each other is not consistent with any history I’m familiar with;

    You’ve never heard of the Draft Riots of 1863?

  19. Jordan Taylor
    Jordan Taylor May 14, 2012 at 2:58 pm |

    @ DonnaL: I’m not an American, so I’m not very familiar with American history, but aren’t riots, in general, combinations of public disturbances directed at other citizens and directed at the government in power? The citizens of Panem express hostility towards one another to an excessive degree, which I do not consider realistic given the circumstances. I understand why they would be loath to criticize the government, but their disdain of one another is simply implausible, in my view. Besides, a discrete incidence of violence is not at all the same as seventy-five years of suspicion and hostility. Collins does not romanticize poverty, but she commits the opposite error: she depicts poor people as being hostile to one another and incapable of cooperating. This would not be a big deal if more books actually explored the implications of long-term poverty on the human mind. To be blunt, my frustration with Collins’ trilogy is that she is appropriating the suffering of a severely marginalized group and distorting their experiences to serve her own ends. I’m aware that other popular modern authors, such as Stephanie Meyer and Nicholas Sparks, are also fond of doing this, as it adds an ‘exciting’ veneer of voyeurism to their books. The narrator’s hyperbolic gratitude at being given a loaf of bread is a prime example of how Collins distorts the experiences of the food-poor. Again, this would not be as frustrating if the voices of poor people living in the West were not so consistently silenced.

  20. tigtog
    tigtog May 14, 2012 at 3:08 pm |

    Suspension of disbelief in this case is obviously dependent on what the reader’s null hypothesis/default assumption is: I believe that human beings only turn against each other if they have a reason to do so, and Collins does not establish a valid reason for the Districts to do so.

    Not yet,no. The point cannot really be argued further here without going into Spoiler territory for upcoming chapters, but remember that we only know what Katniss knows about why the Capitol so brutally oppresses her community, and she is not a historian or a political scientist, she’s just a school kid who would rather be in the woods hunting so that she can ensure her family does not starve. Also, when she’s out there with Gale, who does have a better understanding of the system oppressing them, she doesn’t really pay much attention to his ‘rants’, because she just wants to enjoy the rare and precious freedom they have out there beyond the perimeter without wondering too much about exactly why it is so rare in their community.

    So it seems unreasonable, to me, to expect a teen narrator whose main focus is just getting meat on the table every night to provide you with the political dissertation that you’re missing so much.

    I promise you that a lot of the questions you are asking now about why the Districts appear to so readily acquiesce to the unjust rule of the Capitol are answered as the plot progresses and Katniss learns more about the ways things work under the surface.

  21. tigtog
    tigtog May 14, 2012 at 3:24 pm |

    Collins does not romanticize poverty, but she commits the opposite error: she depicts poor people as being hostile to one another and incapable of cooperating.

    ?????

    I read a depiction of some people being hostile, and others cooperating underground with the black market in non-rationed food which Katniss relies on to barter what she brings back from her hunts, and others choosing not to notice the law- breaking going on under their nose, so that they can have plausible deniability if I they are challenged on why they haven’t reported it..

    That there are a variety of responses rather than just one uniform response strikes me as more rather than less realistic?

  22. AnneT
    AnneT May 14, 2012 at 5:34 pm |

    Back to the rest of part one, then…anyone else think it was Peeta’s idea to hold hands in the chariot?
    I know, not exactly the deepest part of the book.

  23. tigtog
    tigtog May 14, 2012 at 6:23 pm |

    Katniss is also thoroughly disgusted by the over-abundance available to people in the Capitol compared to the deliberately short rations available to those in District 12. When she first meets Cinna and sits down to lunch with him, this passage hit home for me:

    I try to imagine assembling this meal myself back home. Chickens are too expensive, but I could make do with a wild turkey. I’d need to shoot a second turkey to trade for an orange. Goat’s milk would have to substitute for cream. We can grow peas in the garden. I’d have to get wild onions from the woods. I don’t recognize the grain, our own tessera rations cook down to an unattractive brown mush. Fancy rolls would mean another trade with the baker, perhaps for two or three squirrels. As for the pudding, I can’t even guess what’s in it. Days of hunting and gathering for this one meal and even then it would be a poor substitution for the Capitol version.

    What must it be like, I wonder, to live in a world where food appears at the press of a button? How would I spend the hours I now commit to combing the woods for sustenance if it were so easy to come by? What do they do all day, these people in the Capitol, besides decorating their bodies and waiting for a new shipment of tributes to roll in to die for their entertainment?

    I look up to find Cinna’s eyes trained on mine. “How despicable we must seem to you,” he says.

    Has he seen this in my face or somehow read my thoughts? He’s right, though. The whole rotten lot of them is despicable.

    Their excesses and trivialities disgust her, and she doesn’t trust any of them to see her as more than an entertainment object either. Why should she not mock them for being so condescending to her when their own lives are so much easier than hers has been?

  24. Jordan Taylor
    Jordan Taylor May 14, 2012 at 6:38 pm |

    When the idea of a book study on The Hunger Games was introduced, I had assumed that readers would be enthusiastic about discussing controversial topics pertaining to the book, since commenters on this blog are normally very open to debating issues.

    In the area of the world in which I live, the government is drifting towards totalitarianism. The same right-wing party has been in power for over forty years. Approximately half of eligible voters did not even vote in the last election. The recently created “opposition” party is simply an ultra-right-wing version of the reigning party. The electoral districts are structured so that popular support for alternative parties rarely results in candidates of those parties being elected.

    The government allows multinational corporations to dump massive amounts of toxic waste into rivers. There are regions in which cancer and other diseases are becoming alarmingly common. Young people are increasingly being afflicted with rare diseases that have no known cause and no known cure. There is a large gulf between rich and poor; government subsidies worth hundreds of millions of dollars have been promised to a local billionaire while homeless people freeze to death in the streets every year.

    In the midst of all this, while citizens know that their government has put into place policies that are killing them, they do not turn against each other. The wealthy pretend that the poor do not exist, and the poor muddle along as best they can, hoping that further cuts will not be made to the already shredded social safety net. I have volunteered at a food bank where the few paid staff believe strongly in what they are doing and are willing to work for low pay in order to help people more badly off than themselves.

    Poor people are not angry, aggressive, and bitter; they are often friendly, but are weary of fighting a system that treats their lives as worthless. If faced with a scenario such as The Hunger Games, in which they were required to battle privileged people, many of them would simply give up, as they have been indirectly taught their whole lives that they have less value than people who are born into wealthy families.

    Books are incredibly powerful tools for shaping public opinion. When an author creates a scenario that seems completely contrary to anything I have ever witnessed, it is my prerogative to protest against a narrative that encourages public apathy and discourages people from empathising with the poor in the real world. The idea that powerless people give as good as they get may make for epic films, but it is not realistic.

  25. tigtog
    tigtog May 14, 2012 at 7:10 pm | *

    When the idea of a book study on The Hunger Games was introduced, I had assumed that readers would be enthusiastic about discussing controversial topics pertaining to the book, since commenters on this blog are normally very open to debating issues.

    Just because people aren’t agreeing with your particular interpretation doesn’t mean that they are not willing to discuss controversial topics.

    In the midst of all this, while citizens know that their government has put into place policies that are killing them, they do not turn against each other.

    You are the only one who sees the whole population turning against each other. The rest of us see various people reacting in different ways to the reality of living surrounded by jack-booted thugs who could drag them off at any moment on the word of an informer. For example, most of the neighbourhood knows that Katniss feeds her family by poaching, but has anybody informed on her yet? If everybody in the book was as hostile to each other as you suggest, how do you explain that?

    If faced with a scenario such as The Hunger Games, in which they were required to battle privileged people, many of them would simply give up, as they have been indirectly taught their whole lives that they have less value than people who are born into wealthy families.

    Yes, that’s a point that Collins makes explicitly over and over again in the books. Many of the tributes from poorer districts do just give up in the arena, every single year. Many of the poor people in the districts give themselves up to starvation every year. The success of the regime in grinding the poor people down is emphasised again and again.

    Collins, in my eyes, is actually doing exactly what you accuse her of not doing. People are not disagreeing with you because we don’t think the examination of poverty is important, people are disagreeing with you because you appear to be commenting from opposite-land.

  26. Azalea
    Azalea May 14, 2012 at 7:56 pm |

    @Azalea: I’m aware that Katniss is behaving strategically, as women and men tend to do when performing gender. That doesn’t negate the fact that her mockery of people who are trying to help her survive is hypocritical.

    ..exactly how many people who are performing gender roles (cis) are doing so at the threat of a merciless death in a gladiator esque arena? You’re looking at this as if she had choices when she didn’t. A woman who is being FORCED to wear a corset who thinks its stupid to wear one is not the same as a woman who CHOOSES to wear one and mock others for wearing one too. Come on, choice matters that just can not be ignored here.

  27. Erin
    Erin May 14, 2012 at 7:57 pm |

    @Jordan Taylor

    I feel like you are the only one not being very open here. From reading your comments, it’s obvious that you disagree with the way Collins interprets and presents human nature, but perhaps you should consider that the view of human nature you’ve based your political ideology on is not an absolute truth.

    Maybe for the next Hunger Games thread, you can try to temper your condescension a bit. It will make for a more pleasant discussion for everyone.

  28. superior olive
    superior olive May 14, 2012 at 9:18 pm |

    The same right-wing party has been in power for over forty years. Approximately half of eligible voters did not even vote in the last election. The recently created “opposition” party is simply an ultra-right-wing version of the reigning party.

    I know it can seem like it sometimes, but Alberta is not a totalitarian regime. (I really hope I guessed that right, because that would be awesome.) Nobody is being dragged off and executed without trial by the RCMP, or civic or provincial police for daring to criticize the Tories. I’m not denying the problems in Alberta, if indeed I have guessed correctly, including astounding voter apathy especially on the left, but seriously. I think you’re wildly mis-interpreting the text if you think Collins is saying poor people are angry, bitter, and hostile to one another. Also, sadly, fighting among groups is something that happens here in the West all the time, to the advantage of the upper class.

    The Capitol is really more like China, or the old Soviet regime with its satellite regions like Ukraine where the Holodomyr caused an artificial famine and mass starvation. I really think you’re projecting things onto the book that just aren’t there.

  29. Brennan
    Brennan May 14, 2012 at 11:49 pm |

    @ Jordan Taylor,
    As you reminded us upthread, we are dealing with an unreliable narrator. Your perception that District 12 is full of mean poor people may be influenced by Katniss’s “no-one-ever-helped-me” worldview. Sixteen-year-olds with abandonment issues frequently *are* angry, aggressive, and bitter regardless of their social class. As others have mentioned, we’ve seen many acts of collaboration from the people in the district as well as a collective act of protest in their salute to Katniss on Reaping Day. Katniss herself admits that her neighbors might just love Prim enough to keep her alive, despite battling starvation themselves. They’re collaborating on trades, pooling their resources, promising to protect the vulnerable, and avoiding arrest by the Secret Police Peacekeepers. What more would you have them do? If they start forming unions and staging protest marches somebody’s gonna get shot.

    I’m also confused as to how Katniss is hypocritical and who she was mocking. She had some unkind thoughts about Effie and her prep team, but they had some unkind *words* about her (“You almost look like a human being now!”). Overall, while it seemed like the book was trying to cast her as hostile, I was struck by her generosity with the Capitol people. She thinks the prep team is “genuinely trying to help.” She’s annoyed by Effie, but cooperates with her and respects her determination. She never doubts that Cinna is in her corner. She compliments Ceasar on “helping the tributes shine.”

    It never seems to occur to her that all the fanfare is exploitive. She might resent them for having enough food or for living free from the threat of Reaping, but she doesn’t resent their role in dressing her up and sending her to slaughter.

    I feel like we’re very limited by Katniss’s POV. Like her, we can only wonder what the Capitol people do all day, so we can’t really know what would drive someone to work for the Games (as a stylist, game maker, trainer, whatever). Through the Avox story, we get the sense that not all Capitol citizens are happy with the system, but sadly, that’s never expanded on much. (Side note: Avox! Yet another class division! Now with parallels to slavery, disenfranchisement, and the prison-industrial complex!)

    Moving on, we start to see a little of the education of Katniss in one of her interactions with Haymitch. After she shoots the pig and is so terrified that the Capitol will take it out on her family, he explains that that won’t happen because it’s not expedient. Up to that point, I feel like she had almost viewed the Capitol’s wrath like an angry deity, raining down destruction in accordance with a crime. Haymitch points out that they have to have motive–that just like it does them no good to punish Katniss right before the Games, there’s also nothing to be gained from making an example of her family if no one witnessed her crime. This strikes me as the moment when she backs away from the idea of the omnipotent Capitol and starts asking questions. Why this punishment rather than that one? What do they stand to gain from this particular policy, and why is it given more weight than that one? She starts to see the Capitol as a “they” with a particular agenda and a limited (if impressive) number of strategies. The pig is the first real instance of her trapping the Capitol and forcing them to let her get away with defiance in plain view.

    1. tigtog
      tigtog May 15, 2012 at 2:39 am | *

      I’m wondering too whether Jordan Taylor doesn’t fully grok what the litcrit jargon term “unreliable narrator” means. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the narrator isn’t telling her story truthfully as the narrator perceives it to be happening and therefore the narrator is not to be trusted by the reader at all; it means that the narrator is not omniscient – she doesn’t know enough of the bigger picture to always be accurate about the meaning of what she sees and hears. As the plot moves along, our narrator discovers new information which changes the meaning of what she witnessed earlier, and she has to deal with unfolding and repacking the new knowledge with the old knowledge in ways that make better sense of what is going on. Katniss is a truthful unreliable narrator – she doesn’t lie to the reader, but she often misunderstands.

      This contrasts with the more traditional narrative provided by the disembodied omniscient author e.g. the way that the Harry Potter novels are structured. Harry is also confused a lot of the time and also misunderstands a lot of what is going on, so if he was the narrator he also would be unreliable. But since the author provides the narration, the author’s explanations can be relied upon, because the difference between the characters’ perceptions and the narrator’s overview is clearly distinguished.

  30. Beaula
    Beaula May 15, 2012 at 3:19 am |

    Katniss does mention the day of the reaping that some of the people taking bets about the possible tributes are informants. If you have people who might be secretly providing information to your oppressor as well as the knowledge that in order for your children to live, other children must die, not to mention crushing poverty and hunger, and most importantly, lack of hope that anything can and will change, you do end up with a community pitted against each other. Katniss’ arrangement with Gale to work as a team to feed their family seems just as unusual as their hunting skills. Also, the merchants and their families are also pitted against those who live in the Seam. Yet another division within a small community.

    Katniss has proven to be able to analyze her standing and her relationships with others, I wish the author would have carried it over to her relationship with peeta. She turns into another teenage female character who doesn’t know how to love/understand what love is and in turn needs to be shown that by a boy.

  31. Katya
    Katya May 15, 2012 at 12:45 pm |

    The argument of “Because totalitarianism!” simply doesn’t work for me if this argument entails ignoring the assumption that human beings are rational.

    See, I don’t agree with that assumption. Human beings are not always rational–sometimes they act in very irrational ways. And, sometimes it can seem rational to go along with the system. In Communist and other totalitarian regimes, people chose a variety of ways of coping, including informing on others, outwardly conforming because it seemed safer for themselves and their family, underground resistance, leading public movements, etc. I see the same things happening in District 12. There are informers, there are people who focus on themselves and their family (Katniss), there are people who quietly flout the laws (the Hob, Peacekeepers who don’t report illegal hunting, etc.), there are people who quietly help others (Peeta giving bread to Katniss, people promising to care for Katniss’s family), there are those who dream of open resistance (Gale), etc. Some people become bitter and angry, some become resigned, some react in other ways. There’s not a monolithic response, because people aren’t all the same.

    We see things from Katniss’s POV, which is a bitter, angry one because she’s bitter and angry about the loss of her father and her mother’s perceived abandonment, but that doesn’t mean everyone sees things the same way.

    And if you’ve never heard of riots aimed at fellow community members, you really aren’t up on American history. Even when riots are in response to government actions, it’s usually private citizens who are injured–Civil War draft riots, early 20th century race riots, 1968 riots triggered by MLK’s assassination, Rodney King, etc. Government can certainly cause people to turn against each other, however irrational it might be for them to do so.

  32. oxygengrrl
    oxygengrrl May 15, 2012 at 4:06 pm |

    Katniss has proven to be able to analyze her standing and her relationships with others, I wish the author would have carried it over to her relationship with peeta. She turns into another teenage female character who doesn’t know how to love/understand what love is and in turn needs to be shown that by a boy.

    Yeah, but she’s often wrong. She gets some people correctly and some incorrectly. And she’s trying to figure out Peeta, based on what she thinks his incentives are, his past behavior (as others have noted) and his current behavior. For one thing, because it’s a matter of life and death for her. Also, speaking as a strong feminist who has been clueless that someone really really liked her, and also liked people who were no less clueless (and way way way past my teenage years), I can relate to Katniss on the whole Peeta thing, even absent the fact that they’re about to get thrown into an arena to kill or be killed.
    I don’t want to be spoilery, so I’ll keep it vague for now, but one of my favorite things about these books is the evolution of how Katniss looks at the world, both personally and politically.

  33. Katya
    Katya May 15, 2012 at 4:59 pm |

    I think Katniss’s confusion about Peeta makes sense–this is not an ordinary relationship. She knows the rules of the Games–one of them may have to kill the other. That makes it hard to trust his actions or motives, to allow herself to think that he is truly her friend. She says that he is the last person she would want as a co-tribute, precisely because of his past kindness to her. The way that the rules of this society warp ordinary relationships is, to me, a really interesting part of the book. Parents can’t protect their children, children can provide for their families by putting their lives on the line, and acts of friendship become suspect–they might just be attempts to create temporary alliances or moves in the Games. The ties of love, affection, family, and friendship that ordinarily connect us are corrupted and weakened.

    Plus, sometimes people are just clueless about how others perceive them and feel about them. Katniss is a pretty focused girl, and given the loss of her father and the fact that she had to step into an adult role early on, it’s really not surprising that she’s not really in tune with her own feelings about anyone other than Prim.

  34. Yan
    Yan May 15, 2012 at 10:27 pm |

    @ Katya — Katniss seems pretty clear about her feelings about her mother, too. She is angry with her and somewhat doesn’t want to be. She reminds herself not to reject the gift of the dress from her mother’s “town life” back in chapter 1 or 2. She agonizes over whether telling her mother she loves her makes up for yelling at her.

    Over and over, I was remembering that Katniss is 16, angry, and living from that anger more than she’s aware.

    I actually appreciate that she is an unreliable narrator, that we see Panem, the Hunger Games, the Capitol only through her eyes, and we see her experiences change her. She is not closed off — the new experiences change her throughout the books. And I agree with Brennan (comment 34) that Katniss seems very open to the people she meets in the Capitol, if not to the system she sees as oppressive and exploitative. That shows an ability to separate the two that demonstrates some emotional maturity.

    I think this section brings up a lot of moments where we can see Katniss’ trust issues. She is easy with her style team as they torture her physically, but as she herself says, the most dangerous Peeta is a kind Peeta.

  35. liz
    liz May 16, 2012 at 9:46 am |

    I see District 12 as being more cooperative than not. It’s very similar to stories I’ve read about the ghettos in Europe during WWII. You have cooperation, but you also have informants and the risk that someone you cooperate with today may inform on you tomorrow if they are up against it.

  36. Beaula
    Beaula May 16, 2012 at 2:35 pm |

    Good points, I cant say how I would feel towards peeta in the same situation. However, sometimes I feel that she refuses to even think that he actually could like her.

    Also, did anyone catch the line from Haymitch where he tells peeta and katniss to go to bed, ‘so the adults can talk’? I thought it was so condescending and unnecessary unless to hint at further exclusions from planning and discussing allies/survival. Thoughts?

  37. Brennan
    Brennan May 16, 2012 at 10:41 pm |

    Well, Haymitch is a condescending kind of guy.

    Seriously, though, I’d never thought about this angle, but I don’t think we ever see Haymitch discuss particular sponsors with the kids. Maybe there’s some kind of policy that the tributes can’t have contact with or knowledge of their sponsors? That would make them even more dependent on their mentors while putting the burden on the mentors to make sure the tributes play by the Capitol’s rules. So the Capitol creates these dependent relationships and that keeps both tributes and mentors from stepping out of line.

    Of course, it’s possible I’m overthinking things. It’s just as likely that Haymitch wanted them out of the room so he could say to the rest of the prep team “Okay, 50/50 chance they die the first day, so what can we do about that?”

  38. Jordan Taylor
    Jordan Taylor May 17, 2012 at 1:05 pm |

    @ Erin: Just because I disagree with Collins’ depiction of poor people doesn’t mean that I’m being condescending. I’m entitled to my opinion.

    @ tigtog: I understand what an unreliable narrator is; if you read my comment, I was responding to superior olive’s comment and referencing oxygengrrl’s post: “So, I actually think Katniss’ read of her mother reflects more on Katniss than it does on her mother. Katniss is not a reliable narrator–and she is a kid who is really angry at a parent for failing to protect her, and who idealizes the parent who died before he could fail her.” An unreliable narrator cannot necessarily be relied upon to give an accurate portrayal of the events surrounding him or her due to his or her own bias. Therefore, an unreliable narrator does not demonstrate “fairness.” I am not saying that I believe Katniss is an unreliable narrator; I am simply suggesting that if she is an unreliable narrator, she cannot be considered fair. Again, this is simply a difference of opinion as to how I perceive Katniss vs. how many other readers perceive Katniss.

    BTW, I fail to see why a discussion of conscription, a theme which permeates the entire novel, is off-topic on any thread about THG. If you disagree with my views about Panem’s realism, that’s your prerogative. If themes are to be thus parcelled out, then it’s bound to be rather difficult to tie in events that occur later in the book with earlier events.

  39. Jordan Taylor
    Jordan Taylor May 17, 2012 at 1:40 pm |

    Perhaps some of my previous comments were not clear. In THG, Katniss directs her frustration at her physical circumstances outward. She is depicted as being angry at the Capitol, angry at her mother – essentially, angry at everyone but herself. In a capitalist society, poor people are taught to be ashamed of their own poverty; that is how hegemony works. Panem has some elements of free-market capitalism – not many, but some. Impoverished people have a tendency to internalize their own oppression. If they do not, and instead direct their frustration outward, they clash with authority and may end up in prison or worse. Obviously, some impoverished people end up in prison, but most do not. I consider Collins’ depictions of poverty to be inconsistent with how most poor people actually behave. This appears to be a very contentious view, which I find rather surprising.

    The common argument seems to be that totalitarianism suppresses any discernible pattern of human behaviour, and almost acts as a “great equalizer” in making people from all income levels equally ruthless. This particular argument is unfalsifiable, unless one could somehow construct a study of people living in totalitarian regimes and determine how the poor behave vs. how the wealthy behave. Such a study would have to be reasonably large (n>1500 or so) to have any hope of extrapolating its results to the general population of people living under totalitarian regimes. Totalitarianism is a spectrum rather than an end-point, so it would also be difficult to determine what countries would qualify as totalitarian regimes.

  40. Jordan Taylor
    Jordan Taylor May 17, 2012 at 1:47 pm |

    @ Caperton: If you were doing a film study on the Star Trek series, it would be perfectly reasonable to comment on Star Trek’s realism.

  41. Jordan Taylor
    Jordan Taylor May 17, 2012 at 1:52 pm |

    @ Caperton: My point was that a moderator, tigtog, labelled my comment about conscription as off-topic. I disagree. Whether or not anyone wishes to discuss that particular comment on conscription “at length” is irrelevant.

    1. tigtog
      tigtog May 17, 2012 at 4:12 pm | *

      @Jordan Taylor, Caperton as post-author gets the last say on this thread. My opinion was not meant to be a moderator ruling, just an expression of my opinion, which is that it’s very disruptive to insist on discussing an event (no matter how much its repercussions permeate the rest of the book) described to us in Chapters 1-4 to the extent that it blocks discussion of the events of Chapters 5-9.

      Speaking only for me, if you want to take the conscription discussion back to the Chapters 1-4 thread, then I will debate conscription with you there until the cows come home. But I will not debate it further in this thread.

      As for the general response to your arguments: when we disagree so fundamentally with your premises, there’s little point in debating the specifics.

  42. superior olive
    superior olive May 18, 2012 at 6:36 pm |

    It could also be a way to gain an advantage in the Arena if they were permitted alterations–say, if something improved eyesight, or nightsight or something was used as a “cosmetic” enhancement. The Capitol wants to maintain the illusion that the Tributes have an equal shot at winning. Of course, the Careers and their training facilities in Districts 1 and 2 belie that illusion, so it’s a somewhat blurry line. Incidentally, I thought the cozy relationship between the Capitol and first couple of Districts was a brilliant way to sow discord between Districts. The poorer Districts, like 12 and 11, resent the unacknowledged advantage of the larger and wealthier Districts, while those favoured Districts have a false sense of security RE: the Capitol blowing them to bits, as well as practically zero incentive to ally/rebel with the other Districts.

  43. librarygoose
    librarygoose May 18, 2012 at 7:05 pm |

    I never thought about comparing the Capitol style with what they put on the tributes. It is really othering, they dress them up but not like people.

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