I know that a few days ago I lamented having an apparent “hole in my soul” for my lack of enjoyment of fiction writing. With all of the hubub of The Hunger Games I decided that I simply MUST be a part of this latest cultural happening and read this very talked-about book. So having had the book on my shelf for about two weeks, I finally picked it up at 9pm on Wednesday night and regretfully put it down at 2am. I proceeded to ignore my children the following day so that I could finish it up. I really did enjoy it! It was like watching a movie. (And I do hope to see the movie as well.)
One aspect of the novel I appreciated is the moral beauty message that Suzanne Collins weaved into the plot without being preachy or heavy-handed. The reader is led to deeply admire the heroine Katniss for her strength, independence, survival skills, maturity, and love of family. Collins does not lead the reader to admire her for her physical appearance whatsoever. (Which is quite different from most female-led tales.) While we do have a sense that Katniss is attractive physically, this is not the point of why we the reader like her, nor why the two young men in her life Gale and Peeta like her.
In fact, being admired for her physical appearance alone, as she is when ablaze in her arena fire dress becomes a clever commentary on the vast efforts that go into creating a “media image” for celebrities. Because of the disdain the reader feels for the Capitol’s sacrifice and using of children, we come to disdain the practices of the Capitol in general. Katniss undergoing a full-body waxing, for example, seems a harsh stripping of her humanity. The Capitol workers with their excessively stylized hair and outfits and plastic surgery to stay looking forever young are regarded as shallow, materialistic, and self-centered. It is as though they have never really experienced life. Katniss suspects that they behave this way due to having so much time on their hands. She wonders what sort of personal identity she would have and how she would spend her time if she wasn’t spending it hunting for food everyday.
The Hunger Games raises the question: Does a modern society that no longer needs to spend its days in survival-mode need to guard against the practice of sacrificing others for entertainment? Does it need to guard against a type of hyper-vanity that sacrifices their very humanity?
In fact, the only person in the Capitol whom Katniss likes and trusts is Cinna. It is observed that his only facial embellishment is a touch of gold eyeliner. Collins seems to be making the point that “a little bit of something is ok”. The overall intensity (and painful) beauty efforts in the Capitol contrast significantly with how Katniss is prepared in District 12. In getting ready for the reaping she wears a simple, but nice, blue dress and her hair is expertly braided by her mother.
These questions of what amount of beauty participation is ok, and even healthy, and what isn’t are important considerations in our time given the amount of media manipulation and social pressure that our young people face. The Hunger Games raises these questions (and more) and is a valuable contribution to YA lit.
Have a wonderful day!