(Chat) Hunger Games: Powerful Feminist Fiction With Love as Its Centerpiece, and other YA recs

Last week, we chatted about YA fiction of our youth, waxing nostalgic about the BSC, the Hunky Dory Dairy, and other books we read under the desk during math class. For this week, we decided to focus on contemporary YA fiction, and Jen read Hunger Games (and then Catching Fire, immediately, within hours) for the first time. With a few exceptions, we are over the moon for the trilogy, its heroine, and Suzanne Collins’ political stance(s) in the novels. Read on as we connect the Hunger Games to Trayvon Martin; contrast our fearless and complex heroine, Katniss, with the blah Bella Swan; and speculate about endings for the series (since Jen hasn’t finished it yet).

THERE ARE SPOILERS FOR HUNGER GAMES, CATCHING FIRE, & THE FILM ADAPTATION BELOW.

Lauren: Hi!

Jennifer: Hi! I just finished the second Hunger Games book.

Lauren: LOL

YES!!!

I knew you would be hooked.

2:59 PM Although book 2 does end in a bit of a rush.

Jennifer: Yes. I will probably have to stay up till 2 am again reading book 3 and then I will hate myself a little for not being able to slow down and enjoy it.

Lauren: I read them in about 4 days.

Then I called my sister, who bought them and read them in about 4 days.

3:00 PM As soon as my student returns HG, I will reread them, probably more slowly.

In a way, I was glad I rushed, because I know I’ll catch more details this time around and enjoy it almost as much as I did the first run through.

3:01 PM Jennifer: I will definitely teach them in the fall, and read them more slowly with my students.

3:02 PM Lauren: Yes, I have a book club reading them in one class (college level) this semester and I’ll teach it in my developmental reading class at the community college this fall.

3:03 PM Jennifer: So, can we talk about how much we love Katniss?

3:04 PM Lauren: So much.

Jennifer: So much.

Lauren: I was just reading a review of the movie that waxes rhapsodic about Katniss as a feminist heroine and I was like YES. YES. YES to all of this.

3:05 PM Jennifer: And I admit I was worried about her character getting swept up in the romance/love triangle angle. But instead I feel like that ended up deepening her as a character: we see her flaws, and she sees her flaws.

3:06 PM Lauren: Yes.

Collins really walks the line with that set up, and sometimes veers a little too close to Twilight dramaz, but mostly I think it’s a mature exploration of the way your feelings change as you go through serious shit.

3:07 PM And, you see how people change really quickly when the reach near-adulthood. I appreciate that Katniss, Gale, and Peeta change over the course of the trilogy in ways that resonate with my memories of that 16-20 span.

3:08 PM Jennifer: Yes. And her personal life is so deeply intertwined with these larger political issues and forces she can’t control and doesn’t fully understand, but her recognition and comprehension is clearly growing, and it changes her sense of self, and her priorities.

I haven’t read the last book yet, but I feel like she will end up with Peeta.

3:09 PM Lauren: Yes. I love the way the personal becomes radical in these books. There’s another YA dystopian trilogy — Matched — that is similar.

Well, I won’t give anything away! But I’ll be interested to hear what you think when you’re done.

A lot of people are anti-Peeta!

My students are always like “She should be with Gale!”

But I like Peeta a lot.

3:11 PM Jennifer: I actually think they are both interesting and compelling. And I like that it’s not clear who we are meant to be rooting for as readers.

Lauren: Definitely.

3:12 PM I think because we align with Katniss so strongly, Gale is really appealing because he is very like her.

He’s strong in similar ways, and she relies on him and trusts him, so we do, too.

Peeta’s strengths as a character are very different, and he’s not as physical as Gale

3:13 PM I think there’s some blowback for that, because he may come across as weak and therefore not as masculine/desirable. (In a stereotypical way, that is.)

3:15 PM Jennifer: Right. He’s a baker and a painter- traditionally feminine. And he has a disability, though he never seems to fall into any of the disabled character tropes: no pity party, no bitterness, no supercrip narrative of overcoming all odds. He just has a disability.

Lauren: Tiger Beatdown had an awesome discussion about this on their blog recently.

Jennifer: It strikes me as incredibly rare.

3:16 PM Lauren: They were disappointed — RIGHTLY — that they play down Peeta’s leg injury in the film. Which I didn’t recognize when I saw it, but is really true, and is the one thing about the movie that disappointed me. (That’s my only spoiler, I swear!)

3:17 PM Jennifer: It’s okay! I haven’t seen the movie yet. Does he not get a prosthetic leg?

Lauren: At the end, he’s injured, but it seems to heal up with some magic goo that Haymitch sends.

They dramatically compress the whole cave storyline.

3:18 PM Jennifer: I glanced over the Tiger Beatdown piece when it went up, but I hadn’t read the book, so it didn’t fully register.

Oh…. so they leave it open for him to keep his leg in the second film. Bummer.

Lauren: Yep.

3:19 PM I guess it’s impossible to make the films as awesome as the books.

ANYWAY: what else do we love??

3:20 PM Jennifer: I love that Katniss hunts, and I love that she’s so…. I’m struggling to articulate this. Embodied?

Lauren: Totally!

Jennifer: She lives IN her body. She knows her strengths and her limits.

3:21 PM Lauren: And, the book hints at sexual pleasure as rooted in her body

She’s not worried about what she looks like when she’s making out with Peeta — not even what the cameras are seeing, much. It’s fairly radical.

3:22 PM Jennifer: Yes. And even though the emphasis on superficiality and appearances in the Capitol is obviously characterized as negative, it doesn’t read to me as an indictment of femininity.

3:23 PM Lauren: No, it applies equally to men and women and seems more aligned with capitalism/excess than it does with gender.

Jennifer: Sometimes I think when we get a character who is a physically strong women, we also get a really heavy handed rejection of the stereotypical feminine. But yeah, the emphasis is really different here.

3:24 PM Especially because Cinna is a man, and he’s the one crafting her appearances.

Lauren: Right: although Katniss is certain that she will never have children, it’s not because she looks down on motherhood or whatever: it’s rooted, in a way, in her protectiveness of children. It’s a very strong nurturing that we get in Katniss.

3:25 PM Jennifer: And Prim and her mother have a more traditionally feminine gift for healing, but they’re also portrayed as having physical and emotional strength.

Lauren: A lot of people assumed that Cinna was gay. I don’t know if it ever becomes clear in the books (my memory is dimming!) but in the film he’s not at all stereotyped in terms of sexuality. He’s just a really grounding force in Katniss’s experience.

3:26 PM Jennifer: He’s powerful.

Lauren: Even little Rue has some skills and is not portrayed as some kind of, oh, Bambi or damsel in distress.

3:27 PM Girl gets an 8! That’s not bad!

Jennifer: Yes. There’s a tremendous range of skills and strengths, and they don’t seem to attach to stereotypical ideas about gender. And the framework of the games itself isn’t gendered: everybody’s in the same arena.

3:28 PM Lauren: Class seems to be a much more central construct in the world of Panem — it forges alliances across gender and race lines.

Which is totally awesome. I mean, in the book, you can tell that Katniss and everyone else are Seriously Hungry

It’s the HUNGER games because these people have been starved half to death.

And that is the root of rebellion.

3:29 PM Jennifer: Right. ‘It must be very fragile, if can be undone with a handful of berries’ is pretty much classical Marxism.

And yet people don’t seem freaked out that these books are going to make kids Socialist?

3:30 PM Lauren: Haha

I did find some sites that said “this is feminist commie death porn” or something like that

3:31 PM Jennifer: Focus on the Family actually has a pretty good set of discussion questions. And they point out that the nudity tends to emphasize Katniss’ treatment as an object. Which is basically a feminist insight.

Lauren: That is a feminist insight. Interesting!

3:32 PM I saw the film within a few days of the Trayvon Martin case getting national attention. And I was really struck by the connection between that reality and the Games, in that, you know, we already live in a world where our system is predicated on the exploitation and killing of children.

3:33 PM I mean, the construct of the Games is shocking, but so many people have pointed out how we expect and accept the killing of certain kinds of children as an aspect of modern society.

(Which is one more reason I cried the whole time I watched it!)

3:34 PM Jennifer: Yes, to all that. Yes, yes, yes.

3:35 PM Lauren: I don’t know if it’s necessarily feminist but it seems like the power of love is so central to the HG — the fear of children being killed keeps society in check, and the anger at children being killed leads to the uprising.

3:36 PM Jennifer: And there’s this incredibly layered sense of love: motherlove, love for family and kin, love for place and land, romantic love, friendship, intimacy…

Lauren: Exactly

3:37 PM It’s powerful and complex, which is tremendously moving.

Jennifer: One of the reasons I think Katniss is so powerful as a character is that she’s riding waves of these different, powerful, experiences of love and identification, and they move her in competing directions.

3:38 PM She loves Peeta AND Gale AND Rue AND Prim, and that’s not supposed to be possible.

Lauren: Yes.

And it doesn’t all come together neatly for her, either.

And there’s a LOT at stake!

Jennifer: It can’t. Life doesn’t.

3:39 PM Lauren: For this reason I think you will find the conclusion of the trilogy truly poignant (like me). But I won’t spoil it!! 🙂

3:40 PM Jennifer: Only in Twilight does it all come together neatly, in which you can marry your vampire love and be a vampire and have a baby and your former best friend/werewolf love can imprint on that baby and you can all live happily ever after. (Salon has a great comparison of Bella and Katniss here.)

Lauren: Ugh, don’t get me started on Twilight.

Collins refuses to tie things up neatly for Katniss

Jennifer: I mean, I’m assuming Gale and Peeta and Prim and Katniss don’t all move in together in some cottage in the woods after the rebellion successfully overthrows the Capitol.

3:41 PM Lauren: That means she experiences true love and true pain, and that is powerful.

Yes, Gale turns into a dog and then they go hunting together and Peeta bakes bread.

Prim marries Peeta and….

Katniss ends up with Haymitch!

(Just trying to complicate things for you.)

Jennifer: I love those endings.

3:43 PM Okay. So we love the emotional complexity, the centrality of love, Katniss as an embodied feminist heroine, and the fact that these books may be turning kids into Socialists but nobody is freaking out about that.

What have we missed?

Lauren: Well, the plot itself is pretty stinking awesome.

The action is compelling. It’s a great transformation of your average death match scenario.

Jennifer: YES, and let us not forget the critique of reality tv!

3:44 PM Lauren: I’m thinking of other movies that are similar, like Running Man or Death Race (which have you seen it? it’s not feminist but it is awesome!) but in those, the death match is between criminals and criminals have no rights so it’s ok to cheer them on as they kill each other.

Making the death match between children is a fabulous twist.

3:45 PM YES I love the reality tv angle. I love the PR nature, and how Katniss feels pressed to conform to femininity so SHE DOESN’T DIE which is pretty high stakes.

3:46 PM Jennifer: But also, it’s so clear that femininity is a construct, and that actually complying with femininity (weakness) would be deadly. SHE CAN’T WIN EITHER WAY!

Lauren: Exactly.

Jennifer: So powerfully feminist.

Lauren: In the film

Jennifer Lawrence perfectly captures the performance angle

3:47 PM When she’s doing the whole Katniss-smiling-and-waving thing but her eyes never smile

They’re in that wide, school photo kind of false happy position and it’s so clear that she is conflicted and uncomfortable. But of course the audience isn’t tuned into that.

I mean the audience of the show within the film.

3:48 PM Jennifer: I can’t wait to see the film.

Lauren: I suggest you go tomorrow 🙂

3:49 PM Jennifer: So, it seems pretty obvious that this is not the YA of our youth. Even the hard hitting diabetes books aren’t on this level.

Lauren: Totally!

The YA dystopian genre is really booming right now, which is really interesting.

3:50 PM I find it fascinating to compare/contrast the author interpretations of the future and visions for different forms of government, different relationships with technology/consumerism, etc.

3:51 PM Jennifer: I’m not as familiar with the genre, but it strikes me as far more political than what would have been considered edgy books/issues when we were reading YA.

Lauren: Definitely

There sure is a lot more death.

Jennifer: I remember edgy mostly dealing with interpersonal issues: drugs, alcohol, family violence, maybe poverty. And always individualized.

3:52 PM Lauren: And a lot of unease about the relationship between people and the gov’t, super Foucauldian questions about what is normal/healthy and what is aberrent, political questions about moreality and ruling, etc.

RIGHT — ohhh, divorce! Pregnancy!

3:53 PM A lot of these new books focus on a female protagonist, which is cool.

3:54 PM Matched is one, that series is more cerebral and romantic but really interesting, I thought.

3:55 PM Jennifer: I was completely amazed by how obvious the political questions are and by how clear the feminism is in Hunger Games and yet it never felt heavy handed to me. If these other series are comparable, I’m totally going back to reading YA.

Lauren: Divergent is another series with a female protagonist that everyone swears is as good as Hunger Games — and in terms of action it is pretty good — but I didn’t think it was nearly as moving or deep as HG.

Yes to what you said — this is why I think HG will be a great teaching tool.

3:56 PM Feed by MT Anderson features a male protagonist and takes consumerism and social media to a terrifyingly possible and absurd conclusion.

I just heard about a series called Shipwrecked that I want to check out, too. (sic — it’s called Ship Breaker)

3:57 PM Jennifer: Awesome. I will have to check these out after I finish the third book. In which I am certain Peeta will marry Prim and Katniss’ mom will marry Haymitch and Katniss will marry Cinna, who be miraculously alive.

3:58 PM Lauren: Right, Cinna comes back as a hologram created by a rogue gamemaker, just like Yoda.

Jennifer: who is. sorry. terrible grammar there.

YES! Or Rue could come back and Katniss could come out.

Lauren: YES!

3:59 PM Well, none of those things happen, but I think you will be proud/pleased of the end of the series anyway.

I found the 3rd book pretty satisfying.

Jennifer: I would read it right now if I didn’t have children to feed and essays to grade.

4:00 PM Lauren: For realz.

That was definitely a series I was reading at stoplights!

4:01 PM Jennifer: Let’s see if we can interview Suzanne Collins for the blog.

Lauren: I’m sure she’s totally into interviews with fledgling feminist mom bloggers.

I’ll have my agent call her agent.

Jennifer: I’ll have my people call her people.

Lauren: We’ll do lunch.

Jennifer: My people are a 5 and a 3 year old wearing princess dresses and demanding pink milk.

4:02 PM Lauren: Ha! Sound like Capitol folk ;).

Mine are grubbier and just as demanding.

Jennifer: Yup. Maybe I’ll get them Katniss dolls for Christmas this year.

Lauren: SRSLY. Be like Katniss! PLEASE!

4:03 PM Jennifer: I can’t give them bows and arrows or I’ll have a mini Hunger Games in my living room.

Lauren: Haha, yes — that kind of intense sisterly love isn’t always in abundance, is it?

4:04 PM Jennifer: It’s always intense between them- but they can go from hugging to hair pulling at the drop of a sparkly princess crown.

Lauren: Same with my 4yo/2yo.

Jennifer: Sounds like another chat: how do we teach them to love each other Prim and Katniss style?

Lauren: We should definitely do a chat about sisters.

4:05 PM Jennifer: You’re on. Right now I should feed these sisters, before there’s a District 8 style rebellion.

Lauren: OK, I will get this posted tomorrow in our continuing post-stravaganza. (Join our awesome giveaway!!)

Jennifer: AWESOME. 4k here we come!

4:06 PM Lauren: We’re almost halfway there, yeah!

TTYL!

Jennifer: TTYL!

If you’re hungry for more analysis of Katniss and the HG Trilogy, check out these fantastic articles and sites:

Hunger Games Tweets — Brings together all the commentary about racist responses to the casting of African Americans in the film. We didn’t get into this because it’s been done brilliantly by folks at Racialicious, Jezebel, etc.

NYT review of the movie and commentary about Katniss as a feminist warrior and “American Adam” archetype, both insightful.

Intriguing commentary about Katniss as a new female superhero, whose feminine characteristics give her power.

Another feminist blog also loves the movie.

Sexy Feminist debates whether or not Katniss is a feminist heroine.

And check out this BRILLIANT Hunger Games/Mad Men MASHUP at Bitch Magazine!!

What did you think about the books and movie?

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12 responses to “(Chat) Hunger Games: Powerful Feminist Fiction With Love as Its Centerpiece, and other YA recs

  1. LOL!!! I cant imagine Gale, Peeta, Katniss and Prim moving into a cabin in the forest. Such a spoil to the series.

  2. Hey ladies,

    Found you on Feministe’s SSPS. I loved this conversation! You have some great insights into why I enjoyed Hunger Games so much. I have only seen the movie, but now I’m itching to read the whole trilogy. Katniss seems like a great, new feminist heroine, perhaps similar to Buffy (?). I’ll have to think about that comparison a bit more, but I think we can all agree that Katniss is a breath of fresh air after years of Bella-Edward-Twilight drivel.

    Your blog seems great; I’ll definitely be checking back soon to read some more! Feel free to stop by my fairly new blog anytime. 🙂

    http://megankarius.com

    • Megan,
      Thank you! You definitely need to read the books, they are so much richer and more developed than the film. Jen and I both read them in less then 5 days. Katniss is sort off Buffyish, although there isn’t the whole called upon by the vampire council to be the One Slayer dynamic (I think Katniss feels called to her role through her convictions, greatness isn’t necessarily thrust upon her).

      By the way, we are doing a giveaway for anyone who follows/likes/shares us — you can check it out here: http://mamanervosa.com/2012/04/03/4k-or-bust/

  3. “Focus on the Family actually has a pretty good set of discussion questions. And they point out that the nudity tends to emphasize Katniss’ treatment as an object. Which is basically a feminist insight.” – that’s intriguing. In New Zealand it’s been fairly controversial. Family First NZ seem to think it’s horrible corrupting stuff because Katniss is “making excuses” for her actions and never facing how horrible and immoral she is for sometimes resorting to violence; they compare her unfavourably to Martin Luther King and Sophie Scholl. No complaints about ZOMG SOCIALISM that I’ve seen though…

  4. I thought the movie was ZOMGsocialist!11! I was actually kind of shocked it got made in the first place. But as it turns out right-wingers are claiming HG is Rayndian or otherwise validates their worldview. As in, “…see, that’s why we should’t have big government.” So I guess people are just reading whatever into it.

    That’s so wonderful y’all’s kids are growing up with this series, or at least with it being part of culture. Does the violence bother you?

    PS- thanks for linking to my site 🙂

    • Ciana,
      Interesting about the Raynd-ist interpretation. I’ll have to try and find some stuff on that.

      The violence, I think would be ok for a kid of the right age. I like that the violence has real consequences (disability) and doesn’t affect only adults or only bad people. That feels like real war.

      L.

  5. sorry, I meant Randian. Like Ayn Rand.

  6. Pingback: Feminist Analyses of Hunger Games ROUND-UP! | mama nervosa

  7. The Hunger Games is not pro- feminist, it is anti-feminist pretending to be pro. Katniss is continuously robbed of agency, and exhilarates the audience not by saving anyone (she doesn’t) or doing anything, but by showing she can compete with men.

    http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2012/04/whats_wrong_with_the_hunger_ga_1.html

    It’s a fine story. But more regressive than pornography.

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