Monday, September 17, 2012

Parallel Worlds

Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games has attracted critical attention worldwide, being a #1 New York Times Bestseller as well as being made into a blockbuster movie. She seems to have created Hunger Games from a hodgepodge of ideas from other books, current events, and her own personal experiences. She states that she uses science fiction as a way to express and figure out the feelings she has of modern times. As she said in an interview with Scholastic, “Telling a story in a futuristic world gives you this freedom to explore things that bother you in contemporary times.”

The electricity suddenly went out, with a foooh noise that made the town shake. I stared at my laptop screen, the only light present in the house. ‘Internet Explorer cannot display this webpage. Please check diagnostics.’ I groaned. Shut up, Internet Explorer.
“I hate living here!” yelled my 16-year-old sister, Kris, from upstairs. She did that everyday, exactly at 10:00 pm. “We’re doing it for your father!” yelled my Mother. She said that everyday, at 10:00 pm, too. I heard her cursing, as she tried to find her way in the dark to the kitchen drawers. She was soon at my side, clutching a flashlight. “Couldn’t get the generator working,” she muttered, “cheap thing.” My sister’s weak flashlight suddenly shined on both of our faces. Kris stumbled down the stairs, having a hard time finding her footing. “Move, Jenny,” she said, pushing me off the couch and falling back into the cushions. She leaned her head back and groaned. “Why do they have to turn off everything?” she complained. “They can at least keep the Wi-Fi and the cellphone connection.” She was clutching her hot pink cellphone.  Of course. Texting her boyfriend.

The Hunger Games is about a 16-year-old girl named Katniss who is especially handy with a bow and arrow. She is placed in the annual Hunger Games where the contestants must fight to the death. But Katniss has experienced death before. When her father dies in a mining accident, she becomes the breadwinner for her family, as a shocked and horrified mother lies weeping in bed. Katniss and her family live in poverty, trying to survive in a town that is oppressed by people millions of miles away who care only about themselves—the Capitol. As she tries to find a way to survive the annual Hunger Games, she’s also stuck between two boys she loves equally—Gale, a dark, strong young man who Katniss has grown close to, and Peeta, a sweet, gentle baker who saved her life not once, but two times.

“We’re doing it for your father,” Mother repeated again. Kris and I looked at each other for a millisecond, and then quickly looked away. We both knew that Dad had to be dead. He had to be. We hadn’t heard from him in two years. Every man who was drafted ended up dying within the first year of war. But Mother couldn’t accept it. I don’t know why. She knew it, but she pretended not to. Maybe she couldn’t give up hope. Maybe she was still waiting for the day when he’d come home and twirl her around in the air, like the day when he’d married her, and the day when he left us. I squeezed Kris’s hand, giving her a warning. But she ignored it, as always.

So what contemporary things did Suzanne Collins base her book off of? Collins says, “In the case of the Hunger games, issues like the vast discrepancy of wealth, the power of television and how it’s used to influence our lives, the possibility that the government could use hunger as a weapon, and then first and foremost to me, the issue of war.” 

“Why can’t we just sneak into Mexico? You know Leslie, that girl who won the poetry contest? I heard that she and her mom made it safely to Mexico, and are living a happy life. Chelsea just got a letter from her yesterday, and she read it to the class today,” said Kris, in the most convincing tone possible. She especially emphasized the words safely and happy.  

“That’s what Leslie wants you to think,” said Mother, turning away, “Her mother’s probably died from that awful trip from America to Mexico. I heard they hide people in the trunks of their cars. And anyway, we are NOT illegal immigrants.”
I looked down at my knees. Ever since the war, everyone was sure that we’d be killed by some nuclear disaster. Millions of Americans planned to escape before it was too late—but Mexico closed its doors to us, then all of Europe, then the rest of the world. Americans were illegal everywhere.
            But still people flooded into Mexico and Canada—illegally, of course—for a ‘better life’, where you have no chance of being drafted, and where one can get better paying jobs. The American economy was wrecked, I heard. And even before the war, it was bad. I can’t imagine how bad it is now.  
War was a major part of Collins’ early life. Her father was a Vietnam veteran who believed that his children had every right to understand and know about the Vietnam War.

            We sat in silence for a while. I could feel the tenseness between Mother and Kris, and I wanted to get up and leave, but I knew I couldn’t. I stared at my flashlight, wishing that something, anything, would break the silence. Break it forever.
            Suddenly, Kris got up and grabbed her flashlight. “You know what?” she said, in a surprisingly quiet, yet frightening voice, “I don’t care, because you don’t care. You only care about yourself, and it’s obvious that you are so depressed that you will be happy if you die. You don’t care about your own children and what they think. Me and Jenny want to live, and leave this awful country before we get killed in some nuclear disaster! Dad would have known what was right!” Kris looked like she was about to cry. She turned away from us and stalked upstairs, looking straight ahead.

 “It was very important to him that we understood things…you would hear what led up to this war and to this particular battle. It wasn’t like, there’s a field. It would be, here’s a story.”

            Mother looked down at her lap. She wiped her eyes with the palm of her hand. I remember how Dad, whenever Mother cried, would squeeze her hands and wipe away her tears with his thumb. I so wished that I could be Dad for Mother right now. She needed him, and neither Kris nor I could give her that.
            As Collins says in her interview, she finds reality television disturbing, “watching people being humiliated or brought to tears or suffering physically”. She believes that this causes the audience to be little affected by the real tragedy on the news, that it “all blurs into one program.”  She wants people to realize that there’s a distinction, “because the young soldier’s dying in the war in the Iraq, it’s not going to end at the commercial break.”


Mother wringed her hands and looked down at the floor. “So what do you think?” she whispered.
“About what?”
“You know.”
It was my turn to look at the floor. I didn’t know if she knew or not.
The day Dad left, I’d prepared. I knew that Mother would never, ever, let us leave, even if everyone in town had left and we were the only inhabitants. So I packed a suitcase with money, dried food and bottles of water, and a change of clothes.
And a note. Oh, I was so stupid. The note. It was in a small compartment of my suitcase. Just a simple note Mother would read stating why I’d decided to run away. If  I ran away. I had hidden the suitcase under my bed. Which was probably the most stupid place to hide it.

Suzanne Collins had a reason for writing The Hunger Games—to prove a point. As she said in her interview, she wanted readers to realize that there is a difference between reality television and the real world. Those things one sees on TV are real stories, real people.

“Kris just said that you and her wanted to go,” she said, looking into my eyes, “Do you want to go?”
I looked at my fingernails. My nail paint was chipping. “I don’t know,” I said.
“Just in a case of emergency?”
I sucked in my breath, and my neck got all hot and sweaty.
“Yeah, I guess,” I said, “Just in a case of emergency, maybe.”
“I think it may be time to go,” she said, “Ever since that nuclear disaster in New York—one million people dead. Arthur would say it’s time to go.” She laughed. “Funny, how I always call him a stubborn man, yet I’m more stubborn than he is.” She turned to me. “He’s dead, isn’t he?”
I swallowed. “Mother…”
“I don’t know why,” she said, “but I always feel safer pretending he’s alive.”
“He probably is,” I said, looking back at my nails.
“Don’t lie,” she said abruptly, “Don’t ever lie to me. I should have taken charge when Arthur had gone. I just spent my time wishing he’d come back.”
“But he will, Mom,” I faltered, “I know it.”
“Stop it!” she yelled, “Stop it, stop it, stop it! There’s no use hoping, no use at all.” I could hear her voice crack.
“Mother…?” I looked up to see Kris leaning over the stair railing. Mother looked up at Kris and then balled her hands tightly into fists. She was trying to contain the sadness inside of her.
Mother nodded stiffly, her eyes tightly closed.

Using this writing in any way requires the permission of the author. 

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