For the Duration
by KARA VANDERBIJL
Katniss Everdeen is one of the more unlikable characters in all of literature, falling only slightly behind Gollum. It is hard to put a finger on what makes her as repulsive as she is. Her asexuality makes her hard to identify with, which might be part of the problem. I am tempted to blame it all on her blatant refusal to consider anybody else, but that is, after all, what most teenagers (and some twenty-somethings) are like. Surprisingly — or perhaps unsurprisingly, considering the literary mood of our times — various males trail after her for the duration. Is this what high school was like? Did you have any love interests skewer one another with tridents for your affection?
Panem, Suzanne Collins promises in The Hunger Games, is a world only several hundred years in the future of our own. Its citizens whisper “May the odds ever be in your favor” to one another. Oppressed by an unwavering Capitol, far away in the remains of the Rocky Mountains, they starve in twelve outlying districts. One this side of the apocalypse, people cannot make provisions for a potentially awful future — the worst possible future has already occurred. It is too late for them to fund cancer research, fight totalitarian regimes or protest the advent of the Cloud. To make matters worse, every year the Capitol draws two teenagers from each district at random to participate in the Hunger Games, a bloody competition reminiscent of Survivor or a day in the life of a Roman gladiator, which streams live on Panem’s national broadcast.
Despair over the annual death of 23 teenagers, as well as the constant flow of propaganda from the Capitol, has turned the average citizen of Panem into a passive victim. They simply wait for the roll of the dice, the draw of each name, hoping to a nonexistent future deity that it will not be theirs. This time, it isn’t sixteen-year-old Katniss’ name that is called, but her younger sister Prim’s, despite all the precautions that they have taken. In a moment of sheer insanity Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place at the Games – and in exercising this freedom, seals her fate as a catalyst for the revolution.
This is hardly an act of altruism. Katniss has been a rebel from the beginning, hunting outside the boundaries of the twelfth district with her best friend Gale and selling the game at a local black market. But while Gale’s actions are motivated by a heroic hatred of the Capitol, Katniss finds her motives in a well of self-interest so deep that Ayn Rand could drown herself quite happily in it. Katniss was in it to survive long before she was called to the Games, and the tension between her blatant refusal to consider others and the knowledge that she’ll have to depend on them drives the entirety of the story.
Undoubtedly the time spent in the Games arena is the most entertaining aspect of the book, if only because this is where the majority of Collins’ imagination seems to have expended itself. Outside this deadly, man-made environment, details are scarce. The districts are difficult to envision. The Capitol, in all of its supposed beauty, escapes description. As the story progresses, Katniss and her band of loyal followers step into larger and larger arenas, first breaking the smallest rules, poking at the limits of force fields and challenging accepted reality, and finally overriding the regime’s televised propaganda with truths of their own.
For all of its possibilities, the future rarely inspires an original thought in human beings. Miranda July recently tried to find one and had considerable difficulty emerging from a T-shirt. Why is the imminent unknown so difficult to ignore? It is not as if the future is ever present. Why can’t I disregard its existence, dismissing it as I do the average mathematical equation? For the longest time, I refused to read a book with the word e-mail in it. The future is the only event that will never come to pass if we refuse to acknowledge its existence.
Kara VanderBijl is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. You can find her website here. She last wrote in these pages about the history of feminism. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.
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"Black & Blue" - Miike Snow (mp3)