Recently, I keep running into criticism and defence for The Hunger Games. A lot of both boil down to the same arguments. The most common criticism is that the story is just Battle Royale, or was told better in Battle Royale. Which I find funny, even though I’ve said it as shorthand for what I really think. It’s ripped out of Greek mythology, not ripped off of Battle Royale. Although the similarities are definitely there.
What bothered me was the gimmicky prose–a second try at reading it made me realise that it’s also not well-written, aside from the crappy choice of tense–and the main character. For one thing, she is yet another female protagonist who was created to be strong instead of likeable. I’m not sure if she was successfully portrayed as strong, but likeability was definitely sacrificed in the name of impressing feminists and annoyed mums.
Before I go off on a tangent about how stupid it is to make badass female characters who are absolutely loathsome, the other thing that bothered me about the character is what I meant to write about today.
I’ve lost count of the times I have been reading a book or watching… something, and I realised that the logic or commitment of the proposed world is flawed. I just noticed it while watching Samurai Jack, of all things. (in that case, it was: if the world has been under the thumb of a card-carrying villain who is evil for no reason, how did the world develop to the point of having rave-type clubs with no cover charge?)
While reading The Hunger Games, I was appalled at the main character’s issues with her mum. For one thing, as far as feminism goes, it’s kind of a step back, if not some other cringe-y issue. It made me think of Snow White vs the Stepmother Queen, i.e., an example of women being pitted against one another to keep them from challenging the men. Yeah. Of course, it’s not the same at all, but it is an uncomfortable comparison.
It took me some time and conversation to figure out why the daughter/mother thing in the Hunger Games bothered me so much. Initially, I just thought it was because it added to my impression of the main character as being an unsympathetic, whiny brat.
Basically, after her father died, her mother checked out and was unable to care for her own children. This is sad, and should have been good world-building. Instead, thanks to Katniss (tired of typing “main character”) being a jerk, it creates a very early hole in the world-building.
And this is where I get to refer to my post title. The author did not take her premise and world far enough. She wrote a contemporary, American girl into an AU dystopia. Katniss’s reaction to her mother’s PTSD is not only surprisingly selfish, it’s also a reaction that I would not expect from someone who should only know a world where these things happen.
What would I expect? Understanding. Resigned sorrow. Fear that she might not be able to pick up the slack.
Not resentment and negative judgement of her mother as a person. That would make sense for a girl who was raised in a privileged world that suffers from the nasty side effects of excess and giving children too much power. Contemporary. America.
Not to rag on contemporary America. There are lots of great characters to be found in it, both in life and in fiction, and it’s certainly not the worst place to live. But I’m pretty sure that’s not what District 12 is supposed to be.
And Hunger Games is certainly not the only book where I’ve seen this happen. It’s a disappointing and common trait of newer books. The author sets up some sort of premise or elaborate world, but their own environment leaks in. This is really easy to fix, you guys. Use logic instead of familiarity. If you write a world where there have never been any dogs, then that changes humanity’s attitude towards the domestication of animals as a whole. As well as a number of other things.
Take the world as far as it goes. Don’t turn around and go back home because you got homesick.