The Girl Who Was On Fire

*spoiler alert for people who haven’t read The Hunger Games Series. This book is an analysis of the series

The Girl Who Was On Fire by Leah Wilson is probably the first secondary source I’ve read since university. Reading a book of short essays/articles about another book may seem dull or nerdy to some, but I love it. I’d like to write books like this, in fact on my second reading of The Hunger Games I took notes and highlighted quotes with the intention of writing an in depth analysis. I haven’t gotten around to writing it, or the one I started about the show Dollhouse, or any of the projects I’d love to do if I had a year off. Someday I’ll probably get around to it, but the thing is the market for these things passes so quickly and I don’t have the time to dedicate to it.

So about the book….

The introduction and first chapter made me cringe. I worried this was not the brain food I wanted but a happy meal in disguise. Would it just be fans gushing (says the woman who spends most of her time on this blog doing just that). Thankfully, the deeper I got into the book the more I liked it.

In “Your Heart is a Weapon the Size of your Fist” Mary Borsellino explores how President Snow’s reign is a mix of Big Brother from 1984, and Big Brother the reality show. What a horrifying combination that makes! Resistance through love may sound like a hippy slogan but Borsellino makes some compelling arguments.

“Love when there isn’t supposed to be love is a hugely subversive political act”(33)

Katniss and Peeta end their Hunger Games by choosing to kill themselves rather than one another. Borsellino argues this is the ultimate act of defiance under their circumstances. They have been dehumanized by the games, and the Capitol expects them to kill for survival but the young characters prove that they can not be manipulated into giving up their humanity, even if it means giving up their lives.

Katniss’ love for Rue is also notably rebellious and played down by the Capitol. That she made a true friend in the arena and mourned her with respect is part of how she gains the support of some districts in the rebellion.

“The effect of this tiny, humanizing act-singing to a dying child-has immediate and far reaching consequences.”(34)

In her article “Smoke and Mirrors” Elizabeth M. Rees points out a few things I missed in the book.

“comparing her eyes to “slush” foreshadows that she is really a counterpoint and twisted mirror image of the Capitol’s President Snow”(56)

This is actually a really important thing to notice in the description of Coin. Her character’s corruption is so essential to the story, because it eliminates the black and white of Capitol=bad and rebellion= good. She adds an extra element of reality to the rebellion, as the rebels become  what they were trying to destroy.

I very much enjoyed Carrie Ryan’s “Panem Et Circenses” mostly because of her acknowledgement that we are drawn into the violence of the Games just like the characters we criticize:

Even while Katniss rails against the Games as disgusting and barbaric, we the readers turn the pages in order to watch them. We become the citizens in the Capitol, glued to the television, ensuring there will be another Game the following year. Thanks to us, the ratings are just too high to cancel the show.” (111)

This is a very important observation. It is not just the Snow’s government guilty of orchestrating this violence, it is the viewers who attract sponsors. This should make us think about how we as consumers and bystanders are guilty of allowing horrors to happen in our world. It should also make us think about how trashy reality television is only on the air because we (as a society) watch it.

In “Not So Weird Science” Cara Lockwood reminds us that the Mutts in the Games are not so far fetched. She points out scary genetic experimentation in real life and compares them to those manufactured mutations in the novel. She argues that “science is a tool; it’s how you use it that matters” (119) and I agree. Science in itself isn’t evil, but it can be used for it. This reminds me of magic is treated in Harry Potter. Witchcraft isn’t inherently evil, it’s what you do with your power that defines you. The problem with science is, like Lockwood points out, once you invent something you can’t control how it will be used. Sometimes scientists are well intentioned but the consequences are horrific (think nuclear bombs). The uncontrollable nature of genetic mutation and “playing god” is symbolized like so many things by the Mockingjay.

If the discussion of ethics, science and politics aren’t your thing, don’t be turned away. There’s also an article “Crime of Fashion” by Terri Clark that analyzes the importance of appearances and clothes in the novel and in real life. I have a friend who went to fashion school who I think would love this chapter. What I found most interesting was the part about Michelle Obama and Sarah Palin. The impact their wardrobes had on their campaigns really put’s Cinna’s work into perspective.

In “Bent, Shattered, and Mended” Blythe Woolston examines how the characters in the novel demonstrate signs of PST. Based on her analysis I think Collins did a fantastic job.

In Sarah Darer Littman’s “The Politics of Mockingjay”  she discusses (among other things) how Katniss differs from Gale. In that “she’s still capable of seeing the so-called enemy as individuals, rather than as a monolithic entity”(171). This is one of the reasons I’m so happy she doesn’t end up with him. Gale is an extremist, and hates the people of the Capital with such lack of mercy that I can’t abide by him.

There’s a lot more to this collection than I have shared and if you are a big fan of Collins or a pop fiction literary analysis geek such as myself I think you’ll enjoy it.

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