Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Discussing The Hunger Games by Barbara Bockman

In THE WRIGHT THREE by Blue Balliett, Scholastic Press, 2006, the teacher is trying to get her students to express their feelings and assessment about art. The kids come up with a list of criteria with which to judge art. The art object in question is a piece of architecture.

I thought it might be a good exercise to use these criteria to discuss THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins. Now these will just be a few thoughts off the top of my head, and you are welcome to agree or disagree. Then, come up with your own examples.

ART SHOULD HAVE SURPRISES. THE HUNGER GAMES is full of surprises. It seems like “games” should be fun. But SURPRISE! These games are not fun. They are dangerous and deadly. I like the way we gradually find out how Katniss and Peeta, the baker’s son, originally got to know each other. I like the way the gift of the Mockingjay pin becomes a symbol of Kat and her mission. I like the way the old (previous) games winner gives her just a touch of advice which proves to be golden.

ART SHOULD MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER. I know; there’s a lot in the book that makes you feel bad. But ultimately, don’t you think there are things that make you feel good? How about the way Kat is so determined to take care of her little sister? Kat may be tough, but she has strong family feeling. Maybe you can’t relate to that. If not, then determine now that when you create your own home, you will make sure that the glue that holds it together is family feeling.

ART SHOULD MAKE YOU THINK. After finishing the book, I’ll bet you thought about how this fictional world resembles the one you live in. After experiencing the stirring emotions of fear and friendship, hunger and hatred, determination and confusion—along with the characters, you saw the irony in the fact that everywhere you look in our world, someone is engaged in some form of electronic communication. It seems we’re voyeurs watching voyeurs. George Orwell had already warned us in NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR about being watched over by Big Brother. (I kept wondering where the cameras were in THE HUNGER GAMES). Suffice it to say, they were there. Now, are you going to think about the deeper messages of the book? Or do you think it isn’t worthy of your time?

ART SHOULDN'T BE SPOOKY. I’m afraid THE HUNGER GAMES fails this criteria. And that’s okay; mature readers can handle the spookiness. Being surprised by unexpected attacks is a pretty spooky thing. But let’s look at this a little closer. Going back to the Greek philosopher and literary critic, Aristotle, we find that spookiness is a good thing in art. Aristotle thought that art (he was speaking directly to dramatic tragedy) should create enough fear in the audience to purge or purify one’s emotions of that very fear. But there are incidents in other stories for little kids that create anxiety, -----you fill in something here. After all, this standard was suggested by a child, and spookiness is something parents should oversee in the lives of little kids.

ART SHOULDN'T BE DANGEROUS. In my novel-in-progress, I have a statue falling on someone. Just the other day, a painting fell off the wall in my doctor’s office. (No one was hurt). But THE HUNGER GAMES. Now—there’s danger, there. There’s danger in starving to death, there’s danger in the games, and there’s danger of a totalitarian government sucking the life out of an entire society. So the book is ultimately political. It takes a lot of motivation to stand up to those with power.

ART SHOULD BE A THING YOU WANT TO LIVE WITH. If you bought the book (or plan to buy the video when it comes out), then you want to live with this piece of art. You will be able to look on your book shelf and see this piece of art and watch the video anytime you want. You probably have posters on your wall, and figurines sitting on your shelves. Most of the time, you get to choose what art you want to live with. But project into the future for a moment. Do you think books will die out with the advent of electronic readers? Are books going to be something to see in a museum behind glass? Is the book a kind of art that is disappearing? What are your feelings about that?

ART SHOULD HAVE SECRETS. THE HUNGER GAMES passes this criterion with flying colors. There are enough secrets in this world to fill three books; and that’s just what Ms. Collins did—she wrote two more books. In Greek Drama the artistic secrets came as a surprise near the end of the play. Only then does the viewer understand the real motivation behind the characters’ actions. There are secrets throughout THE HUNGER GAMES, such as when Katniss and Peeta come out in flaming costumes, and the secret love affair planned by Hamish to keep the two alive. In my novel, WOUNDS, Craig's secret motive for attempting to cut down the tree is explained near the end.

Do you think the people living lavishly in the Capital were interested in art? Did they read books?

I copied this from Nancy Stewart’s blog:
“Books are really part of what makes us human.” So says Rosemary Agoglia, curator of education at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts, in a New York Times article about efforts to teach children the merits and pleasures of the “pre-web page,” of books.



Mirka Breen said...

Thoughtful observations, Barbara. I have yet to read the books or see the movie. I tend to avoid dystopian futuristic tales. But it seems impossible to avoid The Hunger Games.

Diane said...

Well done Barbara. I don't use a formula for art unless I am teaching but for me art has to speak to me either subtly or in my face and invite me to join in. I will put this on my list to read so I can take a closer look.

Diane said...

Bravo Barbara - Well Sad!

Nancy Stewart said...

Wonderful post, Barbara! It is so thoughtfully written in an interesting and scholarly way.

Thank you bogh.

Lynda S . Burch said...

I just saw the movie yesterday and the ART of the story continues in a valuable contribution to the story. The movie adds the drama of the Capitol, the way the games are followed, recorded, controlled and watched by the gamekeepers. Overall the movie follows the book and both impacts and enriches the story.
Great read and very well done movie.

Evelyn said...

Interesting insights, Barbara. I haven't read The Hunger Games or seen the movie. I'm not an art critique, but for myself art I want to live with is art that inspires me, gives me new insights, or brings me joy.

BarbaraB said...

I'm very grateful for all the comments. Thanks for stopping by.

Hi Mirka,
You're right about the Hunger Games being ubiquitous. But so was Twilight, and I never got into that. I say, stick with what you love to read.

Hi Diane,
My daughter, her friend, and I were all looking at a piece of art. We each looked at it differently. I suppose we had our inner formulas.

Hi Nancy,
I'm glad you liked the post. I'm glad I had Blue Balliete's (sic)book to work with. It seemed so much more personal than just talking about characters and plot.
p.s. Thanks putting pertinent quotes on your blog.

Hi Lynda,
Yes, the art within the Hunger Games is very prominent. I thought it would be a good approach to a review.

Hi Ev,
I agree that if you're going to live with a piece of art, it should be something speakes to you in a significant way.

Hey, where are all the teens?