Saturday, November 23, 2013

Montaigne In Modern Literature

For the past two days I found myself completely engrossed in rereading Catching Fire and Mockingjay, the second and third books to The Hunger Games series.  I've always understood the references Suzanne Collins cleverly weaves into her novels, but I never realized just how deep they really go. As we began to discuss Montaigne in class, I couldn't help but notice the parallels between "Of Cannibals" and "Of The Inconsistency of Our Actions" within Catching Fire and Mockingjay. It began when I realized her use of character names (Seneca, Cato, Brutus, etc.) were some of the people Montaigne recalled to back up his claims. It was the underlying message, though, that really made me think of Montaigne.

I guess I'll start with "Of Cannibals." Throughout the entire Hunger Games series the reader is exposed to a world in which a handful of humans are forced to act like animals, while the rest sit back and enjoy their luxuries. The plot is quite simple: it is the future, and the U.S. has been divided into 12 districts (each with its own commodity) and one Capital. Because of a rebellion against the Capital 75 years previous, all districts must give up one girl and boy between the ages of 12 to 18 that will fight to the death. The people in the Capital would be similar to the Europeans - they speak in funny accents, wear funny clothes, and are basically considered aliens to every non-Capital person. The districts and their tributes, would be the "barbarians." The district peoples are dirty, most live in poverty, many are uneducated, but in reality they are simply people. They are not the cannibals Montaigne writes of, until they become victors in the Hunger Games. The victors are those who become full of bloodlust, merciless, and cold-blooded killers who must do what they have to in order to survive. There is even one victor who tears another's throat out with her bear teeth. So who are the real barbarians? The Capital people who consider the Games to be simply entertainment, even though they do not understand the true implications of their actions? Or is it the tributes, forced to kill mercilessly to save their own lives, but took over 70 years to finally say enough?

"...I am heartily sorry that, judging their faults rightly, we should be so blind to our own. I think there is more barbarity in eating a man alive than in eating him dead."

The victors are not only damaged physically from their time in the arena, but also mentally. Especially in the last two novels, many of the characters suffer from the terrible memories during their time in the Games. Most become mentally broken and even start to decay by the last book. This is where "Of Inconsistency of Our Actions" comes in. Katniss, the main character, questions who she is, has become, and will have to be many times in the novels. She's plagued by her former actions, and she repeats countless times that her former self is dead. She discovers new qualities within herself that she never saw before (both good and bad), but only through the comments of others. She is the most grounded character, the one who truly knows who she is, yet there is nothing she can do to stop everything from crumbling around her. At the very end of Mockingjay she refers to herself as "patchwork" due to the amount of skin graphs needed to replace a good majority of burns. She doesn't mention it, but she's patchwork mentally too. To keep herself from going insane she repeats a list of factual information that she knows to be true, such as her name, age, what's happened to her, etc., but she never repeats qualities of herself, because she knows how often they change based on certain circumstances.

“We are all patchwork. And so shapeless and diverse in composition that each bit, each moment plays its own game. And there is as much difference between us and ourselves as between us and others.”

In the end, though, Katniss must decide whether to stand by the new regime of rebels and reinstate a new version of the Hunger Games, one featuring the children of the Capital, or allow the new republic to be created civilly. She votes to have the Games one last time, but keeps her ulterior motives within. So, rather than killing the previous President who is the main cause of all this suffering, she kills the new one who would simply allow the same thing to happen again. So perhaps tributes and victors are not simply barbarians, but the ones who contain enough knowledge to make the right choice. Maybe it was Katniss's transition from hunter, tribute, lover, rebel, victor, tribute, insane, icon, broken, etc. that gave her access to qualities she never knew, or wanted to know. Overall, I think there's much that can be said about the parallels between Montaigne and The Hunger Games. It makes us question who the real barbarians are, and gives us knowledge to the patchwork of ourselves.

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