Hunger Games: Flashes of Insight

[Hunger Games Content Note: Food Insecurity, Classism, Murder, Poverty.
Extra Content Note: Parental Abuse of a Child, Drunkeness, Depression.]

Hunger Games Recap: In Chapter 4, Katniss rides on a train and continues to flashback Peeta (and the aftermath of his charity and her growth as a hunter) to us. 

The Hunger Games, Chapter 4

Let's keep this Hunger Games ball rolling while I am still excited about the movie, no? I've been re-re-re-listening to the audio books this week in preparation for the upcoming movie and every other line makes me all OH, MUST GO WRITE A POST ABOUT THIS. (Clearly I need to get the Twilight audio books because apparently I have more thoughts about the text when it's being streamed into my ears during the morning commute. That surprises me, as I'm usually a very visual person rather than an auditory person. Maybe it's just that I love Carolyn McCormick so much, and I picture all her lines being delivered to Jack McCoy as she patiently explains that being handsome* doesn't make him any less stupid.)

* Yes he is. Don't judge me. 

   For a few moments, Peeta and I take in the scene of our mentor trying to rise out of the slippery vile stuff from his stomach. The reek of vomit and raw spirits almost brings my dinner up. We exchange a glance. Obviously Haymitch isn’t much, but Effie Trinket is right about one thing, once we’re in the arena he’s all we’ve got. As if by some unspoken agreement, Peeta and I each take one of Haymitch’s arms and help him to his feet.
   “I tripped?” Haymitch asks. “Smells bad.” He wipes his hand on his nose, smearing his face with vomit.

Meet Haymitch! (Well, you already sorta met him before, when he was tripping around the stage at the reaping, but meet him again.) Haymitch is... well, like almost literally EVERYONE ELSE in these books, he's complicated and complex and controversial among the readers. Because one of the interesting things about the THG universe is that while everyone keeps secrets and manipulates everyone else like it's Twilight Appreciation Day, the Capitol pretty much fixes things so that there's really no other way to operate.

So while Haymitch is a manipulative bastard, he's not really equipped with the tools necessary to be anything else. We'll talk later, as it arises in text, about all our feels regarding his morally questionable actions. I PROMISE. In the meantime, here is a picture of Woody Harrelson.

Anyway. It's an open question within the books just how often Haymitch is genuinely drunk and how often he's pretending to be drunk. He definitely does drink buckets and buckets, and he also goes through incredibly painful withdrawal (twice) in Catching Fire. At the same time, there's a calculated convenience to his drunkenness at times, like when his public display at the reaping gave Katniss the time to collect her emotions and appear stoic for the cameras.

At any rate, he's either fairly drunk here or playing this astonishingly far: he basically goes only semi-conscious and Katniss and Peeta are forced to drag him to his bed-and-bath. Katniss is squeamish about naked bodies and anything involving illness, so Peeta volunteers to care for Haymitch, which Katniss judges (BECAUSE OF COURSE SHE DOES, LOL) to be a tactical move but a poorly judged one on Peeta's part because she doubts it will 'count' to their mentor.

   I can’t help feeling a little grateful since the last thing I want to do is strip down Haymitch, wash the vomit out of his chest hair, and tuck him into bed. Possibly Peeta is trying to make a good impression on him, to be his favorite once the Games begin. But judging by the state he’s in, Haymitch will have no memory of this tomorrow.
   [...] I’m pondering the reason why he insists on taking care of Haymitch and all of a sudden I think, It’s because he’s being kind. Just as he was kind to give me the bread.

Credit Teodoro S Gruhl

One of the things I love about this series, and about Katniss as a protagonist, is how she has occasional flashes of insight which go, essentially, Not everyone is like me! Often these insight-flashes are also accompanied with a ...and that's okay. which is additionally a nice touch. (Eat it, Ender Wiggin and Bella Swan! Eat it with a spoon! Or something.) This is one of those times. Katniss has been assuming that Peeta is all calculation, like she is (or like she likes to think she is), and has been trying to figure out his angle: is he crying to appear weak to the other tributes? taking care of Haymitch in order to ingratiate himself to their mentor? Now her brain has slapped itself in the face and realized that whoooooops, Peeta doesn't give gifts with strings attached. He's just a nice person, is all.

   The idea pulls me up short. A kind Peeta Mellark is far more dangerous to me than an unkind one. Kind people have a way of working their way inside me and rooting there. And I can’t let Peeta do this. Not where we’re going. So I decide, from this moment on, to have as little as possible to do with the baker’s son.When I get back to my room, the train is pausing at a platform to refuel. I quickly open the window, toss the cookies Peeta’s father gave me out of the train, and slam the glass shut. No more. No more of either of them.
   Unfortunately, the packet of cookies hits the ground and bursts open in a patch of dandelions by the track. I only see the image for a moment, because the train is off again, but it’s enough. Enough to remind me of that other dandelion in the school yard years ago…

Then there's more flashback about Peeta. Flashback 1, which was in Chapter 2, was about how Peeta threw bread at Katniss when she was starving to death, and (in doing so) essentially saved her life. Or at least kept her from being bundled off to a dangerous orphanage. This flashback picks up from there and talks about how, the day after (and when Katniss' brain was a little clearer now that she wasn't starving to death quite so hard), she saw a dandelion on the ground immediately after she looked away from Peeta in shame and embarrassment at seeing his bruised-by-his-mother-for-burning-the-bread face, and realized that -- oh yeah! -- she knows how to forage and hunt because her dad sorta taught her.

   After we’d harvested those, we scrounged along inside the fence for probably a mile until we’d filled the bucket with the dandelion greens, stems, and flowers. That night, we gorged ourselves on dandelion salad and the rest of the bakery bread.
   “What else?” Prim asked me. “What other food can we find?”
   “All kinds of things,” I promised her. “I just have to remember them.”

There's a lot of stuff about how frightened Katniss was to go into the woods alone, what with there being genuine predators out there like wild dogs, but how she managed to kill a rabbit and take it home. Then there's a really sweet bit about her mother battling her illness which rings true with my own experiences with depression:

   We hadn’t had meat in months. The sight of the rabbit seemed to stir something in my mother. She roused herself, skinned the carcass, and made a stew with the meat and some more greens Prim had gathered. Then she acted confused and went back to bed, but when the stew was done, we made her eat a bowl.
    The woods became our savior, and each day I went a bit farther into its arms. 

AND IT'S ALL BECAUSE OF PEETA MELLARK. Only Katniss never told him thank you because the longer she didn't say anything, the more awkward it got. Which, you know, makes sense. It's like that guy at work whose name you don't know, but you've worked in the same room together for years and it would seem rude to ask now. There's also a strong implication that the two don't really share a social circle, what with Katniss being a seam-kid and Peeta being in the merchant class. 

Then there's some more world-building on food and finances, and more of Katniss assuming that people like her only because they like her family (previously, Prim; now, her father).

   On May 8th, I went to the Justice Building, signed up for my tesserae, and pulled home my first batch of grain and oil in Prim’s toy wagon. On the eighth of every month, I was entitled to do the same. I couldn’t stop hunting and gathering, of course. The grain was not enough to live on, and there were other things to buy, soap and milk and thread. What we didn’t absolutely have to eat, I began to trade at the Hob. It was frightening to enter that place without my father at my side, but people had respected him, and they accepted me. 

Sure, Katniss, I'm sure that's all it was.

The thought occurs that Katniss could enter a Low Self-Esteem contest with Bella Swan and give her a run for her money. Is this a mandatory Young Adult thing? Is it significant that it's essentially the polar opposite to Ender Wiggin, who is just as popular but also male? Would audiences accept a self-confident young woman protagonist as passionately as we demonstrably accept low self-esteem ones? Or is there something else here that speaks more universally to us: the assumption that people don't love us for ourselves? Even Ender Wiggin, for all his self-confidence, assumes he's not loved not lovable. I know there are definitely times when I don't feel loved, or don't feel unconditionally and selflessly loved (i.e., "Person only loves me for what I do for hir."), or don't feel loved for being me-me as opposed to being socially-acceptable-me.

I've talked in the past that I think Edward Cullen's desirability as a mate lies in the fact that he (ostensibly) loves Bella so much that he's utterly fascinated by every aspect of her being and just wants to burrow down into every thought, and word, and deed, and habit and just KNOW HER as completely as she knows herself. There's something I recognize as potentially** intoxicating about an utterly selfless lover who knows you and wants to know you and loves you for what zie knows of you -- a person who sees through any Imposter Syndrome feelings you might have about showing a fraudulent face to the world, and loves you for being you.

** NB: Personal tastes vary and not everyone wants a lover, let alone this type of lover. 

And speaking of imposter syndrome, I was musing earlier today about how interesting that the way in which Katniss is forced to hide all her emotions (because cameras are on her and informants lurk everywhere) is a more intense version of what a lot of us already live with, especially depending on our level of social privilege. Women are socially punished for crying, whether at home or at work. Women are branded bitches if they show anger, even justifiable anger; people of color are doubly branded as furious and violent and riotous if they show grief or anger.

I even get comments by email all the time about how ANGRY I SOUND when I talk about Narnia, or Ross, or Buffy -- comments that used to perplex me, because I'm usually not full-on angry when I talk about these things. I try to communicate in thoughtful ways, even. But I'm still read as angry and combative because I'm a woman and because of the subjects I talk about. I'm not like Katniss in that I don't have to audit my facial expressions in order to stay alive. But I do have to audit my expressions, both in person and online, if I want to keep my job and if I want to keep my inbox relatively free of daily hate. And even then, like any other dystopia about power imbalance, I'm never really safe from patriarchal power wielded against me.

Maybe that's why dystopias appeal so much to me: they're starker and more obvious versions of things that I'm already intimately familiar with. And it's so often much easier to point out the Obvious Bad than the Subtle Bad.

Anyway. Continuing the flashback, we get an interesting look into Katniss' psyche and why she is so fiercely self-reliant and unwilling to rely on others: she's afraid of being hurt when/if they fail to protect her. (As humans so often do.)

   Slowly, my mother returned to us. She began to clean and cook and preserve some of the food I brought in for winter. People traded us or paid money for her medical remedies. One day, I heard her singing.
    Prim was thrilled to have her back, but I kept watching, waiting for her to disappear on us again. I didn’t trust her. And some small gnarled place inside me hated her for her weakness, for her neglect, for the months she had put us through. Prim forgave her, but I had taken a step back from my mother, put up a wall to protect myself from needing her, and nothing was ever the same between us again.
   Now I was going to die without that ever being set right. I thought of how I had yelled at her today in the Justice Building. I had told her I loved her, too, though. So maybe it would all balance out.

Spoiler alert: Katniss comes back in Catching Fire with a very different take on her mother's illness. So hold on to that. For right now, I will say that I appreciate the willingness here to show compassion on both sides. On the one side, I really don't think the narrative is asking us to condemn Mrs. Everdeen***; I feel like there's a lot of good stuff here, with her coming back from her illness, and clearly anxious to help her family and care for her children. This rings really true for me, based on my own experiences after my surgery.

And on the other side, I get Katniss' viewpoint too. She's not obliged to rely on her mother, even if she understands that the illness wasn't her fault, because relationships are complicated like that, and Katniss is allowed to pull away emotionally if that's what she requires for self-care. And I feel like that comes through in the narrative as well -- that neither Katniss nor her mother are "at fault" here. It's just a bad situation that hurts two good people. And it's a bad situation that didn't need to happen, except for the Capitol's greed in withholding food and social care and safe working conditions and medical-and-mental-healthcare services.

Or, you know, as Will suggested far more succinctly: "THERAPY, THERAPY FOR EVERYONE, IS ANYONE PAYING ATTENTION".

*** I really do think it was a deliberate stylistic choice to not give Katniss' mother a name (rather than authorial carelessness), but it makes deconstruction very awkward. How do ya'll feel about a fan-name? I'm leaning towards Rose, for Primrose, her youngest daughter. Thoughts?

Anyway. Katniss shakes out of her flashback in order to flash sideways and worry about how her family is now. (There's a sweet bit about how she's super-glad she didn't kill Buttercup the Cat because he'll comfort Prim tonight. D'aw.) Then she figures that if she's going to cry, now is the time because she can wash the tears off in the morning. But she finds that she's too shocked and numb to cry, and that rings true to me, too. 

   Gray light is leaking through the curtains when the rapping rouses me. I hear Effie Trinket’s voice, calling me to rise. “Up, up, up! It’s going to be a big, big, big day!” I try and imagine, for a moment, what it must be like inside that woman’s head. What thoughts fill her waking hours? What dreams come to her at night? I have no idea.

I HAVE IDEAS!! But we'll get to those later. And while there's not much left of this chapter, I have thoughts on Haymitch's next appearance, along with his advice, that I'd like to organize for next time, so I'll cut off here. Happy Hunger Games, etc. if you're going to the movie premier this week!


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