Thursday, April 11, 2013

Katniss in the Capitol ...

A series of somewhat disconnected thoughts ...

If I had grown up in the world of Panem, I might have been a girl from the Seam. I am the descendant of migrant coal miners who settled in a seam along the Monongahela River several miles south of  Pittsburgh. Settled into small row houses in the patch towns that snaked along the water, all within walking distance of the mine portal. My own father, when I was a kid, would come home from work with coal dirt staining the lines on his rough hands, a dirt that, incidentally, is very hard to scrub off.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons The Hunger Games books strike such a chord with me. I can imagine myself as Katniss. I walked in the woods covering the foothills of the Appalachians with my father when I was a girl, learning what I could and couldn't eat. I learned how to shoot (albeit a gun, not a bow) early on. I idolized my father's gruff masculinity.  I can imagine what it would be like to lose your early idols.

Photo via the SWPA Rural Exploration Facebook Page
I can also imagine Katniss entering the glittering Capitol, the ruling city of the first district. Walking the streets of the District of Columbia a few weeks back, taking in the gleaming white monuments, the testaments to wars fought and won (and lost), I was struck by the sheer mass of these artistic representations of the value of war in particular, and of the imagined vision of America that those in positions of power have wanted to project. Let me state for the record that I am proud to be an American (where at least I know I'm free). My brother fought hard and suffered in a war, however, that made me think long and hard about the cost of freedom. About what exactly freedom is, why we need it, what price we should (and should not) have to pay in order to keep it.  And how we represent it.

A portion of the World War II Memorial on the National Mall, that eerily reminded me of something that might have appeared in the pages of The Hunger Games.

In an interview, the author of the Hunger Games books, Suzanne Collins, noted, "I don't write about adolescence. I write about war. For adolescents." The daughter of a Vietnam soldier, Collins experienced war up close and personal, growing up in a world where the images of a war that her father was actually fighting in seeped onto the television screen after her afternoon cartoons (see this interview on the Scholastic website). I worry about representations of war that make it seem like some grand, gleaming adventure, white, unstained, pure (think Tom Cruise in Top Gun). I prefer monuments to war to be like Collins's book, refusing to gloss over the human cost, the black scars carved into America and the lands in which those wars are fought.

I admire the bravery it requires to memorialize the dark side. ~Alice

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