I finished reading Catching Fire, the second book in Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games trilogy, and I enjoyed it so much that I have already started on the final book in the series, Mockingjay and dreading its conclusion. I discussed the plot of The Hunger Games in a previous post so I won’t rehearse it here. Catching Fire picks-up right where the first work ends. Though you’re hoping for some relief for Katniss and for a moment for her to relax and enjoy being able to spend time with loved ones, this does not come to pass. She inspired many in the districts to resist the tyranny of the Capitol and the regime wants her to pay for sparking rebellion (or if you prefer, revolution).
One of the things that I found most compelling about Catching Fire was how aware the characters were about what skills they possessed and how they could use those skills to not only survive but to also maintain a life and the lives of others. The work of the districts, whether it was in fishing, textiles, electronics, or agriculture, equipped people with certain skills that were meaningful and useful for survival. But what is also clear is that people have fond memories of spending time with friends and families and in sharing meals; or in making food taste good; or in helping a neighbor heal. As overburdened as life was with work and in trying to survive amidst stark deprivation and an inhospitable socio-political terrain, they were not estranged from joy.
Being oblivious to one’s circumstances and towards its potential for cruelty could be deadly. I found this interesting because I think we actually live in a world that encourages obliviousness; in fact, joy presumably resides there. Thus, we are said to be at our most joyful, our happiest, when we “don’t have a care in the world.” I wonder how different life would be if obliviousness was generally considered to be dangerous like it was for the majority of the citizens in the districts of Panem.
I must admit that I do think it’s odd to aspire to have a life where you don’t have to think about the details of how it is lived, which is generally why wealthy people’s lives are presumably attractive. While I understand the real burden of having to worry about money and thinking about how bleak your options might look compared to those with greater means, I don’t always like the dismissal of the worthiness of being able to look at your circumstances and to wrest or to create a life from the existing terms. Unlike a lot of folk who believe in Horatio Alger dreams of success, I don’t believe that hard work and good character will lead to great material wealth. In some ways, having a belief in these sorts of myths promote oblivion; particularly of critical consciousness. You aren’t supposed to question the standardization of success and wealth so that fortune gets reflected in money, consumer goods, professional titles and memberships, awards, and fame. But you are supposed to believe that people who have these things got them through hard work and merit; that there was nothing unfair about it. And you’re supposed to envy them and their lives. I know people, though, who have wrested a life away from the assembly line or the water treatment plant or from domestic service and created interesting, desirable places to live for themselves and for friends and family to enjoy.
I would certainly like it if I didn’t have to worry about paying for my visits to the dentist because no matter what my dental coverage is, it always seems inadequate for what they’re charging. I would certainly like it if I didn’t have to worry about having enough money for what might happen in the future. But even if I had this kind of money, or what my father would have called “ends,” I wouldn’t want a life where I didn’t even have to think about it. I don’t find anything about mindlessness attractive, which is why I loved the moment in Catching Fire when Katniss describes her prep teams discussion as “a whole lot of stuff about their incomprehensibly silly lives.” Katniss wasn’t being smug because that would not have given her any useful information about her world. Such an inclination for arrogance would not have helped her form new knowledge about her world that would have been of value to her. I have a great admiration for people who know how to make something valuable, but find it “incomprehensibly silly” to be encouraged to believe that folk who buy valuable things are supposed to be subjects of envy.