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The Hunger Games: Get to a Bow

Continuing on with the Hunger Game blogging, I wanted to take a step back from the actual reaping. The story begins the morning before Katniss is chosen to participate in the Games, when she goes hunting to support her family. This is technically illegal, but is one of those laws that they don't really enforce in Twelve.

And Katniss is quite good. She knows which animals are safe to eat and eventually is able to take down animals as well, which she either uses to feed her family or, more often, trades the animals on the black market to get other things her fmaily needs but can't afford. Her dad had died in a mining accident some years before, and for a while her mum was too depressed to work. That means the only real source of income the family has for a while is Katniss's tesserae, the monthly allotment of grain and oil. Eventually her mum starts selling medicinal remedies but it doesn't pay as much as a miner's salary would, and in any case families almost always need both incomes to keep everyone fed, because the salaries are so low. So since she was twelve Katniss has basically been the breadwinner. She's exceptionally good as a shooter.

After the Reaping, Gale points to this skill as her best hope for survival. He urges her to get to a bow, or make one, to use as a weapon against the other tributes.

"Katniss, it's just like hunting. You're the best hunter I know," says Gale.

"It's not just hunting. They're armed. They think," I say.

"So do you. And you've had more practice. Real practice," he says. "You know how to kill."

"Not people," I say.

"How different can it be, really?" says Gale grimly.

The awful thing is that if I can forget they're people, it will be no different at all.

There are two ways of interpreting a lot of these statements. The first is that killing humans involves a set of skills that Katniss simply doesn't have. As Katniss points out, they're armed with weapons every bit as deadly as hers. And more than that, they can think. It is one thing to kill a deer and another to kill a human, without even gettingo into the morality going on here. But I think that Katniss has a deeper point here: that the only way it would really be "no different" is if she didn't realize she was killing other humans.

This is a point that comes up time and again in the later books. [spoilers for book 3]
In Mockingjay,Gale helps design a series of traps to be used against fellow humans that are inspired by his experience hunting animals. In one of my favorite scenes, he likens an attack on a Capitol stronghold to the way you attack a news of wild dogs. And as the books go on, the idea of mutts continually twists this distinction between human and non-human.

It's an interesting point to think about, both in conjunction with animal rights and with the various ways we react to human-against-human violence like war, terrorism, and murder. I can see three basic positions here:

1. It's always wrong to kill things unless it's necessary for your survival. It's necessary to kill animals to survive, so that's okay for Katniss. In the arena, it's also okay to kill the other tributes - because this is just as necessary to your survival. 

2. We should be more reluctant to kill humans than non-human animals for practical reasons - they're harder or more dangerous to kill, this creates more suffering, etc. So you need a better reason to kill humans than other animals, but it's still sometimes justified. 

3. There's something implicitly wrong about killing humans. It's not just a matter of their being more of the same kind of consequences. When you kill a human there's something dehumanizin about this. Sometimes it's necessary for the greater good, perhaps. But still something very wrong, something worth mourning over.
Obviously there are huge implications to this difference here. So I find myself wondering: Which is the best way to approach violence done to humans? Is Gale right to say it's just like killing an animal?
[spoilers for book three]
What if this wasn't her only way to survive, like the later choice Gale faces between his own slavery and that of all the other District residents, or some deaths in a way? Even if you think the war is a good thing, is he a bit too cavalier here?

(My own opinion is yes on that last question. No matter what you think about the way, it's wrong not to think something is lost when we have to be violent. But then I'm a pragmatist.)


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 24th, 2012 12:41 pm (UTC)
My thought is that taking human life is wrong, but sometimes necessary. It should not be undertaken lightly, even in self-defense or during war. There is something lost when a person kills another person.

And yet there are degrees of wrongness: clearly the most wrong (and the most depraved) would be a person who kills other people for pleasure (such as a serial killer)--in the world of the Hunger Games, this wrongness is inherent in the system, in which those who engineer the Games and those who are, for lack of a better word,"fans" of the Games take pleasure in the forcing of other people to commit murder.

So does that make Gale's attitude less wrong when directed at both literal day-to-day survival or when directed at taking out the people who have engineered the system that makes such survival possible? I think, as a matter of degree: still wrong, but less wrong. And of course, thinking of people as "no different than animals" is probably only a coping mechanism. Dehumanizing the enemy is probably the only way to cope with the feeling of "wrongness" when a person kills a person.

I say "probably" because I've never been forced into such a situation, and I would be highly unlikely to survive if I were--I know my limits, and as squeamish as I am, even if I knew I needed to act in self-defense I would probably hesitate to do so and would promptly be killed.

I think that the least wrong, the bravest, are those who know and believe killing to be wrong, but undertake to do so as a means of last resort in the defense of the defenseless. Police and military undertake this on behalf of those like me, and must deal with the psychic and spiritual fallout of their actions.

And of course, the highest level of courage are those who undertake to never kill even in self-defense, and who put their own lives on the line in the peaceful protest of killing by others.

As I said, I've not read the books yet and this wasn't dealt with in the movies: but what would have happened if the tributes refused to kill? Clearly that's hypothetical, because for it to work, all 24 would have had to mutually agree to it--but was there some sort of coercion in place that would have prevented them acting in concert like that?

Sep. 24th, 2012 08:15 pm (UTC)
I like your description of different levels of wrongness. That's pretty close to my own view. If I was being precise I would probably say the killing itself was still equally wrong, it was just that other concerns mitigated it. Like how you might say stealing is always wrong, but that if the stealing was minor and if it was for a good enough reason (medicine for a sick wife, or perhaps Jean Valjeans' theft of a loaf of bread to save his family) we'd probably say the theft was outweighed by those other concerns. So the overall act was okay, even praiseworthy.

What would happen if the tributes refuse to kill? That's an interesting question. In the books Katniss notes that, if too much times go by without deaths, they'll force the tributes back together. Dry up all the water except for a single source, use a wild animal to horde them together, that kind of thing. There are some tributes (from District 2) that are raised to be more aggressive (many of them form the police force), and so it's almost unthinkable that those tributes wouldn't kill. I think there's also this fear that if they just don't fight this will be seen as a kind of treason - that either the Capitol will let them all die in the arena, or kill their families or some such thing. I don't remember it being seen as a live option, in any case.

It fascinates me, the way the different tributes (and other folks, like Gale) are shaped by violence, and the way that shaping affects how they use it.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )



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