Soniah Kamal

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'Islam is not Pakistan's religion; Marriage is'

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins & Divergent by Veronica Roth and Body Image

Plot, setting and pacing are arguably the hallmarks of commercial literature. When they work, they really work. They worked in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games series, a series which, contrary to my expectations (Erudite much?), I could not put down  and they work in Divergent the first of Veronica Roth's dystopian trilogy. In Roth's world when a person turns sixteen they have to choose to live their lives in one of five factions: Candor, Abnegation, Dauntless, Amity, or Erudite. Each faction is responsible for running one part of the world: the Amity's grow and provide food, the Abnegation form the government, the Dauntless are the warriors, the Candor keep the peace, and the Erudite are the intellectuals and creators. Unfortunately not all is well within the factions or without. Already mesmerizing conflicts are set into place as all this choosing pits betrayal, regret, and family and community against each other. Roth's characters are certainly not as complex as Collins' characters. Collins' female protagonist, Katniss, in The Hunger Games is almost immediately fully realized and as such the reader is sympathetic to her plight. In contrast Roth's female protagonist, Tris, is sympathetic not so much because of who she is but rather because of her external circumstances. The reason: Collins' is better at character development which is simply giving Katniss a moving back story. Tris on the other hand is, in many respects, boring. She's keeps being described as wiry and strong and has no back story excedpt that she never quite feels as home in any faction. This lack of great inner conflict makes her a weaker character.
Roth's skill lies in its pacing and world building. Earlier I referred to myself as a bit of an Erudite; part of the reader's fascinations with Roth's series is wondering what choice one would have made, what fears one would have had to work through, as well as how one would ultimately face the age old question of whether one is simply a leader or a follower or whether both these traits can co-exist and it is only circumstance which dictates which is dominant. As such Roth has done a fine job mining these philosophical questions.She seems like a smart and intelligent person which is why I was so disappointed with one detail in particular. In fact I abhorred it.
The one detail I abhorred:  Why is the wicked character described as having pudge and stretch marks? It would be one thing if some of the 'good' characters also tended towards fat and stretch marks, but they don't, and this imbalance then is all the more glaring. In our era where body image is so darned important I think it terribly irresponsible to equate a baddie alone with fat and stretch marks in any novel but particularly in a novel geared towards young adults and as such also  impressionable young girls. No I do not think I'm harping on a minor quibble. In Roth's August 7th 2012 blog post, she writes about how she wishes she'd made the intellectual Erudites more complex and nuanced in Divergent. Roth sounds so compassionate and thoughtful about the story telling process, an author's choices and how story teller and story telling merge: I wonder if she had any idea that she used pudge and stretch marks as she did.

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