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Measure for Measure

“Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins versus “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood



I make no apologies: YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Both women had a dystopian vision of the future of America, but only one was a great writer. Margaret Atwood wins this contest hands down.

Katniss. As a narrator she did a good job of keeping us up to speed with what was going on and how she felt. But she ends up with Peeta?! What was she thinking? (I know, she was thinking Gale directly or indirectly caused the death of her sister because deep down he thought that children were fair game to use as collateral in securing the success of a revolution…) But really! Peeta! Can I just say… she didn’t love him. He was nauseatingly worthy. She would never have married him.

The narrator of the Handmaid’s tale is so much more real and believable. We know she is in love with Luke – but she doesn’t know if he is alive or dead. She is, as she admits, selfish and flawed – and uses Nick – but she is consistent and her stance is completely understandable in the society in which she is placed.

The setting of Gilead was so well drawn. The red outfits so vivid, the archaic-sounding shop names, the barbaric wall of victims; the dust in the sitting room, the heat of the garden, the discomfort of all things – our narrator, therefore Atwood, made it real. I loved how the 1980s and the years that followed in Atwood’s imagination were present behind the theocratic state – the memories of “normality” that were shadows in the narrator’s memory.

Collins was trapped by her plot. We knew Katniss had to win, as she was narrating. The revolution had to come. It’s a sin to kill a mockingjay and all that. I think that was her point – that once the initial game was won, Katniss was trapped in a bigger game, playing her part to the bitter end.

The plot of the Handmaid’s tale is so much more realistic. It is one life plucked out of a hellish society and we follow it until it goes off the map. It is far less tidy at the end – but compelling nevertheless, as this life the reader has watched wander nearer and nearer to danger and “freedom” walks off the page and into a van… and then the ending. Genius.

The dystopian societies? The Capitol and Districts sort of worked – but they were a bit clumsily delineated. In “The Handmaid’s tale”, there were similar ideas – some colonies for atomic cleansing, some for cotton picking – and our narrator trapped for almost all of the novel in a perfect looking town, masking fear.

Atwood’s novel was first published in the UK in 1985 – hey – one year after 1984 and parallels aske to be drawn. We don’t have thought police, but we have “eyes”. We have the same fear of being caught thinking own thoughts and living own life. We have the same reduction of sex to an impersonal/”political” act. In “The Hunger Games”, the political control is less complete, less dominant for the characters. Katniss can jump a fence, catch a rabbit, meet dissidents in a shack… any time she wants.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” and “The Hunger Games” deal with hugely different themes, despite their superficial similarities. The Hunger Games was about media manipulation, power, fame, entertainment and values. “The Handmaid’s tale” was about women and their role in society. It was about power, corruption, influence, fear, oppression, politics, freedom… It was also about history and how any present is made up of elements of the past – and how any one life is a part of that history that feeds into the future. So, Atwood wins. As the narrator reflects on how much she did not appreciate her freedom in the 1980s, I could completely see how free she was, until it all went wrong.

So, “The Handmaid’s Tale” – hardly a pleasant read – but great.

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3 thoughts on ““Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins versus “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

  1. I must confess that after I read the Hunger Games critique, I was surprised that she picked Peeta, I stopped reading because I have always wanted to reda the Handmaid’s Tale, thanks for reminding me that a have a nice Mother’s Day present!

  2. An excellent comparison, though I think you are comparing apples and oranges: the target audiences are different; the inspiration for each is different; the themes are different. Really, it is only the settings that are similar, and even then, they are hundreds of years apart.

    I think Katniss chose Peeta because, although she is independent and a fighter, and the stronger of the two, he was there for her when she needed him; Gale never was. It struck a chord with me because I know my husband is a Peeta in that sense – there is nothing he wouldn’t do to protect me. That’s a powerful weapon in a man’s armoury.

    Re the control over citizen’s lives: the other districts don’t have it nearly so free; Katniss tells us how lucky District 12 is to be so poor. There is never a chance of an uprising, which is why the local authorities are so lax…and even authorities have to eat, which is why they buy from Katniss and Gale.

    I’ve read both books and enjoyed them, but I enjoyed The Hunger Games more 🙂

  3. Cat on said:

    I’m glad you enjoyed The Handmaids Tale, one of my all time favourites.

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