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Rue and a Sacrificed Childhood

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Rue is a sacrificial character. She is arguably one of the most important characters in the text, in the movie, in the culture that has risen from the narrative.

As family: Rue connects Katniss to her sister. Too young to be subjected to the horror of The Games. It is Rue who shows us the mothering instincts in Katniss, her ability to care, a break from a selfish need to simply survive, but a sentimental bond with Rue to keep the child safe. Because Katniss loves her, we love her too. Katniss’ connection and appreciation of Rue is explained, “..I want her. Because she’s a survivor, and I trust her, and why not admit it? She reminds me of Prim” (Collins, 201).

As saviour: Rue saves Katniss, more than once. First, against the career pack about to kill her, pointing out the tracker jackers. Next, soothing the wounds Katniss endures because of her own inability to outrun the wasp-like creatures she unleashes. Their bond is reflected in the feelings and emotion Katniss displays upon the death of the beloved Rue. Not only does this grant her solidarity after the games from neighbouring districts, but from Thresh, who gives Katniss a by in respect for the great kindness she showed his district-mate, Rue. Rue dies so Katniss can continue to fight. She perishes so others may gain freedom and a voice and so others’ lives can improve and Katniss has the sense to create a visual that will stir the pain in others to realize that what is happening is real and tragic and must be stopped, “I want to do something, right here, right now, to shame them, to make them accountable, to show the Capitol that whatever they do of force us to do there is a part of every tribute they can’t own. That Rue was more than a piece in their Games. And so am I” (Collins, 236-7).

As innocent: Rue is as young as you can be to be called upon as Tribute, just as Prim would have been. We ache for her, we would fight for her, as other sympathetics would. She works with Katniss to create the sounds and the symbol of the rebellion. Her sacrifice takes her life, saving her innocence from a world unfit for her. Her legacy lives on, carried on the shoulders of Katniss, “Good and safe, I say as I pass under its branch. We don’t have to worry about her now. Good and safe” (Collins, 238).

As watcher: “How long has she been here? The whole time probably. Still and unobserved as the action unfolded beneath her” (Collins, 184). As the tributes negotiate their survival, others watch from their television broadcast positions. As the career pack watches Katniss, she watches them. Above the gaze of it all is Rue,  undetected and waiting to see.

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Rue represents the innocence and the value of all the children within The Hunger Games. Her appearance and characteristics magnify the meaning behind the children and their role in the society of the story. It doesn’t matter who the children are, they are there for the entertainment of the Capitol.

Katniss personifies the adult – providing food for her family, attempts to create some function in her mother, the protection of her younger sister. Her childhood was taken long before Prim’s name was drawn at the reaping.

The journey of the children in the districts is not about a coming of age, but rather, growing up comes with great possibility of fear, death and suffering. The Games turns children into assets, into commodities. Adults are forced to offer their children as sacrifice to the Capitol, to the Games, in payment for an uprising that they will continue to be oppressed, and starved and suffered for. The system in which the districts exist is corrupted, perverse and repeated each year at The Reaping. Survival and death are linked (Ming Tan). The loss of humanity that is stripped from the children is regained as Katniss decorates Rue’s body to send her away with dignity and love.

Katniss - clear, in focus, a disconnect from any identity she may have had, she is now female tribute for District 12.

Katniss – clear, in focus, a disconnect from any identity she may have had, she is now female tribute for District 12.

Children cannot be seen as adored or cherished in the districts as they are tools used for the survival of the family. Katniss sees this shift in her own district during the Reaping:

“To the everlasting credit of the people of District 12, not one person claps. Not even the ones holding betting slips, the ones who are usually beyond caring. Possibly because they know me from the Hob, or knew my father, or have encountered Prim…So instead of acknowledging applause, I stand there unmoving while they take part in the boldest part of dissent they can manage. Silence. Which says they do not agree. We do not condone. All of this is wrong” (Collins, 23-24).

It is in this moment that the adults are shocked, in this moment they are aware of the complacent manner they have been watching their children as they are chosen to die.

Then something unexpected happens. At least, I don’t expect it because I don’t think of District 12 as a place that cares about me. But a shift has occurred since I stepped up to take Prim’s place, and now it seems I have become someone precious. At first one, then another, then almost every member of the crowd touches the three middle fingers of their left hand to their lips and holds it out to me. It is an old and rarely used gesture of our district, occasionally seen at funerals. It means thanks, it means admiration, it means good-bye to someone you love” (Collins, 24).

After her volunteering, Katniss belongs to the people. She belongs to her district now, as their female representative in the Games. They are an extension of the district, their chance of luck of survival, their chance for a victor. As she prepares for the Games, she is presented as a commodity – one that gains the attention and curiosity of the people of the Capitol – those who objectify and see her as a means to their entertainment. To Haymitch, she is a thing that he may be able to mould into a win. To the other tributes, she is a thing that must be destroyed. Upon winning, she is a symbol of hope, of change, of rebellion. To president Snow she is a problem that must be contained, an entity that he would like destroyed.

She becomes an item to be consumed (Ming Tan). Consumer culture is projected back in visual form.

Those citizens of the Capitol have lost the ability to separate what is real from what is not. This is reflected in their appearances, their modifications, their thrill in the deaths and spectacles made of children. They are artificial. There is a disconnect and misunderstanding of humanity between those of the districts and those of the Capitol. Thus, it becomes impossible to connect with the innocence of childhood lost for the sake of entertainment.

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As the audience connects with Rue, they connect with the children in the arena. Their losses are universal and painful and these connections help to restore humanity to the districts. It is because of the gestures of Katniss that this is allowed to prosper. As much as she lost before the games, and considering her appearance in the Games is a result of a volunteering to save a sister of certain death, she is playing on a different level with a different perspective from the other Tributes. It is difficult to see some of the other district’s children as innocent or pure. Cato and Clove, who are ‘career’ tributes, come from districts that have embraced the value of their children and train them to win, even though two winners are not possible. District 2 accepts the loss that will come as manageable with a win that seems more likely. When the connection is made, however, that they are all children. They all bear the weight of the survival of their own districts upon their own backs, their journeys within the arena are horrific, tragic and unfair. The terror that they face, when compared to the elation of the Capitol creates a meaningful distaste for those who are unable to recognize what is real, compared to those forced to live it each day. This serves to bond us with all the tributes, to fear for their loss and to hope, right along with those left to survive in the districts, that order can be restored, children will cease being consumed and they will once again be protected, precious and pure.

 

SOURCES USED IN POST:

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic Press, New York. 2008
ISBN-13: 978-0-439-02352-8

Ming Tan, Susan Shau. “Burn with us: Sacrificing Childhood in The Hunger Games.” The Lion and the Unicorn 37.1 (2013): 54-73

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