martes, 19 de febrero de 2013

SciFi essay

Hi, I know, I'm writing in English! That's new. And I'm not bringing a new episode of this eccentric year abroad, that's new too. No, I'm bringing you my essay. Nobody gives a fuck, I know, but while I was writing it I found out that there wasn't much information about this, so I'm posting it just in case that anybody else turns out to find themselves in same situation.
Here you have a comparative essay between The Hunger Games and Ender's Game. Hope you like it.
I'm such a freak, I know.

Childhood in a post-apocalyptic world
            Growing up in the normal world is already a hard task, but doing it with a post-apocalyptic background just stinks. The apocalypse changes people, that’s unavoidable; when there’s nothing left but a bunch of ruins and the survivors have to work harder than ever to live one more day in a hostile environment, the good old uses that we used to know have nothing to do there anymore. Grown-ups can stand it, but children are usually a collateral damage. Suddenly, they find themselves lost in a completely new world where they might not even have parents to take care of them, and they have to get used to it quickly if they want to survive. Even if they still have a family and a place to live in, they just have to accept that times have changed and it’s rarely for good.
            Ender’s game and The hunger games display very different points of view of what childhood in a post-apocalyptic world can be, but they share a common topic: how to exploit one of the most prolific resources they have, childhood. Children imply innocence, creativity, energy, but also a weak spot in society, something that, by instinct, must be protected by adults. In both novels we can see how the powerful and important people use all of this as a means to an end.
            In both novels there’s been a war, but the worlds are different: Ender lives in an intergalactic world where the humans have defeated twice, with a great effort, an alien race that they barely understand; on the other hand, Katniss lives in a devastated but not so-far-from-us North America where there has been a civil war among humans that has ended up by dividing the territory in twelve districts ruled by the main city, the Capitol, where the winners live their rich and wonderful lives, without minding the poverty and misery that prevail in the districts.
            Obviously, these two different depictions of the end of a war set two completely different worlds to live in and, of course, children are not seen the same way. Once we’ve spent a few pages with Ender and Katniss, we can see that their lives are totally different, but by the end of the books we may establish some coincidences between them. Ender is a genius, he is extraordinary and that’s what will drive him to the top, his life is also way better in most of the senses: he has a family, he studies, he has fun in his own way, his life is way more normal than Katniss’. She is a normal girl (given the circumstances) who lives her own day-a-day war: her father has died, so she has to hunt to feed her mother and little sister, which is actually illegal, and doesn’t attend school anymore. There’s nothing remarkable in her, she’s just a survivor, as many others around her (her best friend also hunts to feed his family, so we can see that not even this is extraordinary).
            For both characters there’s a turning point: Ender leaves to go to a special school where he will be trained for war, to keep on defending the Earth from possible alien invasions, and it’s there where he will show all his potential and how talented he is, which will mean success and, consequently, his innocence and childish spirit will be taken from him little by little. By the end of the book, we’ll see that there’s nothing left of that kid that got into the academy in the beginning. In The hunger games, Katniss is already 16, which means that she has been sorted to take part in The Hunger Games for the last four years, but now her sister is chosen and, to save her, she will volunteer to do exactly the thing that has been scaring her and every kid around since they turned twelve. We can see that, while this turning point means something good for Ender, at least partly because he will have the chance to learn and develop his extraordinary skills and intelligence, for Katniss it is almost a death sentence, but she faces it with determination just to protect her family. In both cases, even though they are way too different, we witness how these two characters grow up, leaving childhood behind, and this is another important spot: how circumstances force the children to mature faster and earlier than we do nowadays.
            Besides this, we can see what childhood actually means for people: in Ender’s game, children are possible future soldiers and strategists that might help defending the planet from the evil creatures outside and this is taken so far that they even stop caring about children’s humanity anymore. Thanks to their imagination, intelligence and non-corrupted-yet minds, they are powerful foes for the possible invaders, because kids don’t think the same way adults do. It’s true that the Government takes them away from their families, but at least they receive some kind of instruction, although they are sent to the battle afterwards, they are not completely defenseless; also, the reason why the kids are brought away from their homes is sold as reasonable: they are getting prepared to fight for their world, their people. In The hunger games, children are seen as a tool, a way to manipulate the people and remind them that the Government has the power and the control so far that they can even take their daughters and sons to death just to entertain the population. By the end of the book, Katniss is considered as a threaten by the Government and a revolutionary sign by the people, and this is will rule her life from now on, she will be the sign of revolution. These points of view may seem different at first, but actually everything can be reduced to how children are seen only as a weapon, as much for war as for peace.
            Besides this, we can also check another important thing: the training. As I said before, Ender and his mates are trained, taught and instructed, they are not just sent to fight without any weapon. If some kids prove to be extraordinary in any sense, as Ender is, their skills are developed and admired, people can see something good in them. In Katniss’ world they don’t; she proves to be a great archer, but the only way she had to train was illegal and neither the Capitolium nor the peace agents that are supposed to keep the peace in the districts would have seen anything good in that. Indeed it is considered as dangerous, because she’s able to defend herself from attackers and that gives her some kind of power. When she arrives to the Games and proves to be an excellent hunter, people are amazed, but not the organizers nor the watchers: they turn to be worried, because she has obviously learnt on her own and, since she comes from a poor district, she might turn out to be a problem.
            Some quotes in the books can also help us to understand the kind of moral and mentality people have. On one hand, we have the famous “Sometimes lies are more dependable than the truth” (Ender’s game), which I think it’s very illustrative; it makes us think about a society so corrupted in certain ways that the truth might mean nothing, so it’s not a surprise that kids are used as potential weapons in a war. Ender doesn’t trust anybody and adults, and especially teachers, are just a bunch of liars. It also submits the idea of how easy it is sometimes to find out the truth just by the contrary meaning of the lie (as when adults say “It won’t hurt” and you know perfectly well by it that it will). On the other hand, we have the repeated “And may the odds be ever in your favor” (The Hunger Games), which I find quite ironic if not irritating; this is the Hunger Games slogan, so to say, and every time children are selected to take part in the Games, this is the common thing to say; I think this is really ironic, because as they are “wishing” luck to the participants, what they are really looking forward to is a blood bath, and we can witness Katniss and some of her friends using it in a mocking way sometimes.
            Can we see some similarity between books and reality? Yes, we can, but we have to go a few hundreds years back in time. The way kids are trained and sent to the battlefield might be compared to the Ancient Greek and how Spartans raised their children:
In ancient Sparta, boys at aged seven years old left their homes and entered the public educational system. The goal of this system of education was to produce a well-drilled military machine composed of soldiers who were "obedient to the word of command, capable of enduring hardships and victories in battle.
The Spartan system of education was organized by the state and each boy was assigned to a group known as the agela. They lived in a communal style and were made to undergo a curriculum of training that was rigorous and often painful. Enormous discipline was placed on these children as they passed through the hands of teachers, gymnastic coaches and military instructors. The goal of this program was to produce men who were not only physically fit but psychologically disciplined. The Spartan male's education did not end till he reached the age of thirty. In this educational regime, literacy and the arts were not a priority.[1]
            We can also compare The Hunger Games system to the Ancient Rome and their ways of entertainment. Even the name of the space where the competition takes places is the same, arena, and everybody could attend it and watch. Children were taken there to witness the spectacle, not caring that it was extremely violent, and children that remain at home are compelled to watch THG on television as everyone else. Besides, kids are sent to fight as if they were war prisoners (aren’t they in fact?), anything can be sent by the watchers to attack them and make the show more interesting for people, and there’s a great variety of weapons set in the arena for them to use it besides the natural resources the participants can find in their displayed environment:
The majority of gladiators was either condemned criminals, slaves, prisoners of war or volunteers who signed up to do shows for a fee (…).
Various other weapons, women, and sometimes even dwarves were used in the games. Special types of "wild animal matches" (venationes) were introduced in the 2nd Century BC and became very popular. Such bouts included men on foot and on horseback, known as beastiarii, who were usually either criminals, prisoners of war, or trained and paid fighters. Beastiarii fought exotic animals, which eventually led to an extensive trade market.[2]
            All this factors have repercussions in the way Ender and Katniss understand their lives.
            In the beginning, we see that Ender is a very cultured person; he and his sister spend their time thinking about questions that not even the adults have in their minds and they start a philosophic revolution by exposing their conclusions where people can read and discuss them. It’s obvious, then, that, although they are kids, they already have some kind of maturity, a different way of seeing things and, of course, enough courage to put them to the test. Ender develops his skills in order to help his planet, but there’s a consequence that nobody has expected, although it could have been predictable just by checking his personal character, and that he explains it quite well in one quote: In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. Those who trained him to turn him into a very effective weapon didn’t count on that and this is what will help Ender to keep his humanity. His newly evolved compassion will be a very important factor for the rest of his life and will change things that weren’t meant to change. His sensibility will help him understand a lot more about his mission or how to accomplish it in a different way than expected.
            Katniss evolution is a bit different. She’s introduced as an orphan fighter in the day-a-day. She has no time to philosophize about life nor war, she takes care of her family and silently begs for not being chosen to die in the Games (nor any of her beloved ones); actually, the only big thought that she transmits is how bad and cruel the Games are. However, by the time her sister is selected she volunteers, which shows us that she is not a kid anymore (at least not completely), because she has already developed that instinct grown-ups have about protecting the younger ones beyond the instinctive fear of dying. Although she tries to look tough and strong, along the story she shows a big compassion and even some kind of maternal instinct (anyway, she says she will never have children so she won’t have to put them through the annual torture of the Games her generation has to face), not just with humans but also with the animals she hunts (at some point, she says that she prefers to kill them quickly). But by the end of the Games, her toughness has started to become real; killing, almost being killed, seeing people dying and knowing that she will never be able to have a normal in-love relationship make her turn into an adult suffocated by responsibilities. That toughness she develops will be necessary and important in the next books, when she will become the face of the revolution and have to face a real war.
            I think we can conclude that Ender and Katniss live in quite diverse worlds but represent not so different perspectives. What they really show us is that it doesn’t matter how sick the environment can be around us as long as we know who we want to be; you might be forced to fight and kill, but you have to understand why and at some point, as Peeta says to Katniss before the Games start, Only I keep wishing I could think of a way to... to show the Capitol they don't own me. That I'm more than just a piece in their Games. The evolution from children to adults, their relationships and thoughts in these concrete post-apocalyptic situations help us by exploring parts of human behavior that would be taboo in any other circumstances. It’s evident that kids, their minds and lives, are the best weapons society can have, and that an event like the apocalypse can distort our ethics about it, but are these kinds of  approaches a warning for the future or a way to put the present to the test? In my opinion, authors always try to tell us more about the present than the future, so maybe we should start questioning ourselves.

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