In the fifth chapter of The Hunger Games, Katniss meets her stylists, everything is incredibly goddamn weird, and somehow, her and Peeta gain an advantage over their fellow tributes. Err…murder victims. Or something. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Hunger Games.
Oh man, how weird (and, admittedly, unexpected) is this chapter???
I know I am a broken record at this point because I keep saying BATTLE ROYALE BATTLE ROYALE BLAH BLAH BLAH. But now we’re seeing the signs of precisely how different this book is from that premise.
I think most of us are set in this story enough that we can largely avoid some of the writing and focus more on what is actually happening. But I want to do this now because WHAT IS GOING ON HERE.
This is some strange shit here in chapter five. We learn about how the tributes are prepared for the opening ceremony by a group of stylists whose main inspiration for design is cultural appropriation.
I knew that Katniss and Peeta would clash with the members of the Capitol, but I didn’t expect it to be so grating.
Why do these people speak in such a high pitch? Why do their jaws barely open when they talk? Why do the ends of their sentences go up as if they’re asking a question? Odd vowels, clipped words, and always a hiss on the letter s….no wonder it’s impossible not to mimic them.
I like the juxtaposition present in the two cultures and how Collins makes sure that Katniss seems offended by how bizarre this all is. It’s even weirder for her because of the way they deal with her body:
I’ve been in the Remake Center for more than three hours and I still haven’t met my stylist. Apparently he has no interest in seeing me until Venia and the other members of my prep team have addressed some obvious problems. This has included scrubbing down my body with gritty foam that has removed not only dirt but at least three layers of skin, turning my nails into uniform shapes, and primarily, ridding my body of hair. My legs, arms, torso, underarms, and parts of my eyebrows have been stripped of the stuff, leaving me like a plucked bird, ready for roasting. I don’t like it. My skin feels sore and tingling and intensely vulnerable. But I have kept my side of the bargain with Haymitch, and no objection has crossed my lips.
So the Capitol values purity in way: they want their women (and possibly their men, but we don’t learn if Peeta was waxed as well) to be smooth and clean and presentable in the most childish way possible. And I mean that more in a sense that they’re reducing Katniss’s appearance to that of a young child in removing her body hair and her imperfections and making her appear so drastically different from what she was. THIS IS SO ODD.
“You’re doing very well,” says some guy named Flavius. He gives his orange corkscrew locks a shake and applies a fresh coat of purple lipstick to his mouth. “If there’s one thing we can’t stand, it’s a whiner. Grease her down!”
WHAT. Is this how stylists dress? Look, there is no way orange and purple EVER go together unless you’re a bag of candy or in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. What is this?
Venia and Octavia, a plump woman whose entire body has been dyed a pale shade of pea green, rub me down with a lotion that first stings but then soothes my raw skin. Then they pull me from the table, removing the thin robe I’ve been allowed to wear off and on. I stand there, completely naked, as the three circle me, wielding tweezers to remove any last bits of hair. I know I should be embarrassed, but they’re so unlike people that I’m no more self-conscious than if a trio of oddly colored birds where pecking around my feet.
WHY IS SOMEONE’S SKIN DYED PEA GREEN. What the holy shit is going on? And why are they plucking all of her body hair if she’s going to be clothed? Also, good god, she is going to be itchy as hell in a day or two.
The three step back and admire their work. “Excellent! You almost look like a human being now!” says Flavius, and they all laugh.
THANKS, YOU BIGOT.
Cinna, Katniss’s stylist, isn’t quite like his partners.
The door opens and a young man who must be Cinna enters. I’m taken aback by how normal he looks. Most of the stylists they interview on television are so dyed, stenciled, and surgically altered they’re grotesque. But Cinna’s close-cropped hair appears to be its natural shade of brown. He’s in a simple black shirt and pants. The only concession to self-alteration seems to be metallic gold eyeliner that has been applied with a light hand. It brings out the flecks of gold in his green eyes. And, despite my disgust with the Capitol and their hideous fashions, I can’t help thinking how attractive it looks.
Honestly, I didn’t expect any of this. The addition of the stylists and their over-the-top style is an interesting detail to add this world and helps me further understand how the Capitol operates. I suppose this is just an extension of the privilege these people live with. They have access to anything and everything they could ever want; why wouldn’t they dye their hair and their skin and surgically enhance their bodies?
The interaction between Cinna and Katniss, however, is not as indicative of their social differences, as it seems Cinna has some strange sort of respect for her, and not in a necessarily damaging way.
I had expected someone flamboyant, someone older trying desperately to look young, someone who viewed me as a piece of meat to be prepared for a platter. Cinna has met none of these expectations.
Exactly why does Cinna treat Katniss that way? I don’t actually recall there being a reason in this chapter at all, but, for the most part, he doesn’t other Katniss at all in this section
Cinna invites me to sit on one of the couches and takes his place across from me. He presses a button on the side of the table. The top splits and from below rises a second tabeltop that holds our lunch. Chicken and chunks of oranges cooked in a creamy sauce laid on a bed of pearly white grain, tiny grebe peas and onions, rolls shaped like flowers, and for desert, a pudding the color of honey.
What is the magical fuckery at work here
What must it be like, I wonder, to live in a world where food appears at the press of a button? How would I spend the hours I now commit to combining the woods for sustenance if it were so easy to come by? What do they do all day, these people in the Capitol, besides decorating their bodies and waiting around for a new shipment of tributes to roll in and die for their entertainment?
I like this section because it made me think about what I would do if I weren’t bound to working full time and having bills that take up most of what I earned. What if I lived with that sort of life? I mean…I’m so used to not being able to take free time for granted, or some extra money every month, or getting to travel or buy something that requires saving for weeks and months on end. These are all staples of my life and have always been that way. I can’t fathom what my life would be like if I was freed of that. I can’t even imagine what I would do each day.
For opening ceremonies, you’re supposed to wear something that suggests your district’s principal industry. District 11, agriculture. District 4, fishing. District 3, factories. This means that coming from District 12, Peeta and I will be in some kind of coal miner’s getup. Since the baggy miner’s jumpsuits are not particularly becoming, our tributes usually end up in skimpy outfits and hats with headlamps. One year, our tributes were stark naked and coered in black powder to win favor with the crowd. I prepare myself for the worst.
I want to read into this a sharp commentary on the absurdity of fashion, especially fashion aimed at cultural exploitation and appropriation, but I fear I’m being a bit too harsh. Still, it’s a horrifying concept, that people in the Capitol can view hardships and suffering as a method for dressing their tributes.
A few hours later, I am dressed in what will either be the most sensational or the deadliest costume in the opening ceremonies. I’m in a simple black unitard that covers me from ankle to neck. Shiny leather boots lace up to my knees. But it’s the fluttering cape made of streams of orange, yellow, and red and the matching headpiece that define this costume. Cinna plans to light them on fire just before our chariot rolls into the streets.
“It’s not real flame, of course, just a little synthetic fire Portia and I came up with. You’ll be perfectly safe,” he says. But I’m convinced I won’t be perfectly barbecued by the time we reach the city’s center.
What the holy hell is this. No, seriously, what? This is so odd, guys.
There is a bit more info, briefly, about what is happening next.
The ride lasts about twenty minutes and ends up at the City Circle, where they will welcome us, play the anthem, and escort us into the Training Center, which will be our home/prison until the Games begin.
Ah, so there will be training before the Games begin. Interesting. So it will probably be another a chapter or two until things start.
We learn that more rich Districts (District 1, for example) get more expensive items for the opening ceremonies. I imagine they’ll either get better training and weapons too. Probably both.
When Peeta and Katniss enter the parade of tributes, we also find out exactly what Cinna did for them:
The pounding music, the cheers, the admiration work their way into my blood, and I can’t suppress my excitement. Cinna has given me a great advantage. No one will forget me. Not my look, not my name. Katniss. The girl who was on fire.
For the first time, I feel a flicker of hope rising up in me. Surely, there must be one sponsor willing to take me on! And with a little extra help, some food, the right weapon, why should I count myself out of the Games?
I wonder exactly why Cinna did them such a great service. Out of respect? To move on to a more luxurious District? Whatever the reason, it worked. And now I know that sponsors can actually provide an advantage to the tributes and that, unsurprisingly, money once again means everything here. And in that case, Katniss and Peeta are at a distinct disadvantage.
Still, there are now a few more factors that can come into play in this story. And with Peeta and Katniss both experiencing a spark of hope, I’m still wondering exactly how their relationship will grow. OR END. Dun dun dun.
And then he gives me a smile that seems so genuinely sweet with just the right touch of shyness that unexpected warmth rushes through me.
A warning bell goes off in my head. Don’t be so stupid. Peeta is planning how to kill you, I remind myself. He is luring you in to make you easy prey. The more likable he is, the more deadly he is.
But because two can play at this game, I stand on tiptoe and kiss his cheek. Right on his bruise.
Oh man. Shit is going to get so real.