I have always been terrible at finding symbolism and themes and deeper meanings. I suppose that comes from my writer mentality. Nobody writes a story expecting it to become a great literary classic. It is the way others interpret it that creates the underlying substance. I don’t know how that carries over to my reading, but I am not fabulous at finding symbols.
I wouldn’t really consider it a theme, but the thing that struck me the most in The Hunger Games was the writing style used. Sentence fragments are used constantly, which is something that I have always been taught not to do in writing. It works, though. It works very well.
Sentence fragments are not complete statements. They include only either a subject or a predicate, never both. The use of fragments has always been something I have tried to figure out, but I am very particular when it comes to the Microsoft Word spelling and grammar check, and it is not a fan of fragments.
Mr. Jackson told us once to write out a few pages of a book that is written in a style you admire, simply to get the feel of the writing. So I tried this experiment with the first few pages of The Hunger Games, and I achieved mixed results.
When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth, but finding only the rough canvas covers of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.
I prop myself up on one elbow. There’s enough light in the bedroom to see them. My little sister, Prim, curled up on her side, cocooned in my mother’s body, their cheeks pressed together. In sleep, my mother looks younger, still worn but not so beaten-down. Prim’s face is as fresh as a raindrop, as lovely as the primrose for which she was named. My mother was very beautiful once, too. Or so they tell me.
Sitting at Prim’s knees, guarding her is the world’s ugliest cat. Mashed-in nose, half of one ear missing, eyes the colour of rotting squash. Prim named him Buttercup, insisting that his muddy yellow coat matched the bright flower. He hates me. Or at least distrusts me. Even though it was years ago, I think he remembers how I tried to drown him in a bucket when Prim brought him home. Scrawny kitten, belly swollen with worms, crawling with fleas. The last thing I needed was another mouth to feed. But Prim begged so hard, cried even, I had to let him stay. It turned out okay. My mother got rid of the vermin and he’s a born mouser. Even catches the occasional rat. Sometimes when I clean a kill, I feed Butter cup the entrails. He has stopped hissing at me.
Entrails. No hissing. This is the closest we will ever come to love.
I swing my legs off the bed and slide into my hunting boots. Supple leather that has molded to my feet. I pull on trousers, a shirt, tuck my long dark braid up into a cap, and grab my forage bag. On ht table, under a wooden bowl to protect it from hunger rats and cats alike, sits a perfect little goat cheese wrapped in basil leaves. Prim’s gift to me on reaping day. I put the cheese carefully in my pocket as I slip outside.
Our part of District 12, nicknamed the Seam, is usually crawling with coal miners heading out to the morning shift at this hour. Men and women with hunched shoulders, swollen knuckles, many who have long since stopped trying to scrub the coal dust out of their broken nails, the lines of their sunken faces. But today the black cinder streets are empty. Shutters on the squat gray houses are closed. The reaping isn’t until two. May as well sleep in. If you can.
Our house is almost at the edge of the Seam. I only have to pass a few gates to reach the scruffy field called the Meadow. Separating the Meadow from the woods, in fact enclosing all of District 12, is a high chain-linked fence topped with barbed-wire loops. In theory, it is supposed to be electrified twenty-four hours a day as a deterrent to the predators that live in the woods – packs of wild dogs, lone cougars, bears – that used to threaten our streets. But since we’re lucky to get two or three hours of electricity in the evenings, it is usually safe to touch. Even so, I always take a moment to listen carefully for the hum that means the fence is live. Right now, it’s silent as a stone. Concealed by a clump of bushes, I flatten out on my belly and slide under the two- foot stretch that’s been loose for years. There are several other weak spots in the fence, but this one is so close to home I almost always enter the woods from here.
In seven paragraphs, there are six sentence fragments that were picked up my spell check. Not only that, the sentence structure used in this book is very interesting.
There is a program online called a text analyzer. It takes a passage of text and break is down into statistics of the writing. I compared the above passage with the first 700 words of the fairy tale that I posted on my blog last week. I thought that this would be a reasonably fair test, seeing as neither passage contains dialogue, which changes the style of writing considerably.
This is what I found:
Out of the 641 word passage from The Hunger Games, there were only 350 unique words. The twenty most commonly used words were all four letters or less, over half of the only two letters.
The sample from my story was 705 words, and there were only 288 unique words. The top twenty most used words were anywhere from one letter to eight letters.
I was anticipating that the amount of unique words would indicate something very clearly, but it honestly didn’t. It just shows that there is a lot of repetition within fifty or so consecutive sentences.
Forty percent of The Hunger Games passage consists of two or three letter words. This is was about the same with my story, also not meaning all that much.
The one thing I did find interesting was that my story had 54 more words, and two fewer sentences than The Hunger Games. In my story passage, the average number of words per sentence was 14.39. In the passage from The Hunger Games, the average number of words per sentence was 12.5. I suppose that does not seem like a huge difference, but in this context, one word makes a huge distinction.
A hard word is defined as a word with three or more syllables. It is a statistic that is used to calculate the readability of the passage. The passage from The Hunger Games had 2.65 percent hard words. The passage from my story had 5.67% hard words. I find that kind of funny because my story was written as a fairy tale and The Hunger Games is a young adult story.
Lexical density is a calculation of the number of different words in a text. My story has a lexical density of 40 percent, which is relatively low. The Hunger Games has a pretty average lexical density of 54 percent. This is a better reflection of the level that this book is targeted for.
I guess there is a very different level of language used, simply because of the nature of both stories. The length of sentences is what I found very interesting. Short, choppy sentences, mixed in with the odd long sentence creates a very good dynamic, which is very beneficial to highlighting what is important and what needs to stand alone.
Look back at the above passage at the lines such as:
‘This is the day of the reaping.’
‘My mother was beautiful once, too. Or so they tell me.’
‘He hates me. Or at least distrusts me.’
‘May as well sleep in. If you can.’
These are all quite powerful lines, and examples of good writing. Most of them occur at the end of a paragraph, often after a longer sentence or thought. It adds a sort of finality to an idea and creates a new basis for a thought to come from.