October 7, 2012

Katniss and The Hunger Games vs Isaac and the Akeda

Posted in Judaism, Pop Culture at 12:10 am by chavalah

Despite enjoying the song that started the closing credits of The Hunger Games movie adaptation, it took me several weeks to actually listen to the lyrics to “Abraham’s Daughter” by Arcade Fire. When I did I was surprised; they weren’t really what I was expecting. How does this strange song, seemingly feminist, with unusual references to the bible, fit in with the story of Katniss Everdeen? I’ve embedded a music video with lyrics below:

In Judaism, the Akeda, or the Binding of Isaac, is one of the pinnacles of our faith, and is read and dissected during Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days of the year. Rabbis give D’var Torahs, or personal speeches with a fresh take on the event, but I missed out this time cos I was late. / bad Jew Instead, I went to MyJewishLearning for an essay by the late Rabbi Louis Jacobs, who was a leading presence in British Jewry. He touches upon many themes that my own rabbis have touched on throughout the years—how it is a protest against human sacrifice, how (much like Jesus died for Christian sins) G-d’s mercy on our patriarchs predicates the mercy he shows the Jewish people each Day of Atonement, or how the Akeda is a metaphor for the numerous accounts of martyrdom that the Jewish people have faced throughout history.

Katniss is undoubtedly a martyr. She “raises her voice” and enters the Games/Mount Moriah first to save her sister, Prim, and then to fight the tyrannical system, basically of human sacrifice.

The whole “Abraham’s daughter” thing was a bit strange to me, however—Abraham had no daughters, and Katniss wasn’t exactly a feminist. Out of Panem’s numerous, abysmal problems, sexism didn’t seem to play a part. Boys and girls were targeted equally for the Games; and even in terms of assault, though Head Peacekeeper Cray manipulated the women of District 12 for sexual favors, the Capitol famously turned Finnick Odair into an unwilling, and most sought after concubine. Although in today’s world it is important (and more rare) to see a female heroine, is it that important within context for Katniss to assert herself as a woman?

Perhaps I am misinterpreting the lyric about how Abraham’s daughter (who is certainly Katniss with her “raising of the bow”) has no name. Maybe the no-name bit isn’t because Katniss is female, but because she is from District 12, poor, outcast, existing solely to fulfill the Capitol’s needs in the periphery. Is “the father who never gave her one,” therefore, President Snow? The stand-in for Abraham who is about to sacrifice his child/subject? Then Katniss might take the place of the angel. Interestingly enough, in the song, it is “the angel” who orders the killing to go forward, but in the Akeda, the angel is who stops it. Katniss, obviously, stops future child sacrifice (“you better let young Isaac go,” she commands,) by her part as the Mockingjay in the rebellion against the Capitol. She is, indeed, a fiery angel. 😛

I can’t speak for certain on how the producers of The Hunger Games movie intended this song to fit into the narrative of the story, much less how it fits in with the biblical narrative. But I appreciate them for giving me all this food for thought—plus an awesome song! In fact, I feel personally vindicated; this is the first time that I’ve tackled the Akeda on my own. Hineni, G-d! I stand up to be counted, and I walk into the year 5773. Shavua tov!

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