The Death of Adolescence in American Culture, Part II

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In actuality, in the first film in The Hunger Games series the conflict between puer and senex takes a while to materialize. At the beginning only one side or extreme is evident and that is the senex in its negative form. Played to perfection by Donald Sutherland, the aged President Snow (pictured above) rules over the thirteen fenced-in districts of Panem in such a way that all inhabitants live in abject poverty. Once a year in each district a male and female name are drawn from a glass bowl, a process called a Reaping, and these two individuals, or tributes, fight to the death against tributes from other districts in a televised event known as the Hunger Games.

The strict enforcement of rules and regulations, the creation of physical boundaries and the control of populations—all of these characterize the negative senex. So, too, do the coldness of the president’s name, his unfeeling proclamations, and his presiding from the Capitol like Saturn, god of agriculture. The annual reaping of male and female tributes is his harvest.

In Senex & Puer Hillman writes that Saturn also has a problematic relationship with the feminine. One incarnation of this relationship, or of Saturn’s feminine aspect, is Dame Melancholy, a figure who is depressed and moody. Sometimes she can also be the source of wisdom (263). As Saturn holds a soft spot for his feminine side, he often keeps it a secret or even imprisoned.

At the beginning of The Hunger Games the heroine of the film, Katniss Everdeen, is more Dame Melancholy, more senex adult, than she is puer rebel and idealist. Not only is she more a mother than a sibling to her younger sister Prim but at times she appears only a step or two away from the same sadness and grief that have immobilized their mother. Played by Jennifer Lawrence, Katniss also has something of a special relationship or status with President Snow; they agree not to tell lies to each other, and on more than one occasion he promises to let her live if she does what he asks.

This compact between them which lasts through much of the series begins to change just over an hour into the first film when the twelve year-old character Rue is killed during the games. Rue’s youthful innocence and selflessness remind Katniss of Prim, and her senseless death awakens something within Katniss, namely her puer aspect. After covering Rue’s lifeless body with flowers, Katniss turns and gives a farewell salute to everyone who is watching the games back home. Members of Rue’s District 11 immediately begin to riot. Something has been awakened in them, too.

Uprisings against tyrannical authority are very much in keeping with the puer trait which Hillman describes as verticality or, citing H.A. Murray, “ascensionism” (158). Hillman writes, “[W]hat matters is verticality – the break in and break with the horizontal outlook of the daily world and its incessant continuity” (159). In The Hunger Games, the incessant oppression of those living outside the Capitol must stop. The Hunger Games themselves must stop, and they do at the end of the second film, Catching Fire, when Katniss breaks through the force field over the arena and is lifted skyward into the waiting rebel hovercraft.

Ascensionism also is evident in the Divergent and Maze Runner film series. In Divergent the young heroine Triss joins with other rebels to break the tyranny of a caste-like system which divides inhabitants of a post-apocalyptic Chicago into five groups or factions. Not only must Triss confront the leader of the Erudite faction, i.e. her President Snow, but to end the faction system once and for all she must journey to the other side of the enormous fence surrounding Chicago. As a result of her actions Triss no longer is the penned-in puer. She and her fellow inhabitants are free.

Like Katniss, Triss is what Susan Rowland in Perpetual Adolescence: Jungian Analyses of American Media, Literature, and Pop Culture calls a “feminine puer” rather than puella. That is, Katniss and Triss have “the qualities of the puer hero in feminine form” (38). Qualities like fearlessness and the skilled use of weaponry in combat. As noted by Susan E. Schwartz in the same book, the puella, or adolescent female, on the other hand is “driven by desires to be seen, to excel, and to be loved […].” “Her presence lights up a room as she performs for the adulation and praise of others” (204).

On several occasions in The Hunger Games Katniss must perform in this manner as puella. She must dress up for the enjoyment of others and become “the girl on fire,” but she does so reluctantly, against her will. She prefers the peace and quiet of hunting in the woods, a bow in her hand, a quiver of arrows on her back.

Finally, the protagonist in The Maze Runner is a more traditional puer, a teenaged boy by the name of Thomas. He must lead his group of rebels through the Maze and out of the incessant continuity of life in the Glade which is their prison. With those in charge of the Maze seemingly dead or incapacitated, the first film in the series ends with Thomas and other survivors in a helicopter flying up and over the Maze walls to freedom…

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Note: “The Death of Adolescence in American Culture” will conclude next month with Part III.

This entry was posted in Archetypal Psychology, Art/Creativity, Cinema, Culture, Puer Aeternus. Bookmark the permalink.

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