The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, really burst into the mainstream at the end of 2008, and one of my co-workers told me about it for a long time. Now I get what she was raving about!
This completely hooked me, from beginning to the end. I don’t think I really ever understood the meaning of “on the edge of my seat” before.
I absolutely loved the book for its entertainment value and its way of keeping me on the edge of my seat. Even so, there are some deeper issues that the book discusses.
Without giving too much away, what was the United States is now a country called Panem, comprised of 12 Districts (there used to be 13, but you’ll find out about that in the story!). Each District sends the Capital (somewhere in the Rocky Mountains) food and supplies enough to live luxuriously, while the rest of the country starves. In order to exert its power over the rest of the nation, the Capital requires that each year two Tributes (a teenage boy and girl) from each District to come and fight to the death in the arena of The Hunger Games. This is all done under the pretense of earning better food and amenities for the winning District, but it’s also for the entertainment of those in the Capital. Katniss, the main character, is chosen for The Hunger Games and must survive against all odds–even though her District has not won the Games in her lifetime.
The Capital manipulates its people, not only within the confines of the arena. I think it represents a few things: the way things go in a reality show of today–how these situations are very different from normal and deceive people into feeling different things. At the same time, it’s not as flighty as a reality show, as the characters are in life and death situations, which also breed completely different feelings and forge a bond between people that they don’t know how to deal with. This is a common component of YA/Teen novels, putting teens into unique situations and then dealing with them. I’m happy they never go further than kissing, as so many YA novels do.
At the same time, I drew many parallels to Ancient Rome and the gladiatorial games, as well as the decadence of the noble class. As you’ll notice, many of the names of the citizens of the Capital were Roman (Cinna, Octavia, Cato).
As a Dystopian novel (the opposite of a Utopian novel), this illustrates the lengths to which a government will go to exert control over its people–a topic of which we should remain aware these days, and which many novels currently explore. While it’s obviously an exaggeration, I think it’s also an example of history repeating itself on a larger scale–what would the Roman Empire do with the gladiatorial games if they had TV and technology (Star Trek did an episode called “Bread and Circuses” on this very subject–and yes, I’m nerdy like that!). You can take the Roman parallels very far.
Furthermore, it demonstrates a very specific worldview and the devaluation of a human life. For the “working class” (all those not in the Capital), their meaning in life was to provide for those in power, even to the extent of laying down their lives for the mere entertainment of Capital citizens. Essentially, the Capital is god, and all people are its to do with as it pleases, both to exert its power and to be entertained by their suffering.
I urge you to read Catching Fire, the sequel. It was even better than the first novel, as it builds upon what it already there, escalating the stakes, and dealing with the consequences of the end of this novel. There are a few major twists (better than the ones in HG) and the end was a complete surprise to me.
It’s not the easiest book to read, as far as violence goes, but I think it’s a book that teens should read for the development of their critical thinking skills (what is wrong about what the Capital is doing? what does it demonstrate?). I’m a big advocate of reading with your brain turned on–I guess that’s why I teach! Even though I enjoyed it for its entertainment value, I think there are important thinks to examine and to discuss.
The Cincinnati Public Library has chosen The Hunger Games for its “On the Same Page” community reading program–the first time that a YA novel has ever been chosen. Explore the site for other information about and relating to the topics in The Hunger Games.
Also, look for more information on the upcoming movie adaptation!