Imagine a dystopian future in which North America is Panem, a land of districts subjugated by the Capitol located in the former Rocky Mountains. All of the districts have a special trade, and the Capitol exploits poverty-stricken workers by rationing their food supplies. Every year since the rebellion of District 13, the Capitol has held the Hunger Games to make the people its puppets. On reaping day, a boy and a girl from each district are chosen to fight to death against the other districts in an ever-changing arena. Only one victor may win.
I spent months bashing this young adult series only to have myself reprimanded for not having an open enough mind to give it a shot. I tend to reject anything that’s a fad, but there’s a reason why it’s so popular. The Hunger Games trilogy has something to offer to almost every potential fan. For people with a 6th grade reading level and a short attention span, there is simple prose and a riveting story line. For bored people on spring break, there is the time-consuming task of reading all three books, which takes about four days on average. And for intellectuals, there are political undertones and sociological allegories interspersed with just enough romance to cushion the deathly blows brought on by continuous theoretical application. Not everyone will be a fan, but everyone can and should try reading the books, which are available on the internet and at local bookstores.
When introduced to Katniss, it’s hard not to notice that for once, you’re reading a children’s book featuring a strong female protagonist with a will to stay alive. No matter what critics say about the violence in these books, Katniss is a rare example for young people reading the series that girls, too, can be strong, and that having conflicting emotions is acceptable. In juxtaposition to the nature and love infused throughout the story, the violence is politically contrived and wrong. Within District 12, things are more or less calm until the Peacekeepers intervene. Much like NATO troops, these white-clad SWAT teams are anything but peaceful.
The next thing I noticed was an almost immediate focus on animals, wildlife, and food. Katniss lives in tune with nature by hunting and gathering for her family, and Collins describes the food and the environment in detail. By the end of the first book, I have a clear picture of District 12 in my mind.
The second part of the series, Catching Fire, is an elaborated version of the jeux politiques in the first book. It gives a new spin on the games, showing what teamwork and community can provide to competitors, even when they are fighting to the death. It also develops the overarching plot of the trilogy by illustrating the civil unrest among the poorer districts. By the end of book two, Katniss ascends to Peeta’s level when she realizes that they are just puppets in the Capitol’s game. This realization is not only pivotal to the plot, but shows Katniss evolving from a girl concerned with elementary needs into a young adult with heightened political awareness. Just like in our world today, solidarity and opposition are intertwined. Is all fair in love and war ? That’s up to you to decide.
Mockingjay is the last book, and probably the goriest. It’s a sad read, as many of the heroic characters are either killed off or tortured into submission. Katniss goes through ordeal after ordeal; just when her obstacles seem insuperable, the flame in her burns on, conquering the Capitol’s death traps. Katniss reminds me of Assata Shakur, the poster woman for the minority revolution in the United States. Her autobiography, Assata, is a must-read. To see the film, click here.
The Hunger Games have turned into a full-scale war of the districts against the Capitol, but the sides aren’t so clearly defined. Katniss’s family endures the likes of World War II and what I imagine to be the next Armageddon. The concept of the Hunger Games reminded me of the Holocaust and recent genocides in Sudan and Rwanda. When asked whether or not you would inflict the same pain on your torturers, would you pick vengeance, compassion, or something in between ?
Be careful what you assume about this trilogy. It’s different from other sci–fi novels in that it’s not that hard to imagine. This could be thousands, hundreds, or even tens of years down the line. It’s shockingly similar to the world today, and that is what makes it a best-seller. The best sci-fi stories are relatable and fantastical.
If you’re not looking to kill time, you can apply theoretical musings to every facet of the story. Unemployed college graduates, put those 4 years of liberal arts and sciences to good use.