The Hunger Games series first appeared on my radar via Appalachian Studies friends excited about the first book opening in a place called District 12. Set in a not-too-distant, but plenty dismal post-American future, District 12, once known as the Appalachian region, lies on the outskirts of the authoritarian country of Panem. Toiling in poverty and starvation, District 12’s citizens mine coal sent directly to the distant Capitol, somewhere in the impenetrable Rockies. They live in fear their children will die in the Capitol’s premier entertainment venue, the Hunger Games: an annual televised event in which one boy and one girl are chosen from each of Panem’s 12 districts to battle one another to the death.
When our huntress heroine, Katniss Everdeen, replaces her sister as the chosen “tribute” from District 12, she must leave a mother and sister who depend on her, her best friend and fellow hunter, Gale, and the only home she’s ever known. Together with the town baker’s son, Peeta, she journeys to the Capitol and toward a game that will test her courage, her wit, and her compassion.
Believe the hype: The book’s on fire
While focusing here on the first book, I must admit to falling in love with the rest of the series over the past week. These books deserve the hype (though I especially recommend the first and third installments). I haven’t been so excited about a series since reading Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.
The Hunger Games is that good. It’s still plenty rare to find a strong, well-drawn female protagonist, so whenever I find one whose primary motivation centers around something other than earning the attention and bending to the every whim of a book’s main male characters, I rejoice. Of course, there’s plenty romance to go around, but Collins doesn’t overdo it; she uses it as one element in a complex and elegant plot.
Entering the ELA Canon
Already a popular inclusion in high school ELA courses, I’ve noticed many teachers using this novel as an appropriate modern pairing with Romeo and Juliet and/or as a central work in a utopia/dystopia unit. The plethora of themes Collins hits upon with these books lends itself equally well to either purpose. Rich with imagery and rife with suspense, Collins infuses the narrative with so many pertinent themes it’s no wonder The Hunger Games sensation continues to spread like wildfire.
As a whole series, these books might also work well paired with Julius Caesar or any work focused on the rise and fall of an unjust, authoritarian, or corrupt government.
Of course, the most obvious theme revolves around survival and, especially, the difficulty of maintaining one’s humanity while struggling to survive. The theme of poverty and severe inequality between the rich and poor is also hard to miss. Without going into too much detail, here are some other notable themes I pulled from my reading.
- Repaying debts and fulfilling obligations make us human.
- Competition is a violent strategy to discourage cooperation and perpetuate oppression and obedience.
- Viewing people through screens via various media allows us to objectify and feel pleasure from the pain of others
- The omnipresence of modern media creates self-consciousness about the images we project, determines how we act in front of others, and, even, confuses our inner feelings and true desires.
- Expressing compassion and acting out of love is a form of rebellion.
The mockingjay, the unexpected bird resulting from the mating of the Capitol-rpdocued jabberjay’s mating with mockingbirds, symbolizes a potential chink in the Capitol’s armor and hope that the authoritarian Panem may be toppled. Associated with song and the character of Katniss, who becomes “The Mockingjay,” the bird becomes a symbol of rebellion wheras the element of fire comes to symbolize full-scale revolution.
Bottom line: I loved these books and envy those who have them to look forward to.