Over Thanksgiving I had the good fortune of having lots of free time to read, run and hang out with my family and friends. As promised, I am going to provide a personal review of The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I am still allowing this blog to evolve as I refine its purpose. As an avid reader, I think I would be remiss to not share my thoughts on at least a few of the books that I read. Now, lest you think that I only read best-selling, non-fiction books, I assure you this is not the case. I love reading. period. However, The Hunger Games lends itself to book review. I even remarked to my Mom, “These books would be so easy to write a paper on!” Nerd, I know, but I think we have already established that fact.
SPOILER ALERT – This post will contain some spoiled content.
The Hunger Games details a futuristic society that is a great, great, great…great grandchild of the United States. At some point in history, the districts, of which there were 13, rebelled against the Capitol only to be brutally squelched. In remembrance of the rebellion, every year each district must send 1 male and 1 female “tribute” between the ages of 12-18 to participate in the Hunger Games. The Hunger Games are a fight to the death between the tributes of each district, 24 in total as district 13 no longer exists, with only 1 winner surviving. Enter, Katniss. The heroine, protagonist and an all around bad you-know-what. Katniss is ultimately the female tribute selected from District 12 to participate in the Hunger Games.
Throughout the novels there is constant tension between the “collective good” of Panem (the nation-state), as determined by the Capitol, and the needs of the residents of each district. The Capitol represents all that is frivolous and fleeting. Their lives are nothing more than eating bon-bons and keeping up with the latest fashions. In contrast, the districts are all suffering to various extents and in many cases are literally starving.
Most of the tension in the novel stems from the collective good vs. the good of the individuals. Through no fault of their own, many of the citizens are suffering at the hands of the few. They are unable to provide for their families and are at the mercy of the decisions of the elite Capitolists. 35.9% of the population of South Carolina is considered “Low-Income Working Families”. What does it say about our society that over 1/3 of the population that has a job still live at 200% below the poverty line. The systems that cause poverty and promote injustice are multi-faceted and have spanned generations. There is no simple fix inside or outside of the government. Yet we see throughout history and in modern day that as the income gap rises (Gini coefficient approaches 1), tensions in society also rise. I am NOT advocating against capitalism or making money. I am challenging that we need to re-asses our values and our systems that are causing injustice. My apologies for that brief interruption. Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.
Katniss is the ultimate survivor; providing for her family after the death of her father, surviving 2 Hunger Games and waging war against the Capitol, beating the odds at whatever she does. She is often confronted with the raw, base instincts of human nature, which are all ugly. There is no truly pure character portrayed, save perhaps Prim, Katniss’ younger sister. All characters fail morally and ethically at some point. It is here that Collins draws her final conclusions about human nature and society.
As the districts topple the Capitol in the hopes to bring about true change for the good of the citizens, the idea is broached as to whether or not to hold a Hunger Games for the children of the Capitol (Capitol children were exempt from previous games). Give them a taste of their own medicine, is the basic argument. The irony is almost too thick to handle. Here is a society that has just endured 75 years of forced murder by and against children yet they almost instantaneously turn around to do the same to another group of people. Katniss and her mentor are left to cast the final votes and surprisingly (to me) they vote yes. I expected Collins to wrap around to a storybook ending, with each character redeeming themselves and society in the end. While this occurs to an extent, the message is clear: at our base, we are all no better than the Capitolists. We would all willingly sacrifice another’s child for our own twisted sense of justice.
I am constantly amazed by the many people who believe at their core, human beings are good. Perhaps I am overly cynical, but the world today screams to me that we are NOT good. In fact, we are the opposite of good. I am glad that Collins did not gloss over this fact. Katniss does not get everything she wants. Her sister dies, she is estranged from her mother, she is torn between 2 people she loves and the memories from her times in the Hunger Games haunt her for the rest of her life. Yet, despite all of this, we feel she has won. The book turns out as it should. Despite the tragedies in her life, the story ends well.