The Hunger Games

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**SPOILER WARNING**

The dystopia genre has garnered enough movies, shows, and books to fill hours upon hours of our leisure time.  Classics such as Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World are taught in schools and lauded as some of the greatest novels of the 20th century.  However, we have now entered a bit of a unique situation in our modern culture.  Dystopia has unseated the Twilight saga, taking its place as the king of teenage fandoms.

It’s an interesting book, simultaneously portraying a future that is both futuristic, and at the same time primitive.  The country of Panem, taking the place of America, is split up into 12 districts, each with a particular trade as its specialty.  Most of the districts live in poverty while the Capital thrives in lavishness and dons gaudy makeup.  The centerpiece, however, is not found in the living conditions, but in the games.  The Hunger Games, to be exact.

This generation of America likes football.  In earlier days, we loved baseball.  In more refined times, stage drama.  The Hunger Games, however, goes even further back to the most animalistic, barbaric, and brutal of all entertainment forms: gladiators; except these gladiators are not grown men, but children.

Children are faced to fight to the death.  Two from each district, 24 in all, fight until only one remains.  Politically, this is to remind the districts that they ought not rebel, as some did in the times prior to The Hunger Games.  Culturally, it is the most celebrated of all events.  Indeed, the most disturbing aspect of the games is not the death, nor the fact that they are children; it is the fact that they are celebrated.

Enter Katniss and Peeta, tributes from District 12, the coal mining district.  Katniss tells the story through her eyes – how she volunteers in the place of her sister, how their mentor Haymitch is a drunk that barely helps them, and how Peeta proclaims his love for her on national television (although of course there’s heroic Gale at home who she isn’t sure if she loves.  This soap opera lasts for all three books, by the way).  They are pampered, fed, and treated as majestic kings and queens in the weeks leading up to the games; like pigs fed for the slaughter.

After copious amounts of blood, Katniss and Peeta are the last two standing, and are about to commit suicide to avoid killing each other when the gamemakers relent and crown them both victors of the games, a symbolic event that represents a daring rebellion to the capital such as has seldom been seen before.

So what are to make of this?  These are not light things that this generation’s teenagers are reading.  They are dark, deep, and full of meaning.  There are several things being promoted here, and we’ll take them one by one.

The first and most obvious implication is the violence of the games themselves.  The games thrive on the blood bath that the games are, even to the point that all citizens of Panem gather to watch the games in their respective districts.  The book (as well as the two subsequent ones) show the bitter attitude of Gale, who is angry about what the games represent.  What their children have to do.  I have one thing to say in this respect: this is what happens when a culture embraces violence as a means of entertainment.  Are we entertained by blood baths?  By gratuitous violence?  By endless gunfire, stabbings, and beatings?  Because this is what that culture leads to.

Even more so, though, there is a culture of rebellion.  Rebellion not against parents, as is all too common in teenage literature (as a matter of fact, Katniss speaks very highly of her late father and grows to have more respect for her mother as the series develops), but instead a rebellion against the government.  We find in the second book that Katniss did not mean her “rebellion” to be an act against the Capital, but nevertheless that is what it turns into.  The government is portrayed as disregarding the good of its citizens.

I don’t have a problem with the government being presented this way; that’s the way many governments are.  That’s life.  What I do have a problem with is using that to justify rebellion.

As the series progresses, especially in the third book, I believe it is actually saying something a little different, but you have to trek it in order to see that.  Essentially, I believe the book is saying that government, both the incumbent establishment, and rebellion establishments, can be harmful.  There are several things in the third book that make me say this, but you’ll have to read those books to see that (I don’t want to give spoilers here).

So what’s my verdict?  It’s a good wake up call.  I have a feeling Suzanne Collins meant it to be more about the political aspect, but I find the violence of the book most disturbing, but in a way that a dystopia novel should disturb.  How do we treat violence?  Do we cringe and then say that was our favorite part of the season or movie?  Or are we disturbed by it, as we well should be.

Logan Judy
Logan Judy is a Christian blogger and science fiction author with a Batman complex. At Cross Culture, Logan writes about film, comics, cultural analysis, and whatever else strikes his fancy. In addition to his work at Cross Culture, Logan also blogs and podcasts at A Clear Lens. You can find him tweeting about Batman, apologetics, and why llamas will one day rule the world, @loganrjudy.
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11 thoughts on “The Hunger Games

  1. Great analysis. I found the movie to be a little horrifying, even though I like the action scenes of plenty of other movies. Context can really change everything.

    • I actually really liked the movie. While I appreciate the book, one of the things I didn’t like stylistically is that Collins didn’t really slow down to give commentary, she just gave us what was happening. The movie allowed us to slow down a little bit and really appreciate the gravity of the situation. I would also say it’s a good thing that you were horrified, given that the film is about children fighting to the death. That’s the intended effect, although I’m really glad they toned down the violence for a PG-13 rating. The book is easily R violence-wise, but we don’t need that to get the point.

  2. This is a series that really cannot stand alone, and nobody knows or understands the context without the third book.
    I don’t know who said it first, but the idea that it is dangerous to hate, because we become what we hate is, I think, one of the warnings this author seeks to offer her readers.

    • Definitely. The third is in many ways completely the opposite of what I would have expected her to do with it. I’m actually really looking forward to reviewing that one.

  3. Have not read the books, but from every explanation I have heard they are far more graphic than the movie delivered. I appreciated that to some degree, although you’re still talking about pinning children against children. It’s certainly a source to spark conversation, and a reminder of the depravity that man is capable of.

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  6. I was surprised when my daughters sixth grade teacher assigned this book for reading in English class. My daughter was ill the week it was assigned. A new friend of hers called her to excitedly tell her about how cool it was when someone snapped the neck of a child in the book. My daughter was horrified that her friend would find this entertaining. I agree. It is difficult to understand a young persons excitement regarding something so horrific rather than their repugnance to the evil act. Public schools should not be assigning literature like this to young readers. I found Lord of the Flies disturbing enough at the age of 16. Not every person needs to learn lessons on political society through literature like this. Some people are all ready very sensitive and highly aware of the evils that exist in the world and what man may be capable of without reading about in full detail. I do not like this author and I do not agree that it is a valuable lesson or healthy for our youth in any way. History books are full of evil governments and societies. Why don’t we teach our children the truth in history and leave it at that. Our youth are not dumb, they understand. A child choosing not to kill in the face of danger or choosing to lose their own life to save another would have been a better message. I think the book is stupid, disgusting and detrimental to societies way of thinking as a whole. In the end it is still a book about survival and children killing other children. It does not belong in the public school system.

  7. I feel I need to further comment. Many youth today lack sensitivity.. They do not know how to deal with their emotions or communicate their feelings. It is our responsibility as adults to teach them the beauty in life through different forms of literature. Life can be ugly and I’m quite sure if our youth have not discovered this in their own life already that It is inevitable that they will fall victim to the ills of society before too long. The reason for good literature in school should be to teach valuable life lessons of how to rise above adversity, with a continued hope for a better self and better tomorrow through lessons and sometimes hard teachings that life presents. Teen suicide, premarital sex, longing to be loved or accepted, cutting, lying, cheating, bullying are all issues that are not going away, To find pleasure and entertainment in evil, violent or over sexual themed books that are handed to them by the very ones who they are supposed to be looking up to for guidance and integrity in this life is detrimental. No wonder our youth feel lost in a crazy world. There is no clear guiding light. When my daughter was in 10th grade her class read To Kill a Mockingbird. Her peers found the book boring and too long with too many words. They had trouble dealing with the emotions that the story evoked. They were appalled at the use of the word nigger. Why? Shall we erase history and the precious lessons to be learned by it? Fifty Shades of Grey seemed to be so easy for her classmates to talk about publicly, but at the end of the story in To Kill a Mockingbird after Boo Radley had just saved Jem’s life from an attack and was standing over Jem and Scout told him it was ok for him to move close and pet him, her class became very uncomfortable and made jokes that Boo Radley was a pedophile. Instead of taking a moment to reflect on the reasons why Scout would encourage Boo to do this or why Boo would feel the need to they mock and laugh instead. They could not publicly deal with emotions of brotherly love. The genuine love of friend. A kind and precious and protective kind of love. Ridiculous! Very disappointing and sad. That was a very moving and endearing part of the book. My daughter was moved to tears at the love that was expressed in that book. Our youth should be learning valuable lessons in life while in public school. Our public school system was set in place to mold and shape and teach our youth to be good citizens and become a productive part of society. We are failing our youth by assigning garbage like The Hunger Games in public schools. It is a waste of teaching time and a waste of taxpayers money. That is the type of genre that should be read outside of the school system. Or set aside for critical analysis in a college setting. With all due respect, I have an immense longing for a greater and higher thinking, more empathetic, sensitive, wise, and loving new generation.

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