I read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins today and was left completely and totally confused and infuriated.
1. Just… the morals completely confused me. I have no idea what that book was even about, and I can’t tell if that’s good or bad. Normally, I’d say a book whose morals and ideals confused me didn’t have morals at all, or had bad ones. But the message… I don’t know! Ugh. 😄 I can’t even tell what the message is at this point.
2. I’m infuriated at The Capitol. Absolutely infuriated. How dare they implement something so horrifying, so inhuman, as to make teenagers kill each other in a controlled arena? How dare they? Something so vulgar and barbaric should never have occurred to anyone in the first place–how could any human being force one of his brethren to participate in such an arrangement and call it sport? (I suppose therein lies the effectiveness of this book–the villain(s) is spectacular. Just plain brilliant.)
3. Did I mention the theme just completely confuses me?
I just… I don’t know. I’m in turmoil. I do know that I love the characters–love the plot–the concept rather disturbs me, though–and the tension, dread, drama, and conflict are the most amazing I’ve ever seen. Like, ever.
For those of you who don’t know (or have misconceptions), The Hunger Games is set in a futuristic, war-torn North America that is now governed by the Capitol. There are now twelve districts. There used to be thirteen, but one rebelled against the oppressing authority of the Capitol and was completely obliviated. Thus the Capitol introduced the annual Hunger Games to keep the territories in check and prove that the Capitol is ruler over all–no one can stand up to the Capitol.
Here’s how the Hunger Games work. Each child ages 12 through 18 is entered into a drawing once each year. Twelve-year-olds are entered once, thirteen-year-olds twice, etc. One can put one’s name in extra times in exchange for much-needed food and supplies. Then, everyone in the Districts gathers together in their own town square and one girl and one boy are chosen by lot from the pool of names. These two children are then that District’s Tributes.
These Tributes go to the Capitol and are forced to be interviewed and pinched and poked and styled and trained in front of the public on national television. After a week of training, they are sent to the Arena–a huge (think miles and miles) space filled with whatever sort of terrain and wild beasts the Gamemakers feel will provide the public with the most entertainment–because that’s what this is. Bloody, gruesome, entertainment. A fight to the death on live television.
Before I provide my final opinion and recommendation, I’d like to address some things that both my parents and other adults I know have pitted at The Hunger Games–and not all of them are unwarranted.
1. Don’t the contestants eat each other?
It is mentioned early in the story that one contestant many years ago did eat those he killed–however, the Gamemakers “removed” him from the Games because they feared the viewers would be disgusted. This implies that the viewers know it is wrong (and possibly the Gamemakers, but who knows what goes on in their sadistic minds), and that message is passed along to the reader. At least I thought so, anyway. Nowhere in this book is cannibalism encouraged or practiced apart from that one aforementioned incident.
I mentioned to my parents that I think the title The Hunger Games stems from the physical hunger the characters feel throughout the novel. Katniss, the main character, lives in a District where people starve to death every day, and she’s had to fight and illegally poach to keep her family alive. From what I surmised of the other Districts, this is not uncommon and just goes to show the sadism of the Capitol in allowing its people to suffer so. In addition, food is scarce throughout the arena. Katniss goes for nearly two days in the sweltering heat without water and with very little food, and other characters mention hunger as a motivation for killing the other contestants. Another possibility is the hunger the characters feel to rebel against the Capitol. Without giving away the ending, I feel that they accomplish this quite well.
2. Um, the characters fight to the death. On live television. Shouldn’t that be a cause for concern?
Yes, it is. Eleven out of twenty-four tributes die on the first day, and probably within the first hour of the Games beginning, since they don’t announce who’s died until the end of the day. More people die in this book than I’ve ever seen and it’s bone-chilling. It’s sending a message to the people of Panem that rebellion will not be tolerated. The Capitol is in control, rather like Big Brother. This is a serious book, and certainly not for children.
Now, I think this is the big issue my friend’s mum had with letting her daughter read these books. Yes, people die. Yes, people kill. (No, they don’t eat each other.) It’s not to be taken lightly. However, I think teens can benefit from reading this and discussing it with their parents afterwards (even though it is ridiculously complicated to explain) like I did (or will do tomorrow, likely).
3. Isn’t there graphic violence in this book with all those people dying?
Surprisingly, no. I didn’t think it was terribly graphic–certainly not on the level of the Lord of the Rings or the Inheritance trilogy, which IS a children’s series. What little descriptions there are of the physical aspects of the Games are sparse enough that the reader can fill in the detail on his/her own, and that is effective. So yes, people die, but it’s not blood-and-guts graphic.
Those are the main objections that have been raised, and I hope I’ve answered them sufficiently. I wouldn’t recommend this book for anyone under age 13, simply because all the death and the initial concept of the book (roman gladiators/early Christian martyrs meets the TV show Survivor) really aren’t meant for kids. But if you’re a parent and you think your child can handle that, then I say by all means let him or her read it. A discussion afterward would not be amiss!
I’ll be back tomorrow or Wednesday with a dissection of the story elements of The Hunger Games… So I’ll bid you all adieu until then!
If you’ve read The Hunger Games, what were your initial reactions? Do you agree or disagree with anything I’ve noted? Would you recommend it to anyone?
P.S. I FINALLY HIT ON IT! The Hunger Games=1984 by George Orwell. It seems like it’s trying to warn against the sort of society in which privacy is ignored and people left to suffer in order to make a point.
EDIT: After posting this on Facebook, several of my friends pointed out that The Hunger Games is a dystopian novel similar to Brave New World or Fahrenheit 451. I haven’t read many books in this genre, so that didn’t hit on me until this morning. Thanks, Addy, Nai, and Jen!