“He tells of the history of Paneem, the country that rose up out of the ashes of a place that was once called North America. He lists the disasters, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the encroaching seas that swallowed up so much of the land, the brutal war for what little sustenance remained.” The Hunger Games, p. 18
“I wake screaming from nightmares of mutts and lost children. But his arms are there to comfort me. What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again.” Mockingjay, p. 388
When I first heard about the movie, The Hunger Games, a year and a half or so ago I thought, “Oh great, another movie that lots of young people are seeing built around murder and death, people killing each other in an organized competition until only one is left.” I had no interest in seeing it. But after several months I began to pick up that there was more to it, and I learned that Jennifer Lawrence, who I was impressed by in Silver Linings Playbook, was the central character. So I paid my money and watched it.
I was surprised to find that, in addition to another impressive performance by Lawrence, the movie was also about oppressed people rebelling against hunger, poverty and a brutally repressive government, and it was well done. This led me to read all three of the Hunger Games trilogy of books written by Suzanne Collins—The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, and to see the second movie, Catching Fire, which came out a month ago.
It’s a positive thing that these books and movies are so popular, and they are very popular. In 2012 the trilogy sold 27.7 million copies, according to Publishers Weekly. In the middle of that year Amazon announced that the trilogy had become its highest selling book series, surpassing Harry Potter.
The story, in brief, revolves around the life of a 16/17 year old teenager, Katniss Everdeen, a strong, risk-taking, impulsive and attractive young woman barely surviving with her mother and younger sister in a mining district in the country of Paneem. As the quote above indicates, Paneem is a country that has been devastated by the impacts of climate change, although those words are not mentioned in any of the books or the two movies, and the history that led to Paneem is never elaborated on.
Everdeen becomes one of 24 teenagers, a boy and girl from each of Paneem’s 12 districts, who are chosen to take part in the 74th annual “hunger games,” a fight-to-the-last-person competition televised to and required viewing in every home. She and Peeta Mellark, the boy chosen from Everdeen’s District 12, are the victors, even though only one person is supposed to emerge alive and victorious. Their pulling off of this minor miracle and the way that they did it has the effect of inspiring revolutionary feelings among the overwhelming majority of Paneem’s population. It also leads to retribution by the centralized government—the Capitol–in the form of a special hunger games competition the next year in which Katniss and Peeta are forced to take part again, something which “victors,” as they are called, have never had to do before.
A nationwide uprising begins during that 75th hunger game, and a brutal and bloody war follows, eventually won by the rebels. Throughout all of this, Katniss Everdeen emerges as the inspirational leader of the uprising despite many self doubts and growing concerns about the way in which the violent uprising is being conducted. By the end of the trilogy, after tremendous personal suffering and loss, she has come to realize in great depth the way in which war affects those who take part in it:
“They can design dream weapons that come to life in my hands but they will never again brainwash me into the necessity of using them. I no longer feel any allegiance to these monsters called human beings, despite being one myself. Something is significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifices its children’s lives to settle its differences. In the end, who does it benefit? No one. The truth is, it benefits no one to live in a world where these things happen.” Mockingjay, p. 377
The trilogy ends with Katniss and Peeta marrying and having children, slowly recovering over many, many years and coming to appreciate “the promise that life can go on, no matter our losses, that it can be good again.”
Everdeen is a positive role model for young girls and women, a person who guards her independence and is willing to speak up and take action on behalf of those she loves and the greater good. She doesn’t go along with anything she has concerns about unless she is either forced to or is convinced after raising her concerns or objections. She has the heart of a champion.
My 12 year old niece is reading the trilogy, and I’m glad she is.
Suzanne Collins does an impressive job elaborating the development of the revolutionary uprising and how it negatively affects some of those taking part in it. She does so without questioning the need for it while effectively raising the issue of means and ends.
I’m glad I decided to see Hunger Games last year, and I’m glad that the ideas and examples from the books and movies are out there very widely within popular culture. They are ideas and examples that are affecting tens of millions of hearts and minds in positive ways. There is hope for our culture when this is what people are reading and seeing.