Hunger Games: Are We Missing the Point?
It’s no secret that the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins has become wildly popular and famous both in print and on screen with the first two books turned into movies. People of all ages are getting into this series originally intended to be a young adult novel.
I read this series when I was in high school. One of my best friends recommended it to me and I really enjoyed the book. I then read the whole series and was excited when it was going to be made into a movie. However, I was in for a shock when I went to see the first movie in theaters. I was excited (as many readers are when their favorite books come alive on screen). However, I was not prepared for what I saw, both on the screen and in the reactions of the other viewers in the theater. Having read the book, I was expecting some violence in the movie. It would have been impossible to make the series without violence, of course. But I spent a lot of the movie with my eyes turned away, contemplating getting up and leaving. I couldn’t handle how real it all was. I couldn’t handle imagining the story actually happening. Then, when one of the Careers was killed (I believe it was when Thresh killed Clove), the audience clapped and cheered. I was beyond angry. I wanted to stand up and scream, “What’s wrong with all of you?!” and leave. I didn’t. I sat and seethed through the rest of the movie, taking one unnecessary “bathroom break” when Cato was being killed.
And then, when it was done, I listened to everyone gushing over how good it was.
A recent discussion in one of my classes about the Hunger Games reminded me of this memory and made me angry all over again. We discussed how problematic it is that (especially younger) readers and viewers are not prepared to engage with this series in the proper way. They get excited about the action, the violence. They view Katniss as the innocent, good hero. They praise her for her actions. They cheer when “the bad guys” die.
We are completely missing the point.
The “bad” guys in the arena are just other teenagers forced to commit violent acts against other teenagers. All of the tributes are victims. We should grieve their deaths as much as we would Rue’s or Peeta’s if he had died. If the story were told in the viewpoint of one of the other tributes, would everyone cheer if Katniss had died? The Careers have been brainwashed all of their lives to think that the Games are something to be excited about. I would hope that people reading and watching this series would shudder to imagine the Games actually happening.
Unfortunately, that is not the case. There are virtual versions of the Games you can play. You can buy the training outfits and other merchandise. You can buy make-up to make you look like a citizen of the Capitol.
The Capitol’s citizens were ridiculed in the book for being brainless. They were disgusting to the poor residents of the other districts who suffered while the Capitol lived in luxury and watched the Games for entertainment.
I’m not saying it is wrong for someone to buy a shirt or a poster representing the Hunger Games. As long as it is for the right reason. What about it are they supporting? What message are they trying to send by wearing it or displaying it?
Suzanne Collins, the author, said in an interview that she wanted to write a story about when war is and is not necessary. She wanted to write about its consequences. She says, “So it’s cyclical, and it’s that cycle of violence that seems impossible for us to break out of.” She was not writing so that violence would be entertaining for people or make them want to cheer it on. She was inspired by the experiences of her father who “felt it was his responsibility to make sure that all his children had an understanding about war, about its cost, its consequences.”
War is a part of the world we live in. I don’t think it is a bad idea to educate teenagers and children about it because it is a part of their world. And it isn’t a bad idea to put it into a fictional format that they will find more interesting than a lecture. However, the book is being read by teens and children too young to understand what it is really all about. I would venture to guess that some adults were in the same position when they read it.
I am still a fan of the series, for multiple reasons. But it worries me how much I’ve seen people become misguided by it and go in the opposite direction than the one I understand the author to have intended for readers. I think there just needs to be more discussion about the book, and I don’t mean a Peeta or Gale debate. We need to talk about what the book says about society and what our response after reading it should be.