I confess, I jumped on The Hunger Games bandwagon. I even stood in line with the rest of the avid devotees at my local theater on opening night to see the movie.
For those of you who have been living under a rock, or perhaps in an isolated District in Panem, The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, is an Orwellian YA novel that takes place in a futuristic dystopian setting, and like the government in Orwell’s 1984, the government of Panem uses Big Brother tactics to keep its population in line. Panem is located in what’s left of North America and consists of twelve districts, the Capitol, and a 13th district thought to have been destroyed by the Capitol in a previous rebellion. The Capitol is populated with the haves, while the Districts are populated with the have nots, who supply the resources necessary to feed the Capitol’s conspicuous consumption.
The book’s title derives from an annual event in which one boy and one girl from each district, called Tributes, are selected to fight one another to the death in a barbaric gladiatorial ritual, leaving one winner standing. The protagonist, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, volunteers to take her 12-year-old sister’s place in the 75th Annual Hunger Games and the all-consuming rollercoaster ride begins.
What is it about this trilogy that has captured the imagination of young and old adults alike? Is it the courage of Katniss, a teenager trapped in a brutal totalitarian regime’s idea of Survivor on steroids? Is it the universal themes of good versus evil, love versus hate, independence versus subjection, haves versus have nots? Or is it the love triangle?
Intensity of the plot aside, the story is rife with symbolism, both grand and small, and will doubtless stimulate countless discussions and intense debates for book clubs and civics classes alike, all looking for deeper meaning in the merciless bloodshed. It has already inspired books, fiction and non, including parodies and philosophical treatises.
On a more personal level, this trilogy has tapped into one of my greatest fears: to be subjected to an all-powerful, brutal regime, bent on keeping its population in line no matter the method, including pervasive government surveillance, ruthless violence, and abject poverty.
In the second book, Catching Fire, and especially the third book, The Mockingjay, I had anticipated Katniss serving as a beacon of hope to the rebellion she had unwittingly inspired with her actions in the Hunger Games. To my dismay, however, Katniss becomes just as much a pawn in the hands of District 13’s President, as she did in the hands of Panem’s President. Just another case of the end justifies the means.
After an exhausting read, filled with one tragedy after another, the final tragedy in Mockingjay, the death of Katniss’ sister, Prim (the one whose life she saved by volunteering for the Games in the first place) left me emotionally depleted. I’d like to say the ending makes up for the emotionally grueling story, but it doesn’t. I had hoped for an ending with some glimmer of redemption but there was none. Instead, the ending was devoid of catharsis and left me feeling as if I’d just run a marathon, but without the benefit of the post-run endorphins. Perhaps that is Collins’ point. No amount of salvation is capable of justifying that which is unjustifiable.
Suzanne Collins wrote an adrenaline-pumping, thought-provoking, page-turning novel, but in the end, I just wanted to get off the high-speed treadmill and take a deep cleansing breath.