The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games: In a dystopian North America, a corrupt totalitarian government rules the remaining land, divided into districts, and each tasked with providing a service to the wealthy capitol. Rather than distributing the agriculture, textiles, tools, technology and luxury goods throughout the districts, the capitol asserts its authority by keeping the people subdued and poor (minus, arguably, Districts 1 and 2), censors the media and blames the people’s poverty on the uprising by District 13 some 74 years prior. Every year, the capitol sends one male and female between the ages of 12 and 18 from each of the 12 districts to fight to the death in a survival contest known as the Hunger Games. The victors earn fortune, fame, food and safety for themselves and their families. The losers die. The Hunger Games is glamorized and plays out like reality television for the remaining districts, who have no choice but to watch the Games.

Katniss: Katniss Everdeen is 16 and has recently lost her father in a mining accident. Her mother cannot handle the emotions and her younger sister, Prim, who is 12, is kind yet too timid for the harsh political in which they live. Katniss chooses to spent her days hunting and providing for her family the way her father taught her, while her mother and Prim begin work as Healers. Katniss is a noteworthy protagonist; she is down-to-earth and practical, yet selfish and proud. Her love triangle makes eyes roll, but the guys that fall for her do so in realistic ways: both admire her courage and strength. Katniss is a realistic character who does her best to walk her own path but often fails because she does not connect enough with other characters to see their intentions for her–both good and bad. In the end, the “chosen one”  storyline (the symbol of the mockingjay and her eventual portrayal of the symbol) gets to be boring and takes away from her character, especially by the end when it is drilled into our heads that Katniss cannot follow orders and somehow, this is supposed to make her heroic, but I think that it takes away from the humanism that I loved so much in her– and by the last book we have a hero that can do no wrong because she is the “reluctant chosen one” who cannot follow orders.

Story: The story is excellent, and I am biased because I love dystopian sci-fi, although it is a bit flamboyant. I don’t believe a world can exist where families willingly send children to fight to the death for 74 years without a single uprising. I do believe in a world where people watch slaves fight to the death, because that actually happened in ancient Rome. In Panem, however, the “gladiator” analogy loses its meaning and strength because the rich are sent to fight along with the poor. Further, I do not believe in a world where Katniss and Peeta are the FIRST tributes who refuse to kill each other. Why hasn’t this happened anytime in the first 73 years? What happened during the FIRST Hunger Games? Why didn’t the tributes refuse to kill each other in previous years? Is the government really that frightening that children would rather kill each other than die for a cause? Is it possible to be so brainwashed that they actually believed that being chosen as tribute was an honorable cause and suddenly, we have a Lord of the Flies situation?

There are a few major flaws here; I think that some of the things I mentioned above work in the storyline but not as well as they should. Keeping most of the districts poverty-stricken makes it logically follow that the tributes, in a panic to save their families from starvation, would fight to the death. But it does not make sense that it took 73 years for children to stand up and befriend each other, to fall in love, or to stand up to the capitol and refuse to fight.

The obvious flaw here is world building. We have little knowledge of what actually happened to North America before Panem and the districts — we need to know this information to make this world seem plausible. Why is everyone starving? Is the population out of control? Originally, when I read the tag for this book maybe 5 or so years ago, I thought the Hunger Games was created as a device for the fearful government to keep the raging population down, which seemed like  a neat and original idea. But, instead it was a ploy for the evil government which wants…absolute power for no reason…to keep itself rich and the people from uprising.

Weak, Suzanne Collins. Weak. I’m sorry. I know there have been absolute governments in the past, but why create a government that is founded on NO history, NO ideals, NO sense of order? What is the logic in oppressing the people by killing their children? The government, thanks to the previous apocalypse and thousands of years of history and presumably our modern history, should know this formula:

Government oppresses people > People get angry > Revolution

Instead, the government tries to prevent uprising by acting in a way that will surely end in uprising. And somehow, the people do not rise up after being forced to watch 73 years of children murdering each other in a satirical reality-tv show that essentially makes light of their fates, while living in miserable conditions and working to provide the capitol with their goods, which they know will go to the super-rich, well-fed and ignorant (weakly stereotyped) capitol residents?

And they don’t do anything. For 73 years. Because one district was wiped off the map?

Logic, where art thou?

Why are we never told about the foundation of the districts and the purpose of that?

We are told why the districts collectively are called Panem: the Roman Empire used Gladiator fights and theatre and other public entertainment (Panem et circenses) to keep the people subdued while it proceeded with its political goals behind the scenes. There’s a catch, however: in the Roman empire, everyone was rich and well-fed, with the exception of slaves and foreigners who refused to submit to Roman rule, so entertainment, in all its forms, worked. In Panem, everyone is poor with the exception of the capitol, so what’s the point of the Hunger Games? To…distract the rich people? From…what? Obviously it’s meant to scare the poor people (look how powerful the government is), but it’s meant for entertainment too. Who is it entertaining?

This story could have been So. Much. Bigger.

I would love to hear a story based on my theory: after the apocalypse that we never hear about, the people separate into districts that have different focuses and provide unique resources to efficiently re-create a new society, and somewhere along the line, the government starts to corrupt. But how? That story NEEDS to be told. Because starting a story in the distant future with no back story as to HOW or WHY these things occur make for frustrated readers.

I love the characters and the way the story is told, but in all effects, we are missing some crucial information.

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