Why It’s Important to Talk about The Hunger Games

March 27, 2012

Why It’s Important to Talk about The Hunger Games

[caption id="attachment_1284" align="alignleft" width="421" caption="Image courtesy Scholastic Books, Inc."][/caption] Though I know a few of you will scoff at this notion, I really do try to remain neutral on this blog. The content that we deal with on CW, autism, emotional intelligence, our children’s futures, it is so diverse and so controversial that asserting too much of an opinion, I fear, may alienate my readers who could otherwise be helped by the news I cover. But I cannot afford to do that today. Today, I want to talk about The Hunger Games. I want to talk about why people who dismiss these amazing novels and the associated movie as “unacceptable” because of their violence against children are completely missing the point. I want to talk about why it is a crime not to talk about The Hunger Games in our classrooms. I want to talk about how these books changed my life. Some Background For those of you unfamiliar with this now-global phenomenon, The Hunger Games is the first of three novels written by Young Adult (or YA) author Suzanne Collins. The books follow the journey of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen. Katniss lives in the ruins of a post-apocalyptic North America. After the destruction of the world as we know it, the areas that remained, 13 districts and a “Capital” went to war. After District 13 was destroyed, leaving only 12, the Capital triumphed and the nation of Panem was formed through the Treaty of Treason. This treaty stipulated that in remembrance of their losses and the futility of defying the Capital, once a year each district would send one young man and one young woman (aged 12-18) to battle to the death in a gladiator-esque showdown. These Hunger Games are aired on national television as a visible reminder of what the districts lost and as a means for the Capital to continue to exert control. When Katniss’s little sister’s name is drawn in the aptly-called reaping, Katniss herself steps into her place. At that point she is forced to battle not only the 23 other tributes, including a boy from her district, Peeta Mellark, but also the Capital and the forces of power that would create such a gruesome yearly show. The story of Katniss’s journey from a poor, starving coal miner’s daughter to an accidental revolutionary unfolds over the course of The Hunger Games as well as its follow-up novels Catching Fire and Mockingjay. The move released Friday chronicles the first of these three novels and broke just about every opening weekend record there is, bringing in $19.7 million from its midnight showing alone. Why The Hunger Games Changed My Life In my life I have earned not one, but two degrees in English Literature. Over the past ten years, I have consistently taught college-level English literature and writing classes in two different states and a half a dozen institutions. In other words, writing and books are kind of my thing. There have been few novels that were able to really penetrate me though, and they are almost exclusively limited to the YA genre. Maybe it’s because I am still dealing with the emotional baggage of my own adolescence, maybe it is because I see my students (and eventually my daughters) in the faces of these characters, maybe it’s because the bildungsroman or coming-of-age is a story line more timeless than even love and romances, but if I could survive on YA novels alone, I would gladly. The Hunger Games, to me, exists on a plane almost completely independent of other YA novels that we all know and love, though. The level of violence and complete lack of sentimentality in the end separate Collins from JK Rowling. The de-emphasis on the love story, despite its driving force in the narrative, make her a far cry from Stephenie Meyer. The lack of God, or any real spiritual closure, make her the antithesis of CS Lewis. Instead, the reality of Katniss’s life and the dystopian wasteland of Panem that Collins so masterfully creates makes the reader question everything that she takes for granted in literature and in life. For a day or two after concluding this series, I walked around in a fog. I felt like Collins, in her stark portrayal of reality television, war, hope and suffering had somehow gutted me. I broke down into sobs on my kitchen floor in a way I cannot ever remember doing for something that wasn’t “real.” These books got to me that deeply. I honestly still don’t know if my psyche has recovered, or if I even want it to… Why The Hunger Games Is a Lesson in Emotional Intelligence Okay, so what does this all have to do with CW readers and my role as a blogger for this site? Other than the obvious (and rather selfish) need that I have to relate to you all how profoundly I was affected by these books, I also think that they stand as a really important emblem in our society that, as educators and human beings, we cannot ignore. The other day I was reading a lot of Twitter chatter about “condoning” violence against children and I couldn’t help but think that these people are completely missing the point. Do I think people, especially children, should battle to the death in an arena? Absolutely not. But, in one way or another, they already do. Children both in this country and around the world are faced with the dangers of death at every turn each day, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. Maybe it’s the girl in Iran who wants to be a doctor, but must cover her face. Maybe it’s the boy in Sudan who must ignore his philosophical thoughts in favor of merely finding food. Maybe it’s the young baby asleep in a cradle in Anytown, USA who will never really have a shot at life because his mom is too busy getting high. These realities exist in our world right this minute, yet we ignore them. I think what got to me, deep down, about The Hunger Games, more than anything else wasn’t my sentimentality as a mother, worried that her child may be offered as “tribute” (though that thought crossed my mind) and it wasn’t the idea that violence exists and could be so deftly portrayed in a YA novel (anyone familiar with the genre knows that this is nothing new). What got to me about The Hunger Games was the truth that it revealed about our culture, our self-centeredness, and the need to explain to our children that violence comes in many different ways. By using The Hunger Games as a vehicle for these conversations, by seeing it as more than violence against children or an allegory for high school and popularity, as many teachers trying to “downplay” the violence are feign to do, and looking deeper into its analysis of our own lives and society, this novel can change your life, and your students’.



Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.