I avoided The Hunger Games for a while; I assumed it was just another Twilight-esque teenage romance. Finally, after hearing enough people tell me that it was really good despite the young adult label, I decided I’d give it a try. Honestly? Regardless of the lack of conservative Mormon politics and Katniss Everdeen’s ability to use a weapon, it was still terrible. It’s not quite as damaging as Twilight, in my opinion, but it is damaging that people see this as a significant improvement to the young adult genre. It isn’t.
I finally got around to reading The Hunger Games last night (the first book, not the whole trilogy), and I agree it’s not as good as I thought it would be, but I disagree that it’s even CLOSE to being as bad as Twilight. But, it is definitely not the next Harry Potter, or Lord of the Flies.
In fact, I agree with a lot of points raised in this post in regards to grammar and just general plot. But, I don’t think the entire point of the book was to represent a post-apocalyptic version of North America, but more a commentary on the state of our society as it stands right now.
TL:DR: The Hunger Games isn’t a love story, and can’t be taken as a post-apocalyptic story either. It should be read as a commentary on today’s society and what popular culture deems entertainment.
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Firstly, I agree completely with the inconsistency of Katniss’ personality. She seems to pander to the reader a lot, like you would if you were actually telling the story to someone, and you could see their reaction after every sentence. When you start to realize that she’s kind of rude and irritable, all of the sudden her knees are wobbly because of her love for Prim. The reader is supposed to take this as a true softness, but it comes off as lack of commitment from the writer to make her character into either a strong, independent young woman, or a waffling, homesick sixteen year old.
However, I disagree with with the trilogy being unrealistic. Granted, I’ve just read the first book, so I can’t comment on the other two. Please keep that in mind as you read the rest of this post.
To start, we are hearing the story of Panem from Katniss. Katniss explains her education briefly in the book (I tried to look for the quote, but I’d have to essentially read the novel again to find it), saying that in District 12 their education surrounds the coal mining operation and has bits of Panem history added to the curriculum every now and then. You can’t quite expect to know exactly how the country was formed in specifics, when the narrator isn’t expected to know. You can assume that it was climate change, as Katniss does explain that the water levels rose and pushed the population toward the centre of the continent.
You also have to take into consideration that we have no idea how long ago Panem was considered North America, and when all of these Districts were formed. The first book is the 74th Annual Hunger Games, so it’s safe to say that the population may have already been affected by the propaganda, the books have already been burned, and the country was brainwashed a long time ago. We also have no idea how long North America was in turmoil before the Districts were established. It is also safe to assume that Katniss herself probably doesn’t know either, so it’s not touched on by the author. Once again you come back to the narrator’s lack of education providing a limitation on what you can actually learn about the country itself.
This is when I think the book starts to be less about the Districts and Panem, and more about our society as it exists right now.
There are entire networks dedicated to reality television shows, and websites that feature videos of people hurting themselves, and that’s what our society revels in. For lack of a better phrase; we love that shit. We as humans, get a thrill out of watching people who are more fit than us, who have more money, who are getting hurt, who are doing exciting things. We begin to idolize the people on these television shows and put them on a pedestal, much like the tributes were.
Let’s take Kim Kardashian as an example for now. She’s famous because she publicly embarrassed herself by having sex on video with Ray-J. Let’s not be shy about it, that’s why her career started in the first place. After she was introduced to us as a population, we were excited to watch the drama of her situation unfold. Whether it was good, or bad. We watched her go through a crappy relationship that inevitably ended up in a divorce, and we expected her to look amazing while she did it. We expected her to provide us with the drama. When the drama was lacking in her show, I’m sure the producers (or Gamemakers if you will) tossed in some surprises that boosted ratings.
When I read the Hunger Games, I got a sense that Suzanne Collins may have been touching on popular culture’s morbid fascination with suffering. We expect to be entertained, and we don’t care about the cost of that entertainment. The focus on the pretty dresses, and the theatrics of everything involved with the Reaping and the Hunger Games themselves possibly allows the viewers to escape the reality of the situation. Much like when we watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians and expect them to be fabulous and exciting regardless of their personal situations, even though that’s not a reality for the average person. I don’t think for one minute that the book is actually making an attempt at portraying a dystopian world of poverty and genocide; it’s a social commentary.
The Hunger Games isn’t exactly world-class literature, but you can’t take it at face value either. I think the tone and the underlying message of the book is what you have to take into consideration as you read through, and you can’t focus on the love twists and descriptions of her hairy legs in order to see the book as something more than a teenage romance in an exciting post-apocalyptic setting. Although, even the relationships in the novel could be compared to the fake relationships that we always expect to see on reality television shows and could be used to back the societal commentary argument that I’ve been spewing in the above post.
The difference between The Hunger Games and Twilight, is that Twilight has no discernible tones of messages. It is quite literally a story about a vampire and a boring girl, who get married and have a kid that shouldn’t exist. The average person can’t pick out the Mormon undertones in Twilight, but the average person can pick out the social commentary present in The Hunger Games.
It’s not going to be studied in classrooms across the nation for years to come, and it won’t be enriching the lives of teenagers who stay up all night to read the trilogy, but it’s unfair to say that The Hunger Games even exist on or even close to the same level of awful as Twilight.