My son is starting to read in the YA category, and when he picked up Hunger Games from the class library (and finished reading it that day) I wanted to re-read it myself so we could process together.
Between a fast plot and a highly readable writing style, this book stands out as a YA classic. It’s double post-apocalyptic: hundreds of years after the destruction of present day earth society, but the Hunger Games themselves are a brutal reminder of a failed rebellion 74 years before we meet Katniss Everdeen.
What’s brilliant about this timeline is that Katniss in District 12 could be set in 1800s Appalachia. There is highly advanced technology beyond our 2010 limits (though less sophisticated in 2019 terms) but she cannot take advantage of any of it at first. Humans hunting and baking are still important for survival throughout the series.
The question I posed to my son, and to you, dear fellow readers, is to consider how this fictional world comments on our life today.
The deepest social commentary to me comes in book 3, even though the resulting two movies were rated lower than Catching Fire. Here we see Katniss start to seriously think about the future, about the kind of world she wants to see if the Capitol is defeated.
Central to this world is a metaphoric choice, which Suzanne Collins presents to readers as primarily romantic. Reviewers of the movie quickly pick up on this in the casting: who could want the Baker’s son when you could have a Hemsworth?
And I would propose, my friends, that this is the central question of the book.
Our fellow superficial Capitol dwellers, i.e. 21st Century US movie-goers, would of course choose the prime piece of meat.
But there’s more to that question for Katniss, and us. It’s ultimately a question about our tolerance for cruelty.
Katniss’s burgeoning romances are fairly platonic, which I appreciate for my son’s sake (although the violence is very graphic so I guess, pick your poison). But it’s also true to the character who pushes against any desire for marriage and children specifically due to the Hunger Games.
But ultimately the Mockingjay’s choice is between Gale and Peeta. The other choices are there, too: President Snow or President Coin, the Capitol or District 13 or… something else?
These questions ultimately come down to the question of who has the will and the restraint to end the Hunger Games for good.
That is a lesson we all need to learn in our relationships, in any era.
Domestic violence is on the rise.
The majority of our children do not have a single, stable place to live.
Who we ultimately bond with is a moral choice. Part of it is chemistry and attraction, yes. But we will be attracted to many people. We must be able to see past the superficial to see the potential for cruelty when making our final choices.
We must perceive, as Katniss did, who we can really trust not to inflict harm on our children.
And we must have the willpower and restraint to act on those choices.
The romantic, it turns out, is intensely moral. It is indeed one of the biggest moral questions we could ever face, and will face in any age, no matter how technologically advanced we become.