The Hunger for Violence: A Review of The Hunger Games

To oppose violence, we must first recognize it.

Have you read the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins?  Recently the movies came out.  I have not seen them, and really, I have no intention of seeing them.  (Why ruin a good book by letting Hollywood get a hold of it?)  The buzz about these films was that they were very violent.  I have heard people express disgust about the scenario of children killing one another.  Without a doubt, we should all be horrified by this idea.  And that is why I think you should read this series!

Suzanne Collins conjures up a world only slightly different from our own: some segments of society spend fortunes on fashion and appearance enhancement while other segments struggle to have enough to eat on a daily basis.  The "futuristic" twist she has put on her story is that the imbalance between these two populations is much greater than it is currently in the United States, but don't forget: while some children go to school hungry and worry about their next meal, TV shows create competitions with food, resulting in literally tons of food being thrown away uneaten!

The novels also conjure up Ancient Rome and its excesses, with names taken from, and evocative of, this era of history.  The Hunger Games themselves are reminiscent of Rome's gladiator trials, where people were compelled to fight for their lives for the entertainment of others.  (Can we also see a parallel to our own society here when we think about how popular reality TV shows are, even though many put contestants in physical and emotional peril...?)

So why would I recommend this series to you?  Because the books do not glorify the excesses and violence of the society.  The plight of the average citizens, who must participate in the annual Hunger Games as a punishment for a rebellion in an earlier decade, is at the center of the story.  Katniss Everdeen becomes a hero for defying the oppressive government, but also for her compassion and desire to save lives and her revulsion at taking them.

As the series progresses, Katniss must struggle with terrible decisions and tragedies.  Collins portrays any small victory for Katniss and her cohorts as painful and hard-won.  Characters fight to keep their values while facing not only enemies, but also allies, who manipulate them, without regard for their physical or emotional well-being.  There is no sense that violence is bad when "bad guys" use it but necessary when "good guys" use it.  Instead, violence is condemned strongly and effectively as the reader sees the terrible toll it takes on characters who use it -- even in self defense.

The violence in the book is not graphic or gratuitous.  (This is another reason I am not planning on seeing the movie: I worry the same won't be true in the screen version.)  Instead, the violence is an effective mirror that we should be holding up to our own behavior.  In the book, children as young as 12 are forced to take up arms.  Don't we hear about child soldiers in other countries who may be even younger?  The main characters are 16 and 17.  Don't we ourselves send 18-year-olds to fight wars?

Collins's work is compelling and engaging, but it is also an important read for young people who will be our next generation of politicians and social leaders.  It is an opportunity for them to see the consequences of excessive consumption,  unchecked government oppression, and culturally accepted inhumanity and cruelty.  We should be offended by violence, yes. But by the real violence in the world, not by the art that tries to point out, and ultimately prevent, this violence.