I started reading The Hunger Games in the summer; I was on a bus to Washington DC from New York and it seemed like a good choice to while away the hours of motorway-bound boredom. I was right on that score; the hours whizzed by. I was drawn into the world of Panem from the first page. Suzanne Collins, like J K Rowling, is not a stylist when it comes to her use of language, but she is excellent at understanding how to make a story compelling nonetheless. The prose is repetitive and simplistic, but this doesn’t matter, because the reader’s focus is on the characters and their journey, and you don’t need beautiful imagery in order to engage with Katniss and her plight. She is a tough, world weary teenager, burdened by familial problems and ground down by years of poverty. Life is hard in District 12, and she’s become hard in order to cope with it. She is not your typical heroine, and for that, she is instantly likeable, creating a bond between reader and character that lasts throughout the series.
The joy of The Hunger Games is that it works on several levels. For younger readers, it is a suspenseful and thrilling tale of goodies and baddies; for older readers, it is a chilling satire of our contemporary society, revealing the absurdities of a world obsessed with celebrity and materialism. The unthinking acceptance of the whole concept of a Hunger Games and the way that suffering is treated as entertainment by the citizens of the Capitol is horrific, yet also eerily familiar; for what are TV reality shows but opportunities for us to watch others be humiliated for our pleasure? As the series progresses and the challenges Katniss must face increase in their intensity, so do the parallels between Panem and our own world. Once out of the arena, Katniss realises that the Hunger Games are not a construct, but a whole way of life; the entire population of Panem are subject to the whims of the ruthless President Snow, whose hunger for power and supremacy will never end until he is stopped once and for all.
Katniss’ role as the figurehead of a revolution, which comes into play in the second book of the trilogy, Catching Fire, is the most interesting element of the books, in my opinion. Without intending to, Katniss’ defiance of the Capitol during the Hunger Games has made her an overnight sensation across the Districts, and given the oppressed citizens of Panem a symbol for their burgeoning revolution. She is the ‘mockingjay’, so called because of the badge she wore in the Hunger Games, and she has the power to inspire and rally the people against the dictatorship of President Snow. The people are looking to her to lead them, but Katniss has no desire to be a figurehead for a revolution she never intended to start. However, as the dangers Katniss and those she loves are faced with increase, she realises that she has little choice but to step up to the plate. The last book, Mockingjay, which I just finished, details Katniss’ rise to revolutionary, and the shocks keep on coming until the very end. The finale is incredibly powerful in its bleakness, and a brave way to end a series of books that many people will have wanted to see have a happy ending. Such, unfortunately, is life, I suppose.
Katniss is an interesting heroine because much of what happens to her is uninitiated. She is undoubtedly brave, but most of her actions are carried out with no intention of causing the effect they actually produce. However, rather than being swept along, she takes control and forces the direction of events in the way she wants them to go. Initially, she is a representation of how women are so often reduced to nothing but appearance and marital status; the people of Panem are manipulated into loving her at first because she is dressed beautifully and has a manufactured romance with another Hunger Games competitor for the TV screens. She is exploited by the media and presented as something she is not in order to further the cause, but what makes her stand out is that despite all of this, she remains true to herself and her own beliefs, turning the tables on the gamesmakers in order to become the ultimate victor.
What made me so enjoy the Hunger Games trilogy is its honesty and its willingness to challenge convention. Collins’ portrayal of Katniss goes against the usual presentation of girls/women in teenage and adult fiction. She is not defined by her relationships with men. She is not defined by her relationships to her family members. She is utterly herself, and an inspiration to others by being so. She allows teenagers reading these novels to see that men and women are more than sexual objects, and that women have the intelligence, bravery and skills to do whatever they set their minds to. So often in fiction, women are either hapless victims, dependent on men, or obsessed with appearance, possessions or getting boyfriends. The Hunger Games provides an alternate reality for women, as well as exposing the shortcomings of our media and appearance obsessed world, and demonstrating the truth of how complex life is and how challenging the concepts of justice, truth and victory really are. I hope that the teenagers reading these novels are able to see beyond the excitement of the plot and look deeper into the messages Collins presents about the world we live in, because if they do, we might just see a revolution ourselves. Wouldn’t that be amazing?
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