Let’s start with something very important. I’ve read and watched Battle Royale. And this is not Battle Royale.
In District 12, the poorest district in the surviving ruins of North America, Katniss Everdeen will do anything to protect her family. When her father died, she became the sole breadwinner, turning to poaching in the woods with her father’s bow and arrow to feed her family. Even if it was illegal. But when her sister, Primrose, is picked to be in the Hunger Games, she has no choice but to follow the rules: volunteer.
The Hunger Games, the annual televised event that sets the world on edge. Held in the luxurious Capitol, a girl and a boy between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected from each of the 12 districts to fight to death for all the world to see. The Games are a reminder to the districts of the failed rebellion 74 years ago. The rebellion that wiped district 13 off the map.
Katniss must now fight to survive. But even though she can hunt for food, when thrown in the arena with the one person she owes her life to, she is caught between doing what is right, and what it takes to survive.
What I think is so key to this novel is that it’s not about kids killing other kids. It’s about propaganda. The Hunger Games is meant to be political, meant to be about the substance and hidden messages behind the images and pop culture.
Our protagonist isn’t fighting to save the world. She’s fighting to save herself. But in the arena, the need to survive battles human compassion, and that’s a really interesting struggle to read about. Katniss knows how to kill, and her strategies make for some really interesting plot, but the real star is not how she kills, but if and why she kills. And in that way, the book is really strong.
Katniss is probably one of my favourite female protagonists. Why? Because she’s real. In so many YA novels, we have protagonists who have so much agency behind their actions: Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Tris, Tally Youngblood. But when you really think about, a lot of teenagers don’t have that kind of world-saving agency. They have to listen to what their told. They have to follow the rules. Katniss is bound by these same rules and manipulated by them.
What is so interesting about her is that even her characterization is a sort of image that we have to scrape away at to get the real person. Katniss is inarguably compassionate, dedicated, strategic, and, yes, rather innocent. She’s rather stoic, so it’s hard to grasp at this at first, but there are hints as the novel progresses. But it’s fair to say that she operates on survival rather than emotion.
Peeta, on the other hand, is quite the open book. Good with words and people, he’s very liberal with his emotions, and so his priorities seem to be more on emotions rather than survival. We get to read about him from Katniss’ perspective, which is cold and calculating, so it’s up to the reader to understand him based on her observations and (often flawed) interpretations.
I could go on and on about all the characters—there are so many of them—but I really want to talk about the Capitol. I like how Collins portrays the consumerism, the total ignorance of the real problems. It’s so easily despicable, but at the same time identifiable. And that’s something important to think about.
Suzanne Collins writes from Katniss’s point of view, and really works this to show off Katniss’s strategic skills. I love how Katniss’ mind works. How she thinks things through. What’s really interesting is how, despite her claims to distaste the Capitol trends, she’s often describing the finery she finds herself in, as if she can’t help but be fascinated and drawn to it. And to be fair, who wouldn’t be? Nice clothes, a roof over your head, and a full belly. Anyone would want that.
One thing that I do appreciate in the movies, as this point of view limits this, are the scenes in the Capitol during the Games. And it’s sort of upsetting to have them cut out, because it really emphasizes the politics behind it all.
Also (and this is rather minor) I wish Collins would use page breaks more to establish the flow of time better. Paragraphs will start with “The next morning” or “The next day,” and I have to reorient myself before continuing.
A huge part of these books are politics and image. It reminds me of Dubord’s Society of the Spectacle. I like how the image of the beautiful victors is shown as both a manipulation of the audience, but also a manipulation of the image. Katniss and the other tributes are no longer just people. They become symbols, representatives, sacrifices. They suddenly have meaning that didn’t exist before, and I think that says a lot about symbols come about.
Survival is also huge, especially as this is what drives Katniss. However, there is always the constant struggle between the need to survive and the need to be human. It’s because there is a difference from having a life and deserving one. The human conscience is a funny thing, and how it affects the characters and influences their actions is astonishing.
Recommendation: Buy. The Hunger Games should, in my opinion, be read by everyone. A real discussion on what it means to be human, and in a society where we are surrounded by images, I feel like this novel is a really important reminder that symbols are also simply objects or images. That we give things meaning, and how destructive that can be, is something we have to consider in a world where we can anonymously say anything for anyone to see.