A Look at Suzanne Collins’
The Hunger Games
Okay, The Hunger Games may not be a post-apocalyptic novel—the events that transformed North America into Panem are a little vague. It’s certainly a futuristic dystopia. Besides, I want to write about it. And I’m the one with the pen.
Later I’ll transcribe my words to my computer, but, for the initial draft, I’m a long-hand kind of person.
Before a word about the set-up of The Hunger Games, I want to pay tribute to Suzanne Collins’ use of pacing. To learn all you need to know about pacing, read the first twenty pages of the text. In those twenty pages, Suzanne Collins builds her fantastic world, populates it, makes her readers care about her characters and then, on the twentieth page, with three words, Collins turns reader expectations upside-down, shows that she can do with us pretty much whatever she wants, and launches us into her trilogy.
She should get an “It’s Primrose Everdeen” tattoo. On the other hand, since she’s the one with the readers in the palm of her hand, maybe we should get the tattoos.
The landscape and politics of Panem are as unsettlingly familiar as the plot is violent and deeply disturbing. About 74 years before the events of the novel, the 13 impoverished Districts that supported the decadence of the Capitol rose up against it.
They were defeated, and District 13 was destroyed.
As a reminder of that defeat (and to keep each District in its place), every year each District conducts a Reaping where, in a kind of lottery (and not unlike Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”), a young woman and a young man between the ages of 12 and 18 are chosen. These 24 Tributes will go to a specially constructed arena where, over the course of a few weeks, they fight to the death until a lone victor is crowned.
Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mallark become the tributes for District 12, a poverty-stricken coal-mining district—in the past, Appalachia—and they travel to the Capitol where they will be fed, pampered, interviewed and put on parade. Fattened up for the kill (Collins is deft with her use of food imagery), Katniss and Peeta are taken to the arena to compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
But it’s more complicated than that.
Peeta has feelings for Katniss. Katniss has feelings for Gale, a boy back home. Sometimes she has feelings for Peeta too, which is a little awkward since there can be only one victor of the Hunger Games. Meanwhile their mentor, Haymitch, is trying to promote Katniss and Peeta as star crossed lovers (apparently people read Shakespeare in Panem), in order to get them sponsors. Sponsors, for enormous sums of money, can provide their favorites with life-saving presents during the games. Some burn ointment. Broth. Finally Haymitch gets some really good, if saccharine, love-play between Peeta and Katniss on television, and the two are rewarded with a feast.
I told you Suzanne Collins was good with her food imagery. If one plays the Hunger Games well, one eats. It’s no coincidence that the odds-on favorites of the games have managed to stockpile food, or that Katniss sees her ability to go hungry as a strength.
At the very end of the Games, it all comes down to what you eat. Or don’t.
Read. Enjoy. Learn.