Here is an exhaustive list of the themes that I appreciate from The Hunger Games. Feel free to chime in if I missed something. :)
Social Themes from The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
- Classism/Poverty: The oppression and exploitation of traditionally "blue collar" laborers (mining, farming, etc.) uhhhhhh this might make all the little kids read about it actually wonder, "Who picks the grapes that I'm eating?" or "Who put my [stupid freaking/totally unnecessary] iPhone together?" Hahaha, good job, Suzanne Collins, for tipping your hat to the victims of globalization.
- Colonization/Globalization/Mercantilism: One "developed entity" (District 1="The West") enjoys the finished products of smaller "developing" regions that provide cheap labor and raw materials
- Gender Roles: It's kind of amazing that Katniss isn't a helpless damsel in distress like the person Kristen Stewart plays in Twilight. Was her name Bella? Anyway, Katniss actually has a personality (???) and is competent in survival skills (???). She don't need to man to stay alive. Um, how ballsy is that to have a self-sufficient woman who does not necessarily find her ultimate satisfaction in snagging a hubbie??
- War's Moral Ambiguity/Pacifism: Do ends justify means? I think about the arguments for torture techniques with POW "terrorists." Does the waterboarding and electro-shocking justify the "intelligence" gained, the potential lives saved? (Amnesty International would say, "no.") Is accidentally killing civilians when trying to expose "terrorists" a "necessary evil" for peace? When Gale leads the avalanche on District 2, when the children (and then Prim) are bombed at the Capital, can you say that was the only way to end the violence? Fight violence with more violence? Have you read The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis? One of his speeches is "Why I am not a Pacifist." I could go on and on about this and never reach a conclusion.
- Mass Media/Brainwashing/Propaganda: If the government controls the dissemination of all information, can the masses be manipulated into submission without any opposing perspectives? What is truth? How critically do we really think when we read news articles, watch footage, etc.? More and more I see how easily human minds can be molded by dogma, tradition, irrationality--ack, it's kind of frightening.
- Rugged Individualism (Dehumanization) vs. Collectivism (Compassion): In the arena will "good will" or "kill or be killed" reign? When forced under the most difficult of circumstances, are we all just animals looking to protect our own livelihood and interests at the cost of others'?
- Politics/Power: It's All Messy/Everyone is Corrupt/Self-Interest Rules: The idea of gray area, no distinct "good guys" vs. "bad guys," especially when it comes to institutional power and maintaining it. In order to gain power and maintain it, a lot of moral concessions/compromises have to be made. E.g. Katniss killed Coin b/c she knew Coin would protect her own incumbency (which Katniss threatened). Check out political theory about this; it's fascinating.
- Substance Abuse/Dependency/Escapism: Haymitch as a (mostly) functional alcoholic in order to cope with loss and the harshness of reality.. Johanna and Katniss becoming dependent on morphling, as well as many of the surviving Victors from past Games. When reality becomes too tough to bear, when you feel helpless and cornered, just tap out with drugs. They don't take away the pain but at least they dull it. I talked to my gpa about this the other day and we agreed that those who become chemically dependent are those who are just so sensitive, that feel their own pain and the pain of others so acutely that they just can't take it; it's too overwhelming. Anyway, I'm glad that Collins included this, even though it may seem to "dark" for kids.
- Reality TV/Video Cameras Shape Personal Behavior/Acting in Order to Be Watched: Dude, this is real and it is live. On a grand scale, celebs and rich people are glorified in reality TV which capitalizes on the human penchant for voyeurism. They live it up, act dramatic and are often not themselves--they play up a caricature for the audience. How much is that happening now at the grassroots level through Facebook, Twitter and MySpace? How many people are constructing themselves to "be seen" by peers as a certain "character" (popular, witty, sexy). How much of personal decisions and choices are made just in order to "post" about them later? I mean, this is really scary.
- Diaspora/Refugee Status/Displacement: The reality of refugees and a lot of immigrants is that you're stuck in this double-bind: you can't go back to your homeland because it's f*cked up there (civil war, government repression/corruption, mass poverty) but the new place you're in is just not that great (cultural vertigo, rootlessness). This is somewhat like Katniss & all of District 12 when their home is destroyed and they are forced to flee to District 13 which is rigid, strictand not dream-like/ideal at all. Oh, the tragedy of displacement!
- PTSD/Trauma Bites: Enuf said. Peeta & Katniss with their vivid nightmares after witnessing the deaths of many, mass killing through bombing and fire, torture, near-death experiences. All of these count as "traumatic incidents" in the DSM-IV, and they take a toll. I'm glad that in the books they don't get over it, that they're scarred and haunted, that it affects their daily functioning. WELCOME TO THE LIFE OF A REFUGEE. Damn.
- Savior Complex/Non-Harm/Tragic Hero: Okay, so maybe this isn't original AT ALL (see: Harry Potter), but I feel for Katniss when she takes on that enormously heavy responsibility of protecting the well-being of her vulnerable dependents (mother, sister, Peeta, Gale, etc.). She takes it all upon herself to act "right" in order to prevent harm to them, and to help the vulnerable citizens in the oppressed districts, yet finds that all she does is get people killed! (People are dying left & right for her! I mean, in the third book, dang--so many casualties. I think of that bombed hospital, just awful). And although she realizes she has enormous power to rally the "people," she's overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy and an acute awareness of her own imperfections, her impulsiveness. The ultimate lesson is don't try to be anyone's angel, okay? Hah. CanNOT stress this enough.
- Vanity/Bourgeois Culture: It's a reality that in the Hunger Games, physical appearance and pageantry are almost as valuable as practical skills used in the arena. Again, it's about projecting an image, of "beauty" being indicative of one's level of intelligence, competence, and even character (I'm not even kidding)! And it's like, for the coddled, spoiled Capital peeps, they become fixated upon vanity, hedonism (bingeing/purging), celebrity, gossip. They're just oblivious of the underclass. Grrrr.. it's too real.
- Possibility for a Multiethnic Cast: Dude, not everyone is just assumed to be white. What? is going on? Science fiction never has people of color. (Okay, sure, you could point to the captain of Deep Space Nine but that is an EXCEPTION, not the rule) Buuut wait? Katniss and Gale have olive skin, grey eyes and black hair--the "Seam look" sounds awfully NATIVE to me. Also, her dad knows how to hunt, has knowledge of nature (plants, etc.), sings folk songs--am I just reading way too into this? Whatever, I don't care what people say. I'm going to believe that Katniss is half Native and half white, okay?! Also, Rue and Thresh--hey they're black! Amaaazing. I mean, they both die; I was expecting that (just watch any horror or action flick, the people of color get picked off mighty early on, if they're included at all). But Rue is just sweet, resourceful and Thresh is a bad@$$ yet merciful in not killing Katniss. I'm just mad-pleased that there are ANY people of color, so hey, mega props to u, Suzanne Collins. Thanx. Maybe next time try including Asian Americans. We have a lot of purchasing power. Our median income is higher than the white man's; take note.
- Suicide as Rational Choice: Wow, loved the "Hanging Tree." Whoa.. I mean, do we ever as humans have the actual wisdom and discernment to know if things have gotten so bad that dying is better than anything else that could happen were we to continue living? Haha, in my political science/econ classes they talk about the "rational choice" of people doing "irrational" things like suicide bombings. It's like, hey professors up in your ivory towers, people aren't having crazy dissociative breaks when they commit suicide. They have viable reasons for doing so--I don't need to read your 20-page journal article to figure this out. lol, or think about the Death with Dignity Act. Do the elderly really think that dying is a better option than living with chronic illnesses and pain? Or, in the case of Katniss with Peeta, how could she have actually known and convinced herself that there was no hope for his psychological recovery--enough to "mercy kill" him? As humans we have the agency to kill ourselves and to kill others. What causes some to use this agency and others to not? Desperation? Fear? Hopelessness? Hubris?
- LOVE PREVAILS: Okay, I'm always a sucker for a happy ending. But just this notion that has survived through history--that out of the ashes something truly beautiful can emerge; it's irresistible to me. HOPE. RENEWAL. LIFE. "What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of descruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again" (388). Uh, YES and PLEASE.
Okay, and to make sure this review is a bit more balanced, I've gotta get these last things off my chest.
Gripes about The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
(i.e. The Author's Popular Fiction Concessions)
(i.e. The Author's Popular Fiction Concessions)
- LOVE TRIANGLE: WTF gag me with an effing spoon. I cannot believe Collins stooped so low to attract more readers. UGH whyyyyy pander to the base sentimentality of the general populaaace??? Booooooooo. And why does Katniss have to choose the middle class boy with the Aryan features instead of the low-income, savvy Native-looking dude with the rock hard body?? Suzanne Collins, you don't have to keep reinforcing what Stephanie Meyers already did in Twilight where the girl ends up choosing the paler, "civilized" dude instead of the woodsy, OLIVE SKINNED, BLACK HAIRED Native guy. Actually Suzanne, I bet you did this subconsciously and implicitly. I'll let you get away with it this time, but learn from this and make your next series better, okay?
- Peeta: Noooo Suzanne Collins, don't do this to teenaged girls all around the world. What guy out there is as self-aware, verbally expressive and (almost creepily) self-sacrificing/protective as Peeta? I mean, damn, woman, Peeta is a trifecta of un-reality--it's just blinding. Teenaged girls of the world, prepare for a rude awakening when you realize your Peeta is never coming for you. Come on, Suzanne, you're better than this--better than feeding the overstuffed, genetically mutated knight-in-shining-armor COW that IS young girls' minds. I'm not saying that men cannot be sensitive, articulate, self-aware and self-sacrificing buuuuuuuuut you'd have to admit, it's kind of rare? (Tell me if I'm way out of line here).
- War Melodrama or "Katniss almost-dies a million times: Seriously, how many times does she have to black out from an injury in "battle" and wake up in some emergency room hooked up to a morphling drip?! You know this is a legitimate gripe. Again, I understand that the "drama" of it all keeps readers on the edge of their seats and appeals to a wider audience, but could we go for more understatement next time?
Thanx 4 reading.