Recently, I’ve been losing sleep to my latest literary addiction: The Hunger Games. For maybe the five of you who haven’t heard of this series, it’s a trilogy by Suzanne Collins, set in an unspecified dystopian future. From what I understand, Collins took ancient Rome as her inspiration. The story takes place in a country known as “Panem”–certainly a portmanteau of “Pan America.” No longer are there states; rather, the country has been broken into districts. We are told there were thirteen (mirroring the original thirteen colonies, perhaps?), but there are now only twelve–the thirteenth
having been bombed out of existence some seventy years before the
Collins wisely uses first person narrative to tell her tale, allowing
us to the events as they unfold from the perspective of sixteen year-old Katniss Everdeen. Using this narrative voice, Collins sidesteps some of the questions that other (perhaps lesser) writers
might have tried to answer–such as:
When did the fall of the United States occur? Did this happen in a vacuum? How did the rest of the world respond (communist China, the Middle East, etc.)? How about the rebellion, during which District Thirteen was destroyed? Panem would have been rife for attack by outside forces (engaged as it was in civil war). Was the rest of the
world destroyed by nuclear holocaust, and only Panem rose from the
ashes? (We’ll leave these questions for the next Harry Turtledove
alternative history opus).
We aren’t told (probably because Katniss doesn’t know). And yet this
is the world we’re present with: only Panem exists, and within this
paradigm are the Hunger Games. These are a brutal, annual spectacle
enforced upon the districts by the Capitol as a show of its total
dominance. Two tributes are selected from each district in an event
known as the “Reaping.” And in true gladiatorial fashion, the tributes
are trained, and forced to fight to the death in the “Arena.”
What can the districts do? Except comply? And watch their children
die. Despite its dystopian setting, these are hopeful books–are indeed particularly American books–because that indomitiable American
spirit refuses to die. We need look no further than our pop culture to
know this is true. Think of the most enduring, the most beloved,
cinematic, and literary works–what do they have in common? They are
all variations on a common theme:
the underdog overcomes overwhelming odds
The Lord of the Rings?
Stephen Kings’s IT?
I could go on and on and on…
We love a good underdog story. And in The Hunger Games we are
not disappointed. I’ve tried hard here to not give any spoilers, but
as we know from the above-listed tales, and indeed from American history (thirteen districts mirroring the thirteen original colonies), there is really only one place this underdog tale can go.
Which is not to that there will not be sacrifice and loss on the way.
As with life itself, the joy is in the journey–in the process of
discovery. Yes, there are setbacks, sidesteps, loss, heartache, but
hope springs eternal. Katniss, as with us, must fight through the
hardships, somehow keeping that flame of hope alive.
And isn’t that true challenge of life as we know it? Keeping hope alive, despite the obstacles it throws at us?
Katniss is us.
If you haven’t yet read The Hunger Games, I highly recommend them.
Of if you’ve read them, what did you think?