Reading

Completed: The Hunger Games Series

The Hunger Games (2008)
Catching Fire (2009)
Mockingjay (2010)
Suzanne Collins, U.S.

Much of my reading March was spent reading Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy for the first time. It was mostly chance that I picked up the first one from the library, but I quickly knew I would be reading all three. I feel like there are so many things that I could mention here as I think about these books. The descriptions of food in Book One—I was struck by the plenty, as related by a narrator who has had a life of meager meals. The references to Roman society, from arena to myth to names. The names as clues to not just home district but to character—looking up many of the real life Roman namesakes for Collins’s characters I was able to accurately guess both the politics and the fates of The Hunger Games versions. But what strikes me most in the end was the violent society depicted and how emotionally impacted I was at the end.

Because something is significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifices its children’s lives to settle its differences. You can spin it any way you like. Snow thought the Hunger Games were an efficient means of control. […] But in the end, who does it benefit? No one. The truth is, it benefits no one to live in a world where these things happen.

Mockingjay, Chapter 27

The final pages of Mockingjay were like a punch in the gut. I don’t know why, precisely. Perhaps it was in part the binge of reading I did to finish out the series. Perhaps it was the culmination of the violence in the series—which in a way felt so meaningless in the end. Perhaps it was that through all three books Collins so successfully depicts PTSD among various characters and it is clear by the end that such trauma never truly goes away—and knowing that my second cousin, after two tours in Afghanistan, suffers from it. He carries the bullet that should have killed him, had his enemy’s gun not misfired. Perhaps it is the university acquaintance—my age—who lived through the horrors of Sarajevo when she was just a kid, nine, ten. Never knowing if she would see her friends again, huddling in the basement, afraid. My biggest worry at that age was whether my best friend could come over for my birthday or not. Maja’s story came to mind as I read the final book. Whatever it was, I was so impacted by the closing chapters that my sleep was restless that night, and I found I couldn’t read fiction for a week after.

And I’m forced to wonder: do people really pay attention when they’re reading these? Do they think about this? How possible it could be for us to turn on each other this way? That perhaps we are already Panem?

My—American—society is so violent. Violence permeates us—our entertainment, our values (turning the other cheek is not generally considered a virtue), even our language. Shortly after the Newton school shootings I started paying attention to phrases in American English (at least in American—they are idiomatic; I don’t know if other dialects use them) that may seem innocuous on the surface but come from violent background. An NPR story discussed just the gun-related metaphors. Shoot from the hip. Ride shotgun. Straight shooter. The phrases may have become non-violent in used meaning but they seem to begin to reveal just how deeply aggression pervades culture—and how it is valued.

And perhaps this is why I am so impacted by the darkness in these books. I feel no particular affection for any of the characters, as far as that goes, yet I can find the deaths so tragic, and more easily see how broken the survivors are, rather than the strength that allows them to survive and the hope that allows them to try anew. Rather than being too fantastic, The Hunger Games series seems too realistic.

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12 thoughts on “Completed: The Hunger Games Series

  1. This is the first review of its kind that I have read on The Hunger Games. Strangely enough it was this fear of what I would find, apart from the hype, that has completely kept me off this series. I find all dystopian novels disturbing in this similar manner.

    This review had given me more insight into the heart of the trilogy. Thank you. 🙂

    1. If you don’t care for dystopian novels (or violent novels), The Hunger Games is probably a series you’d want to stay away from. The hype didn’t really affect me in choosing to pick it up, but I guess I would say it was better than I expected, but also bleaker.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Amanda! Like Risa, haven’t read the books because the hype around them somehow put me off.
    Did you get the feeling that the violence was somehow glorified in the series at any point? In books with a lot of violence, I find it really disturbing if I get the feeling that the author enjoyed writing these passages (and from a normative angle, the world doesn’t need that – there’s just enough glorification of violence as it is). From your review though, it seems there’s more depth to the books than I initially thought, so I might change my mind and read them eventually.

    1. I didn’t feel as if the series glorified violence–in fact, a lot (but hardly all) of it seemed to happen off-stage. I think there were some minor characters who individually glorified violence as part of their personality, but I didn’t see it as the author’s view, nor that of the narrator, for whom acts of violence were acts of survival. There’s actually a conversation between the narrator and another character at one point about the ethics of different types of actions during war, which really deals in subtle distinctions. I found that what made the emotional impact on my was not the violence itself but the emotional/psychological impact the violence had on the characters–and realizing how many people in real life walk around with similar scars.

  3. I still have to read the last installment in the series, but as you highlight, I’ve always wondered if people saw how realistic the books are. Maybe not at an immediate level, but obviously there are countries with child soldiers which is as terrible as the Hunger Games themselves!

    1. I hope people realize the realism of the works (child soldiers as you mention, PTSD), but I don’t know how many stop to think about it instead of just plowing through the story. Hopefully most of the readers!

  4. Excellent post! I think one of the interesting points of this series is how Collins manages to make the reader complicit in the Hunger Games — we are entertained just as the Capitol viewers are. Even if we feel the violence is grotesque, tragic and unnecessary, we still become a party to it. Like you, the series made me contemplate about how I react to violence in American culture.

    1. Thank you! I think in some ways that is the most troubling thing as a reader–that idea that I am being complicit. Of course, at the same time, how does one address violence without making the reader a party? Reading this series has really prompted me to look at the way violence is ingrained into our culture, even down to the way the media covers news stories. Thinking about it, I’m really starting to reconsider just exactly what media I choose to consume.

  5. I read The Hunger Games in one sitting, but found it very disturbing. I couldn’t get myself to read the second and third because the first made me feel a bit sick. I may still pick them up someday – there’s no question that they’ll be page-turners.

    1. I actually found the second and third books to both be a bit slow starting, but they both picked up after the first few chapters. The books are disturbing, so I imagine you might have trouble reading the later ones given your reaction to the first.

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