[NOTE: This blog is a re-post of Barbara’s post at An Eclectic Muse for this week.]
The question stunned me. I had never looked at The Hunger Games as a threat to our society, so the email asking why I, as a Christian, could promote a movie/book where children kill children caught me off guard. My friend admitted, she had not read the books or seen the movie, so her opinion was based on plot information found online, but all I could think is that’s not really what The Hunger Games is about. It does not glorify children killing children. Sure, there is the arena – which is a large wilderness – where twenty-four children are launched into the game of kill or be killed, but that’s only looking at this story from the surface.
Even so, I realized my friend gave me a rare opportunity. Rather than blast me, she told me her concerns and asked if I could explain why many Christians support and rave about this story. I thanked her and asked for a few days to gather my thoughts. I even re-read the first book in the series with her concern foremost in my mind. As I responded to her, it occurred to me that others might share the same concern, so I’ve decided to share some of my answer in this week’s post. (Spoiler alert – for those who wish to read the books, I do reveal elements of the story in the information listed below.)
The Hunger Games trilogy is a multi-layered story. There is so much to recommend it. Is it disturbing? Yes. It’s meant to be. The intended audience is young adult and older. In no way would I recommend this to a child or early adolescent. They are not emotionally able to deal with the story or the message. In the author’s, Suzanne Collins, bio at the end of the first book, it says through this series she explores the effects of war and violence on those coming of age. That is partially what this story is, but it’s more.
At the core of The Hunger Games is the corruption of the powerful, wealthy, and strong, and how they misuse their strength to oppress the weak. You have The Capitol where the powerful live and 12 outlying villages, known as Districts, where the rest of the population lives. The districts are confined within electric fences, and they work to supply the Capitol with resources (food, minerals, coal, etc.). In the Districts, people live hand-to-mouth with no surplus, while in the Capitol there is so much that people are pampered and gluttonous.
Why? After a cataclysmic war, the survivors settled in these areas. The powerful lived in the Capitol and took what they wanted from the Districts. The Districts eventually rebelled against the Capitol, but lost. From that point forward, the Capitol oppressed them even more, and to remind them to never rebel again, they instigated the Hunger Games. Similar to the sins of the fathers visiting upon the children, the Capitol uses the Hunger Games as punishment for the rebellion. Each district must send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to the arena, once a year, where one survivor eventually triumphs over the others. To the people in the Capitol, this is entertainment. They treat it with great excitement and fanfare much like we treat the Olympics or the Superbowl. Since they live in luxury and greed and never have to send their children into the games, most of them do not see it as real. (We are not so different in our world today. We see the atrocities in other parts of the world, but it’s distant, not real to us.)
But the story is told from the viewpoint of those in the Districts, not the Capitol. The reaping, which is what they call the event where the names are drawn, is a solemn, frightening time. All people in the districts are required to attend the reaping and, later, view the televised broadcasts of the Hunger Games. To defy these rules is to be publicly flogged or executed. A child’s name goes into the reaping once at age 12, twice at 13, etc. But, if a family is starving (which they all are), they can purchase more grain by putting a child’s name in again. Most families try to avoid that, but starvation forces many to do so.
Katniss, the main character, began supporting her family at the age of 11 when her father died in a coal mine explosion. Her mother sank into depression, and so Katniss took it upon herself to feed and clothe her mother, younger sister, and self. Once she was eligible, she sold her name to buy more grain. She does everything she can to ensure her younger sister’s name will only go in the minimum required times at the reaping. The story begins on the day of the reaping when Katniss is 16 and her sister is 12. Katniss’ name is in the reaping 22 times, but she’s managed to keep her sister down to the required one. Out of the thousands of lots, her sister’s name is drawn. In an unheard of action, Katniss sacrifices herself and takes her sister’s place.
Instead of a story of death and violence, it’s really a David and Goliath story of hope and courage, of the weak becoming strong. There is even a line in the story where Katniss looks at a small child with a slingshot and wonders “but what is a slingshot against a 220 pound male with a sword?”
Peeta, the male Tribute from Katniss’ District tells her on the night before the games begin, “I want to die as myself….I don’t want them to change me in there. Turn me into some kind of monster that I’m not.” His comments stay with her throughout the games, and even though it’s difficult to not be changed, she tries to not let the game makers beat her in the end.
I won’t spoil all of the ending, but I will tell you that in the second and third books, the Districts rise up against the Capitol thanks to Katniss’ actions. She only sought to save her sister from the games, but instead she gave a generation hope.
Is The Hunger Games for everyone? Probably not. But I don’t think it’s a question of our faith as to whether we read the books or see the movie. In history, oppression happens time again. We can learn from these events if we choose to. Think of the Jewish Holocaust in Nazi Germany or even current events in parts of the world today.
So, did I handle my friend’s question well? What would you have told her?