The Author's style

Hungry for Action? The Hunger Games ought to Satiate

The Hunger Games is a plot-driven novel. By this, I mean The Hunger Games relies heavily on action. This is evidenced by the fact that when most people recommend the book to their friends, they will say that one of the best parts of it is how fast the story is and how quickly one can get sucked in to it. This is one of the main advantages to writing like this. And Suzanne Collins has clearly done a wonderful job at it, as evidenced by these fan reviews:

I was barely able to put this book down for a second after the first few pages got me completely hooked.”
-          Michael A. Behr

I found the book to be well written with a fantastic pacing.”
-          Jay R. Chase

I bought the book and read it in one day!”
-          Andrea Hogarth

These are all pretty standard reviews. However, there certainly is a dissention. While The Hunger Games may be extremely fun to read (and it is), it does not hold much literate value, despite its Classical and Dystopian influences.

The New Yorker had this to say:

“As a tool of practical propaganda, the games don’t make much sense. They lack that essential quality of the totalitarian spectacle: ideological coherence. You don’t demoralize and dehumanize a subject people by turning them into celebrities and coaching them on how to craft an appealing persona for a mass audience. (“Think of yourself among friends,” Katniss’s media handler urges.) Are the games a disciplinary measure or an extreme sporting event? A beauty pageant or an exercise in despotic terror? Given that the winning tribute’s district is “showered with prizes, largely consisting of food,” why isn’t it the poorer, hungrier districts that pool their resources to train Career Tributes, instead of the wealthier ones? And the practice of carrying off a population’s innocent children and commanding their parents to watch them be slaughtered for entertainment—wouldn’t that do more to provoke a rebellion than to head one off?” (Source)

These are important questions to ask of this novel. The Hunger Games may very well take place in a dystopian society, but Collins doesn’t portray that too convincingly in the classical sense [refer to the dystopian link]. Otherwise, these questions wouldn’t be asked. In The Hunger Games, Katniss does not come off as either Wintston from Nineteen Eighty-Four, or The Savage from Brave New World. If Collins wanted to write a classically dystopian text, she would have had Katniss rebel right at the Games. She would have not played by the rules; or, rather, she would have rebelled, and then out of cowardice of going too far, would have tried to play by the rules, but by then, it would be too late and she would die. The Hunger Games is a trilogy, and it would not behoove Collins to kill off her main character when two other books still had to be released.

Instead, I view this as what Collins said it to be, as a response to reality TV and war. When you are surrounded by cameras, after a while, you learn to play by the rules of the camera and follow them. When Katniss discovers that she can get soup from her sponsors when she kisses Peeta, she plays this up to do whatever it takes to survive.

Speaking of that “love affair” between Katniss and Peeta… In my opinion, that is the cleverest part of the novel. Collins has single-handedly created a round, unreliable character in Peeta. I really do not know if he has tender feelings towards Katniss, but he plays the game exceptionally well. Again, it all comes back to trying to survive. Once Peeta promulgates his “love” for Katniss in front of all of the districts, he is stuck with her for the rest of their lives. Of course, Katniss already has distraught feelings towards another boy in District 12 named Gale, but it’s too late for that now. This is where the love triangle comes in. Reading about violence and scathing critiques on reality television are exciting, but that’s not too much of a human element. People do like to read about stories that involve relationships. And, the more doomed, the better. But love triangles are also a popular one.

In fact, the love triangle comes from a surprising source – Suzanne Collins’ editor, Kate Egan. While Kate may think that “Suzanne is a terrific storyteller”, she did mention one particular weakness in her writing:

“As an editor, I help her develop the characters. For example, I asked her for more of the Peeta-Katniss-Gale love triangle. Suzanne was more focused on the war story.”

Remember earlier when I said that this is a plot-driven story? Well, evidently, it possibly may have been TOO plot-driven. (NOTE: this is the author’s opinion and it is complete hearsay and should not be taken seriously outside of the context of this critique.) A story that is all plot-driven cannot succeed because there has to be that human element that I mentioned, that takes on the form of a “love triangle”. This is what makes Katniss and Peeta complex characters. They have to not only survive in a terrifying death match straight out of Ancient Greece, but they also have pretend that they have feelings for each other. This is what causes the reader to SYMPATHIZE with the characters. The mark of a successful book is being able to identify with a character and occasionally yelling at the book over an action a character has done or crying over a character’s death. The Hunger Games certainly brings on these emotions. I sympathized with Peeta over the fact that he has to be viewed in the public as a man who has found his true love, but, in reality, she is cold to his touch, so he will only be happy on the surface; he will be TV-happy. And I also sympathize with Katniss over having to become a charlatan and show the world how much she loves Peeta, when she doesn’t and in fact, is nervous that Gale will think of them as together and will lose interest in her. This situation is an awful one to be in.
Yet, I cannot help but point out a certain irony here. The Hunger Games is a critique on reality television. Drama that is as high as it is unnecessary fuels reality TV. People don’t want to waste their time watching a reality TV show where everyone is happy all the time and the roast is never burnt. I cannot help but think that if it doesn’t work out between Katniss and Peeta (Gale apparently provides some pretty stiff competition), then their fallout could be broadcasted in front of all the districts and it satiate the reality TV demons inside everyone. This is just a prediction, however.

However, the love triangle has also been compared to that of the Bella-Edward-and-Jacob love triangle of Twilight. So much so, that in fact, Good Reads asked, “Which book has a better love triangle, The Hunger Games or Twilight?”

The responses were overwhelmingly in favor The Hunger Games, but having such a close relation to Twilight would normally be a kiss of death to most literature, yet, it has not hurt the popularity of The Hunger Games. The reason I suspect this is because while both stories are plot-driven, Twilight falls victim to sentimentality. This is what makes that love triangle so insufferable and the butt of many jokes. But Collins’ editor, Kate Egan, did a fantastic job of bringing up the love triangle without making it sentimental. I know this because if you ask someone what they liked most about The Hunger Games, they will either tell you that they were thrilled to finally see a strong female in literature, or they will tell you that liked how action-packed it was. They won’t say the love-triangle. But it remains in the story regardless.

Earlier, I mentioned how The Hunger Games wasn’t literate fiction. By that I mean that there is a high chance that it won’t be as closely scrutinized as works like James Joyce’s Ulysses, Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time or Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. That’s okay because that’s not its aim. In Stephen King’s review of The Hunger Games, he says that, “Balancing off the efficiency are displays of authorial laziness that kids will accept more readily than adults” (Source). By “authorial laziness”, I am not entirely sure what he means, but it sounds like he is referring to the love triangle that he described as “standard”. She could have made it more original, certainly, but remember, when she wrote the first draft, she was more concerned with the war stuff; the critique on war and reality TV. The love triangle is important for helping the characters be relatable. Last time I checked, young adult readers still fell in love.

Also, another point to bring up is the point of view (POV) in The Hunger Games. It takes place entirely in the first person. This is when the story is "narrated by a character in the story, usually the story's protagonist" (Gotham Writers' Workshop: Writing Fiction, 79). In this case, the narrator is Katniss Everdeen. So, wherever Katniss goes, the reader goes. Wherever Katniss does tread to, the reader cannot tread either, as we are limited only to what she experiences. The Writers' Workshop mentions that the "main advantage of first person is intimacy" (80). And this certainly proves true, as the reader is able to sympathize with Katniss, and not only that, root for her all the more for her to win the Hunger Games. If this story was told in the third person, there would be too much of an emotional distance as the "I" would transform into "Katniss", and the reader might start to root for another representative from another district to win. (Second person POV would be a terrible decision, because instead of an "I" or a protagonist's name talking, it becomes "you". Judging by Katniss' hard life in destitute poverty and having to kill people her in age in order to survive, I don't think one would really wish to have that intimate of a relationship with the story.) This is Katniss' story, remember. We're just privy to it happening.

The first person aspect is interesting choice in dystopian literature. It seems like an appropriate choice, given that dystopians are typically about an individual against a Totalitarian state. Yvgeny Zamyatin's We is an excellent example of first person POV in a dystopian novel, as the book is written as protagonist D-503's diary. The Hunger Games does not do this; it makes it unclear as to whom Katniss is telling this story to, but I think it is meant to show that reader is along for the ride with Katniss and we are subjected to witness everything as new to us as it is to her. This comes back to the intimacy.

However, this POV that Collins has employed has not been viewed favorably from everyone. In fact, it seems to be one the aspect that vexed readers the most. The reviewer for U.K. publication the Guardian states that:

"A novel written in the first person allows the author to go in-depth with the protagonist's feelings; however, Katniss seemed very indifferent throughout the book, and just got on with her life, the deaths didn't affect her so much, which I found rather hard to believe." Source: (The Guardian)

This creates a conflict, as believability is what a writer strives for in a character. However, Katniss' indifference can be justified on a few accounts. When in the arena, Katniss is playing for her life. This means that she has to kill a human being - one that probably has hopes and dreams - because if she doesn't, then that human could easily come up and destroy her. And the person will remain indifferent. It's kill or be killed. Black and white. When Katniss makes a truce with tiny Rue, Katniss tells the reader that, "Of course, this kind of deal can only be temporary, but neither of us mentions that" (The Hunger Games, 201). This was sad to read, as I was worried that at the end of it, it would just be Katniss and Rue and one would have to kill the other. Thankfully, that didn't happen. (I imagine it would have been too dark and gloomy for readers.) But still. This rationale shows Katniss is cognizant that the most dangerous move that can be made is to get emotional. 

On a thematic level, I believe that the indifference is meant to represent the indifference that a lot of people feel in regards to watching reality TV, no matter what the kind. It's not happening to them, and to get emotionally caught up could be depressing.

So while The Hunger Games may not be an accurate representation of a classic dystopian novel, it is action-packed and a fun read. Unfortunately, I did not really understand the critique on reality TV until I started research on this project. I picked up on the themes of surveillance and voyeurism, however, so that is close enough. What I hope this writing does is show young adult readers the importance of doing research on literature. There is a video posted on this blog showing questions that Collins wants her readers to ask themselves after they read The Hunger Games. Go and watch the video. In fact, to make it easy, here it is right here:

Did you ask yourself these questions?


Gotham Writers' Workshop: Writing Fiction. Written by Gotham Writers' Workshop Faculty. Edited by Alexander Steele. Published by Bloomsbury, New York and London. 79 - 80. 2003. 

The Hunger Games. Written by  Suzanne Collins. Published by Scholastic Press. 201. 2008. 

Booker, M. Keith. The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature: Fiction as Social Criticism. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1994. 18-