The Hunger Games & Dark Themes

by Angela - on March 21, 2012

The Hunger Games is everywhere, so why not here? I’m not gonna lie…I’m so excited for this movie, I can barely stand it. I loved, loved, loved the books because if you don’t know this about me by now, I love character-driven stories with a message. And the characters come alive in Suzanne Collins’ books (you know, right before she kills them off) and there are a slew of instructive messages in this trilogy. The premise, if you don’t know by now, is that in a dystopian (think “dis-utopian”) post-apocalyptic future, the country of Panem is divided up into 13 districts and ruled by the totalitarian, uber-materialistic and amoral District 1 called The Capitol. Each year, in part to keep the districts in check, The Capitol chooses (by lottery…don’t get me started on the lottery) 1 boy and 1 girl between the ages of 12-18 to come to an arena in the Capitol and fight to the death on live TV. Collins got her idea watching reality TV one night, if you’re wondering where such a dark premise came from.

Toddlers & Tiaras; just a hop, skip & a jump to Panem from here.

The ongoing debate about how lit for kids (specifically YA) is so dark is one I’m happy to jump into. I don’t recommend The Hunger Games to any one who isn’t ready or able to look past the dark premise or the violence to comprehend the underlying message, one of which (to me) is: how close are we to being that society which sacrifices its youth for the sake of entertainment? Collins paints an extremely grim picture and creates a scary world, but one that is eerily similar to things we’re already seeing.(Here’s a great post on the age-appropriateness of The Hunger Games from Imagination Soup, a blog which I highly recommend subscribing to.)

The characters, like the setting, hold up mirrors for us, too. Which of the characters do we identify with? Katniss Everdeen (seriously. Is that the coolest name ever?), who sacrifices herself for her little sister (more on Katniss below); Katniss’ mom who is just too overwhelmed by life and gives up, just going through the motions; Peeta, who I think is “in the world, but not of it;” or Effie Trinket, who is completely, gleefully ignorant in her indulgence of being a spoiled citizen of The Capitol. And those are just to name a few! (There are also Cinna, Prim, Gale, and oh my gosh: Haymitch. And Caeser Flickerman to be played by Stanley Tucci in the movie! Holy cow!! Brilliant!)

I think an awful lot of the YA stuff out there is a great read…for adults. The Hunger Games’ appropriateness totally depends on the reader (or now, movie-goer). [Again, check this Imagination Soup post.] From what I can understand, Collins I think would be disappointed if the audience came away with a fascination with the violence. If the audience came away horrified at the premise, she’d be closer to happy. But my question has always been, how dark do you have to go to show that something should be avoided? And there’s the danger of leaving your reader shaken in a corner because the “darkness” left a bigger impression on her than the resolution. Every writer or artist who has an ultimately positive message walks this razor-thin line. Critics rush to the Bible for the ultimate comparison (for pretty much everything, come to think of it). Yep, them are some dark themes there, but for the purpose of showing us that no matter how dark or depraved, divine Love is infinitely more powerful and redeeming. On a smaller scale…for me in my writing, it comes down to motive. I know when I’m being self-indulgent or titillating with my writing, getting a thrill out of being merely sensational. Plus, my readers would see right through that garbage.

Now for the Katniss Everdeen convo. She ain’t no vampire lover, that’s for sure. She’s not boy-crazy, materialistic, shallow, vain, or a spoiled brat. But there is an argument that she is still self-absorbed, some even say an anti-hero (see this thought-provoking blog post from She Laughs at the Days and notice also the comment by “Gabrielle”). That was a news flash to me, but I don’t entirely disagree. However, I find myself excusing Katniss’ shortcomings (because, quick review: self-absorbed=shortcoming) because she is a product of her environment. I also excuse her shortcomings because the major precipitating incident of the whole series is that she steps in her sister’s place to participate in the Hunger Games (and certainly no one asked her to, not even her sister). She wouldn’t be in the predicament she’s in if she hadn’t sacrificed herself. Her mother did no such thing for her girls, even on a much smaller scale. (Of course, Katniss also wouldn’t be in her predicament if The Capitol wasn’t so depraved).

As an author, I found The Hunger Games book series instructive in how to create a believable, consistent world; how to create characters who define each other (that takes some serious finesse to pull off); how to keep the action (in an already interesting plot) going; and how to get a message across to your reader through creative narrative. I’ve also found it helpful to see the reaction of readers: the controversy that comes with dark themes and the “hunger” for strong female protagonists (of which, we can all agree, there are too few).

I don’t believe in “odds” or luck, but still Effie Trinket’s words seem a fitting wish for this coming weekend: “May the odds be ever in your favor” as you choose books, movies, and activities that have productive content.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Annelies March 31, 2012 at 7:06 am


I know it’s a really dumb question, but what does the other two logo’s stand for in the picture?
You’ve got that badge from Katniss, but the other two? I really don’t know and I really want to!


Angela - April 12, 2012 at 10:23 am

They are all mockingjays, that symbol of rebellion and hope. The Capitol had created creatures for their own use, but we all know you can’t control nature 😉 so the mockingjay mutated and ended up doing their own thing…kind of like the Districts ended up doing no matter how much The Capitol tried to control them. What are your thoughts on what the mockingjay symbolizes?

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