20 July 2017

Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Trade paperback, 374 pages
Published 2012 (originally 2008)
Borrowed from my wife
Read August 2016
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The last book I taught in my course on postapocalyptic literature was The Hunger Games. Of course, my class of 20-somethings had almost all read it before, or at least seen the film, and felt like they understood it, particularly as a work of dystopian fiction, and were skeptical that the apocalypse was a significant part of the novel. But I felt like there's something in the fact that in the 2010s, we think that what young adults really need to read is about the end of the world.

Like with Y: The Last Man, I ended up discussing it in the context of the "state of nature." A lot of postapocalyptic fiction, as Claire P. Curtis argues, features a return to this state, where society is free to start over again from the ground up, with new rules. We often view the state of nature as being about the "survival of the fittest": it's every man for himself. And indeed, that's exactly what we see in the Hunger Games, a struggle to survive where only one can win.

But if you look more closely at The Hunger Games, it doesn't suggest that the apocalypse leads to the survival of the fittest, to a terrible world where everyone looks out for number one. The Hunger Games are created by human beings. "Survival of the fittest" isn't a natural ethos, it's imposed on human beings by a small subset. The natural inclination of human beings, we are shown multiple times throughout the novel, is actually to cooperate with one another. It's only when a powerful force compels them that they fight with one another. The idea that there can only be one survivor isn't actually part of the state of nature; it's a human imposition.

That's how The Hunger Games participates in the genre of postapocalyptic literature. It takes place after the apocalypse, but reveals that when the apocalypse returns us to the state of nature, people don't turn on each other, but tend to cooperate. What is passed off as the "state of nature" is actually a tool of the elites designed to oppress us. Nature is about cooperation, but those in power don't want us to know that and work to make sure we fight for resources that everyone could share. Like in a lot of science fiction, of course, the future is really a commentary on the world we live in, too. In a weird way, it's sort of optimistic. Human beings really are good-- we just have to break out of the artificially imposed system as Katniss and Peeta do at the novel's end in order to see it.

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