Our hunger for the Hunger Games

What about the newest young-adult-book-turned-movie attracts millions of readers and fans?

by Courtney Johnson

The pages of yet another book of mine are bursting at the seams. If you’ve read “The Hunger Games” series, you know exactly what I mean and understand the gravitational pull of the story. What is it about this book that has caused such a drastic obsession among readers? And why is a book that is intended for younger audiences filled with morbid and adult political circumstances?

Similar to the “Twilight” saga, “The Hunger Games” caught readers’ attention rapidly, selling millions of copies since 2008. At first, because of its rapid popularity, many people shied away from the series, not wanting to succumb to the next “Twilight” phenomenon. But with the movie release of “The Hunger Games” this weekend, many have decided to read it anyway and don’t regret it.

While “Twilight” was a shallower take on the fantasy genre, “The Hunger Games” is more profound and carries more meaning. It is not completely dissimilar to “Twilight”; both are entertaining and include a love triangle. But “The Hunger Games” is focused on survival, not on who is going to be the protagonist’s boyfriend at the end of the story.

The setup of the story is like this: Within the fictional country of Panem, the inequitable Capital forces its 12 districts to participate in “hunger games,” in which two teenagers from each district are forced to fight to the death, leaving only one winner.

At the surface, this tale of competition and survival is the main hook for readers. From the first pages, we sympathize with the main character, Katniss, and learn that she is the main bread-winner for her family. She volunteers herself in place of her younger sister in the games, and for the rest of the book, we as readers feel as though we too are experiencing her struggle for survival. The fact that Katniss is able to defeat the odds and stay strong and true to herself throughout the series is what draws readers in. Audiences love a heroine who stands up against the bad guy — in this case a government that suppresses society to maintain its power — and is successful in doing so.

Amid the complicated love triangles, dystopian societies and idea of the supernatural, the book slips in political allegorical situations that older readers are able to recognize and enjoy.

The hunger games are intended as a source of entertainment for the masses of Panem — an exaggeration of 21st century reality TV. The Capital instills fear so great in its population that it is successful in forcing its citizens to partake in and watch the games.

Suzanne Collins, the author of the trilogy, presents a slightly warped vision of reality television as a source of propaganda aiding the prolonged oppression of the citizens of Panem. But in reaction to these domineering actions of the Capital, the rebellious attitudes of characters that readers fall in love with grow and develop. As readers understand the hardships that Panem citizens endure, they cheer for a revolution and continue reading to see if the tyrannical government will be brought to justice.

There is a lot the present-day reader can identify with in this series and sophistication that older readers can enjoy. The reality TV propaganda of the Games exhibits the power struggle between the government and the citizens of Panem and is a main theme for readers to hold onto. Within the Games, the heroine must not only figure out how to survive, she must be able to endure and defeat the oppression pressed upon her by the government of Panem. Present-day readers can certainly identify with and root for a brave character taking on seemingly massive and overwhelming forces, and that’s what keeps readers — and soon, moviegoers — coming back for more.