I am going to tell you my most controversial opinion. This is the hottest take I have, an opinion that, when expressed makes people cringe. It frustrates my English professors and makes classmates shake in horror.
But I cannot be silent any longer. The Hunger Games are good.
There, I said it. I’ll go even further too, The Hunger Games are works of merit and should have a place in the English literary canon. Controversial, I know. I can explain.
The Hunger Games, as a trilogy of books, are well written, compelling and complicated. These are all things that we value when talking about what constitutes good literature. Yet, The Hunger Games have been dismissed as “pop-fiction,” campy young adult novels.
I wonder why that is, because the themes present in the books are not uncomplicated. The main character is deeply flawed, as are the people she surrounds herself with.
When writing essays, English students are encouraged to look past the plot for themes, allegories and universal truths. Yet, whenever I propose that The Hunger Games could possibly be books of merit, it is the plot that people criticize.
Yes, it is a dystopian novel. Yes, it contains a love triangle sub-plot and yes there are elements of science fiction and futurism. But are we not supposed to look past the plot for a deeper meaning?
The series is full of deeper meanings. The main character is a teenage girl who is faced with a cruel and unfair world. Her morality is not black and white. The books touch on themes of survival and family. The main character lives through a traumatic event and the reader is confronted with the long term lasting effects of that. When reading, we are meant to question the structures that exist in our own society. How different are we, really, from the villains of the story?
The Hunger Games really are more than just “pop-fiction.”
And if you ask many 18-20-something-year-old women what they think of the books, they’ll probably tell you the same thing. I have had many lengthy discussions with friends about how frustrating it was to have this trilogy of books dismissed, because we were reading about a revolution. These books got us to think about capitalism and systematic oppression.
There are so many allegories present in these books but I will draw attention to just one of them to prove my point. The main character of the book, Katniss Everdeen has had a slip of paper with her name written on it since she was twelve years old. Every year, every citizen of her country between the ages of 12 and 18 is eligible to be chosen to compete in the Hunger Games, a battle royale style fight to the death that is broadcast for the entertainment of the ruling class who live in the Capitol. However, children can opt to have an extra slip of paper entered into the draw in exchange for extra food and fuel. As a result, poor children are chosen to participate more often than wealthy children.
Are you going to tell me that that’s not systematic oppression? That it doesn’t hold a mirror to our society? Something that books like Lord of the Flies do and are praised for doing.
Plain and simply, I think people (cough cough male academics) don’t like these books because they were beloved by teenage girls. The thoughts, feelings and opinions of young women are consistently dismissed and consequently, the things that they enjoy are undervalued.
Teenage girls loved The Hunger Games because so many of us saw how unfair the world was and we felt powerless to stop it. I say this as a former 14 year old girl who loved The Hunger Games, we were genuinely ready to start a revolution because of all the dystopian fiction we consumed. And all the adults in our lives could talk about was whether we were “Team Peeta” or “Team Gale.” The love triangle subplot was only part of the book series that we loved.
There is generally accepted criteria for a book to be considered “of merit” in literary study. It’s not so much a list as an idea. A book has to have sufficient themes to be explored, it has to mean something more than just the words written on the page.
I posit that The Hunger Games has a multitude of themes that any contemporary English course could, would and should find worthy of study. Capitalism, martyrdom, love, family, sacrifice, systemic oppression, racism, complicity, empathy, death, the inherent chaos of war, and yes, love triangles.
The Hunger Games are good and I will stand by that. Suzanne Collins said more about society in her trilogy than any of the books I was ever assigned to read in high school. If it’s not your favourite book series, that’s fine, I get it.
But for the love of god, stop acting like Lord of the Flies is some kind of literary triumph if you’re not going to consider the literature of teenage girls alongside the literature of teenage boys.