I admit it. I’m a late-comer to The Hunger Games. I first found out about it on Jenny’s blog in 2010 and the feminist blogosphere has been discussing it for ages. But I only read it this weekend. You, like me have probably seen the hype around the movie; I’ll restrict myself to the book here, as I’ve only read the first one so far and haven’t seen the film. Here’s my main reflection: this has been done before.
I’m not saying I didn’t like The Hunger Games. Actually, I loved it. I thought Katniss was a sympathetic and complex protagonist; I enjoyed the issues it raised; the writing was easy and pleasurable. Saying it’s been done before isn’t negative, then. It’s the observation that this book felt to me like Z for Zachariah meets Tomorrow When the War Began, both classic Year 8-9 English texts which I used in my days as a middle school teacher.
All three of these texts:
- are young adult (adolescent) fiction
- have female protagonists
- are narrated in the first person
- deal with themes like survival, coming of age, violence, the role of emotions, privilege, betrayal and trust
- present ordinary people in extreme situations
- do not draw easy resolutions for their characters
- suggest ongoing implications for the protagonist, their world and their family and friends
I love that The Hunger Games re-visits these discussions, for a new generation. After all, Z for Zachariah is from the 70s and Tomorrow When the War Began came out when I was in primary school! And we need texts like these to be done over and over again.
Adolescents need texts like The Hunger Games. Texts like this take adolescents’ every day concerns – parents, entertainment, romance, friendships – and invite them to be part of a larger discussion. My experience of adolescents is that they lap this up. They’re just waiting for someone to treat them like they’re smart, like their opinion about the world matters.
They may not be watching the world news. They may not seek these issues on their own. But for an age group typically characterised as self-obsessed and selfish, they show a remarkable capacity for empathy and outrage on behalf of others when they encounter wrongdoing. Stories are often that encounter. They give them access to the larger issues in their world and, in doing so, change adolescents themselves, inviting them to participate in that world. Stories are both educative and formative.
Initially, adolescents may lack the tools to work on the level of issues. At first glance, a story is just a story. But in my experience, it didn’t take a lot of prodding to open up some pretty heated discussion in my English classroom that drew even the most disengaged student into attacking or defending an ethical stance.
The censorship debate has again reared its head over The Hunger Games. But adolescents don’t need protection from texts like this so much as they need a forum for them: a place to discuss and debate them, to work them through and to ask what large and small implications they might have. In the next post, I’ll deal with some of the criticisms that have been levelled at The Hunger Games and how we might think about confronting them.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.