The Hunger Games in Class

Today marked the start of discussing The Hunger Games in one of my classes. It’s the first time I do so (but certainly not the last!) and I was as excited as most of my students. I think we’ve all been eagerly counting down until we could indulge in (academic) conversations about the book.

I started them off reading Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” which I think is appropriate on many levels for The Hunger Games. If you haven’t read “The Lottery,” you totally should. You can find it here. The mood, the piling into a square, the selection of names (lottery), the gruesome results. There’s even mention of coal mining and it’s a gorgeous day, the day the story takes place. Some of my students had already read it; others were completely surprised by the outcome.

Then we started talking about the first few chapters: the characters, the setting, the plot, and the themes that were starting to unravel. And we saw a couple short interviews with Suzanne Collins.

There’s a great line in chapter three when Gale goes to visit Katniss before she’s taken to the train. He’s giving her tips on how to survive; she’s a great hunter and it should be no different in the arena. Except instead of killing animals, she’ll be killing people, other kids like herself. She says she doesn’t know how to kill people, to which Gale replies, “How different can it be, really?” And then Katniss follows with this:  “The awful thing is that if I can forget they’re people, it will be no different at all.” Bam.

This is what allows all the atrocities in the world to happen. In real life. It’s people forgetting that those they’re hunting or hurting or persecuting are also people. It’s why genocide exists. Why slavery existed. Why all the horrors we learn about in history, many of which are still occurring, existed.

Throughout the term, we’ve used a thematic reader in my class: Remix: Reading + Composing Culture. It’s divided into seven themes: identity, community, competition, romance, entertainment, nature, and technology. In one of the essays for competition, the idea that fraternity hazings and other college tribes/rituals might not be so far off from other aspects like race, creed, religion, etc. They create an us versus them situation. The moment we have an us, and there’s a them, and we can forget that “them” are just as human as we are, then we’re in danger of violating the basic humanity of “them.” The Hunger Games, like the Harry Potter series, really tap into that idea.

I know the last few weeks of the term are going to be a mix of fun and seriousness. I’m excited about the final papers. They’re analyzing the book using one of the seven themes we’ve discussed throughout the term. These are some of the ideas I gave them:

  • How does Katniss’ identity change throughout the book? Is it molded by her experiences or is she born with certain traits that just flourish with the challenges? How do the assumptions we hold of identity play out in the book?
  • What role does community play in The Hunger Games? Does her community have her best interest in mind? Does it accept her just as she is, or does she have to change to fit in? How are the assumptions upheld or challenged? Is it any different from any current world-wide communities?
  • Are the Games reflective of our natural urge to compete? Is competition linked to a deep-rooted need to survive? Will the same be true for games that are not life-or-death?
  • How is Katniss and Peeta’s staged romance any different than real-world high-profile romances? Does their romance challenge or uphold any of the assumptions? Does love conquer all? Are they soul mates?
  • Think about the way the Games are televised. What role does entertainment play in The Hunger Games? How is such a cruel and vicious “game” used for the gratification of the select, privileged few? What, if any, criticism do you think Suzanne Collins is making of our current obsession with reality TV?
  • Nature in the Games is both beautiful and lethal. It’s also manipulated by the game-makers to ensure someone dies. What assumptions of nature are at play here? Are they challenged or upheld? Does Katniss’ understanding of the natural world aid her in surviving? How have those in power manipulated nature to create alternative, more destructive versions of animals (mutants) and how is that any different to the way we are fixated in fixing or altering what occurs naturally?
  • The world of Panem is limited in some technologies, but it is advanced in others. What role does technology play in helping the characters survive? What tools (think weapons) are used for this purpose?

Yep. I am definitely excited to see how the next couple weeks play out. I am looking forward to talking about the book and I’m enjoying seeing them get excited. I will also be looking forward to these essays. If I have to grade essays, I might as well make them interesting!

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