In this gripping young adult novel set in a future with unsettling parallels to our present, the nation of Panem consists of a shining Capitol surrounded by 12 outlying Districts, in the ruins of the area once known as North America. In this stratified society where the Capitol controls all resources, 16-year-old Katniss and her friend Gale forage for food in the woods surrounding their impoverished District. The main support for both their families, Katniss and Gale are apprehensive about the approaching annual Reaping, when two “tributes” between the ages of 12 and 18 will be chosen by lottery from each of the 12 districts to compete in The Hunger Games, a survival contest on live TV in which teenagers fight to the death.
When her beloved younger sister Prim is chosen as one of the “tributes,” Katniss volunteers to go in her sister’s place. Her fellow tribute from District 12 is Peeta, a boy with whom she soon develops a complicated relationship. After traveling to the Capitol and undergoing elaborate training and preparation, Katniss and Peeta are launched into the Game. In the terrifying events that follow, Katniss must marshal all her skills to stay alive and all her emotions to remain a caring human being in the face of the stark brutality of the Games. “It’s hard to choose one element that inspired The Hunger Games,” says Suzanne Collins. “Probably the first seeds were planted when, as an eight-year-old with a mythology obsession, I read the story of Theseus. The myth told how in punishment for past deeds, Athens periodically had to send seven youths and seven maidens to Crete where they were thrown in the Labyrinth and devoured by the monstrous Minotaur. Even as a third grader, I could appreciate the ruthlessness of this message. ‘Mess with us and we’ll do something worse than kill you. We’ll kill your children.’
“Other early influences would have to include watching too many gladiator movies, which dramatized the Romans’ flair for turning executions into popular entertainment; my military specialist dad who took us to battlefields for family vacations; and touring with a sword fighting company in high school. But it wasn’t until the much more recent experience of channel surfing between reality TV programming and actual war coverage that the story for this series came to me.”
Katniss and Peeta have returned to their home District, but the return is hardly triumphant. Haunted by nightmares of the brutal deaths in the arena, Katniss is confused by her feelings for Peeta, while her relationship with her hunting partner and oldest friend, Gale, is changed in subtle ways. Most challenging, though, is her relationship to the leaders in the Capitol. Her act of defiance in attempting a double suicide at the end of the Games forced them to allow both her and Peeta to live, and there are intimations that Katniss has now become a symbol for rebellion in the Districts. The Victory Tour, designed to remind the people in the Districts of the power of the Capitol, may be having quite a different effect this year.
Then President Snow announces plans for the Quarter Quell, the 75th anniversary Games. Every 25 years the Capitol devises a new twist for the reaping, and this year they announce that the tributes will be chosen from among the victors of previous Games. Thrown into the arena once more with Peeta, Katniss’s strategy must be different this year, but even Katniss doesn’t realize the implications of these Games and the outside forces that are gathering strength to undermine the entire society.
Katniss has been rescued from the Quarter Quell, along with several of her allies in the Games, but Peeta is now a prisoner of President Snow in the Capitol. As she recovers from her trauma in the arena, Katniss becomes aware that the rebellion has begun in earnest, orchestrated by District 13, the place she once believed was obliterated in the last war. Gale, along with his family and Katniss’s sister and mother, has escaped the destruction of District 12 and all are now settling into a new life in the vast underground installation that comprises District 13.
Katniss is reluctant at first to assume the role planned for her—the face of the rebellion, the Mockingjay. Only after a televised interview showing Peeta in the hands of the Capitol does she understand what she must do, using the costume created for her by Cinna before he was killed. But she is uncomfortable with the orchestrated and controlled handling of her “image” and the militaristic members of the rebellion, especially the calculating leader, Coin. Determined to be the one to assassinate President Snow and to help bring about the downfall of the Capitol, Katniss once again finds herself in an arena—only this one represents a life or death struggle for the entire society. Katniss faces critical choices: Whom should she trust? What should her role be? Do ends justify means? What is right and wrong? What truths must she follow?
The Hunger Games trilogy provides many interesting analogies to historical events and literary classics through the ages.
Suzanne Collins was inspired by the Greek legend of King Minos of Crete who demanded that seven Athenian boys and seven Athenian girls be sacrificed periodically in the Labyrinth of the Minotaur—until the hero Theseus volunteered to go in place of one of the youths and was able to slay the monster. The story can be studied in Edith Hamilton’s Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes. A fictionalized version is Mary Renault’s The King Must Die.
Study of the Roman Empire will yield many connections to The Hunger Games trilogy—the autocratic rule of the Capitol, the political machinations of President Snow, training of youth for a fight to the death to amuse the Capitol’s citizens, and the politics of the rebellion. Even the name of the country, Panem, comes from the Roman phrase, “panem et circenses”—the bread and circuses which the Romans provided to control the population by keeping them contented and entertained. Classic novels such as Howard Fast’s Spartacus and Robert Graves’s I, Claudius and Claudius the God will enhance those connections.
Joan of Arc is an historical figure brought to mind by Katniss and the way she is manipulated for political and tactical reasons. Compare Joan’s peasant upbringing, determination, and sheer grit in the face of her enemies in the 15th century to the role Katniss takes on for the rebellion in Mockingjay.
There are a number of themes in Shakespeare’s plays that can be compared with The Hunger Games trilogy. Read Julius Caesar for the Roman connection and the theme of the downfall of the powerful. Compare Snow’s hold on the presidency to the tragic results of ambition and thirst for power in Macbeth. The star-crossed lover theme can be compared to Romeo and Juliet, and the effort involved in bringing down a despotic ruler plays out in Richard the III. For another view of Richard III, see Josephine Tey’s compelling mystery The Daughter of Time (Touchstone, 1995), exploring the idea that history is written by the victors in any conflict.
Wilfred Owen, a young man who fought and died in the trenches of Europe in World War I, wrote poignant poetry about the futility of war. His poems were used as text for Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, written for the re-consecration of Coventry Cathedral, an historic building destroyed in the Battle of Britain during World War II. Find out more at http://www.its.caltech.edu/~tan/Britten/britwar.html
In John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, set during the Dust Bowl years in the United States, ordinary people struggle to stay alive in the Great Depression. Steinbeck vividly depicts the conflicts between poor farmers, bankers, and property owners.
The futuristic novels Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Fahrenheit 451 all reflect the rigid control and stratified society that we see in The Hunger Games trilogy, while Lord of the Flies explores how vicious young people can become when forced to survive in a wilderness setting. Research the cultures in their own lives and times that led Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, and William Golding to create these bleak novels.
“The Lottery,” a short story by Shirley Jackson, first published in The New Yorker in 1948, is a chilling tale of ritualistic murder committed as a fertility rite in small-town America (The Lottery and Other Stories, 2nd edition, by Shirley Jackson, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2005).
Sunrise Over Fallujah, by Walter Dean Myers (Scholastic Press/Scholastic, 2008) The actual arena of a war zone in Vietnam (Fallen Angels) and Iraq (Sunrise Over Fallujah) provide a setting in which present-day soldiers must remain constantly alert to stay alive, while making difficult decisions about who are potential allies and who are their true enemies.
In this futuristic society, a “feed” is embedded in the brain of every person to keep up a steady stream of information, entertainment, communication, and ultimately, control. Survival in this world depends on how well your individual “feed” is functioning and how well you fit in with the popular culture.
A future society is divided into the “Enhanced” and the “Natural Born,” both manipulated by a heartless ruler. But love reaches across the society’s barriers, bringing hope to a few.
Lady Katsa, graced with the ability to win every fight, defies her tyrannical uncle, and through her own feelings of compassion and her growing friendship with a foreign prince, finds her own way in the world.
In his fourth year at Hogwarts School, Harry’s name is mysteriously chosen in a lottery to compete in the Triwizard Tournament that pits champions from several schools against each other in a contest of magical skills, reasoning powers, wit, and endurance. See also Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 2007) for the human costs in a terrible confrontation between the forces of good and evil.
A young man embarks on the Fourth Crusade in the early 13th century, but soon becomes aware that the motives of the crusaders are not all pure and noble. The first two volumes in this trilogy—The Seeing Stone (2001) and At the Crossing Places (2002)—lay the groundwork for Arthur’s adventures and growing maturity.
Discipline in the British army during World War I was harsh and swift, as can be seen in this story of one brave and thoughtful soldier and his brother.
A compulsory operation at the age of 16 creates a uniform standard of “beauty” in a futuristic society. The story continues in Pretties (2005), Specials (2006), and Extras (2007).
Connor, Risa, and Lev are literally running for their lives in a future world where troubled teens may be chosen by a parent for “unwinding,” in which their body parts are harvested for use by other people.
Historical account of a young girl who became the symbol of a rebellion, then later became the target of jealousy, court intrigue, and superstition.
Hunger and starvation during the potato famine of 1845–50 affected the lives of millions in Ireland, while the stratified society of Irish peasants and English overlords contributed to the brutality of the situation.
Both of these books describe the chilling ways in which hate groups can manipulate ordinary citizens.
An exploration of the biological and psychological reasons people risk their lives and why some are better at it than others.
This carefully chosen collection of essays helps older students analyze and understand the complex society of the later Roman Empire.
This memoir depicts the struggles of an award-winning TV journalist and his family during his recovery from a brain injury after being hit by a roadside bomb while reporting from Iraq.
An in-depth biography attempts to explain the complex man who caused untold suffering and the deaths of millions of men, women, and children in the mid-20th century. See also Giblin’s Good Brother, Bad Brother (Clarion, 2005) about the family of the man who assassinated Abraham Lincoln.
A Nobel-prize winner discusses the theory behind decisions people make in competitive situations and the strategies that can change the outcome of their actions.
This book presents an argument, based on research, against the influences that incite violent actions in youth today.
Tells of the amazing and poignant truce during brutal trench warfare in World War I when troops on both sides set aside their combat to celebrate Christmas.
Egan relates a chilling chronicle of starvation and hardship during the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s in the American Midwest, when economic issues and environmental disasters combined to change the lives of an entire population.