The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins is the latest craze in young adult literature. The highly anticipated movie adaptation is being released on March 23 and is expected to be a box office success. Teenagers and adults alike have been captivated by the stories, making the books bestsellers.
Unlike its predecessors, such as Harry Potter and Twilight, this latest book phenomenon is not rooted in the paranormal. There are no vampires. There is no magic. The protagonists are ordinary people, living in a dystopian society.
Drawing inspiration from the gladiators of Ancient Rome and the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, the novels take place in the territory once known as North America. There are twelve districts, the thirteenth having been reportedly destroyed in a rebellion for which the children of the remaining twelve districts must now pay the price. Each year, a boy and a girl from each district are selected by lottery to be sent to the Capitol. Once there, they will be confined in an arena and forced to fight to the death until a victor is crowned. This “reaping” is meant to serve as a punishment for the rebellion of the districts, a way for the Capitol to exert its control.
There is a distinct disparity between the excessive, hedonistic world of the Capitol and the near-impoverished districts. The heroine, Katniss, and her family live in a mining district where most people barely have enough money for food. While the residents of the districts starve, the citizens of the Capitol purge themselves at parties in order to enjoy more food. The goods produced in the districts are primarily for the Capitol’s gain. Indeed, the primary function of the average district citizen is to serve the Capitol. Although advanced technology exists, the residents of the districts cannot afford it. Such opulence is reserved for the elite, for the government officials and citizens of the Capitol. Those who live in the districts have little technology with even telephones being a sign of wealth. Each household does, however, have a television, though not for recreational purposes; the Capitol requires viewing of certain programs.
While the books have received criticism for what some consider unnecessary violence, the graphic content is not needlessly gratuitous but instead reflects the violence in our own world. We need look no further than our televisions and newspapers for acts of violence similar to those portrayed in the books. Collins said that she was motivated to write the novels after watching footage of the invasion of Iraq.
Dystopian literature has a distinct role in libertarianism. Books such as George Orwell’s 1984, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. and Ayn Rand’s Anthem are frequently cited novels written about futuristic societies governed by overbearing legislation. Dystopian stories appeal to large audiences and convey the message of liberty by demonstrating that big, powerful governments have a tendency to become corrupt and intrusive.
The recent popularity of dystopian literature for young adults is an opportunity to reach out to youth. Young people are now, in large numbers, beginning to question the why of statism. Instead of escaping to a happily ever after, fairy tale universe, they are mesmerized by unsettling worlds gone mad. They are reading books like The Hunger Games wondering if something similar could happen here and now.
The Hunger Games is a future world rooted in history. Such horrors have taken place before. They can easily happen again. We can, however, take action. By promoting the ideas of liberty, we are working to prevent such atrocities from happening to us. In disseminating the message of liberty we are fighting against a future society where fiction becomes reality.
In the final book, Katniss asks Plutarch (one of the leaders of the rebellion) if he is preparing for another war. He replies:
Oh, not now. Now we’re in that sweet period where everyone agrees that our recent horrors should never be repeated…But collective thinking is usually short-lived. We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction. Although who knows? Maybe this will be it…Maybe we are witnessing the evolution of the human race. Think about that.