Sunday, April 29, 2012

Overview of THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins


I love THE HUNGER GAMES, the first novel in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy. Once I began reading it, I couldn't put it down, and once I finished, I immediately delved into the second book and then the third book of the trilogy: CATCHING FIRE and MOCKINGJAY, respectively. This post will give an overview of THE HUNGER GAMES. My next post will describe my response to this book.

THE HUNGER GAMES is what's called a futuristic dystopia. Although the exact year of the story is not specified, I would place it somewhere between 2500 and 3000 C.E. The location is Panem, a country that has emerged from the former North America after the environmental catastrophes that we in the 20th and 21st Centuries have set in motion have run their course. This means that the land has endured extreme weather, famine, epidemics, and war. The sea level has also risen creating a reduced land mass. Now things have settled down, resulting in the country of Panem.

Panem consists of a Capitol with twelve surrounding districts. The people in the Capitol live in abundance: delicious and plentiful food, constant entertainment, lots of leisure, and great attention to body art. They are the haves. The people in the districts live at subsistence level, struggling to put together enough food, water, clothing, and shelter to support life. They are the have-nots.

Several generations ago (74 years ago, to be exact), the districts rose up in rebellion against the Capitol. The Capitol promptly crushed this rebellion and enacted measures to ensure that such a rebellion would never happen again. The chief of those measures is the annual Hunger Games.

Every year, each district is required to send two tributes, a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18, chosen by lot at a Reaping, to the Capitol to participate in the Hunger Games. The twenty-four tributes from the twelve districts are wined, dined, and feted, and are then sent into a large outdoor arena to fight to the death until one victor emerges. The arena, created by the Gamemakers, is acres large, usually with both forested and open spaces. The victor becomes wealthy for life, and the victor's district receives an abundance of food for a year.

In THE HUNGER GAMES, we experience the seventy-fourth annual Hunger Games through the eyes of sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, the girl tribute from District 12. Actually, it is the name of Katniss' twelve-year-old sister, Prim, that is drawn at the Reaping, but Katniss volunteers to take Prim's place. The boy tribute from District 12 is Peeta Mellarck.

Katniss comes from the Seam, the area of District 12 where the coal miners live. (Each district specializes in a product or service for the Capitol. District 12's specialty is coal mining.) District 12 is the poorest of the twelve districts, and the Seam is the poorest area of District 12.

Katniss' father was killed in a mining accident when Katniss was eleven years old. This sent Katniss' mother into a deep depression, leaving eleven-year-old Katniss and seven-year-old Prim to fend for themselves. Katniss somehow managed to take care of herself, Prim, and their mother through those dark months, although they sometimes went for days without anything to eat. As soon as Katniss turned twelve years old and was eligible to do so, she signed up for a tessera ration for herself, her sister, and her mother in exchange for entering her name three extra times in the Reaping. Tessera is an annual ration of grain and oil, distributed monthly. Katniss also remembered the time spent with her father in the forest and revived her ability to shoot with a bow and arrow and to hunt. By hunting and gathering in the forest with her male friend Gale, age eighteen, and by judicious trading on District 12's black market, Katniss is able to feed her family adequately.

Peeta comes from the business area of District 12. His father is a baker. Since Peeta comes from a family with a business, his life has not been as difficult as that of Katniss.

Peeta and Katniss share an important connection. After the death of Katniss' father and before she was old enough to sign up for tessera, she received unexpected help from Peeta. One evening, weak from hunger, she was hunting through the just-emptied trash bins behind the businesses of District 12 in the hope of finding some thrown-away food when Peeta threw her a loaf of bread with a burned crust. This was a turning point for Katniss. It gave her and her family hope, and this hope helped turn her thoughts toward wild plants she could gather until her approaching twelfth birthday and the tessera.

Peeta and Katniss both remember this incident, although neither has ever spoken of it. In fact, it turns out that Peeta has been in love with Katniss ever since he first set eyes on her in kindergarten.

So -- off go Katniss and Peeta to the Hunger Games. In my next post, I will write about my response to this book.

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