Political messages behind Hunger Games
Sometimes the best lessons come from fun stories
I firmly believe that fictional stories can sometimes do a better job of bringing sensitive yet major issues to our attention than news reports or other educational channels. I feel the Hunger Games series does a better than normal job bringing to light not one, but several major world problems to the general reader. While the books are enormously fun to read and most recently the release of the first movie has been equally entertaining, I would challenge all readers and movie watchers to take a moment and think about what we can learn from this story. This is an extremely powerful book that has life lessons I think we can all benefit from.
Please note that many of these interpretations are only my own thoughts and at this point has not been confirmed by Suzanne Collins, the author of this series. Also please note that if you have not read the book, there will be times I reference items in the book that might spoil your reading experience. If you have not read the books and plan to, you might want to stop here.
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Image Credit: Salon.com
Do you believe popular books like Hunger Games can teach us greater lessons?
One of the most poignant aspects of the Hunger Games to everyone who hears even a synopsis of the book is the disturbing details of children being forced to fight each other to the death. Children as young as 12 years old fighting other children, learning how best to kill and maim when they should be learning to play games and make friends. Unfortunately, this is not something completely foreign to modern societies. As of 2007 there are still 10 countries that officially admit to using child soldiers including Myanmar, Somalia, Uganda and Chad (many well under the age of 12). In fact, if we consider a child being anyone under the age of 18, the number of countries that uses children inside a war zone grows to include unexpected countries including India, Peru and Columbia. Columbia alone has been estimated to have over 14,000 children involved in fighting in armed political groups.
When we cringe at the sight of a child being killed by the hand of a special trained, armed and outfitted fellow child, we must remember that this is not just a fictional story, this is happening today on virtually every continent.
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Image Credit: Unicef
Revolutionary Leaders turned Country Leaders
Spoiler Alert: If you have not read through book three you will want to skip this section.
In book three of the series we meet the revolutionary leader Coin who is leading the uprising against the capital. We see her totalitarian control over everyone in District 13 and the revolution as a whole. At the very end of the book with Snow's death, we see that Coin, while different would still continue a society with as much hate and tyrannical control as President Snow. Thus, Katniss felt it was in the country's best interest to ensure that Coin also did not retain a leadership position.
It takes a remarkable person with a unique set of skills to help lead an uprising against a vicious leader. Many times they have to be incredibly hard, verging on militant, hyper-controlling, and usually accepting of violence and even atrocities. Those qualities that allow a leader to somehow overcome all obstacles and help lead usually poorly trained, poorly equipped and poorly fed volunteers against larger better equipped forces are not always the qualities you look for in a leader of an established country at peace. Think of how hard it must be for a leader who has had to fight and work outside conventional rules to overthrow established governments, then try to give back freedoms to the people and forgive those people they were fighting against if they win.
A positive example of this would be Nelson Mandella in South Africa who did encourage violence in order to win freedom for blacks and enable the country to have free elections. He encouraged what would be considered terrorist acts against targets that included women and children, as that was needed to get attention to the cause he was fighting for. Yet when he won, he was able to form a government that included those he fought against. He was able to try to heal wounds and ensure that the newly freed would learn from and work with those that were just recently their overlords and taskmasters. Even in our own country, George Washington as the general was incredibly reluctant to take power after the end of the war and through sheer will alone was able to hold to only two terms in office even though the feeling of the people was he should continue to rule the United States. This is what happens when it works right.
We are seeing in Egypt what happens when it works poorly. Many in Egypt are saying that the new government that took power after the revolution, led by the military is as strict if not stricter than the previous regime. As we saw in Hunger Games, the leader of the revolution has a hard time relinquishing the feeling of absolute power once they have reached their objectives, instead preferring to wield absolute control assuming that they know best. So let this be a warning to us all, that those we choose to follow when we desperately need a leader during the darkest of times, might not be the ones we should follow after we are freed.
Forgive thy Enemy
The very reason for the Hunger Games was the need by the capital to not only punish outlying districts because of their past rebellion, but to also continually remind them of their inferiority to the capital. It took 75 years, but if you lord over another group past crimes long enough, you move from contrition to anger and resentment. A person or society can only apologize for so long before a new generation grows up questioning why they are being punished for their parent's crimes.
We have seen examples of this after WWI, when the penalties against Germany after they lost the war were so severe and caused such suffering in the country that it created a deep sense of anger and hopelessness in the population. So deep were those feelings that they helped elect a leader that could turn their anger toward another group, specifically that of the Jews and that leader of course being Hitler. If we look at the alternative, after WWII the allies had a completely different attitude and helped rebuild the country with new schools, roads, and an economy that is now one of the largest in Europe. 60 years later German people, while many times apologetic of their past, do not feel they are unfairly treated today and thus do not have the feelings of hopelessness and anger.
Trying to forgive an enemy is incredibly difficult, but as we have learned throughout history, it is the only way to heal deep wounds. Maybe we can learn from this in our own country when it comes to race relations or with our brethren in the Middle East, most of whom have no part in terrorism.
Race Relations and Prejudices
This is the saddest section to write since it actually is not major a tenant of the books or the story but is something that has come out since the movie was released. With all the messages that I feel are in this book the one that was only lightly discussed was prejudices. The way the book discussed prejudices, it was between districts that might have been better off compared to others and thus were able to look down at others indiscriminately. While this is the classic definition of prejudice, it was not something that she dwelled on.
The movie cast a number of characters as African American which for most of us was a non-issue, especially since they were described in the books as being darker in color, yet for a very small minority seemed to be the worst atrocity. Unfortunately, those few vocal individuals who have watched the movie and posted terribly racist tweets about how could we feel sympathy for a black child that was killed, and why should all the good characters be black. I do not want to dwell on what was never part of the book and should not be worth our time. I would only like to say for all those that feel that we do not have underlying prejudices in our country, there are still people with terrible hate. We need to know about this so we can be ever vigilant and try to tear down prejudice whenever we see it.
One person can change history
It should be self evident but it bears reminding to every reader of books or viewers of movies that you can have a real impact on the world. There is a reason why it has been said in many religions that to save a single life is as if to save an entire generation. Each of us has within us the capacity to create, to destroy, to discover and to invent items that will change the world. Few people who we study about in history started their life thinking or even dreaming of the impacts they would make, yet through circumstances (some would consider fate) or through their actions they had major impacts. Around the world we have seen, especially in the past couple of years, the impact of 'common people' on the highest levels of government. Be it the uprisings in the Middle East or the occupy movements around the world, they each started with individuals who wanted to standup for something they believed in.
So let this be a lesson to all people: "The only thing needed for evil to succeed, is for good people to sit by and do nothing"