Life or Death

Suzanne Collins. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic, Inc., 2008.
Hunger games.jpg
Hunger games.jpg

Summary:It is easy to assume an identity on a daily basis while we have the comfort of our friends, our families, and our homes around us. But what happens when all of that is taken from us? What if all we had was the possibility of death? What would define us and who we would be? These questions, and more, challenge readers throughout Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games as the main character Katniss is thrust into the battle not only of her life, but also, for her life.
Living in a post-apocalyptic world, in a town known as District 12, or the Seam, Katniss is threatened daily by the government’s ability to control her life, and death. As part of a mandatory lottery system, Katniss is chosen to represent her district in the Hunger Games—a battle between all twelve districts in which two representatives of each are chosen, but only one in total comes out alive.

As Katniss enters the battle she finds, and realizes the full extent of, her inner strength. Readers watch her wit and strength develop as each day she is faced with a new challenge. As she overcomes what is laid before her, readers also see how the possibility of her own death has caused her to live her life to its fullest potential. Without anyone else to rely on but herself, Katniss faces the possibility of death head on, and begins to fight back, initiating the idea to readers that even if all we have is ourselves... that is enough. Readers understand that the power of self can arise from within, and in turn, how that power is able to assert itself in order to survive.

In so much, Collins represents the idea of survival through introducing every type of extreme possible. Katniss is not only challenged mentally, but also on a much more physical level. This physical level additionally enforces the concept of the government’s ultimate authority, for this is a time when free will does not exist. Despite all the factors against her, Katniss rises above by using her inner strength as a means of implicit rebellion against the state. Herein, Katniss represents a turning point for her community’s dignity and strength. Coincidentally, this turning point is a disgrace towards the government, as she has become everything they fear: an individual. For while the government wants her situation to be hopeless, she refuses to accept their destiny. Igniting her self-determination, wit and sheer physical strength she defies the odds to defines her character.
Recommendations for Teachers:There is a distinct evolutionary feel to this novel: those who are well adapted (are well fed or have a strategic skill of some kind), are the favorites for the victory. When Katniss offers herself up at the reaping to replace her sister Prim, she chooses to enter a world where survival of the fittest appears to be a rule of thumb. "Careers", people who have been training for The Hunger Games their entire lives, seem to have an apparent edge up on the frail Katniss and her seemingly talentless partner Peeta. So, it comes as a great surprise to everyone when several of the characters rise above what some may consider their physical capacity. For example, both Katniss and Rue, small and seemingly defenseless contenders, receive high scores for their fighting skills. In the end of the book, the girl from the poorest, most unexpected District wins the entire event. The careers, who are the favorites in the beginning, slowly fade away as they are overtaken by the smarter, more resourceful tributes, such as Katniss, Rue, and Foxface. Suzanne Collins seems to be insinuating that physical prowess is one kind of survivor, but resourcefulness of the mind is ultimately more important than blind bronze.
This book could be taught alongside Jack London's Call of the Wild, which has has a similar evolutionary feel to it. Just like Katniss in The Hunger Games, Buck is taken from his old life and is thrust into a harsh, heartless world that seems to favor the strong. While Buck is physically impressive, he also lives longer than his peers because in addition to his physicality he uses his inteligence to survive. While these stories are similar, they are very different also. For instance, The Hunger Games also places significant emphasis on the emotions that Katniss and other characters feel, while Call of the Wild is preocupied with the purely physical aspect of things. By comparing and contrasting these two books students would have a better understanding of both.

There are several key ideas that one can touch on in this book. The citizens of Panem are being oppressed by their government, they have been forced to live a certain kind of life against their will. Families like Katniss’ really feel the sting of this, along with other families that live in the ream like hers are struggling to get by. You could have your students put themselves in Katniss’ shoes by writing about this type of survival. Have them imagine what it would be like to survive on your own in the woods. How they would feed themselves and find water?

Outward appearance is another topic that presents itself in this novel. The tributes are given stylists in order to increase their chances of getting donations. This notion that the tributes must look or act a certain way in order to gain support is relevant today. Students could write about certain instances like this that happen today in our media. For instance, in games shows like “American Idol.”

Reality Television is a big part of our culture today. Shows like “Jersey Shore” and “Teen mom” are taking our nation by storm. Nationwide, viewers are entertained by this type of television every day. They sit down to watch the trials and tribulations of others. Or simply to laugh at how ridiculous some of the characters are. You could have your students write about their favorite reality tv show. Have them explain why they like it, and whether they agree with the actions of the characters.

About Suzanne Collins:
external image SuzanneCollinsAug09byCapPryor_color.jpgSuzanne Collins began her career as a writer for televisions shows, including the popular Nickelodeon shows Clarissa Explains it All and The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo. With the encouragment of children's author James Proimos, she made the switch to book writing in 2003 with her five-part fantasy/​war series, The Underland Chronicles. She also received a Writers Guild of America nomination in animation for her work on the critically acclaimed Christmas special, Santa, Baby!, which she co-wrote.

Collins drew inspiration for The Hunger Games from the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, as well as from her father's career in the United States Air Force, which gave her some insight into poverty, starvation, and the effects of war. Because of the success of The Hunger Games trilogy, Collins was named one of Time Magizines' most influential people of 2010.

Collins won numerous awards for The Underland Chronicles and The Hunger Games, including Publishers Weekly's Best Book of 2008: Children's Fiction and the 2008 Cybil Award for Fantasy and Science Fiction. Fans will be pleased that she will be writing the script to the upcoming movie adaptation of //The Hunger Games//, which will be directed by Gary Ross and star Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss.

Suzanne Collins currently resides in Connecticut with her family and, according to her website, a pair of feral kittens they adopted from their backyard.
Books by Suzanne Collins: The Underland Chronicles
  1. Gregor the Overlander (2003)
  2. Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane (2004)
  3. Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods (2005)
  4. Gregor and the Marks of Secret (2006)
  5. Gregor and the Code of Claw (2007)
The Hunger Games trilogy
  1. The Hunger Games (2008)
  2. Catching Fire (2009)
  3. Mockingjay (2010)
Other books
  • Fire Proof: Shelby Woo #11 (1999)
  • When Charlie McButton Lost Power (2005)

This video was created as an audition piece for the film adaptation of The Hunger Games and features actresses Danielle Chuchran as Katniss and Savanna Lewis as Rue. It depicts an important scene from chapters seventeen and eighteen (caution: contains spoilers).

Additional Resources:

--Reviewed by Danielle Houghton, Jhenna Challah, Ana Yonkers, Joslyn Rohrscheib, and Kristy McPherson