Yes, dystopian literature appeals to me…here’s why

I admit it. This non-teenager is obsessed with the Hunger Games trilogy. I can hardly wait to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire the weekend after Thanksgiving. This sequel to The Hunger Games opens tonight.

I’ve read the series multiple times since receiving the box set last Christmas. I also purchased the DVD of The Hunger Games. One may ask in disbelief, or perhaps disgust, “Why would anyone, especially a woman, be interested in reading about children fighting each other to the death?” That’s a valid question. Following are some answers.

The setting is Panem, a future America pretty much destroyed by war and environmental destruction. Panem is the country where the Hunger Games take place and is run by the Capitol, whose citizens live in luxury. Here with plenty of food, comfortable homes, and all the necessities of life, residents have become frivolous in their priorities, clownish in their appearance, and callous to the plight of their fellow citizens struggling for survival and suffering hardships—starvation, rudimentary medical care, etc.—out in the districts.

Dystopian literature, in particular The Hunger Games, resonates with me because I see it as a warning of a future in which the accumulation of wealth and power in the hands of a few come at great expense to the masses. Wait, that sounds vaguely familiar. It is already happening. Today, many people in the United States and around the globe are hungry and lack medical care. Inequality has always existed and likely always will to some degree. So I can envision an America similar to Panem as the wealth inequality gap in our country grows ever wider, although I pray future generations will be spared the cruelty of the ruling class portrayed in The Hunger Games. However, it is in societies such as this that heroes are born.

Cover of "The Hunger Games"

Cover of The Hunger Games

Suzanne Collins inserts into her tale a young girl, Katniss Everdeen—and I love that the protagonist is a girl. Katniss is a reluctant hero who, after winning the 74th Hunger Games, becomes the symbol of the rebellion, unbeknownst to her. The victor of the games is rewarded with riches for the remainder of their lives, and their district benefits from the victor’s prosperity for the next year as abundant supplies of food arrive each month.

Before winning the Hunger Games, Katniss spent most of her childhood providing for her mother and sister. After her father’s death, Katniss’s mother had a mental breakdown and it was up to Katniss to make sure none of them starved because her mother was incapable of caring for her children, much less herself. Katniss knew how to hunt; her father had taught her well. She became a survivor, embodying independence, resourcefulness, adaptability, and resilience—characteristics I see in myself and admire in others.

The Hunger Games is at its core a story of overcoming oppression and confronting the rich and powerful who have enriched themselves while impoverishing the districts and extracting and hoarding their natural resources. The struggle to right this brutal world appeals to me because it is about achieving equality, justice, and the chance for a better life. The basic ideas of justice and equality of opportunity are at the very core of who I am, so yes, the series resonates with me.

Lastly, there is the entertainment factor. It is a character-driven story; even the Capitol is a character. As an actor, this excites my imagination. I can experience a world vastly different from the one in which I exist. When cast in a role, I most enjoy bringing to life deeply flawed characters. All actors enjoy exploring the dark side—at least I’ve not met one who hasn’t. Why? Because it is boring to always play characters similar to oneself, there is no challenge in it. Even when playing the most repulsive character, an actor searches for redeeming qualities to create a multi-dimensional role. All human beings possess light and dark sides although one or the other dominates. In these disturbing dystopian worlds our imaginations can run wild. It can be a thrilling adventure to live vicariously through these characters in the safety of my environment. Some people may find it unsettling, yet who are we to judge the interests of others? Of course, most of us frequently judge others’ tastes, myself included.

The Hunger Games and other dystopian works won’t appeal to everyone. Nonfiction is my preferred genre, but reading these fantasy-filled books provides a break from the seriousness of the policy-related and current events topics that occupy most of my reading time. Dystopian literature fascinates me, especially when good conquers evil and the oppressed are freed from their bondage.

The Divergent trilogy is what I am currently reading, and a co-worker told me about Maze Runner, so my dystopian literature well will be filled for a while. I was telling my mother about The Hunger Games a while back. She asked, “And why would you enjoy reading that?” I laughed because it does sound pretty awful, but I gave her the above explanation, in fewer words. Many scenes in the books are violent, and yes, there are some very creative and distrubing ways of killing detailed in them. Still, I am excited to see Catching Fire and am not ashamed to admit it. Let the 75th Hunger Games begin!

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