First, my humble opinion…Even though Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy is the young adult answer to the genre of dystopian futures, it doesn’t mean that Collins’ vision is not every bit as chilling. My problem with the trilogy is the unlikable character of Katniss Everdeen. For me anyway, the problem with first person present tense is that the lead character is always at the center of the action, and so her gut reactions and on-the-spot feelings are untrustworthy. Past tense allows a sense of reflection and permanence. Also, that the character goes in and out of past tense musings seems an afterthought to superimpose depth on a character that is otherwise distant, self-absorbed, and unable to effectively express herself.
That said, the story of The Hunger Games is gripping and in the style of most dystopian literature that went before it: an evil government, an elite aristocracy, the down-trodden and disparaged masses, an end of liberty and human rights, a lone anti-hero.
One thing I didn’t understand about the Collins’ universe, and a question unanswered by the trilogy, is what about the rest of the Earth? Has the human race been wiped out everywhere except Panem? Or is contact between continents cut off? There is only a hint when one of the characters remarks “there used to be a place called Rome.” And there is the sense that the war that left the Capital and District 13 pointing nukes at each other had been a nuclear war that possibly included all of humanity. In 1984, Big Brother rules the Earth, and one gets the feeling that the wars, so-called, are mere propaganda to keep the masses focused on their mindless, endless work to support the war effort. In Brave New World, the world controllers control all parts of the planet except the Free Islands, and the Savage Reserves–but really, they control even those areas discreetly.
What I enjoyed most about “Hunger Games” was Collins’ use of setting. For example, at the beginning of the first novel, she describes the coal miners of District 12 trudging to and from work. I was reminded of F Scott Fitzgerald’s “ash grey men” in The Great Gatsby, and the way he describes them moving “dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.” Faces without hope, crushed beneath the burden of their labor.
One could read the trilogy and feel anger toward the Capital and its seemingly oblivious citizens until one reads between the lines. The citizens of the Capital are as terrorized as the people of the Districts. It’s merely that they are tormented in other ways. President Snow seems implausibly powerful for one man ruling with an iron fist. His rule topples easily, and in the end, he is only as powerful as those closest to him will tolerate. Like the Caesars of Rome, if they went too far, they were likely to wake up stabbed to death one morning.
I am actually interested in seeing the movies now, to see how they have been adapted on to the big screen.