“May the odds be ever in your favor”
– The Hunger Games
About a month ago, I finally succumbed to pressure and read the first book in The Hunger Games series. The second and third book quickly followed, and last weekend, I braved the long lines and diehard fans to see the much-hyped Hunger Games movie.
There is no denying the popularity of The Hunger Games, and after devouring the books, I can understand why people are emptying bookshelves and filling movie theaters to get a piece of the action. The stories are compelling, action-packed, and feature relatable, strong characters in a futuristic setting that is still realistic. But underneath the brutal killings, love triangle, and post-apocalyptic setting, these stories invite a deeper conversation. The first installment of The Hunger Games covers a range of issues: the characters make decisions, form relationships, experience hope and fear, and ultimately, fight to survive. It is these aspects of the story that can lead to profound conversations with friends and family, and can make The Hunger Games a lead-in to much deeper dialogues.
When I asked my younger sisters about The Hunger Games in a way that went beyond the obvious plot points – I’m Team Gale, but that’s another post for another time – we discovered some incredibly rich themes. We could have talked for hours about the details and variations and nuances of the story. After speaking to my sisters (ages 10, 12, and 15) as well as friends who had read the books or seen the movie, I put together a list of questions that could help parents or older siblings, like me, to connect around the phenomenon that is The Hunger Games.*
Hunger Games Questions and Conversation Starter
Importance of family
- Katniss volunteers herself to enter the Hunger Games instead of her younger sister, Prim. Why do you think she did that? Do you think you could ever do that? If you were Prim, how would you feel?
- After Katniss’ father died, she said her mother “disappeared”- she seemed unable to work or take care of her family, and spent most of her time in her room. It’s difficult to understand when our parents deal with pain or sadness. Was Katniss being unsympathetic toward her mother?
- Alliances are extremely important in the Games, even though everyone in the alliance knows that at some point, they will need to kill each other to survive. Would you form an alliance, or try to survive on your own? How do people trust each other in this situation?
- Katniss forms a special bond with Rue, a young Tribute from another District who reminds her of Prim. Later, Rue’s co-Tribute, Thresh, saves Katniss because of this bond. Is this fair? Was it smart for them to take care of each other in that situation, even though it made them vulnerable?
- Most people think Katniss did what she did at the end of the Games (threatening to poison herself and Peeta so they would both die, leaving the Games without a victor) to defy the Capitol. Is it possible she also did it because she couldn’t kill Peeta?
Making life-or-death decisions
While some of the Tributes don’t appear to mind killing, Katniss has a hard time imagining how she will do it, and struggles with the decision. However, she ends up killing several Tributes before the end of the Games.
- Katniss’ first kill happens after she cuts a Tracker Jacker (deadly wasps) nest so that it lands in the camp of several Tributes, one of whom dies. Technically Katniss killed her, but she doesn’t feel the same about it as she would if she killed the Tribute more directly. Should that make a difference?
- Katniss’ second killing occurs when she is defending Rue and reflexively shoots another Tribute with an arrow. Is it more excusable to kill in that situation than if she had hunted down and shot the other Tribute?
- The Tributes take for granted that they must participate in the Games – none of them seem to consider that they have any control or options. What would happen if they all decided not to participate?
Determining what makes entertainment, and where to draw the line
- Are there parallels between The Hunger Games and reality TV today? What does the popularity of the books and movies say about us?
- Before and during the actual Hunger Games, there are a series of ceremonies and performances that take place. The stylists, who dress the Tributes for their public appearances, and the Gamemakers, who plan the actual competition, all participate in the event, even though they know that 23 out of the 24 Tributes will die each year. Why would they do the jobs that they do? Are they wrong to do so?
- The winner of the Hunger Games will live in luxury for the rest of his or her life. Is it worth it for them?
*If you have not yet read or seen The Hunger Games (and that decision is a conversation in and of itself), you can find plot summaries here and a shorter version here. You could also ask almost any young adult to give you a quick summary, which is a great way to begin the discussion.