The Hunger Games: A New Classic?

According to Wikipedia, in 1920, Fannie M. Clark, a teacher at the Rozelle School in East Cleveland, Ohio, attempted to answer the question of what makes a book a classic.   She consulted a group of eighth-graders and asked the following question: “What do you understand by the classics in literature?”Answers included “classics are books your fathers give you and you keep them to give to your children” and “Classics are those great pieces of literature considered worthy to be studied in English classes of high school or college”.   (

Our son began a path of reading over a couple of years ago that began with Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians and eventually led him through all of Riordan’s writings, as well as Riordan’s suggestions for adolescent reading.    When he initially read The Hunger Games and, in sheer fascination, began to tell me about it, I was somewhat indifferent.   My reaction had nothing to do with him; I’m just not very auditory, so I struggled with the concept in spite of his enthusiasm.

When the movie version of The Hunger Games was released, our son just had to go, so he and dad went together for some ol’ fashioned man time.    Dad came back not saying much, except that he didn’t really appreciate the idea behind the movie.    But our son, having already read through all the books in the series, came home with an ecstatic glow.   So later, when the DVD hit the shelves, I thought I’d surprise him.   I still hadn’t watched the movie for myself.

For those of you who might be totally unfamiliar with this book-turned-blockbuster, The Hunger Games is a steampunk -styled movie (son  introduced me to a new word as well, so I thought I’d share) about a period in our future when, because of a civilian uprising against the capitalist powers-that-be, the common man must now pay a yearly pennance.   The pennance requires each of twelve territories, or regions, as the movie refers to them, to send a child or adolescent to compete in a manhunt against one another until there is only one winner.   This manhunt, entitled the “Hunger Games,” is a televised event and is performed for the sheer enjoyment of the well-to-do, who also have the power to “help” a favored competitor with additional weaponry or other aids.   (Imagine being able to give a bit of Gatorade or more expensive shoes to your favorite Olympian and you’re there).

Not too long ago, a neighbor came by.   We began to talk about movies in general, and then about the general void of quality viewing for a person who just wants to see a good family movie with a moral and not too much adult humor (or lack thereof).    Her reaction to The Hunger Games was very different than my husband’s or my son’s, and far more intense.    She recalled a number of emotions ranging from tears to shock at thought of children being killed for sport.    (To the credit of the movie’s director, etc., none of the deaths were portrayed in graphic form, and the scenes of death or violence were not gratuitous, but instead, consistent with the plot of the movie).    Given the three markedly different reactions to the movie, I found myself  intrigued.

I didn’t know what to expect, and admittedly, I wasn’t sure this was the movie for me.   As a parent, I tend to be overly sensitive to movies where children are in any way mistreated (as an example, I could only get through a few early scenes of Mel Gibson’s Ransom), so I reserved the right to stop watching it at any time.   Also, admittedly I’d not read the book, and I was leery of committing the cardinal literary sin of judging the book by the movie.   Yet, having viewed it, I was left pondering–not tearful, not emotionally aghast, not “freaked out,” for lack of a better word.   Just thoughtful.   What was I thinking about?    The fact that this movie was shown in two of the oldest’s government/ history classes at college.   I also thought about the powerful statement that the movie makes about how easily we can be lulled  into an alternate sense of reality and become desensitized to the world around us–a world where so many are hurting and in despair.

Given my obsession fascination with the question of how books become classics, I was also intrigued by the similarities between this book and what I’ve heard about George Orwell’s 1984, another book that I’ve not actually read.   When I found this article regarding what makes a book a classic, I found it interesting that the author used 1984 as an example of  a book that stands the test of time.   The author begins here:

For a book to become a classic, it must have a timeless theme, one that all people of all eras are able to relate to. Classics also may have an element of novelty; they are the first time a certain writing technique has been experimented with or the first time an author has discussed an important theme. They are books that people remember because of the quirky characters who are like real people revealed over the course of the novel. The authors often will use descriptive language to draw the reader into the setting and time period. But most of all, they have proven to be something special because they have endured over all the years, standing the test of time.

To be sure, The Hunger Games is not 1984.   1984‘s classic imagery of “Big Brother,” who watched every man’s every move, is now a part of our cultural literacy; even people who’ve never heard of George Orwell are familiar with the phrase “Big Brother is watching. ”   From the article I mentioned above, I learned that Orwell’s use of language transports the reader into the story, into his perception of the future.   There is nothing distinct about the language of The Hunger Games, although the phrase “May the odds forever be in your favor” has the potential to live in similar infamy as the Star Wars’ Jedi salutation, “May the Force be with you” or Dr. Spock’s “Live Long and Prosper.”    

Having stated some obvious differences, there are similarities, which is why I pose the question.   Yes, each book in its own way draws you into a future with its alternate state of being.   Orwell’s focus is the danger of an over-reliance on technology, whereas Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games, focused on the danger of non-compliance and individualism.   In either case, one theme is universal: freedom of thought is suppressed in order to be a compliant part of the greater good.  Hmmm…

With all due apologies to those who favor the thought of an “instant classic,” I would argue that a classic is not defined from amongst its contemporaries.    Only time will afford us, perhaps, the luxury of seeing in how many government, literature, and/or history courses The Hunger Games is used as a part of the syllabus.   Will it be our children’s (and grandchildren’s, and…) 1984? I don’t yet know.   But in these last days before the Lord returns, the concept of suppressing our freedom of thought has me thinking…


May the odds forever be in your favor.

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