The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
When I was assigned to teach the same English Composition II course that I’ve taught the last four years in a row, I was initially disappointed. I had been hoping to test out a new survey course. I consoled myself by deciding to teach a new book, and with a theme of social justice and storytelling, I landed on The Hunger Games. Most of my students were pretty excited, though one had included in the get-to-know you homework questions about why we weren’t reading real books like Brave New World or 1984. I appreciate the enthusiasm for dystopian classics, though I definitely think that Collins is onto something that’s really relevant and current for our post-9/11 culture.
I won’t bother to give a plot summary here, because everyone has read it, and I already reviewed this for CBR6. But that said, this re-read was interesting, because it helped me think about ways to articulate this to a class. One of the things that grabs me is the way in which Collins describes both Rue and Thresh. There was a bizarre backlash about Rue and Thresh being cast by black actors. And that’s really strange, because (a) who cares? and (b) um, they were black. Like, totally. Collins describes Rue’s satiny dark skin and naturally curly hair. That means Amandla Stendberg was perfectly cast. And if District 11 was described as being agriculturally driven, particularly in the southern United States, it would also make perfect sense for Thresh to be black.
The instance in which Katniss and Thresh meet for the first and only time was one of the defining moments of this re-read, and my students picked up on it, as well. Here’s Thresh, a loner and a strong, intimidating guy, who rejects the Careers and chooses instead to hide out in the fields. We never know how many he’s killed or had to kill to survive. And when it comes down to it, he has absolutely no reason to keep Katniss alive at the Cornucopia, particularly when Clove has already gotten to her. But oh, man. That moment when he seeks to avenge Rue and tells Katniss that they are even, and no debt exists between them. Oh, man. It’s a powerful moment of reckoning for Katniss and for the reader. Peeta’s idea of not wanting to be a pawn in the Hunger Games certainly extends beyond him, beyond Katniss, beyond Rue. People like Thresh choose their own paths, too.