I read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins for the first time about five years ago when I assigned it to a group of students for a group study project. I ended up falling in love with the book myself and recently decided to re-read it on account of the soon-to-be-released film and the fact that it is becoming evermore popular and I wanted to create a few lesson plans or a complete unit plan around it.
I am often reluctant to teach popular/modern novels in the classroom because, to be perfectly honest, popular novels produced for young adults are often crap (yes, that is the right word for several of them *cough* Twilight *cough, cough*) or else have little substance in terms of themes, reflection, and critical thinking.
However, The Hunger Games is highly useful in the classroom because, not only does it hold “classic” themes such as self identity, courage, power and control, and family. Additionally, it also plays upon modern issues that have been created out of reality television and violent video games and other media.
For thsoe unaware of the premise of The Hunger Games, it is told form the perspective of 16 year old Katniss Everdeen, who lives in the nation of Panem (a futuristic version of North America). Each year, Panem holds the “Hunger Games”, in which one male and one female from each of the 12 districts of Panem are chosen to compete in a televised event where opponents literally fight to the death. At the end of the games, one winner is crowned.
One of the things that makes Collins’ story so intriguing is that the Hunger Games themselves are literally set up like a modern reality show, in which viewers can vote and bet on their favourite competitors and send in sponsorships to aide in keeping them alive to the end. However, the extreme violence clearly involved begs the question how far is too far?
Indeed, reality shows, television, movies, and so on, continue to push boundaries and limits, becoming increasingly violent, crude, cruel, difficult, and sexually charged, that it makes one naturally wonder where it will end. Collins creates a fictional answer to this question with The Hunger Games.
Through Katniss, readers understand the Hunger Games through the eyes of a girl from the poor state of District 12, who opposes the Hunger Games (put on by the Capital). She questions the power of the Capital, and works within her means to to display this clear oppostion by the end of the novel. She also acts to juxtapose the intense riches and power of the Capital to the other poorer people in Districts of Panem.
With the themes of the novel, English teachers can create an entire unit which applies classic themes to modern day issues. Additionally, they can also discuss issues of power and control and relate them to historical events and politics, relating the story to dictatorships throughout history.