Sunday, December 11, 2011

Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire

If you're not familiar with The Hunger Games, it is a trilogy by Suzanne Collins about a totalitarian dictatorship in the former USA that every year forces a group of children to fight to the death in a large arena, with the entire population watching on TV. There are twelve districts in the country, controlled by the Capitol. I just read the second book. The protagonist is a girl--16 years old when the trilogy begins--named Katniss.

The second book, Catching Fire, is great (the first was good, but a lot slower). I won't spoil anything, but suffice it to say Katniss and others have to do more fighting, though this time there is an added element of political rebellion. As such, I could see having fun using this novel in a political fiction class (which I will create someday, after doing a Latin American Politics in Fiction class).

First, there are the dynamics of dictatorship. How do they maintain control? The novel emphasize how the government uses extreme violence, intimidation and control in a totalitarian system to make people afraid to rebel. The Hunger Games themselves are a central part of that control.

Second, there is the question of how political rebellion begins. Travel is forbidden, organization is illegal, and media is state-controlled, so it is very difficult to bring people together. Repression per se does not necessarily spark rebellion (note how many rebellions there have been in North Korea, for example) but opposition leaders can emerge. In the case of the novel, that emergence is largely unintentional.

Third, there is even an IR angle because the games involve 24 people in an anarchic situation where they have to form alliances but ultimately only one of them can survive. So they have to work together to some extent but cannot trust each other. All alliances are therefore tenuous.

In short, a good read.


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