Foreign Policy had a heartbreaking photo essay last month on the Arab uprisings called Children of the Revolution.
Some of the facts from the piece :
In Yemen UNICEF counts at least 19 children who have been killed by both snipers and explosions since early February — an estimated 20% of the total casualties;
In Libya Save the Children estimates that one million children are in serious danger as government forces battle rebels.
The novel is set in the country of Panem, from the Roman model of Panem et Circenses where in return for bellies full of bread and entertainment provided by gladiators in the arena, citizens were willing to give up political responsibilities and power.
Panem is made up of 12 districts ruled by a distant Capitol and has risen from the ashes of a place once known as America. The heroine, Katniss Everdeen, lives in the Seam, the coal mining area of District 12, in the place once known as Appalachia where “looking old is something of an achievement since so many people die early” and a “plump person is envied because they aren’t scraping by like the majority.”
The novel immediately lays out its themes by beginning on reaping day when the names of each child in the district aged between 12 and 18 are put into a pool. Each year a boy and girl from each district are pulled out at random to take part in the Hunger Games. The 24 children, known as tributes, fight to the death in a televised tournament with the winner receiving a life of ease and extra food for their families and their district.
The most interesting aspect of the book is the exploration of what this violence means for their society and if
something is significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifices its children’s lives to settle its differences.
Katniss volunteers for the Hunger Games to replace her younger sister, Prim, and immediately becomes an unwitting symbol of resistance:
Instead of acknowledging applause, I stand there unmoving while they take part in the boldest form of dissent they can manage. Silence. Which says we do not agree. We do not condone. All of this is wrong.
Peeta Mellark, Katniss’ fellow tribute from District 12, wants to show the Capitol that he is more than just a toy in their games :
I don’t want to them to change me in there. Turn me into some kind of monster that I’m not
and Katniss finally comes to understand what he means.
Another interesting aspect of the book is how Katniss moves from being an unwitting symbol to an active player who movingly decides to do something during the Games to show the Capitol
that whatever they do or force us to do there is a part of every tribute they can’t own
However, just like in the real world, the issues are not presented purely in black and white, which has to be applauded in a book aimed at young adults. In Catching Fire, the second book of the trilogy, President Snow warns Katniss:
You have provided a spark that left unattended, may grow to an inferno that destroys Panem.
This spark provokes uprisings and acts of resistance in other districts and Katniss worries she is hurting the people she loves. However she realises they have already been hurt:
because what has been done to them is so wrong, so beyond justification, so evil that there is no choice
In the final book, Katniss becomes Mockingjay, the bird that has survived despite the Capitol’s plans.
Her fellow rebels idealistically aim to form a republic where the people of each district and the Capitol can elect representatives in a centralised government. But these ideals soon give way to reality of waging war, despite protests from Katniss:
But that kind of thinking – you could turn it into an argument for killing anyone at any time. You could justify sending kids into the Hunger Games to prevent the districts from getting out of line.
Katniss tragically learns that no-one benefits from a world in which these things are allowed to happen. We can only hope that lesson is understood in the real world for the real children of the revolution.