What is the purpose of the novel The Hunger Games?
The novel is a complex and layered one with many themes. Discussing its purpose means understudying to some extent the author's intentions. Certainly one of the themes being explored in this dystopian work of fiction is the idea of totalitarianism, and the ease with which such regimes manipulate and control their citizens. It has been said that media is one of the methods by which political regimes control the masses, and the media spectacle that makes up the Hunger Games competition is designed to be an elaborate production that keeps viewers and audiences engaged, entertained and eager to witness the outcome and enjoy the suspense of the contest of skill. On some level the novel is a commentary on the increasing saturation of culture with electronic media. This is especially ironic in the novel's setting where the natural world and a lack of electronic engagement dominate the lives of most of the citizens. Digital and visual media seem to be a tool and toy of the wealthy elite class.
The games themselves function as both a form of punishment, pitting young people against one another in a fight to the death, and a form of reward for the winning district. The themes of nationalism and patriotism, related to the theme of totalitarian rule, are also explored as the different districts (categorized by the goods or resources they produce, such as coal or grain) are pitted against one another, as they vie for audience loyalty and enthusiasm.
Suzanne Collins explained part of her motivation for writing The Hunger Games in an interview with the New York Times:
In "The Hunger Games" Collins embraces her father's impulse to educate young people about the realities of war. "If we wait too long, what kind of expectation can we have?" she said. "We think we're sheltering them, but what we're doing is putting them at a disadvantage."
(Dominus, "Suzanne Collins's War Stories for Kids," nytimes.com)
Her point is that children need to be aware of both the motivations for, and the consequences of, war. Even a deliberately engineered conflict such as the Hunger Games themselves are a sort of war, designed to keep the population in line under the heel of the government. Without knowledge of the brutal tactics used by real-life dictatorships, children grow into adults without full awareness, ignoring real-world problems while focusing on smaller, less important issues. By showing younger readers the consequences of a brutal dictatorship, Collins expands their viewpoints and encourages the asking of tough questions in school.