Student Guest Post: On The Hunger Games as Contestant in the Required Reading Arena

In my English 113 classes,  my college students have several topics from which to choose for their first essay. One is an argument for the book of their choice to be assigned reading in school (or, in the case of a controversial book, for it to be permitted for students to read). One of my students, Jordan Hutchins, decided to argue for the Hunger Games as an addition to the required reading list for high school students. The essay was so nice that I asked if we could post it, and Jordan has graciously agreed. I hope everyone enjoys the essay as much as I did and that you’ll give this student scholar some great feedback. Thanks, Jordan!

The Hunger Games: Contestant in the Required Reading Arena

Just the term “required reading” is enough to make most students cringe in their seats. Painful images of nagging parents, beautiful summer days wasted, and Cliffs Notes cramming come readily to mind. Nothing ruins those precious three months off like the thought of having to suffer through Pride and Prejudice, The Grapes of Wrath, and The Lord of the Flies. “They’re not even interesting!” is the usual complaint. “They’re all old, boring, and you can’t understand them. I’d rather be watching American Idol.” That wish may just come true for some students, only in book form. A new book has come along that teachers and students alike should take note of. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, should be considered for required reading among middle and high school students because it is entertaining, it connects with the reader, and it examines our society’s obsessions with violence and reality T.V.

Unlike many classics, The Hunger Games is an entertaining read for younger readers. “It’s too long.” “They’re boring.” “I can’t get into the book.” This is what most students say about every book they are assigned to read. In some ways they are correct. The Grapes of Wrath is not an easy read, and to many kids a long, involved chronicle of a family’s hardships during the Depression, no matter how well written, isn’t their idea of an engaging story. This is not the case with The Hunger Games. Set in an unspecified time in the future, The Hunger Games takes place in a North America that has been transformed into a series of twelve Districts, governed by the Capitol, a government that takes great joy in making the lives of its citizens miserable. One of the Capitol’s favorite tools for accomplishing this is the Hunger Games, a gladiatorial event where a boy and a girl are selected from each District and are forced to kill each other in an arena until only one remains standing. To add to the horror factor, the rest of the country is forced to watch. The heroine of the story, Katniss Everdeen of District 12, volunteers to take her little sister’s place as one of the “Tributes” and enters the arena, not knowing if she will make it out alive. This is a plot a student can get into, and the book is excellently written with quick pacing, intense action, and real, raw emotion. The book is not long, eliminating that usual complaint, yet once students start reading it, they won’t be able to put it down. It is easy to read, and the vocabulary is relatively simple, yet rich. The author, Suzanne Collins, has geared this book toward students and few should have difficulty with it. The fact that it is already popular among many students and adults is evidenced by the awards and acclaim it has garnered. “The Hunger Games has spent more than 100 consecutive weeks to date….on The New York Times bestseller list since publication in September 2008, and has also appeared consistently on USA Today and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists”(“Books of Note”). Young adult dystopian novels have overtaken The New York Times bestseller list for kid’s chapter books (Stanford) and The Hunger Games is the reigning champ of them all.

Students all around America are reading and enjoying The Hunger Games because it is both an enjoyable read and it connects with them in ways that other required reading may not. One of the easiest similarities students can draw between their lives and the book is a comparison of The Hunger Games to middle and high school. In the book, the Hunger Games are treated like a great, fun adventure by the Capitol. Their representatives tell all the Tributes what an honor it is to “compete,” that this is their chance to make history and win fame and fortune, all the while being completely insensitive as to what the Games actually involve, namely kids killing each other for the audience’s enjoyment. In her article for The New Yorker, “Fresh Hell,” Laura Miller relates the Games to the high school experience.“The rules are arbitrary…subject to sudden change. A brutal social hierarchy prevails, with the rich, the good looking, and the athletic lording their advantages over everyone else. To survive you have to be totally fake.” This is an accurate description of high school if there ever was one and one that perfectly describes the Hunger Games as well. Students will completely understand Katniss’ frustrations with pretending to be in love with her fellow Tribute from District 12. This charade is only a ploy to garner favor with the crowd, which could mean the difference between life and death for her. The crowd has the option to reward contestants with food, water, medicine, and other necessities that can help the Tributes survive. The message in the Hunger Games is, “Don’t put on a good show and you may not live.” In real life it’s, “Don’t put on a good show in high school and the next four years of life are miserable.” In several of the Districts, children actually train for the Games in the hopes that they will get picked. The Tributes from these Districts are always stronger, fitter, and better fed. They join together to kill the kids from the other districts before turning on each other, again, much like high school. Students will also relate to the constant lack of privacy Katniss has to deal with. No matter where she goes, she is watched. She has to think about everything she says and does and how the audience will interpret it. Most students can understand this. In school, as Ms. Miller describes in her article, “Everyone’s watching you, scrutinizing your clothes or your friends and obsessing over whether you’re having sex or taking drugs or getting good enough grades, but no one cares who you really are or how you really feel about anything.” In middle and high school, very rarely does a person feel he or she can just be who they are and say what they want, because of the constant scrutiny they’re under by their peers, the people who can make or break their school experience.

The level of violence in The Hunger Games is an issue both parents and teachers may express concern over. In an interview with Jorge Carreon, an LA personalities examiner, author Suzanne Collins explains that it’s hard to put kids in violent situations, and her goal was to write the death scenes in the same manner that she would explain them to her own children (“Literary Youth Quake”). The violence in the book is never over-the-top or gratuitous, but rather helps drive home the point that the Games are nothing more than a sick form of entertainment and a means for the Capitol to show its dominance over the Districts. Most students reading The Hunger Games will have seen much more violence in video games they play or movies and T.V shows they watch. Parents and teachers should not let the violent overtones of the book be a reason to dismiss it as required reading, but rather understand that the violence is handled tactfully and is used to reinforce how horrible the Hunger Games really are. As Lev Grossman says in his review of the book, “Kids are physical creatures, and they’re not stupid. They know all about violence and power and raw emotions” (Grossman). The Hunger Games is violent for a reason. It allows us to witness the horrific obsession the Capitol has with violence and then challenges us to examine our lives as Americans so that we can see how similar we are to the Capitol. UFC, boxing, hockey, these are violent sports which we love. We make sure there are rules to keep people “safe”, we don’t want anyone to die, but how excited do we get when we see some lose a tooth, break a limb, or get K.O.ed? The gap between us and the Capitol isn’t all that big.

The fact that most children have been exposed to more violence than that depicted in The Hunger Games brings up another important aspect of the book. It offers a thought provoking look at the potential future of reality T.V in America. Virtually everyone in America is familiar with Survivor, The Apprentice, Big Brother, and all the other “reality shows” that are prolific on television. Reality T.V has become a staple of American entertainment. We find great enjoyment in seeing random strangers compete with, lie to, seduce, and backstab each other. We religiously tune in every week to watch one more person get voted off the island or lose their job. We defend our favorite contestant, from the sleazy club owner, to the ditzy wanna-be actress, with tremendous passion against our spouses, parents, and co-workers. Why is this? Steven Reiss and James Wilts explain in an article for Psychology Today: “Reality T.V allows Americans to fantasize about gaining status through automatic fame.” Reef Karim, a psychologist and addiction specialist, puts it another way, “We watch sex appeal, flirtation, jealousy, rage, competition, conflict, anxiety, shame, impulsivity, hedonism, narcissism, sex…the list goes on and on. In a way, it’s much safer to watch it play out on television than to experience it ourselves.” These writters make some very good observations. One of the greatest appeals reality T.V has for Americans is its ability to let us to live out our fantasies through other people. It allows us to see regular people like us become famous and wealthy. Yet how far are we willing to go in this direction? In The Hunger Games, the event is the most important “celebration” of the year. People are excused from work, kids from school, and everyone is required to watch it. The Tributes are all given their own personal teams of stylists whose job it is to completely change their normal appearance and are given their own public image (shy, sexy, aggressive, etc.) in order to win the audience’s favor, much like the people in shows of today. Yet, in The Hunger Games, the Capitol audience isn’t at all perturbed by the fact children are killing each other for their enjoyment. To them it’s one big game to live out their fantasies in. How soon until that becomes a reality in America? We already find it acceptable to watch contestants be unfaithful to their spouses, lie blatantly to each other, and verbally abuse everyone around them. We are slowly hardening ourselves to that which is morally wrong while using the excuse that it is only entertainment and not “real.” What’s to keep it from becoming so? Already in forty years we’ve moved from I Love Lucy, to Temptation Island. While The Hunger Games is definitely the extreme end of what reality T.V could turn into, the book allows students to consider the direction reality T.V is taking. As the next generation, it is they who will determine the next step the entertainment industry takes in America.

If The Hunger Games were considered for required reading, the feelings of dread associated with “Required Summer Reading” would be put to rest. The Hunger Games is a well crafted, highly entertaining novel that connects with students and gives them a thought-provoking look at two important aspects of American society. These reasons make it an excellent option for required reading among middle and high school students.

Works Cited

“Books of Note.” Scholastic Media Room. 3 Sept. 2010. Web.

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic, 2008.

Grossman, Lev. “Catching Fire: Suzanne Collins’ Hit Young Adult Novels.” Time Magazine. 7 Sept. 2009. Web. 31 Aug. 2010.,9171,1919156,00.html

Karim, Reff. “The Reality T.V Obession: A Psychological Investigation.” 8 Oct. 2009. Web. 31 Aug. 2010.

“Literary Youthquake: A Q&A with Suzanne Collins and ‘The Hunger Games.” 31 Aug. 2010 6 Jan. 2009. Interview. 31 Aug. 2010.

Miller, Laura. “Fresh Hell”. The New Yorker. 14 June 2010. Web.

Reiss, Steven and James Witz. “Why America Loves Reality T.V.” Psychology Today. 1 Sept. 2010. Web. 31. Aug. 2010.

Stanford, Caitlin S. “Dystopian YA tops bestseller lists.” 16 Apr. 2010. Web. 31. Aug.2010.


  1. Great essay! I hope it earned an A.

  2. Well, the scary Federal folks will pound me into jelly if I reveal grades, even really good ones, but let’s just say Jordan won’t have any trouble passing his OWLs 🙂 It’s also exciting for me to bring students into the world of active scholarship, in the far and lovely lands beyond the confines of the classroom!
    It’s a great class; nearly all of them aced today’s quiz on the reading–Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener” and Welty’s “A Worn Path.” I asked them to write on the quiz what Bartleby would probably say if I asked him to take the quiz, and for extra credit, since Welty’s protagonist is named Phoenix, they could describe the mythic phoenix and identify its use in popular films or books–Fawkes has a large following in my class! Flame on!

  3. This is one excellent piece of writing. It is clear, candid, well-focused, well-argued, and well-written. It provides invaluable insights on what the Hunger Games can truly offer students (and people in general), and ones that teachers would do well to consider. I especially appreciated the thoughts on how this sort of required reading would not only really entertain students (rarity, as was pointed out!), but also help them think deeply about issues that they indeed already face in the world 21st century of entertainment as well as their school realities. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this essay; thank you for posting it, Mrs. Hardy!

  4. *in the world of 21st century entertainment…

  5. capetimuse says

    Sex?? Who?? Katniss??

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