I finished the first book in The Hunger Games trilogy about a week ago. A couple friends have been on me to read the books for several months, so I finally started.
I rather like dystopian novels, after all. My favorite was Fahrenheit 451 (possibly ‘cause I’m such a book nerd). And 1984 (and its little-known predecessor, The Napoleon of Notting Hill) and Brave New World were both fascinating. Unfortunately I haven’t read Animal Farm, but never fear, I’ll get to it someday.
What fascinates me so much is how each dystopian novel unnerves you by tugging at one seemingly innocuous tendency in modern society (or, at least, modern Western society) and stretching it to its logical conclusion. In Brave New World, for example (since that’s what I read most recently), the pursuit of happiness becomes elevated above all else. These novels explore how the world might end up if such-and-such a tendency were to persist and become the world’s defining characteristic over against contradictory tendencies. They act as a warning against imbalance.
So I approached these expecting to enjoy them. At least, I did last week. When I first heard of these books several months ago, I wasn’t too sure I was interested in reading them, since—well, they were marketed as members of that quasi-genre of Young Adult Fiction. Which I always thought was, Fiction That Adults Are Too Smart For. Good fiction is good fiction, I figure, and shouldn’t be limited by age group. Something that young people can understand should be deep or perceptive enough that a mature adult can likewise enjoy it.
Anyhow. I finished The Hunger Games, this first in a three-part trilogy, and I’m wondering—what terrible tendency, exactly, is this dystopia warning us against? You pick any of those books I mentioned before, and if you read them it’s pretty obvious what latent cultural tendencies the authors had noted—for example, the pursuit of security over freedom, or the pursuit of happiness at the expense of everything else. The only inkling I have here is a note in the author’s biography that she has been exploring violence’s effects on today’s youth through fiction for some time. So far, I can only suppose that her most popular dystopia centers on the same theme.
I withhold judgment until I’ve actually read all three parts of the trilogy. But so far, I’m not seeing so much of the dystopian cultural critique as I was hoping for. I’m hoping it’s just because I’m not even halfway through the story—and usually the dystopian climax, in which the chiaroscuro of tendencies out of balance is finally revealed, comes almost at the end.