Young adult fiction often discusses real-world issues through a science-fiction lens, in order to illustrate these complex issues to a younger audience. Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games tells the tale of young tribute Katniss Everdeen, who is forced into a state-sanctioned spectator sport where she must kill her fellow teenagers for the entertainment of the authoritarian Capitol. The world of the book is given a bleak and stylized atmosphere, telling the story through Katniss' perspective in order to convey major themes of poverty, depression, alienation, and oppression, as well as a condemnation of both televised war and reality television. The same can also be said of The Giver, in which Lowry places themes of oppression and dystopian governments into a post-apocalyptic setting, using these fanciful environments to showcase the real anxieties teenagers feel after being exposed to such real-world terrors.
The world of The Hunger Games depicts a horribly oppressive, Orwellian government, sometime in the indeterminate future, on a continent known as Panem (presumably what is left of the war-ravaged United States). Here, Collins depicts deep social and class inequalities by showing the denizens of the Capitol to be extremely wealthy, privileged, spoiled, and unused to modesty or challenge. Representatives of the Capitol, like Effie Trinket, are dressed in garish clothing, with nearly clownish makeup, to emphasize just how foppish and delicate their sensibilities are, while the inhabitants of the impoverished District 12 live simply, almost like Pennsylvania Dutch.
"For a contributing citizen to be released from the community was a final decision a terrible punishment, an overwhelming statement of failure.” This quote from Lois Lowry’s The Giver has many powerful implications, not the least of which is that euthanasia is wrong, for the person has much to contribute to society. The ‘releasing’ Lowry refers to is effectively the execution of someone who is considered to be too old for the community; according to this quote, it was always a shame to sacrifice someone who could give something back to others – the loss of a resource like that was a significant failing on the part of the community. This quote gives the perspective that it is wrong to euthanize, as they still have something to offer, no matter what their condition.
Katniss Everdeen, being the narrator of The Hunger Games, conveys much of the narrative through her inner monologue. Through this, we get the impression of a strong, yet deeply pragmatic and traumatized girl, who resolves herself to do whatever it takes to survive, whether that be fighting or navigating the Machiavellian whims of the audience. She is very independent, as she goes out on her own and hunts for animals out in the forest with her friend Gale, with whom she coldly contemplates having romantic feelings for. Katniss' whole personality is based in practicalities - being from the poorest District in Panem, she understands that even food is a luxury, so she knows how to survive. Many of the biggest conflicts she has in the novel stem from her discomfort with the luxuries of the Capitol, and her attempts to become acclimated to them (Flanigan, 2011). In The Giver, Jonas, the main character, goes through many of the same anxieties, though his mostly deal with the responsibility of being the Giver and his pubescent sexual awakenings. Both books show the oppression of human identity through authoritative control, a pertinent theme for newly-independent young adult readers.
One of the major themes of these books is the coldness and artificiality of entertainment; the Hunger Games are televised for the entertainment of the Capitol, and as such this cold, deadly game is couched in the artifice of a reality game show. There are color commentators, stylists and fashion experts for each tribute, and even interview shows where Capitol hosts talk to the tributes about their impending fight to the death. All of this results in a darkly humorous bit of absurdity, but it also hammers home just how trivialized violence can become when it is edited and shaped into a narrative. When Katniss and Peeta decide that one thing that can help them survive is sponsorship, they decide to perform for the cameras a fake story of star-crossed lovers, which resonates with the audience but is patently untrue. When giving yourself up like this is one of the ways to survive, Collins demonstrates just how much control the Capitol has over its citizens (Flanigan, 2011). The Giver's emotionless dystopia also shows a kind of control over the citizens of its world, by removing all joy and sexual desire from a society.
The totalitarian nature of the Capitol (and the Community) harkens back to classic science fiction like 1984, where governments rule with an iron fist, under the guise of helping the common people. The Hunger Games exist as a means to exert control through offering a slim bit of hope to the impoverished districts that they can be represented, even within the Capitol. At the same time, the Capitol's citizens get to live in the lap of luxury. In this way, Collins shows just how unequal the divide between upper classes and lower classes can be, as the upper classes earnestly see those in the poorer Districts as undesirable.
Lowry used the themes in The Giver to provide young readers with a very telling and dark, but relatable, idea of the tenets of totalitarianism and fascism. She depicts a world where people sacrificed for the greater good, and where conflicting thoughts and ideas were looked down upon, to an often murderous degree. In this way, she wanted to teach children that these ideas were restrictive, often the last resort of a society that wants to sacrifice freedom for safety and harmony. In this way, the science fiction setting of The Giver showcases the dangers of fascist authority, and proves to them that individuality is what makes them special.
In conclusion, both The Giver and The Hunger Games demonstrate science-fiction worlds that allegorically express strong themes of independence, oppression, censorship and struggling youths attempting to find themselves. These kinds of stories are extremely appealing to young adults, as they allow the reader to fantasize an extreme version of what is happening in their own world - they are starting to understand the harshness of life, the coldness of governmental censorship and control, and the dangers of taking those things too far. With these novels, young adults get to experience these themes and anxieties by proxy through the characters, and further understand their own feelings about the real world in which they live.
Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic Inc., 2012. Print.
Flanagan, Victoria. "Girl Parts: The Female Body, Subjectivity and Technology in Posthuman Young Adult Fiction." Feminist Theory vol. 12, no. 1 (April 2011), pp. 39-53. Print.
Lowry, Lois. The Giver. Houghton Mifflin, 1993. Print.