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 world of the book 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.
The primary character of Katniss Everdeen, being the narrator of the story, 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 Part I of the novel simply stem from her discomfort with the luxuries of the Capitol, and her attempts to become acclimated to them.
One of the major themes of the book is the coldness and artificiality of reality television; 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.
The totalitarian nature of the Capitol 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.
In order to combat this society, Katniss and Peeta have to play by its rules; however, she finds subtle ways to rebel, with the help of Haymitch (her mentor) and the other support staff of District 12's tributes. For instance, their ride to the Capitol shows them adorned in clothes that simulate being on fire - capturing the attention of those in the Capitol. Katniss' reckless stunts during her training with a bow and arrow (firing it at a suckling pig to impress the ignorant judges) make her desirable to sponsors, and the fake love story with Peeta gains them further favor. In essence, Collins uses these tricks to demonstrate the small ways that oppressed people can still rebel, while also making fun of the artificial storylines and manufactured drama that consumerist culture feeds on when consuming media.
In conclusion, the first half of The Hunger Games establishes a world that is a highly exaggerated, yet still cuttingly effective, version of our own world. A combination of Orwellian government, Battle Royale-style gladiatorial gaming, and the fake drama of Survivor or The Amazing Race, Collins skewers our obsession with reality stars who may be making it up for the cameras, while turning our bloodlust for drama on television to its natural conclusion; a civilization that would actually kill children for ratings.
Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic Inc., 2012. Print.