This is a guest post by Kate O’Brien. She is an exceptional teacher of Ancient Literature and History at Cornerstone Christian Academy near Cleveland, Ohio. I asked her to share her thoughts on The Hunger Games from a Biblical perspective as I am traveling today to an event with John Maxwell and Michael Hyatt — A Day About Books. Kate graciously agreed to do what she does with excellence every day in the classroom. Enjoy.
Not many things will convince me to read teen fiction. As an ancient history and literature teacher, I much prefer Penelope to Bella and Orestes to Harry. But when teen buzz stared flying over Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games, I saw beyond the swarm of publicity to a teachable moment, where I could connect my passions: ancient history, literature, and training teens to process the culture around them through a Biblical lens.
You’ve probably heard the details of this Roman-gladiator-based dystopian novel. To be as brief as possible, the novel describes the Hunger Games—a reality TV show where 24 teens fight to the death.
Even this terse summary reveals that Collins is making many (valid) statements about Reality Entertainment. And, as in all dystopian novels, The Hunger Games has its share of political points as well, which should be thoughtfully discussed, although my focus turns elsewhere in this particular discussion.
Most of the parental backlash against Collins’ series has been directed toward the brutality of the premise and the violence of the plot. Christian parents must carefully discern what place this type of literature may have in their homes. But personally, the violence is not the main controversial issue of this novel. And frankly, next to Homer, Collins’ descriptions of the violence seem trite and childish.
Collins’ story contains a far more subtle “acid” that will eat away at a biblical worldview: gender role reversal.
After discussing Roman gladiators in my 9th grade ancient history class, I saved ten minutes to discuss The Hunger Games. The girls were very excited about this prospect, but most of the boys in the class didn’t know anything about the story, and only grudgingly participated.
I proceeded to lead the discussion as every English teacher throughout all of time has:
“Describe Katniss, the main girl character of the story.” Strong, protective, hunter, courageous, not really into romance, provides for the people she loves.
“Describe Peeta, the main guy character of the story.” Sweet, kind, gentle, in love with Katniss, a baker, good at decorating cakes, emotional, sincere, taken care of by Katniss.
This is where those boys who were so reluctant at first chimed in. And I paraphrase: “What? Are you kidding me? That guy is a wus! This story is messed up. He’s named after BREAD? What is he, a GIRL?”
The danger in Susanne Collins’ novel is not the barbaric violence: it is the sexual reversal that this story portrays.
Adolescent girls, the target market for these types of books, are also the most prone to completely swallow these gender-bending ideas. The story dazzles these girls with its sugary romanticism, only to feed them the bitter pill of warped femininity/masculinity.
Collins’ story makes young women identify with a character who shows predominately masculine traits. Even more concerning, this story makes these young girls want a “man” like Peeta—a sweet, gentle, affectionate boy whom they can take care of. (In a more thorough analysis of the story, I could mention Gale, Katniss’ more masculine “guy friend,” whom she rejects in favor of Peeta.)
As we seek to pass on a Biblical view of truth to our children, we must meet these attacks head-on. God created men and women, differently, to work together and to show off different aspects of who He is. God created marriage to explain how He relates to His people (as a faithful husband to his unfaithful wife), and how Christ relates to the Church (as a bridegroom to his bride). The next generation of believers must understand the Biblical basis of human sexuality—a lesson that is most powerfully taught in the home.
If nothing else, Collins’ novel does aptly describe the brokenness that, unfortunately, the majority of American teens experience in their homes. Katniss’ father dies when she is young, causing her mother to plunge into depression. The heroine is then left to provide for her sister virtually on her own. In doing this, Collins accurately explores the effects of familial dysfunction on an adolescent girl. Christians should take the opportunity that Collins serves up to discuss these hard issues, both with those inside and outside the church.
The battleground is marked: the enemy has his eye fixed on destroying the remnants of biblical sexuality and family in our culture. We must strap on the full armor of God to take our stand again his schemes, a battle with much higher stakes than The Hunger Games.
Do you agree that the gender-bending of The Hunger Games should concern us? What do you think a Biblical take on the books should be? Leave a comment here to share your thoughts.