Is The Hunger Games Too Violent for Teaching?

While Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games is one of the most popular new texts being taught in America, it is also one of the most controversial.  There are some parents, teachers, and concerned citizens who feel that it is simply too violent and gory to be used as a text in schools.  They believe that young readers might be disturbed by a story about teenagers forced to fight to the death for the amusement of an oppressive government.  On the other side of the argument, many teachers feel that teaching The Hunger Games is absolutely appropriate and justifiable.  They explain that the story does not glorify violence, but instead condemns it, and that students recognize this important distinction.  They also point out that The Hunger Games is no more violent than the evening news or any number of television shows.

There is no denying that The Hunger Games is violent and gory.  Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist and narrator, becomes a reluctant combatant in a sadistic reality TV show in which teenagers from the 12 Districts of Panem are forced to fight to the death while the wealthy citizens of the Capitol watch with great delight.  During her struggle to survive the Games, Katniss narrowly escapes death several times and kills other combatants in self-defence.  Collins' describe these events in detail, with the gore left in: "The boy from District 1 dies before he can pull out the spear.  My arrow drives deeply into the center of his neck" (233).  But the violence comes with context, and isn't gratuitous; it is simply part of the evil predicament faced by the protagonist and her fellow combatants.

Should the mere presence of violence and gore dissuade educators from teaching The Hunger Games?  There are many texts that include significant violence that have been taught for decades.  Lord of the Flies involves a group of children hunting and killing each other, not because they are forced to by an oppressive regime, but simply because societal consequences are not present.  All Quiet on the Western Front includes many graphic descriptions of the horrors of war.  Both of these texts, despite their violence, are taught because critics, parents, and teachers largely agree that the context of the violence justifies their inclusion.  In Lord of the Flies, violence provides an opportunity to explore the true social and spiritual nature of humanity.  In All Quiet on the Western Front, violence reveals the true face of war; in fact, it is widely regarded as one of the greatest pacifist books ever published.  Teaching The Hunger Games can provide similar opportunities for educators to help students explore questions about human nature and war.

It is clear from the beginning of The Hunger Games that Katniss finds the violence of The Hunger Games abhorrent.  She volunteers to participate only to save her younger sister from having to, and takes no joy in the part she must play.  The violence in Collins' novel always comes with the context of an oppressive regime.  There are many important connections that teachers can help students make between the novel and real world.  There are many oppressive regimes in the world today, which inflict violence on their citizens.  By helping students identify and explore these connections, teachers can bring greater meaning to students' understanding of the text and the events shaping the world they live in.

It is important to question the value of any text used by teachers, but violence should not necessarily disqualify a novel.  The context of the violence must be considered, as must be the opportunity it provides for teaching. 

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