Science in Writing: Hunger Games

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The Hunger Games V. “The Lottery”

So I’ve been hearing a lot about The Hunger Games being a ripoff of “The Running Man”, “Battle Royale” and “The Lottery”. Of the works I listed, “The Lottery” is the only I’ve ever read or really had extensive enough contact with to speak about. As sad as it is, I was one of those saps who went to go see the midnight showing of The Hunger Games movie adaptation. It was actually pretty enjoyable and arguably better than the book. But contrasting books to their movie counterparts is a blog best left for Tim and his Storydome.

Seeing as the primary focus of this blog is discussing Sci-Fi in the vein of literature, I’m going to spend this blog contrasting The Hunger Games and “The Lottery”. For those of you who do not know what The Hunger Games is, it is a wildly popular dystopian novel in which children between the ages 12-18 are put into a lottery of sorts. One boy and one girl are selected to have the “honor” (as the Capitol describes it) of being thrown into an arena where their battle to the death is televised event.

In contrast, Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery” presents a village filled with anticipation on the day of a lottery drawing whose single winner is gifted with something rather unexpected. The most obvious difference in the two works is that they both had very different target audiences and served very different purposes. “The Lottery” was first published on June 26, 1948, in The New Yorker and targeted, as I imagine, the well-educated. Whereas The Hunger Games is meant to appeal to an age group of about 14-28. Moreover, it is listed as Young Adult (YA) fiction before it is listed as anything else; this is because it is written in the same fashion that a very sizable portion of popularized YA is.

Formula for a Famous Modern YA novel: a, cos(a), sin(a)

This is a parametric equation graphed in three dimensions. This means that these three variables are virtually x, y and z and as variable a increases, the tension between cos(a) and sin(a) in the plot line produces a spiral that travels through the box— thus rationalizing the generally understood predictability that is inherent in reading a typical work of popularized YA fiction.

Variable of Change:

a = Female lead must be an unlikable hollow character.

Constants:

sin(a)= Suitor 1: a hot-headed, over-sexed, lewd male.

cos(a)= Suitor 2: a collected, (often times) overbearing, man of gentlemanly antiquity.

And of course there is another independent variable; in this case it is the changing backdrop-plot that usually involves the hollow female in a life or death conflict and happens to involve her conflict in choosing male A or B. Which, by the way, is totally identifiable because when I’m trying not be torn apart by vampires, hunted by the Unseelie court, or slain by my barbaric peers in an arena, I just really can’t help but wonder if I like A’s sparkling (insert color) eyes or B’s reservation in courtly affairs better. Decisions, decisions.

Unfortunately, I do read a fair amount of YA and I like to think it’s so I can familiarize myself with what I should not be doing in my writing. But it’s really because these books are often times very well paced and don’t require much, if any, analysis. Sometimes I just need a break, and every now and then I even come across a  YA novel that possesses redeeming qualities. Holly Black’s Modern Tale of Fae series, for instance, has fairly unique and fleshed out characters and a very dark and creative twist on the world of Fae. The Hunger Games was not a YA novel of quite the same creative or gory caliber as Black’s series, but I still enjoyed it. One reason for that was because it was an extreme example of a tyrannical government using an arena for entertainment to numb the masses and keep them in submission. This could not have possibly been commentary from the writer about American obsession with media, specifically the explosion in reality TV. . .

*Spoilers Ahead*

Jackson does not touch the love triangle in “The Lottery” at all. Instead she introduces her unsuspecting audience to a sunny, rather pleasant village on the day that a lottery is going to take place. The emphasis is on the excitement and anticipation that the village has for this lottery as nervous tension fills the air and a slightly unusual drawing takes place. The drawing eventually produces a winner who is put immediately to death by stoning.

In The Hunger Games, that same nervous tension is present for the drawing of two winners as well. The masses are noted as wearing their best attire, which is similar to “The Lottery” in that they are very poor and often times that good attire is outdated and tattered. The pool of candidates from which the winner is selected is limited to children between the ages 12-18 in The Hunger Games. In “The Lottery” the pool is open to everybody.

Another thing that is different is the actual selection process. In “The Lottery” it happens as each person walks up and is handed a sheet of paper and then each person waits to open their papers at once. This scene was very well-written on Jackson’s part because she very effectively builds tension and suspense in the mind of the reader. The readers don’t know why everybody is waiting patiently to open up their sheets of paper or why one just doesn’t just pull a name from the black box. The audience doesn’t even know what the grand prize is for this lottery.

In The Hunger Games, suspense is almost completely negated because we know what the drawing is through its standard form — what pulling from two fish-bowls means and who will ultimately be drawn. There are almost no surprises being that the narrator is Katniss and the Hunger Games themselves are the focus of the book so, naturally, the reader knows that she’s going to end up fighting in the Hunger Games.

Another thing to point out, “The Lottery” ends on an implied image of an extreme and seemingly random act of violence that happens as an immediate reaction to being chosen, whereas the Hunger Games really only begin after the winner is announced and death kind of just looms over the novel the entire time.

Finally, Collins did, in fact, very strongly suggest that she was inspired by and modeled her book after Jackson’s short story in two major details. First, being the most obvious, was the process by which the contestants were chosen and the fact that the prize for the selected winner was death. Secondly, the more specific detail is Collins’ choice to places Katniss in a coal-mining town, which happens to be the same setting “The Lottery” takes place in. Both are allusions to “The Lottery”, and suggest that The Hunger Games, in a sense, is Collins’ reaction and full-length expansion on Jackson’s short story. Some things are better left alone, but Collins does successfully create a full-length plot, providing a reason for why death is the outcome for the winner, and creates a conflict that does not rely entirely Katniss choosing between male suitors number one and number two.

Special thanks to my boyfriend, Hubert, who helped me refine the equation above.

— Deirdre McCormick, Editor

Editor’s Note: Deirdre McCormick is a third year Biology Major with a minor in Creative Writing.  She is deeply passionate for both topics and that is evident in much of her writing endeavors.  She was also recently published in Lewis University’s own Windows magazine.

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4 thoughts on “Science in Writing: Hunger Games

  1. urban fantasy books April 1, 2012 / 4:56 am

    I would agree that it’s almost a rip off of Running Man which later on evolve into Escape from LA

  2. Jerry Kavouras April 3, 2012 / 10:34 pm

    Thanks for the equation of modern young adult fiction!

    • Deirdre S McCormick April 11, 2012 / 9:43 pm

      Jerry: You’re welcome!
      Urban Fantasy Books: I guess I will have to see that movie.

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