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This long essay assesses the theme of class conflict in Suzanne Collins’ the hunger games trilogy. It serves to highlight class conflict as the central idea Collins presents in her novels. It employs Karl Marx’s class conflict theory and Antonio Gramsci’s hegemony as tools aimed at identifying the underlying strife between the two classes in Panem. It also assesses the inequalities and labour exploitation that give rise to the struggle while also analysing the many tactics employed by either classes in their bid to subjugate the other.
THE THEME OF CLASS CONFLICT IN SUZZANE COLLINS’ THE HUNGER GAMES TRILOGY
Suzanne Collins’ the hunger games trilogy is easily counted as one of the most successful young adult series ever written. The three novel series brings to life many characters that are set in a dystopian society filled with many trials and tribulations. The novels present a well written and imaginatively crafted account of a teenage girl’s unwitting success in defeating the social injustices that are rampant in the world she lives in and the people responsible for them. One of the most interesting aspects about the trilogy comes in the form of the thematic connotations that are derived from a complete reading of the series. Collins, it would seem, intends to comment on many issues that range from the inequality between the rich and the poor, to the notion of suffering as entertainment, and other ideas like the importance of appearances. The world she creates gives a dramatic view of society and flawlessly comments on the many social, political and economic issues that are faced by communities today.
The theme that is most prevalent in the trilogy is that of class conflict. In all three books, Collins keeps with the notion of the strife between the rich and the poor members of the society. She develops the conflict between those classes very carefully by either explicitly or subtly presenting many antagonistic instances between the two classes. She also vividly depicts the huge social disparity between the classes which presents as the cause of the discord between the two factions. Thus, it is this theme of class conflict that I intend to analyze in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games (2008), Catching Fire (2009) and Mockingjay (2010). I will seek to fully showcase how it stands out as the main idea that Collins is trying to portray throughout her trilogy.
1.1 THESIS STATEMENT
This paper argues that Suzanne Collins’ the Hunger Games trilogy narrative, advances the theme of class conflict by thoroughly portraying a society in which two classes are locked in a long struggle for supremacy and domination in a quest to further their own interests.
1.2. DEFINITION OF KEY TERMS
In this essay, the words theme, class, social inequalities, class conflict, class struggle, capitalism, proletariat, bourgeoisie and means of production are prevalent so they are defined beforehand. “The word “theme” in literature is sometimes used interchangeably with "motif," but the term is more usefully applied to a general concept or doctrine, whether implicit or asserted, which an imaginative work is designed to incorporate and make persuasive to the reader” (Abrams, 1999, p.170). Debbie Notari also defines a theme as “the underlying message or big idea of a story representing the critical belief the author has about life in general. This belief transcends cultural barriers and is usually universal in nature touching on human experience regardless of race or language”.
The term class in this paper is being used in its sociological denotation which alludes to “the division or order of society according to status” (The Oxford English Dictionary, 1989, p.279). Defined further, marxist-Leninists stipulate that “a persons social class is determined not by the amount of his wealth, but by the source of his income as determined by his relation to labor and to the means of production” ("Marxism and Class: Some Definitions", 2015). Thus Social class characterizes a group of people that have the same potential for earning and enjoy a similar social standing in the community. “Besides being important in social theory, the concept of class as a collection of individuals sharing similar economic circumstances has been widely used in censuses and in studies of social mobility” (Brittannica, 2015).
Social inequality in this context is “the existence of unequal opportunities and rewards for different social positions or statuses within a group or society” (Moffitt, 2015). It can also be defined as “social disparity or an unfair situation in which some people have more rights or better opportunities than other people” (Merriam-Webster, 2014). That is to say social inequality here represents the unfairness and favoritism that arises among the people in society as a result of the different positions that they occupy in that society.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines conflict as “a strong disagreement in ideas or feelings between people, groups etc., which prevents agreement and often results in angry argument”. The dictionary also defines the term in terms of literature as “the opposition of persons or forces that gives rise to the dramatic action”. This essay will use both definitions of conflict to further our thesis. It will look at the conflict in relation to the classes and how their differences in ideas and feelings on various issues drive the plot of the books and eventually lead to the resolution at the end.
Class struggle in Marxism is “the continual conflict between the capitalist and working classes for economic and political power also called class war”. The proletariat refers to “the class of industrial wage earners who, possessing neither capital nor production means, must earn their living by selling their labor” (Martha, 2001, p.XX).
The bourgeoisie in Marxist theory refers to “the social group opposed to the proletariat in the class struggle. They are the ruling class of the two basic classes of capitalist society, consisting of capitalists, manufacturers, bankers, and other employers”. “The bourgeoisie owns the most important of the means of production, through which it exploits the working class” (Martha, 2001, p.XX).
Capitalism is “an economic system in which the means of production and distribution are privately or corporately owned and development is proportionate to the accumulation and reinvestment of profits gained in a free market” (Martha, 2001, p.XX). Martha also defines means of production as “the raw materials and means of labor, be it tools or machines, employed in the production process”.
“Suzanne Collins, born August 10, 1962, in Hartford, Connecticut, U.S, is an American author and screenwriter best known for the immensely popular Hunger Games trilogy of young adult novels” (Cunningham, 2015).
“She graduated from Indiana University with a degree in theatre and went on to attend New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in the MFA-Dramatic writing program after which she began her career by writing scripts for such children’s television programs as Carissa Explains It All and Little Bear (“Suzanne Collins: Young Adult Author”, 2015)”.
The series which consists of The Hunger Games (2008), Catching Fire (2009) and Mockingjay (2010) has had an enormous impact on popular culture today and has even spawned a four movie box-office franchise based on the storylines in the series.
“The Hunger Games was an instant bestseller with its appeal to both teen readers and adults, with Stephen King in Entertainment Weekly calling it “addictive”, and John Green in the New York Times Book Review calling it “brilliantly plotted and perfectly paced” (“Biography: Suzanne Collins”, 2015)”.
“The series is set in our world but in post-apocalyptic time in a dystopian society called Panem. The Capitol is the cruel government of the twelve districts of Panem, which was once North America. As punishment for a revolution in the past, the Capitol created the hunger games. One boy and one girl (aged twelve to eighteen) are chosen to fight to the death on television until only one child remains. The main character of the books is Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers in the place of her younger sister Primrose for District 12. The male tribute for the district is Peeta Mellark, the son of a baker who is in love with Katniss. The narrative of the novels provides an inside view of a societal revolution and all in all makes for excellent reading for anyone who picks up the books” ("The Hunger Games Trilogy- Plot Summary", 2012).
 “While continuing to work in television, the author wrote the Underland Chronicles, starting with the book Gregor the Overlander (2003), about an 11 year old boy in New York City drawn into a fantastic subterranean world where humans co-exist with giant anthropomorphic sewer dwellers such as rats and cockroaches” (Cunningham, 2015). “Despite the series’ intended young audience, Collins- influenced by the lessons her father had taught her as a military historian and a Vietnam War veteran- straightforwardly introduced to its narrative such grim “adult” issues as genocide and biological warfare” (Cunningham, 2015). It is with a similar adult perspective or approach that she penned her magnum opus and bestselling young adult novels to date, and the subjects of our inquiry, the Hunger Games series.
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