The series' protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, becomes a symbol of civil disobedience and rebellion to the nation's oppressed citizens.
It’s a theme that Toronto-based writer Chris Shulgan thinks is valuable for kids, and he would consider reading the books to his five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter.
“I think it’s a powerful story,” he says. “In The Hunger Games, the ethics – the morals of the story – are so right. It’s about living in a society where the dominant ideology is wrong, and questioning that ideology and trying to do something about it. It’s about making tough choices.”
Though he will see the film himself first to makes sure it’s not too graphic, Mr. Shulgan says he would consider letting his kids watch the film with him as well, once they’ve completed the books.
He says he considers the moral universe of The Hunger Games much less problematic than that of a children’s film like Beauty and The Beast, which he sees as a depiction of a protagonist in an abusive relationship with a suitor who has an anger management problem.
“I’m not going to show them Rambo or Saw, but I think The Hunger Games, while violent, is one of those stories that does have a positive moral universe,” he says.
Poverty and stealing
Katniss comes from District 12, one of the most impoverished areas in the country. She and her friend Gale are forced to poach to feed their families – hunting food in a forbidden forest, selling it illegally; meanwhile, the wealthy inhabitants of the Capitol live in extravagant decadence.
While breaking the law is wrong, are there times when it might be right? If the government is unjust, cruel and punishing? If you saw people starving? Or if you just needed to survive?
Judy Arnall, a Calgary-based parenting writer, says she thinks this theme contains great material for discussions between parents and kids. “There are many grey areas and ethical questions that kids need to develop, they need to find out, ‘Well, where do I stand on this? Do I think it’s okay to steal or kill in certain circumstances, or do I not think it’s okay?’ And parents can be the facilitators to bring out their thoughts on that,” she says.
Winning tributes are advantaged in that they gain extra food for their families. Wonderful on the face of it, but it’s another sly manipulation on the part of the Panem power group, in that winners will be set apart from their starving neighbours. “This is also a good time for parents to state their values, like, ‘I don’t think it’s fair that poor kids are disadvantaged, or that people should have to fight for food,’” Ms. Arnall says.
And as Ms. Ehm points out: “Because it happens through the eyes of a sensitive girl, who understands ... what she’s seen, kids who are reading it identify with the protagonist or protagonists, all who are very good, kind people.”
Although she will place her life in jeopardy, competing against many seasoned and older rivals, Katniss volunteers to be a tribute in place of her younger sister, Prim, in the annual lottery. And she often helps others she bonds with during the games, particularly a young tribute named Rue, who draws out her filial feelings. Katniss’s driving motivation throughout the series is her love for her family and her community.
“She’s so nice to her sister, and has amazing love for her family,” says Ms. Arnall. “Those are good scenes to talk about.”
The embroiled, mysterious tangle of Katniss and Peeta, one of her love interests, is a model of self-sacrifice during the games, almost to the point of silliness, taking turns tricking each other out of action, so that they might be the one to die first.
“The relationship between Katniss and Peeta [the other District 12 tribute] the things he does for her – this would be great for social studies in high school, because there are so many good themes in it,” Ms. Arnall says. She will be seeing The Hunger Games this weekend with four of her children. She says deciding whether the film is appropriate is more about temperament than age.
“Look at [your child’s]past history, how do they take other movies that have violent content? If they are plagued by nightmares for weeks, then definitely say no,” she says. “My 10-year-old, I think he can handle it.”
However, Karyn Gordon, Toronto-based parenting expert and author, says she wouldn’t recommend parents let their kids see it, regardless of age, because the movie is based on a violent premise. “When the entire movie … is built around that, I don’t think I’d recommend parents to show their kids at all.”
Special to The Globe and Mail