After putting off reading The Hunger Games for as long as I could--do not ask me why because I don't know--I devoured it, putting one book down and picking up another till I finished.
The most obvious metaphor in the trilogy is reality TV that pits contestants against each other on jungle islands or across continents or on stage. You backstab or get voted off. Nice doesn't play well. Form as many alliances as you like on your way to the top, but never forget Highlander: "There can be only one."And never forget the audience--what amuses, what doesn't. They want action, drama, conflict. They want blood. Fortunately, we haven't reached the point where we expect contestants to literally stab each other or intentionally draw blood, and we don't yet let contestants fight to the death--on national TV.
So reality TV is the most obvious, but not the only metaphor. There I sat, books in hand, inhaling the brutality and selfishness, the nobility and selflessness, pain and desire. Children were dying horribly. Book in hand, I watched the Games as viewer and participant without being a murderer or an accessory.
Why do we read, anyway? Is it to spend time with happy people leading happy, safe, uneventful lives? We read because we can't crack open the roof of our neighbor's house and watch them run through the maze of their private misery. We can't crack open the roof of a bank and watch masked people barge in with guns and shouts and demands. We can't trot after two people down a dark, rainy street and watch one person rape, stab, rob and/or bludgeon the other. We can't do any of those things without putting ourselves in danger or becoming complicit in crime.
But we can read about it. I watched Katniss dig for food in garbage cans and start to go home to die until a boy handed her a loaf of bread. I crept through those trees with Katniss in the arena, felt the burns of the girl on fire, died a little when Rue died, felt Katniss's joy at finding Peeta, plotted with her to keep him alive. Readers are voyeurs. We read for the misery of it. With any luck, at the end, there's peace and release.
The Greeks called it catharsis. It isn't pretty, but it is necessary.