As I'm rereading them, I thought I'd blog about them this time through. I will assume everyone has read the first book or at least seem the movie, so if you haven't and still want to remain unspoiled, just avoid any posts with this "Hunger Games Post:" subject line. If a book involves substantive details from later books I'll put that under an LJ-cut.
Anyway. We're just starting off, so no need for a spoiler-warning. The Hunger Games is set in a world where global warming has made the old status quo unsustainable. This resulted in a rather authoritarian regime with a very unequal society, between the districts (outlying regions that produce, in the words of movie!Snow, "Things we want, things we need") and the Capitol (a pampered head of government and power). All of this led to a rebellion seventy-five years before the book begins. As penance for this rebellion, the districts have to offer up one boy and one girl, between the ages of twelve and eighteen that will fight in a bloody gladiatorial type competition. The one winner is allowed to live and even given a lifetime of riches. In the later books we also learn that all the families in their districts get free food that whole year. Some of the districts more cozy with district see it as a kind of sporting event, but in the poorer ones being chosen is seem as a death sentence.
Here's where things get really interesting, IMO. When you're twelve you get one entry into the reaping lottery, and then an extra entry is added on every year. So it's more likely that older kids will get chosen than the younger ones, although sometimes younger tributes really are chosen as we see in the books. (The heroine's little sister, Prim, is chosen, as is Katniss's ally Rue and several others.) On top of that, kids can sign up for tesserae - a monthly supply of grain and oil for a single person. You can sign up for you and anyone else in your immediate family. That carries over, too, so if you still need tesserae the next year you have the extra entries from the previous years and this one.
The upshot is that Katniss's friend Gale has fifty-odd entries in the yearly drawing. He's eighteen and has been signing up for tesserae for his younger siblings and mother in addition to himself. Katniss has a high number as well, for similar reasons. On the other hand, the mayor's daughter Madge has never really had to worry about having enough food, only has six or so entries - making it at least eight times more likely that Gale will be picked than that Madge will.
Thinking about this I found myself wondering: is it fair. I mean, obviously the Hunger Games itself is massively unfair. The whole concept that you could take kids at random for something that happened before they were even born (and that wasn't uniquely the districts' fault in any event) outrages me, as it's intended to. But going along with that, is this a good way to allocate those spaces in the Games? On the one hand, those kids who receive tesserae are receiving something that the rich kids didn't (food), but on the other hand the only reason the rich kids didn't need the tesserae is because they were born into privilege. The book makes it seem like social mobility is impossible, and it's not Gale's fault he wasn't born to one of the few shopowners rather than to mining parents.
Think about it this way. Say that the army, rather than being all-volunteer with bonuses, you did a draft. Would it be more fair to be one-citizen-one-entry or let the poor "buy" more entries into the draft as a way to prevent hunger at, say, $1,000 of any government subsidy (public school, welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, etc.) in exchange for an extra entry into the draft. Say there's also an actual war going on, so some proportion of those drafted will actually die. In a lot of ways that's similar to the Hunger Games reaping.
It's really interesting to me to think about why the reaping (as opposed to the games per se) are unfair. On a gut level I believe they are, but working out why is a bit tricksy. I can see a lot of American political parties being behind a system like this, for instance, if the games themselves weren't so unfair in the first place. After all, no one's forcing the poor to accept tesserae, and surely they prefer that to starvation.
What are your thoughts on this? Is this a good way of choosing tributes?
(More posts to come as I read through the Hunger Games; feel free to suggest things you'd like me to talk about and I'll think about it.)