Welcome to the Hunger Games read-along! Beginning July 1st, 2010, we will be reading and chatting about one chapter a day of both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins in anticipation of the release of Mockingjay on August 24th.

In the unlikely event that this is your first read of these amazing books, welcome! And more importantly, beware of spoilers! There will be spoilers.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Hunger Games Chapter 1

Here we go, eeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

In which I freak out over the amount of detail imparted in the very first paragraph.  In five sentences, we learn that the main character shares a bed with her sister, that it's cold and rough (and therefore they are probably poor) and that their mother sleeps alone.  We also learn that something called the reaping is causing Prim to have nightmares.  Man, I'll have to remember this paragraph to share with aspiring authors.  Okay, off with the editor hat and on with the fangirl fedora!

As I begin to read, though, I realize something of technique.  What I want to do is post the entire chapter and talk about how much I love each sentence and why.  I see now, though, that I'll have to go sit in a room without a computer or pen, read the designated chapter, and then distill it down to the important parts.  You're all reading along, you can see what's great.  I will try to hit the main points of each chapter, and leave the discussion wide open.

But still, the amount of information we get in this one chapter is astounding.

Okay:  do-over.  Chapter one, in which we meet Katniss Everdeen, her sister Prim who she describes as the only person she's sure she loves, her mother who used to be a Merchant with fancy dresses working in an apothecary, Gale who is the only person I'm sure I love who is Katniss's hunting partner and who wants to run away into the woods with her. (They've been hunting together for 4 years, and Gale is two years older than now-sixteen Katniss.) We also meet Madge who is Katniss's only friend, and whose father is the mayor of District 12 (who also eats illegal strawberries that he buys at his own back door from Katniss herself).

Katniss and Gale hunt successfully every day, totally illegally, but the Peacekeepers seem to turn a blind eye, because they benefit from the hunting, too.  District 12 has a high, chain-link fence around it (how big is it?) which is supposed to be electrified, but usually isn't, and has many loose places to get through, into the woods beyond.

We find out about the Hob (anyone know why this is so named?  I'm sure it's not the House of Blues...), the black market in District 12.  District 12 is one of (now) twelve districts which surround the Capitol in former North America, now called Panem.  (I was lucky enough to hear the author say this name came from panem et circenses, or bread and circuses, a metaphor for petty handouts and amusements given out by politicians to gain the public's favor.)  74 years ago, there were the Dark Days, in which the districts all rebelled, and were quashed by the capitol (especially poor District 13, which is gone).  The Hunger Games were established as a way for the Capitol to remind the districts that they have absolute control.  But between the strawberry loving mayor and the Peacekeepers in the Hob, and the not-electrified fence full of holes, District 12 seems to be a bit lax.

We learn that in exchange for wheat and oil (enough for one person) a potential reap-ee can enter their name any number of times in the annual drawing for the Hunger Games.  Gale has entered his name 42 times, Katniss has 20 entries, Prim has one, and Madge has (maybe) 5.  Katniss says there are thousands of slips, which means that, if we take the average of the four known, each kid in District 12 is entered approximately 17 times.  Which also means there are at least a couple hundred people in District 12 between the ages of 12 and 18.  Fascinating!

A couple more things:  Prim has a goat named Lady, from which she collects milk and makes cheese.  Gale brought bread to their meeting, which he got from the baker, and which they only eat on special occasions.  Katniss's dad worked in the coal mine, and was blown to pieces in a mining accident.  The district is divided among Merchants and the Seam (the bed of coal that can be mined).

As for the games themselves:  Haymitch Abernathy is the only living tribute from District 12 (there was one other, ever).  He's a complete drunk (Yay-mitch!)  Effie Trinket is the District 12 hostess.  She is angling for a better district, and wears a pink wig.  Most importantly, we learn that Prim's name has been called.(Noooooooooooooooo!)

Did I miss anything?  Were you able to stop after just one chapter?  My teacher hat isn't going on this morning. (durn Shakespeare kept me up too late!) Discuss amongst yourselves.  I'm going to go get some goat cheese and blackberries.


  1. Now that we've all read the first chapter, I want to discuss the issue raised by The New Yorker's HG review about the Capitol's lack of "ideological coherence." They ask whether the Capitol really would aim to make celebrities out of the people they are trying to suppress, and whether they would reward people with food and resources when they are actually trying to keep everyone starving.

    But reading this first chapter, I was reminded that Suzanne Collins' response seems to be that these games are all about creating resentment and disparity among citizens. Leading up to the games, you resent the relatively richer kids, who are less likely to be chosen; and when a kid that's not you is chosen, you are relieved, until that kid wins and earns the easy life, at which point you're jealous (to say nothing of what we learn later, that the "easy life" won is impossible to enjoy).

    So I wonder what other people think. Has Ms. Collins written a convincing totalitarian oppressor based on the premises laid out in this chapter? Or do Katniss's explanations feel like sleights of hand to set us up for a twisted adrenaline ride that lacks real foundation?

  2. By offering fame and fortune as rewards, I think the Capitol recognizes one very human instinct: hope trumps all. Even when that hope is in the form of weak grain and the possibility of living well after having murdered your peers, it's still hope for a better future (of sorts). Forcing each district to watch fosters hope within each district that their tribute will win, and that someone, at least, will have a better life.

    The other instinct the Capitol plays is survival. The Capitol knows that most people will do anything to stay alive, and they are exploiting that as their own power. "Watch how people try desperately to survive, even when we make that nearly impossible." Not going along with the Capitol's ways means forfeiture, and forfeiture means death. The survivor of the games is revered, showered with wealth, because they are the symbol of going along with the Capitol and coming out on top.

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  4. I think the author (can I call her Suzi?) knows what she’s doing and at this point she hasn’t quite shown her hand yet. Since this is from Katniss’s point of view, we only know what she knows and let’s face it, Katniss spent more time thinking about feeding her family, than wondering whether this Capitol-Panem-12 district set up is fair/makes sense.

    I think that the Capitol is all about maintaining control. They keep each district fighting and competing with each other because they know that as individual districts they are too weak for an uprising, but if they were to work together, Mr. Snow would have no chance. Instead of fighting the Capitol, the people of the districts fight each other, and Snow gets to sit back and cackle.

    I think that Suzi is pulling the puppet strings here and right now we are like Katniss:
    clueless citizens of district 12, worried about when we're going to eat next, and ready to be disgusted/entertained by a reality tv show known as the hunger games. But throughout the trilogy, we’ll gradually see the big picture, because Katniss’s world is going to get bigger, and perhaps then this totalitarian government and its history will seem more plausible.

  5. On a different note, as we get into the games and try to analyze why Katniss makes the decisions she does, I think it will be interesting to keep these lines from the first chapter in mind: "...this crazy lynx started following me around...I finally had to kill the lynx because he scared off game. I almost regretted it because he wasn't bad company. But I got a decent price for his pelt."

  6. Heather, you're right, we learn a lot in this chapter. At the same time, I was eager to learn a lot more--just what exactly is going on here, and why is the situation so desperate? Could I help our narrator? And who is this narrator? I'm 4 pages in before I know it's a she. And that's only because I suspect a guy would object to being called Catnip.

    So this Hunger Games thing is creepy, and I was shivering when I realized each potential reap-ee had to write his name on the piece of papers entered in the glass balls. The Capitol sure has a hold on these people.

    Interesting line, Liz.

    Wonder if there's anything to be made of this line on p17, "Anyway, Gale and I agree that if we have to choose between dying of hunger and a bullet in the head, the bullet would be much quicker."

  7. I'm a few chapters behind, but I'm here, reading along! I couldn't agree more: What a great first paragraph. When I first read the back of the book, it didn't interest me much, but that first page drew me in.

    This is my first time going through this series, so it's interesting to read everyone else's more-informed and scholarly comments here. I feel like I'm at a bit of a disadvantage as far as this blog is concerned, not knowing what's going to happen the way the rest of you seem to. Then again, you only get to read a book from that point of view once, so I'm going to try to enjoy it!

  8. I'm glad you're here, Tans! And no, you're not the only one reading this for the first time, although I think there are very few of you. And I envy your first read position. You're right, you only get to read it that way once! I'm impressed that you can resist the urge to read ahead!

  9. I started reading this morning (and I'm a first-time reader). I stopped at Chapter 4--but only because I was reading on the M7 bus and had reached my office. I have a feeling I'll devour the book over the weekend.

    I was perplexed about when the story is taking place while reading this first chapter. Katniss is hunting with a bow and arrow and coal mines have been mentioned. If it's the future, it doesn't seem stereotypically futuristic. Yet technology like the television broadcast of the Games makes it clear that it isn't in an alternate past. I'm wondering when or if we will learn more about how North America became Panem and at what time. Has anyone else read the short story "By the Waters of Babylon"? This first chapter reminded me a lot of it, in terms of the world and the tone.

    I like so far that this is a pretty brutal dystopian world. It's pretty shocking how in this first chapter the author has established that in this nightmarish society, kids have to fight to the death. It does give you chills but man, does it ever suck you into the story.

  10. Welcome Tanya and Rebecca! I also picked up this book to readalong with the blog, and then I got carried away and kept on reading!

    Rebecca, I've not read "By the Waters of Babylon," and I'm surprised that fictions of dystopic futures were written in the 1930s. And now, as I type this, the 1927 film "Metropolis" comes to mind, and that's a story of technology run amuck in a dystopic future. I'm pretty new to Sci-fi lit, and I'm wondering what some of the oldest writings are? Does William Blake's work count?

    Regarding "whether the Capitol really would aim to make celebrities out of the people they are trying to suppress, and whether they would reward people with food and resources when they are actually trying to keep everyone starving." Yeah, what's this mysterious Capitol all about? Maybe they just enjoy messing with people's heads, because as Alfred explains in the movie "The Dark Knight": Some men just want to watch the world burn.

    Must discuss more later!