Over a decade ago, Suzanne Collins published the first book of the Hunger Games trilogy and changed the YA novel game forever. Now, four years after the final movie adaptation and eight years after the final book, she’s back with a new addition to the fictitious world of Panem.
The forthcoming novel, entitled A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, will revisit the dystopian world of Collins’ creation, 64 years prior to the start of the trilogy. It focuses on the period known as the Dark Days, which occurred after the First Rebellion, the war fought between the districts and the Capitol. These Dark Days are the reason as to why the Hunger Games existed in the first place. In this novel, Suzanne Collins wanted to “explore the state of nature, who we are, and what we perceive is required for our survival.” But why is Collins choosing to release this novel in 2020? Maybe because Panem’s dystopia is more socially relevant than ever before.
Here’s a quick refresher on the world of The Hunger Games. It takes place in the fictional world of Panem, which was once called North America in the distant past. In the first novel, Panem is divided into twelve districts plus the Capitol. Everything the districts produce is controlled by the Capitol for their personal gain, as each district was designed to benefit the Capitol in a certain way.
Essentially, the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. Citizens of the Capitol spend excessive amounts of money and even purge themselves during parties so they can eat more luxurious food. Meanwhile, in the Districts, the poorest are forced to add entries into the reaping pool (increasing their chances of entering the Hunger Games) so they won’t starve.
Of course, the contrast between Panem and the real world is intentionally stark. However, the similarities between wealth distribution in Panem and the United States are shocking. A study by Equitable Growth showed that the wealthiest 1 percent of US families hold about 40 percent of all wealth. The bottom 90 percent of families hold less than one-quarter of all wealth.
And these wealth disparities have only widened over time. In 1989, the bottom 90 percent of United States citizens held 33 percent of all wealth. By 2016, that percentage had decreased to 23 percent. On the other side, the wealth share of the top 1% increased from about 30 percent to 40 percent during that same time period.
Unequal wealth distribution is alive in both Panem and the United States of America. But unlike dystopian Panem, the US is a democracy. And 2020 is an election year. The Democratic presidential candidates have offered a multitude of proposals to tackle this issue. (None of the Republican candidates have made formal statements to the public.) Some have proposed raising taxes on the wealthy, while others have said they aim to reduce taxes on the middle class. Most support raising the legal minimum wage, and some are even proposing a universal basic income.
At first glance, the world of The Hunger Games seems completely unfathomable. And while we may not have a Hunger Games every year, there are still some parallels between reality and fiction. The most glaringly obvious resemblance is between the Capitol and the 1 percent, between the districts and the middle and lower class. And how did Katniss solve this issue? She started a rebellion. But we don’t need to start a rebellion when we can simply vote for the candidates who care about fixing these inequalities. The Hunger Games is so much more than a YA phenomenon – it’s a story that we can all take to heart and learn from.
Featured image via The Hunger Games film