SPOILER ALERT: Questions and answers may contain spoilers for all three books in the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.
Symbolic Conflict as the Climax of Social Conflict
I noticed an interesting structure inherent in Suzanne Collins "Hunger Games" trilogy. It seems an unusual structure, presenting an interesting challenge of plotting, setting and structure.
The core of the narrative - the overarching plot - is concerned with the subjugation of Panem's Districts by the Capitol. This core conflict is given an extreme, exaggerated, and intense representation in the eponymous Hunger Games - which are explicitly designed within the story's setting to demonstrate Capitol's complete dominion, to humiliate the Districts, and to pit the Tributes against each other. So the Games are designed to symbolize the social plight of the twelve Districts.
The books focus very heavily on this symbol. They spend the climactic portions of the first two books focusing heavily on the symbolic scenario - playing out the larger conflicts of the setting on a more immediate, visceral level.
Symbolic Conflict as Interruption of the Primary Conflict
However, it seems to me that this structure also presents an interesting difficulty. The Games symbolize the larger conflict, but they don't affect it - not directly. In many ways, both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire start out one type of story (highlighting the abuse of the Districts at the hands of the Capitol) and then shift into a very different type of story (a brutal survival game against constructed dangers and harsh competition). The survival-game story clearly stems from the class-war story, but does not seem poised to directly go back and affect the class-war story in return. In fact, both these books portray, as a climactic moment, ways the Games' outcome does affect the rest of society - and this is seen as unexpected, unpredictable, destabilizing.
In my opinion, this is a problematic structure. The interruption of the "main" thread in favor of a "secondary" thread, which doesn't clearly advance the "main" thread, runs the risk of the "secondary" thread feeling like a side-trek, a distraction - a thread you're waiting to get over with and "get back to the real story."
As I see it, using the Hunger Games to reflect the entire social conflict is the central concept the trilogy is constructed around. So the issue I'm presenting is inherent to the trilogy concept. I think Collins found many ways to alleviate this difficulty. I would like to ask:
- What techniques and structure/plotting choices did Collins make which directly helped make the "survival-game" thread feel like part of the primary narrative, and not an interruption of it?
- What ways can you suggest of dealing with this issue beyond what Collins did in the original books? I am interested even in methods which would require drastic changes to the originals.
NOTE: This is my first attempt at a case-study question. I'd be happy to hear what people think of this type of question, and what guidelines might be appropriate. If you have any thoughts, please join the meta discussion!