February 01, 2012

Hunger in Appalachia

Welcome to Chapter 3 in the Hunger Games Read Along!

Before we dive into the chapter itself, a little backstory on me as the reader: This is the first time I've read this book, and the first time in a while that I'm jumping back into the world of YA literature.  Honestly, I sort of withdrew reflexively from the YA genre when Harry Potter came to an end, mourning for the passing of an extraordinary era.  Of course, The Hunger Games has reminded me that good writing and the fascinations of the human imagination march calmly on.  It's good to be back to the YA shelves.

I had not yet begun reading this book when I chose to post on chapter 3, so it is pure coincidence that the blogger who picked chapter 3 is from a long line of Appalachian dwellers.  Many of the influences molded together in this story are apparent early on--the literature of a post-nuclear-apocalypse America, the gladiatorial games of ancient Rome.  Indeed, Rome is a particularly strong motif, since one great city derives all the benefits of empire from the rest of the continent.  But it is not until chapter 3 that we learn WHERE District 12, home of our heroine, Katniss Everdeen, is located within the former United States.  Katniss is a mountain dweller, from the coal mines of Appalachia.

In many ways, Katniss' home in the future bears striking similarities to Appalachia both past and present.  When Europeans first settled in that region, most of them were Scots-Irish immigrants fleeing forced evacuations, famine, politico-religious wars and bigotted attitudes.  They came from the "Emerald Isle" and the Scottish Highlands, and when they reached the American shores, they settled in places that looked like home.

Maggie Valley, North Carolina
Photo by Bms4880

Considering everything they had experienced and were fleeing from, it is hardly surprising that they tended to defend their newly claimed land at the point of a firearm if any stranger came to call.  They wanted to maintain their customs and traditions, they wanted to live free, and they wanted to remain largely isolated from the rest of the nation.  Unfortunately, they got what they wished for in ways that were economically crushing.  The discovery of coal in their mountains seemed the natural escape from poverty, as the rest of the nation was clamoring for the stuff and Appalachia certainly had it.  Too late did the locals discover that they and the land would suffer a similar, horrible fate.  No mining technique was too intrusive, too destructive, for the mining companies, even if it meant poisoning the water and lopping off entire mountain tops.  The miners themselves were placed into mining camps, where the only provisions were sold by the mining company in the famous "company store," at such a steep profit that locals were soon having to buy on credit.  In debt to their own employers, they were all but indentured servants.  Their lives were hungry, harsh, dangerous and often short.  If a cave-in didn't get them, a new phrase they had learned was always waiting--Black Lung, the fine layer of coal dust, poured into their chests during years of working the mines, on which they would eventually suffocate.

The final indignity began when the coal became too difficult, too cost ineffective, to reach.  As Katniss points out, further mining would have to wait for future technologies, because the veins near the surface were soon exhausted, and humans would now have to dig much deeper in order to reap Appalachia's resources.  When the mining companies retreated, they left Appalachian dwellers with far less arable land, contaminated water supplies, no jobs, and no source of income other than government aid.  Today, many still live in crushing poverty in Appalachia, after powering the American industrialization for decades.  There is little in the region except destitute people trying to find a reason to hope, particularly in Appalachian Kentucky, which my family left during the Depression in search of jobs and some stability.  Despite its dystopian and science fiction overtones, The Hunger Games depicts an Appalachia not much changed by the future.


  1. Oh wow. I had no idea it was that harsh. I knew that the mining towns were bad & the miners were treated pretty terribly, but wow... That IS awful. :(

    Glad you are enjoying the book though! :D

  2. Sounds like the real Appalachians have quite a lot in common with the people living in area 12. It's shocking enough to read about in The Hunger Games, but even more so now that your post has made me realize that there are people living in crushing poverty in Appalachia right now. It gives me quite a lot to think about. Thank you for sharing the history and fate of the current day Appalachians.

  3. I love that you latched on to the history part too! I just finished reading this book, and I was fascinated by the parallels. I really hope the author releases an official map, as I'd be interested to see how it all fits together.

  4. That is SO creative to do! LOVE IT!Thanks so much! I a really enjoying this book. AND I was a Hunger Games virgin when I started this read a long!

  5. This is really well written and itthe first compelling raeason for me to think of reading The Hunger Games.

    1. Thank you! That is high praise, especially from you. I know I'm truly a book blogger now if I've actually influenced you to read a dystopian YA novel!


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