By: Anda Purina S5ENA at EEB2
In 2008, the first book in the ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy written by Suzanne Collins was released. The books quickly gained popularity and even now it’s considered to be one of the best young adult dystopian series. After the movies were released in 2012, the series only increased in popularity. The movies were faithful and well-made adaptations, however, too many viewers focused on the love triangle. They put the romance subplot front and central, even though that was never the intended interpretation. The story is not about which boy the main character should choose. It is about the broken world she lives in and the effect it has on everyone.
‘The Hunger Games’ is a dystopian novel, set in a fictional future country located in the area of modern US. The country is divided into 13 districts, 12 of which are functioning, and Capitol (the capital of the country). Each district produces a certain good that is then transported to the rest of the country. As a reminder of Capitol’s power, each year 2 tributes, one male and one female aged between 12 and 16 are chosen to fight to death in an arena as entertainment for the rest. The main character, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen lives is District 12, whose specialization is coal. When her 12-year-old sister is picked, Katniss volunteers in her place and goes to the Hunger Games.
‘The Hunger Games’ can be reduced to foolish young adult book series about a teenage girl who saves the world and falls in love. Actually, it is so much more than that. It talks about differences in wealth and class, colonialism, politics and other themes that can be easily applied to our current world.
Katniss grows up in the poorest area of district 12, one of the impoverished districts. At the age of 12, she becomes the main provider of her family. Being unable to work, she has to rely on gathering edible plants, but it’s not enough. She almost dies of starvation, which is a common cause of death in her district. Meanwhile in Capitol, there is endless food, the citizens even take medicine to induce puking to be able to eat more.
It definitely doesn’t help that the games are rigged against the poor. Starting at the age of 12 the children can have more slips of paper with their name added to the ‘lottery’, therefore increasing their chance of being picked. In exchange they receive enough grain and oil for a year. This way, the hungry children are more likely to be picked. Since most of the time these children are not trained to defend themselves, they do not win. When she was 12 Katniss had taken the food for herself and her family, ‘voluntarily’ increasing her chance to be selected. Meanwhile the people and the children in the Capitol who don’t have to participate, can enjoy themselves and treat the Hunger Games as a fun reality TV show.
While the story doesn’t show a capitalist society, it definitely criticizes capitalism. The rich get richer, don’t participate in the Hunger Games, see it all as entertainment, have infinite amounts of food, and so on. Meanwhile the poor have no possibility to escape poverty. They can’t move to a different district, so they are stuck in their districts working for Capitol or starving to death. Children from the poorer districts increase the possibility of being selected for the games, to escape death, yet risk dying in the arena, while the children from Capitol live in privilege.
Throughout both the books and the movies, the theme of colonialism can be clearly seen. Capitol has gained control over the districts and keeps it by means of physical force and fear. The people in the districts work tirelessly to provide for Capitol, not getting to keep the majority of what they produce. The author herself has said that the 13 districts are a nod to the 13 colonies.
The best example of this can be seen in District 11. It’s a poor district with mostly black people that specializes in agriculture and is located in the modern day ‘Deep South’ of the USA – Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama. We know little about it, but it’s clear that the inhabitants spend their long working days in the farms where they are closely monitored. They are not allowed to keep any of the produce and are punished through whipping for stealing and other small crimes. They are also forbidden from leaving the District or crossing the huge, electrified fences that enclose it. The world shown in ‘The Hunger Games’ does not discriminate based on race; however, it can’t be a coincidence that this district is the one to resemble slave and colonial societies the most.
These were only two of the themes that can be seen throughout. There are also different symbols, for example Katniss’s love interests each resemble a different worldview for the character to choose. One is the more radical, violent path, while the other resembles diplomacy and negotiations. All of the ideas I have mentioned show that ‘The Hunger Games’ is more than a simple, childish young adult story. It’s worth diving into to understand and explore these themes.