Content warning: The following article contains spoilers from The Hunger Games series, as well as mentions of murder and suicide.
The Hunger Games. A battle to the death. A rebellion against tyranny. Whether you’re hearing about this series for the first time, or a diehard fan, not to worry — this article caters to both audiences! Read on as writers Mei and Merissa provide their takes and thoughts on The Hunger Games series.
Written by a Hunger Games New Comer
Merissa’s Take: Why Should You Start Watching The Series Now
As an avid consumer of films, I have a tendency to be fussy with what I choose to watch. However, I do have a soft spot for certain films, particularly those that reflect on taboo topics surrounding societal conventions. Thus, I knew I had to delve deeper into the notable Hunger Games series, written by Suzanne Collins. My previous knowledge about this series was minimal as I had only seen clips and fragmented parts of the film adaptations. Once I had the opportunity to indulge in this trilogy, I am glad to say that I was not disappointed in the least.
A four-part film series, soon to be five with its upcoming prequel, The Hunger Games to me is a reflection of the deeply-rooted issues existing within our own society. For those unfamiliar with the premise of the series, here is a brief rundown:
Set in a dystopian society, it features citizens living in different districts under the rule of a harrowing dictatorship, known as the Capitol, the affluent governing body of the fictional metropolis, Panem. The Hunger Games in itself is essentially an annual fight to the death battle amongst representatives of 12 different districts. The reason for the existence of the Hunger Games? It’s all due to a previous attempt at a rebellion arranged by citizens against the Capitol. To the Capitol, the Hunger Games is the best way for the citizens to atone for their ‘sins.’ The Hunger Games had been an ongoing tradition, a norm that has been put into practice for many years. What drives the plot is when a young woman, protagonist Katniss Everdeen, decides to cause a disruption to the rule of the Capitol during its 74th Hunger Games event.
The film starts off featuring the annual Hunger Games selection ceremony, a highly dreaded, but mandatory event for citizens aged from 12 to 18 years old to participate in. In the midst of the selection process for one male and female ‘tribute’ to represent the 12th district, Katniss’ sister is chosen as the female tribute. Now, Katniss was not supposed to be involved. However, her sister’s distress on getting selected was enough to prompt Katniss to volunteer herself and partake in the Hunger Games, marking the beginning of her rebellion against the Capitol throughout the Hunger Games series alongside Peeta, District 12’s male tribute.
The alluring part of this series is the way the plot was designed to showcase the hidden pitfalls of our own society, all nicely packaged within the confines of a single artificial dystopian world. Morality, oppression, conformity, rebellion, revolution and love — concepts that are not far off from what we have seen, or maybe even experienced ourselves.
The Hunger Games is no stranger to oppression, with its world ruled and built upon this concept. Here’s a question to think about: In the circumstance where humans are forced to pit against each other for the sake of survival, would one do as they are told to remain safe, or would they go out of their way to do what is right? How far would humans go when pushed to their limit? The line between morality and adhering to authority is blurred in the world of Panem, and the film series effectively addresses this.
Don’t get me wrong, authority is an essential tool to maintain peace within a society. However, an excessive exercise of it turns it from being beneficial to a form of power abuse, a common attribute of dictatorship, as illustrated in The Hunger Games. Under the rule of any dictatorship, there is often a clear distinction when it comes to the segregation of social classes, as seen from the way that Panem is operated. Those from the more affluent districts have the resources and luxury to dictate and oversee decisions that fit their best interests, wherelse districts on the lower end of the spectrum suffer from these decisions made at their expense.
Authority Figures and Abuse of Power
Let’s take a closer look at those with power. Take President Snow as an example, the antagonist of the story and the Capitol’s leader. Being a ruthless leader, he strives to get his way in any situation. The enactment of the Hunger Games, forcing citizens to be selected as tributes to participate in a bloodbath without their input or say, is the first indication of abuse of authority in this series. Another way he exercised his authority would be through the surveillance of citizens. Every move was monitored, and those who did not obey the Capitol were either threatened or killed. This became a method of intimidation to control the actions of citizens living in the districts. The existence of President Snow and his actions in The Hunger Games series is a representation of the extent to which human beings are capable of, disregarding the wellbeing of others for the sake of their own selfish, power-hungry tendencies.
The Oppressed: To Fight or Flight?
Now, how about those under the rule of authority? When faced with adversity, we as humans can choose to either confront or steer clear from stressful situations. This is also known as the ‘fight-or-flight response,’ an innate response experienced universally by humans.
… Flight – Conformity
If we take a look at the flight response, this can manifest in the form of conformity. Conformity, in the context of a society, is when citizens comply with the rules and regulations set by those in authority. But why would a person want to adhere to rules, especially ones that do not align with their conscience? It all boils down to survival. With the tributes and their loved ones’ state of survival on the line, it’s no wonder that they are willing to conform. Surviving meant that the tributes had to do whatever it takes, even if it meant betraying their own truth and core values.
An example of this is represented through the relationship between Katniss and Peeta. They were often told by their mentor, Haymitch, to give good first impressions whenever they were in the public eye; whether it be during their training sessions, the Tribute parade, live interviews, and even in the battle arena. The purpose for this would be to gain sponsorships from wealthy citizens living in the Capitol, which came in the form of gifts and supplies that gave them higher chances of survival during the Games. One way that Katniss had to conform to increase her rate of survival in regards to this was when she had to pretend to be ‘star-crossed lovers’ with Peeta. There can only be one winner in The Hunger Games, meaning that Katniss and Peeta had to kill each other even if they are from the same district. However, by the end of the first film, both Katniss and Peeta were declared winners of The Hunger Games, a last minute decision made by the Gamemakers, a group of scientists from the Capitol who managed the games. Katniss and Peeta had threatened to die by suicide through consuming poisonous nightlock berries, so that there would be either two winners or none at all. From then on, the two of them were viewed as ‘star-crossed lovers’ and became fan-favorites amongst the Capitol audience watching the Games.
Even so, there was a problem with this whole situation. Although Katniss truly cared for Peeta, she did however, love another man back in her district, Gale. When President Snow finds out about her secret rendezvous with Gale through surveillance footage, Katniss was forced to end things with him under the threat of having her district obliterated. With that, Katniss is forced to conform and pretend to be madly in love with Peeta on screen, with viewers supporting and endorsing them for their ‘forbidden’ love. All of this is done in order to appease those with higher power (The Capitol) and to avoid a grim fate (to save themselves and their district).
This is merely one example from the film, but it speaks volumes on how our own society operates. To me, this part of the story has been carefully crafted as a metaphor of how we have the tendency to put on a ‘mask’ in order to appease others around us. Putting on different masks is not a bad thing in itself, as we do have to act a certain way and respond accordingly to different groups of people (for example elders, parents, teachers, friends). Still, it has been proven to be harmful for one’s self-esteem if a person starts to conform to ideas or actions that go against what they actually believe in or advocate for, preventing one from being their true self.
Besides, as Panem had 73 Hunger Games prior to the 74th Hunger Games (where things took a turn), it goes to show that no one from the districts really put their foot down and stood up for what’s right. Thus, the vicious cycle of murdering continues without hindrance as the years go by. Again, this is another reflection of a phenomenon that occurs within our own society, known as the ‘bystander effect’. This is where, in the presence of others, people are less likely to help out or stand up for others in dire situations due to the ‘diffusion of responsibility.’ People may think to themselves, “Why should I put myself in danger to stand up for what’s right when there are others around me who could help out as well?” This is a detrimental way of thinking, and could be the reason behind the Hunger Games’ long and uninterrupted run.
… Fight – Rebellion & Revolution
Suppression of one’s feelings could be the safest route for those under the rule of authoritarian leaders, but how long can one suffer in silence while unjust actions occur around them?
Even if everyone else partakes in the bystander effect, all it takes is one person who has the courage to stand up for what’s right to help provide a sense of relief from oppression and to grant the freedom to express oneself. In the case of this series, Katniss is the driving force behind the rebellion against the Capitol. As a character, she represents those who choose to risk their lives in hopes of sparking a positive change within society as she is focused on her goals and is unafraid to challenge the status quo. To Katniss, her main goal was to spare her sister from The Hunger Games and to survive in the arena. However, this does not mean that she forgoes her moral values. She could have gone with the easy route and killed Peeta when he betrayed her at the start of the Games, as well as all the other tributes to increase her chances of survival during the 74th Hunger Games. However, she avoids doing so as it didn’t feel right. At the end of the day, she has no real ill intentions towards any of the tributes. This is evident, especially when Katniss grieves the death of district 11’s tribute, Rue, who formed an alliance with her during the Games. Knowing that the citizens of district 11 are able to watch a live broadcast of the Games, Katniss holds up a 3-finger salute in an effort to appreciate Rue and to say goodbye to her. District 11 follows suit by showing the same gesture, as a sign of protest and anger in response to the death of their tribute.
Essentially, Katniss had to play smart to survive throughout the series, and her goals and values have allowed her to be resilient enough to challenge the Capitol for the sake of peace. Katniss’ inner strength truly shone when she was willing to die by eating poisonous berries with Peeta as an act of rebellion in hopes of raising awareness as to how messed up their society’s system is. Her efforts were not in vain. As soon as the 74th Hunger Games concluded, riots and rebellions started to surge as citizens from different districts showed their disapproval of the menacing ways of the Capitol, proving that acts of rebellion can spark a revolution for positive change.
The role of Katniss is essential when looking at the theme of revolution as her presence in The Hunger Games shakes the social structure of Panem. She acts as the catalyst to terminate the reign of the Capitol and its unjust ways.
Suzanne Collins has done an impeccable job at highlighting themes of oppression and conformity through worldbuilding and characters, truly illustrating the power of revolution and its importance in providing relief to those who have been oppressed.
So why not give The Hunger Games series a shot?
Written by a Diehard Fan.
I think almost anyone who has been on the internet over the past two weeks has seen a strange resurgence of Hunger Games related content. Either because Netflix finally put the iconic quadrilogy back on its library or because the book-to-movie prequel, Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, is set to release in November (this is me promoting it, please go watch it). Either way, my eight year old self is crying and jumping from joy. I adore all the cute edits, the fun theories, and the literary analyses happening on TikTok and Twitter right now and this complete overload of content would send 2013 me into a coma. In all seriousness, I think a lot of people around my age would admit that the series impacted their prefrontal cortex in a way that is irreversible. Personally, I loved the series because it introduced me to topics like capitalism, totalitarianism, propaganda and antiwar commentary which basically created the groundwork for my passions in debate, writing, dismantling oppressive structures and identity politics. As you can tell, I am a xhuge fan of the series and could sing its praises for hours.
Weirdly enough, one of the “bad” things about the series is how impactful it was. Too many writers around the 2010s era tried to emulate the success of The Hunger Games but failed to create convincing dystopian worlds. They adapted the main characters of the Hunger Games but the worlds in which these characters existed were never truly dystopian; they didn’t get the political context. Think Divergent: which fails to investigate what oppressive structures look like and how they work. Don’t get me wrong, I love Divergent in all of its insanity. This tendency to rip off certain elements of The Hunger Games that resulted from its success saw fans turn away from the genre in massive numbers. It also led to a deep misunderstanding of what Collins novels were about. For example, after the launch of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, TikTok was flooded with hot takes that misrepresented the trilogy’s main character, Katniss Everdeen. Too many readers interpreted The Hunger Games as a story about a heroine (the individual) whereas the novels talk about the power of collective action. The few fan theories I have seen discuss how Prim (Katniss’s sister) was intentionally chosen for the 74th Hunger Games to incentivise Katniss to volunteer and die because President Snow (the leader of the oppressive Capitol) saw a “revolutionary spark” inside of her. Prim being chosen for the 74th Hunger Games was simply the inciting incident. If Snow wanted Katniss dead because he saw said “revolutionary spark,” he would have just executed her. I do believe that the 75th Games were rigged (because how the hell were siblings, best friends and lovers all somehow put into one game?) but having the 74th Games manipulated in some way would ruin Katniss’s character arc. Collins very carefully wrote Katniss out to be a poor girl from the Seam in District 12 who turns into the face of a rebellion by chance; she was never meant to be the chosen one. Katniss is effective in vanquishing tyranny not because of any special qualities but only because of the people behind her.
To critically understand The Hunger Games you have to look at the time it was conceptualised. Any media, especially politically aligned media, is the artist reacting to the climate around them. The first Hunger Games book was released in 2008 and is an allegory of the political climate in the U.S. The early to late 2000s was seeing a world post 9/11 and the American occupation of the Middle East and the Iraq War. This time also saw the 2008 recession which led to a significant wealth disparity around the world and the rise of the digital age. Collins states in an interview with the New York Times that she found inspiration for the trilogy while flicking through TV and seeing a reality television show next to footage of the Iraq war.
Something I do love about the series is how it is essentially a historical account of real world events and how it utilises the just war theory to further its worldbuilding. The main theme of the trilogy is basically what is just and fair in war. If you are unsure of what the just war theory is, it’s essentially the ethics of war, asking how or why wars are fought. The theory tries to ask when is it morally right to wage war and what are the acceptable behaviours in said war. Some of the core principles of just war theory are: having a just cause, being a last resort, being declared by a proper authority, possessing the right intention, having a reasonable chance of success, and the end being proportional to the means used. In The Hunger Games, the districts rebel against the Capitol because they are treated like slaves and are subjected to the cruelty of the Hunger Games every year. Collins states in her New York Times interview that today’s audience would believe that is grounds for revolution and have a just cause. But this conflict raises questions like if the districts have the jurisdiction to start this war. Diving deeper into this, did Coin (the leader of the rebellion) have the authority to bomb a pen of Capitol children to advance into Snow’s mansion. Even though these children were citizens of the Capitol which had a hand in their suffering, did they still deserve to die? What about the people who lived in the Capitol but were tortured and forced to be slaves; even though they were just mopping floors they were still ‘helping’ the Capitol, do they deserve to die?
The just war theory can be seen in the way Collins portrays the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale. I think what is most interesting about this love triangle is not the whole debate around #TeamPeeta or #TeamGale, but how morally different the two men are. Katniss supposedly loves both, but Peeta is peaceful and keeps a strict adherence to his morals while Gale is violent and wants to bomb those very people who mop Capitol floors because they are “helping the enemy” (yes, he did say that. In Mockingjay Pt2). Peeta follows the core principles of the just war theory and believes that all of the theory’s criteria should be filled before war starts while Gale throws caution to the wind and wants to start the war now. This puts Katniss in an interesting moral dilemma, she’s not only choosing the boy she loves, but her future principles as well.
In the end, Katniss chooses peace and Peeta. Katniss kills Coin (the corrupt leader of the rebellion) and in a way this shows that she understands the just war theory and its principles. Not only does she end the cycle of violence, but she gives Panem the opportunity to finally have a chance at peace.
Written by: Mei & Merissa