“The Hunger Games” Trilogy … (part 1)

SPOILER ALERT:  I’ve been told I need to add a spoiler alert to this post.  I’ve never really understood this practice, as I’ve always assumed that if I am reading something, I am going to learn something about the subject at hand.  Nevertheless, if you thought you were going to read this post and learn nothing about The Hunger Games, you have now been warned that this is not likely to be the case.  Tread carefully.

Every work of art has a worldview.  That is to say, every work of art – regardless of when it was composed, by whom it was composed, or even for what purpose it was composed – has a perspective, a way of seeing the “reality” that defines our everyday life.  So when we look at a work of art, rather than passively taking it in, or judging it solely upon its ability to entertain us, one of the best things we can do is to try to analyze the perspective or worldview that underlies the work itself.  For in understanding the worldview, we will gain a much greater appreciation for the work of art, and we will come to know whether it is great art on the basis of whether or not it succeeded in presenting the “reality” it sought to explain.

With that in mind, I want to start a new series that explores the worldview of the run-away best sellers known as The Hunger Games trilogy.[1]  For the sake of those of you who have not yet read the books, but would like to know a little more about the phenomenon, I now offer this brief, spoiler-filled summary of the first book in the trilogy.

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games,” a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.[2]

Now, with that basic understanding of the plot, it’s time to pose some questions.[3]  First, I want to ask the question: what is prime reality in The Hunger Games?  In other words, if everything else were to be stripped away, what is of utmost importance to Katniss, Gale, Peeta and the others?  Surprisingly enough, in a novel built upon such a violent and degrading premise, the answer must unquestionably be: life.  And this is where many of the reviews I read have clearly missed the mark.  Consider, for a moment, the premise of the games themselves.  The hunger games are held as a means of reminding the population at large that the Capital has the capability to take their children and force them to fight to the death.  This is never shown as any other than an abomination.  Even when the citizens of the Capital are shown to be throwing elaborate parties and to be gambling on the outcome of the games, the reader is in on the joke.  This is high satire meant to mock a society that is so shallow that its primary form of entertainment is derived from the deaths of children being slaughtered by other children.

Moreover, lest you think that all of the children descend into the madness, notice how only three children are killed by the heroes, Katniss and Peeta.    The first victim, killed by Katniss, has sprung a trap and ensnared a young, innocent girl by the name of Rue.  When Katniss runs into the scene, desperate to save Rue, she is surprised by another boy who spears Rue while still in the trap.  Without thinking, Katniss fires an arrow through the boy’s throat and he dies quickly.  So the heroine kills the first victim almost instinctively as she tries to save her young friend.  The second victim to go down is accidentally killed by Peeta.  He has been out gathering fruit to eat.  Unfortunately, he is unwise to the ways of the woods, and he inadvertently picks poisonous berries.  When another “tribute,” or player, happens upon their camp, she steals the fruit and ends up poisoning herself.   Finally, near the climax of the story, wild animals overcome the main antagonist in the arena.  As he is slowly dying, Katniss notches an arrow and lets it fly into his skull as an act of mercy.  So in all three cases where the heroes kill, the circumstances that surround the killing are such that the actions of the heroes are highly defensible from a moral perspective.

So what is the author saying?  Life matters.  And to take the life of another is morally reprehensible act, particularly when that act is performed merely for the sake of sport or entertainment.

This brings us to our second major question.  If life is the prime reality in the world of the Hunger Games, what is the nature of the world itself?  Perhaps a better way to ask that question would be to say: what is the world like?  What stories give it meaning?  What problems exist that threaten the prime reality?  What can be hoped for and what can possibly be achieved?

Interestingly enough, the major problem in the world of The Hunger Games is not the games themselves.  The games are merely a tool utilized by the real source of the problem, which is the government.  You see, at its core, The Hunger Games is actually a novel about the seeds of political unrest and social dissent.  One group possesses all of the power, while the populations in the outlying 12 districts have no power.   What’s more, the people in the outlying districts are forced to scratch out a meager existence while providing for the opulent life-styles of the rich.  So in many ways, The Hunger Games actually serves as a populist critique of society.  But which society?  Remember, The Hunger Games is set in the near future, in a land called Panem; and Panem is built on the ruins of the North American continent.  So clearly, the author sees our society as being one that is in grave danger, and it is out of the ashes of our ruin, she fears, that new tyrannies will spring up to enslave humanity.  In that sense, it is not too far fetched to suggest that The Hunger Games has much in common with the Occupy Wall Street movement and a belief that the ninety-nine percent are being made to serve the one percent.

This review will be continued at:

The Hunger Games Trilogy … (part 2)

The Hunger Games Trilogy … (part 3)

[1] The Hunger Games trilogy includes: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay.

[2] This summary was taken directly from the book summary offered by amazon.com.

[3] To assist me in analyzing this book, I am going to pull upon a set of questions first developed by Dr. James Sire, a too-often, under-appreciated, Christian apologist and teacher.

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7 Responses to “The Hunger Games” Trilogy … (part 1)

  1. Rebecca says:

    You need a spoiler alert up there for people who haven’t read the books, Scott.

    • Did that do the trick? 🙂

      • Rebecca says:

        There ya’ go… It let’s readers, particularly if you have “regular readers” who may not have read them yet and who may not want to learn about it this way, avert their eyes from this post. Or proceed at their own risk. I don’t think Martha and Bob have read those yet, but Erin did…I blogged about it a bit, where it resonated with me, on my blog.

  2. Bob has actually read all three. And I have to think that if Bob read them, Mart probably has as well.

  3. Caroline Zak says:

    I agree! The book is alot about where political unrest comes from, etc. In some ways, I think that the books try to answer the question “Is there any hope?” Like, is there anything that can overcome a government like this? You know?
    I like when you said…
    “clearly, the author sees our society as being one that is in grave danger, and it is out of the ashes of our ruin, she fears, that new tyrannies will spring up to enslave humanity. In that sense, it is not too far fetched to suggest that The Hunger Games has much in common with the Occupy Wall Street movement and a belief that the ninety-nine percent are being made to serve the one percent.”
    Hadn’t really made that connection before!!

    I’ve heard alot of people say, just from of the general story of the book, that they feel like it resembles closely Ancient Rome…and how the people would sit around in arena’s watching fights really similar to this! (probably usually just between a couple people though.) What do you think of that?

    • Morning Caroline. Question for you. When you first decided to read the books, did you know anything about them? I didn’t. I’ve only read them because of you, Syd, etc…, so I had no idea what to expect. I’d heard about the violent content, but that was it. I guess the reason I’m asking is because wasn’t expecting material that was so deeply political. And that really surprised me, in a good way.

      As for the parallels with Ancient Rome, I’d say “yes” and “no.” Clearly, the Hunger Games are modeled after the games in the Colosseum and other outlying arenas. But I don’t think “The Hunger Games” are really about the games. While I haven’t read the next two books just yet (so don’t tell me anything!), my suspicion is that the Games are merely the plot devise that will drive the people to revolution. So I see this heading towards open war. And I guess that’s where the Rome comparison would break down for me. The people loved the Roman games. And those that faught were either slaves or prisoners of one sort or another. It wasn’t members of the general population, so no one from the general population was really getting all that wound up.

      • Caroline Zak says:

        Hm. I don’t think I really knew a ton about them before hand. A bunch of my friends were just really, really, really excited about them! I guess I didn’t know anymore beforehand than you did.
        I think a lot of my friends weren’t noticing as much the political stuff….more the “romance”…characters…story….ect.?

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