Today's Shmoop lesson is about the literal and the figurative.
Ready? Here we go.
Well, to think literally means to think of a word's exact meaning. So, we guess "The Hunger Games" are literally an annual competition held each year by the government of Panem to remind all of the districts that rebellion is, um, not a good idea. A tribute is selected from each region (one boy and one girl) and then they're plopped into an arena where the contestants battle to the death. It's kind of like a giant chess game where the Gamemakers move the contestants around with mutant wolves and fireballs and stuff. Basically it's the government's way of showing how much power they have. Oh yeah, and it's all televised and broadcast on TV with lots of hoopla and spectacle. In the districts, it's required viewing. There's an opening ceremony, interviews, a reunion show and all that, like the Olympics, but deadly.
OK, so now let's talk figuratively, which means to think above or beyond the word's surface meaning. Well, we guess there's also a bigger Hunger Games going on in the book. Katniss's life in District 12 is pretty much a competition to survive against poverty and starvation and hunger. There are no TVs or cameras or winners or losers, so it's not literally a game, but District 12 is very much like the arena. The cruel government controls Katniss and the people of District 12 the same way that the Gamemakers control her in the arena. So, even though she's not technically playing a game, her whole life is very much a figurative Hunger Games.