Taking the kids from our districts, forcing them to kill one another while we watch – this is the Capitol’s way of reminding us how totally we are at their mercy. How little chance we would stand of surviving another rebellion. Whatever words they use, the real message is clear. “Look how we take your children and sacrifice them and there’s nothing you can do. If you lift a finger, we will destroy every last one of you. Just as we did in District Thirteen.” (1.76)
The Hunger Games, Katniss tells us, become a way for the rulers in the Capitol to flex their big old muscles. The main purpose is to remind the Districts how weak they are – and that their deaths are basically televised entertainment. In this sense, the Games are a form of control.
The something unexpected happens. At least, I don’t expect it because I don’t think of District 12 as a place that cares about me. But a shift has occurred since I stepped up to take Prim’s place, and now it seems I have become someone precious. At first one, then another, then almost every member of the crowd touches the three middle fingers of their left hand to their lips and holds it out to me. It is an old and rarely used gesture of our district, occasionally seen at funerals. It means thanks, it means admiration, it means good-bye to someone you love. (2.17)
It’s clear that the government has brute force on their side, but the people of District 12 show that they have their own kind of power. Their three-finger gesture makes Katniss feel special and loved and human. Why is that so important?
“What’s an Avox?” I ask stupidly.
“Someone who committed a crime. They cut her tongue so she can’t speak,” says Haymitch. “She’s probably a traitor of some sort. Not likely you’d know her.” (6.23-24)
As we learn here, traitors to the government have their tongues cut out and become servants called Avoxes. Why do you think it’s significant that the government removes the tongue? What is it about being able to speak that’s so important?
Peeta rolls his eyes at Haymitch. “She has no idea. The effect she can have.” He runs his fingernail along the wood grain in the table, refusing to look at me.
What on earth does he mean? People help me? When we were dying of starvation, no one helped me! No one helped me except Peeta. Once I had something to barter with, things changed. I’m a tough trader. Or am I? What effect do I have? (7.36-37)
There are lots of kinds of power that people can have, and here Peeta suggests that Katniss has a kind of power she that isn’t aware of. But what is it? What effect does she have on people? What effect does she have on Peeta?
The Gamemakers appeared early on the first day. Twenty or so men and women dressed in deep purple robes. They sit in the elevated stands that surround the gymnasium, sometimes wandering about to watch us, jotting down notes, other times eating at the endless banquet that has been set for them, ignoring the lot of us. But they do seem to be keeping their eye on the District 12 tributes. Several times I’ve looked up to find one fixated on me. (7.66)
The Gamemakers are the people who are completely in control of the competition. Like Greek Gods, they are removed from the action, but are still on hand to move the game pieces around the board.
Effie Trinket lets out a squeal, and everybody is slapping me on the back and cheering and congratulating me. But it doesn’t seem real.
“There must be a mistake. How…how could that happen?” I ask Haymitch.
“Guess they liked your temper,” he says. “They’ve got a show to put on. They need some players with some heat.”
“Katniss, the girl who was on fire,” says Cinna and gives me a hug. (8.36-8.40)
During training, Katniss shoots an arrow into the Gamemakers' roast pig, and then receives the highest rating of all the tributes. Why do you think the Gamemakers rate her so highly? Does Katniss’s rebellious spirit make her powerful?
“I don’t know how to say it exactly. Only…I want to die as myself. Does that make any sense?” he asks. I shake my head. How could he die as anyone but himself? “I don’t want them to change me in there. Turn me into some kind of monster that I’m not.”
I bite my lip, feeling inferior. While I’ve been ruminating on the availability of trees, Peeta has been struggling with how to maintain his identity. His purity of self. “Do you mean you won’t kill anyone?” I ask.
“No, when the time comes, I’m sure I’ll kill just like everybody else. I can’t go down without a fight. Only I keep wishing I could think of a way to…to show the Capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than just a piece in their Games,” says Peeta. (10.71)
Peeta wants to die as himself – not as one of the Capitol’s pawns. Can holding onto Peeta’s identity be a kind of power for him? Does he achieve this in the end?
The attack is now over. The Gamemakers don’t want me dead. Not yet anyway. Everyone knows they could destroy us all within seconds of the opening gong. The real sport of the Hunger Games is watching the tributes kill one another. Every so often, they do kill a tribute just to remind the players they can. But mostly, they manipulate us into confronting one another face-to-face. Which means, if I am no longer being fired at, there is at least one other tribute close at hand. (13.16)
Katniss reminds us again that the Gamemakers are the ones moving them around like chess pieces. Notice how the firestorm is their way to move the players around on the board. How does this reinforce the idea that the government is powerful?
I want to do something, right here, right now, to shame them, to make them accountable, to show the Capitol that whatever they do or force us to do that there is a part of every tribute they can’t own. That Rue was more than a piece in their Games. And so am I.
A few steps into the woods grows a bank of wildflowers. Perhaps they are really weeds of some sort, but they have blossoms in beautiful shades of violet and yellow and white. I gather up an armful and come back to Rue’s side. Slowly, one stem at a time, I decorate her body in the flowers. Covering the ugly wound. Wreathing her face. Weaving her hair with bright colors. (18.38-39)
After Rue’s death, Katniss decides to place flowers all over the dead girl’s body. The act of honoring Rue in this manner reminds Katniss – and anyone watching – that Rue was an actual person worthy of dignity and respect. Rue’s death means something more to Katniss than just televised entertainment. Why do you think the government censors this image in the final broadcast?
My head snaps from side to side as I examine the pack, taking in the various sizes and colors. The small one with the red coat and amber eyes…Foxface! And there, the ashen hair and hazel eyes of the boy from District 9 who died as we struggled for the backpack! And worst of all, the smallest mutt, with dark glossy fur, huge brown eyes and a collar that reads 11 in woven straw. Teeth bared in hatred. Rue… (25.16)
As the Games reach their climax, the Gamemakers release a pack of genetically mutated wolves to chase the remaining candidates. Katniss realizes that the wolves are mutations of the dead tributes. Another show of the Capitol’s power, the government has dehumanized the fallen boys and girls and turned them into animals.
We both know they have to have a victor.
Yes, they have to have a victor. Without a victor, the whole thing would blow up in the Gamemakers’ faces. They’d have failed the Capitol. Might possibly even be executed, slowly and painfully while the cameras broadcast it to every screen in the country.
If Peeta and I were both to die, or they thought we were…
My fingers fumble with the pouch on my belt, freeing it. Peeta sees it and his hand clamps on my wrist. “No, I won’t let you.”
“Trust me,” I whisper. He holds my gaze for a long moment then lets me go. (25.85-89)
In the end, Katniss figures out how finally to defeat the Gamemakers. Both she and Peeta decide to commit suicide – or at least act like they are committing suicide. What is so powerful about this action? Why does it work?
“Listen up. You’re in trouble. Word is the Capitol’s furious about you showing them up in the arena. The one thing they can’t stand is being laughed at and they’re the joke of Panem,” says Haymitch.
I feel dread coursing through me now, but I laugh as though Haymitch is saying something completely delightful because nothing is covering my mouth. “So what?”
“Your only defense can be you were so madly in love you weren’t responsible for your actions.” (26.55-57)
Though Katniss won the Hunger Games, the novel ends on an uncertain note. Will Katniss be punished for her rebellion? What will the Capitol do to regain its power?