Study Guide

The Hunger Games Themes

By Suzanne Collins

  • Power

    Who has the power?

    Well, the main source of power in The Hunger Games is clear: the totalitarian government of the Capitol. Because the Capitol holds most of the country of Panem’s wealth, the government there is able to control the people in all of the districts across Panem. The Hunger Games, then, are the ultimate display of the government’s power and were designed to warn the populace against rebellion. In the Hunger Games, the citizens of Panem become nothing more than pawns in an elaborate game of life or death. Since only one teenage contestant, or "tribute," can win, the tributes are forced to kill teens from the other districts and one from their own district. It's all symbolic of how the Capitol prevents the people in the districts from joining forces and rebelling – the Games keep the people of the districts divided and fighting among themselves. Worst of all, the government broadcasts the event live on television, reinforcing the idea that the tributes are giving their lives for little more than the entertainment of the Capitol.

    Let’s not forget, though, that this book is also about ways to resist the kind of power that the Capitol represents. While the people of Panem might not have the Capitol’s money, they do have other ways of fighting back. Remember when District 12 gives Katniss their salute? Or when Katniss covers Rue’s dead body in flowers? These symbolic gestures call attention to the fact that there are actual people in the Hunger Games – real live humans, not just game pieces. In that sense, these small moments of defiance can be very powerful.

    Can you find other instances of people resisting the government’s authority in the novel?

    Questions About Power

    1. What, exactly, makes the Capitol so powerful?
    2. Why does Katniss cover Rue’s body with flowers?
    3. Why is the romance between Katniss and Peeta so popular with audiences?
    4. Why won’t the Gamemakers let Katniss and Peeta eat the berries?
    5. Why does Katniss say that the post-games interview is the most dangerous part of the Games?

    Chew on This

  • Versions of Reality

    Ah, reality television: The Bachelor, The Biggest Loser, Jersey Shore. Don’t we just love it? The people of Panem, the fictional country of The Hunger Games, also watch lots of reality television, except there’s only one show they watch. It’s called the Hunger Games. Instead of contestants losing a bunch of weight or marrying a total stranger, the show is about a group of teenagers who (wait for it) kill each other in a fight to the death.

    Yup, you heard us. Death.

    The Hunger Games, then, asks us to think about all of the different versions of reality at play in the novel – and their consequences. What’s real and what’s not real in the Hunger Games? These are the questions we’ll be grappling with, along with the characters in the novel, throughout the series. (Be sure to head over to "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory" for more on reality TV.)

    Questions About Versions of Reality

    1. Do you watch any reality TV shows? Did The Hunger Games change the way you view American reality TV? Why or why not?
    2. People in the Capitol enjoy the Games as entertaining television. Why?
    3. Why is the fake romance between Peeta and Katniss so popular with the Hunger Games’ audiences?
    4. Why is it so important that Katniss hide her emotions on camera?
    5. Why don’t the Hunger Games end – even after Katniss and Peeta have been declared victors?
    6. Which character puts on the biggest show for the camera? Can you always tell when characters are being themselves versus trying to get sponsors?
  • Identity

    Before the Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen was a hunter and gatherer in District 12 in the country of Panem. She didn’t much like cats, though she loved her sister very much. Her main goal was always the survival of her family. After being put in front of the Hunger Games’ cameras, though, things get kind of complicated. Katniss must craft a persona that will sell herself to the audiences at home – and to potential sponsors. Thrown into a world where image is everything, she has to play a whole new (boy crazy) Katniss on camera. But will this brand new Katniss last? Is this really her? What identity awaits her when she returns to District 12?

    Questions About Identity

    1. How would you describe Katniss in three words before the Hunger Games? After the Games?
    2. Why is Katniss called the “girl on fire”?
    3. Why is Peeta so concerned with staying true to himself during the Games?
    4. How have the Hunger Games changed Katniss by the end of the novel?
    5. If you were picked as a tribute for the Hunger Games, would you try to create a new persona for the camera? What would your strategy be for getting sponsors?
  • Society and Class

    The Hunger Games is a novel about the "haves" and the "have nots" – that is, the people who have money and the people who don't. The Capitol has money. Gobs of it. While the Capitol is wealthier than all of the districts, some districts are more privileged than others, so they can train their tributes to do well in the Hunger Games – a competition they see as a way to gain glory and fame. The poor districts? Well, not much of an advantage there. District 12, Katniss's district, is an impoverished coal mining region that never stands a chance in the Games. They view the Games as a punishment that must be endured – something that robs them of their children. The novel asks you, then, to think about how money can change things for you – and change how you see the world.

    Questions About Society and Class

    1. List some of the differences between the Capitol and District 12.
    2. Katniss and Peeta come from different social classes within District 12. Do their social statuses influence the way that they view or approach the Hunger Games? How?
    3. What is Katniss's favorite dish to eat in the Capitol? Why?
    4. Why do the Career Tributes have such an advantage over everyone else?
    5. How does wealth affect the way different districts view the Games?
  • Love

    Hey, everyone. Meet Katniss: the girl who cannot love. Katniss has spent her whole life just trying to survive and because of that she does not, repeat, does not get attached to people. There is this one boy, though, named Gale that she kinda sorta likes. Then there's Peeta who she's just pretending to be in love with. Right? Hm. Sounds like it could get complicated.

    Oh, and wait. There's another problem too. Love is a battlefield, sure, but we also learn that in the Hunger Games romance can be a really great way to survive on the battlefield. By snogging on her co-tribute Peeta, Katniss is able to score support and gifts from her sponsors. Unfortunately, none of this helps Katniss figure out how she really feels.

    Questions About Love

    1. Does Katniss love Peeta? Why does she feel indebted to him?
    2. Why does Katniss pull the berry trick? Why does she risk her life to get the medicine for Peeta? Does she do these things out of love (or friendship) for Peeta, or does she have some other motive?
    3. What is the significance of the dandelion?
    4. Do you think it was wrong for Katniss to play along with the romance plot?
    5. How do you think Gale will react when Katniss returns to District 12?
    6. Why doesn't Katniss get attached to people (aside from her little sister)?
    7. Does Katniss love her mom?
  • Strength and Skill

    In the Hunger Games, each candidate has his or her own set of skills and strengths. There's Cato, who has a crazy temper and can snap someone's neck with his bare hands. There's Foxface, the craftiest girl in the whole game. Oh, and let's not forget little Rue who can jump from tree to tree. And, of course, Peeta is a master of camouflage. Then there's our heroine, Katniss, who is amazing with a bow and arrow. She also has a rebellious streak a mile wide, one that impresses the Gamemakers during training. Just like in life, everyone has some kind of strength or skill all their own. What combination of strengths and skills will it take to win the Hunger Games? What is it that really makes someone strong inside of the arena – and out?

    Questions About Strength and Skill

    1. Who is, in your opinion, the strongest tribute in the Hunger Games?
    2. If you were in the Hunger Games, what would you consider your strongest fighting or survival skills? What sort of score would you earn from the judges?
    3. Why was Foxface such a good competitor? Why did she die?
    4. What is Peeta's special skill? If Katniss weren't in the Hunger Games, what kind of a chance would Peeta have of coming out alive?
    5. What strengths made Katniss the victor?
  • Appearances

    Welcome to the Hunger Games, a world of celebrity where image is everything. A former hayseed, Katniss must now be concerned with how people in the cosmopolitan Capitol perceive her. Katniss will learn that manipulating her persona and public image can be a powerful thing. As such, she is assigned a whole team of beauty technicians and a fabulous stylist named Cinna who will help her carefully craft the perfect look for all of the Hunger Games televised events. Will changing Katniss's physical appearance change who she really is? Or how she feels? Can Katniss really walk the tightrope between how things look and how they really are? Or will she come crashing down?

    Questions About Appearances

    1. Why do you think the people from the Capitol are so superficial? Are they all shallow?
    2. Why does the image of Katniss and Peeta on fire work so well? What message are Cinna and Portia trying to send the viewers of the Hunger Games?
    3. If Cinna weren't such an awesome stylist, would that have hurt Katniss's chance of winning the Games? Why or why not? How much of a tribute's success is based on appearance versus skills?
    4. After the Games, how does Cinna's strategy for Katniss's style change? Does his clever work on her appearance help her survive outside of the arena?
    5. What is the significance of Katniss's braided hair?
  • Politics

    The government of Panem is a totalitarian one, which means that it has absolute power over its people. (Nazi Germany is a good example of a totalitarian government.) Yup, that's right. The government has total and complete control over every part of its citizens' lives, and the citizens get absolutely no say about any of it. No voting, no elections, no nothing. Any kind of rebellion is a HUGE no-no, and we learn that the Capitol set up the Hunger Games to remind people of that. Lots of the book, then, is about what it is like to live in a society where you've got to struggle to have any kind of voice at all, and speaking your mind could get you killed.

    Questions About Politics

    1. What happened to District 13?
    2. What is the significance of District 12's three finger salute?
    3. What is an Avox? What does an Avox symbolize?
    4. Why did Katniss and Peeta's double suicide attempt anger the president?
    5. Is Katniss consciously trying to be a rebel? Would she make a good rebel leader?
    6. Aside from Katniss, do we see any other characters rebelling or displaying hints of rebellion?
    7. Why is it significant that Rue's district sends Katniss a gift? How is this action special? Is it an act of rebellion?
  • Competition

    OK, quick: think of a game.

    Got one? Good. What'd you come up with? Baseball? Tennis? Monopoly? World of Warcraft?

    Well, the Hunger Games are a totally different kind of competition – one of life and death. And a game that people are forced into. What, then, does it take to win a competition like this? And can you ever really win a game like the Hunger Games? Are the Games ever really over?

    Questions About Competition

    1. It is better to win the Hunger Games or lose them? Why? What do you gain from winning the Games and what do you loose?
    2. Why won't Katniss allow herself to develop feelings for Peeta during the Games?
    3. Why is it easy for Katniss to see some tributes as enemies or competitors? For example, what makes Katniss immediately label Cato and Foxface as competitors and Rue as an ally? How does Katniss see Peeta? What about Thresh?
    4. Sure they're televised, but are the Hunger Games really a game? What's the definition of a game, anyway?
    5. Why don't the Hunger Games end for Katniss? Do they end for Peeta?
  • Sacrifice

    The Hunger Games are just full of sacrifices. Katniss makes a huge personal sacrifice when she takes her sister's place in the Hunger Games. She and Peeta sacrifice themselves for each other at the end of the Games when they pop the berries in their mouth. Katniss and Peeta are willing to die together. Or they would have, if the announcer hadn't stopped them. Sacrifices make a big impact because they remind us that human life means something. In a world of reality entertainment like the Hunger Games, that can be a very powerful thing.

    Questions About Sacrifice

    1. Why do the districts have to sacrifice tributes each year? What impact do the Games have on the people of the districts?
    2. Would you have volunteered, like Katniss did? Why or why not?
    3. Why don't you think anyone volunteered to take Peeta's place? He does have siblings, after all.
    4. Why did Katniss and Peeta's suicide attempt work on the Gamemakers?
    5. Why did Peeta brave punishment as a child in order to give Katniss some bread? Why is he willing to put himself in danger with the Career Tributes in order to defend Katniss during the Games?
    6. Why does Katniss pull the berry trick? Why does she risk her life to get the medicine for Peeta? Does she do these things out of love (or friendship) for Peeta, or does she have some other motive?