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?
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.)
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?
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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?
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.