Study Guide

The Hunger Games Hero's Journey

Hero's Journey

Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.

About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)

Ordinary World

We see the ordinary world before the Hunger Games begin, and frankly, it stinks. There's fences and wires up everywhere, the TV's all "mandatory viewing this" and "you must comply" that, and Katniss frankly has no use for it at all. She periodically sneaks out of the fence to go hunting in the woods; it's the only time she feels at peace or contented. Both she and Panem are pretty complacent when we find them. Time to do a little shaking up.

Call To Adventure

It's not hard to see the call coming. Effie Trinket and the selection ceremony for the Hunger Games start Katniss off on her perilous adventure. In true Campbellian fashion, she's not doing it for herself but to protect the people she's leaving behind. In this case, it's her sister Prim, who's been selected as Tribute and who Katniss will do anything to keep safe.

It's also interesting to note that in many ways, this call to adventure is just business as usual: there've been 73 of these things before now, after all, and everyone's more or less become used to them. The only difference is that Katniss volunteers, something that hasn't happened in District 12 before. It's a signal that this time, things aren't going to go entirely as planned.

Refusal of The Call

We can't say too much here because of spoilers for future Hunger Games adaptations, but as far as this story is concerned, ain't no refusal going on. Katniss steps up when the call is given and terrifying as the Games may be, she's not going back.

Meeting The Mentor

Modern girls don't have to settle for just one mentor. In the future, they get a whole team. The big kahuna is Haymitch, who may be drunk as a skunk, but certainly understands the politics involved, as well as the things Katniss needs to do to succeed in the Games. She gets a back-up mentor in Cinna, and even Effie and her team help out when they need to. Team Katniss is armed and fabulous. Believe it or not, they may give her everything she needs to survive.

Crossing the Threshold

You might think that crossing the threshold starts when Katniss enters the arena. But it actually takes place much earlier than that—as soon as Katniss is pulled off of the stage and starts her journey to the Capitol. It has all of the hallmarks of a classic fairy tale: a speedy means of moving (the train), magic food and goodies on the way, and even a surly drunk for entertainment.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

The tests take place before the Hunger Games start. In the Capitol as Katniss has to earn attention, gain sponsors and keep from being blinded by the dazzling teeth of Caesar Flickerman. Her guides and mentors offering sound advice, and she gets a boost from allies like Peeta and her new buddy Rue. We recognize the Careers as enemies before things even get going in the arena.

Approach to The Inmost Cave

The innermost cave is most definitely the Games themselves: an enclosed arena from which there's no escape.

Ordeal

Mutant wasps, evil Careers, poisonous berries, fire—you name it, and the arena has it, ready to push Katniss to the limit before she finally earns victory.

Reward (Seizing The Sword)

The reward comes when Cato is finally eaten alive, leaving Katniss and Peeta alone in the arena. They're both saved by the virtue of an eleventh-hour rules change letting them claim victory together instead of butchering each other for the pleasure of a live audience. Except….

The Road Back

The Capitol changes the rules again after they've won, forcing them to choose who gets to live. That's dirty pool, and it marks just one of a number of very bad tactical decisions on the Capitol's part.

Resurrection

Katniss and Peeta still have one trick up their sleeve. They can both eat the poison berries, denying the Capitol the sight of them killing each other; it could them into martyrs to a potential revolution. They mean it, and the Capitol backs down in the face of their self-sacrifice/blackmail.

Return With The Elixir

Peeta and Katniss survive, and now get to enjoy their reward: a life of privilege and luxury for as long as they refrain from drinking themselves to death. But in truth, the elixir is a lot more than that. By defying the Capitol and earning status as a beloved celebrity in the process, Katniss now becomes an example to stir the people's hearts. Do we sense a revolution brewing? The elixir might be that thing that Snow fears is dangerous in large doses: hope.

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