I am a self-proclaimed 20-year-old Hunger Games fan. And not in the way that I am healing my child who was not allowed to read the books or watch the movies when they first came out. Rather I am a fan of the intricate political commentary that the trilogy is entrenched with and the messages that fans can grow with as their understanding of the world deepens. The Hunger Games is so much more than another dystopian YA novel with a love triangle. It is a direct reflection on our society and continues to prove its relevance and importance through world events. I want to highlight some of these complex ideas that may be obvious, and some that are more subtle throughout the book and movie series in the hopes that I can convince you to be a fan of the Hunger Games too:
The Love Triangle is more than meets the eye
While it is fun to argue with your friends about if you are team Peeta or team Gale (there is only one right answer), the so-called love triangle in this series is meant to serve as so much more than a break from the horrors the characters are experiencing. Peeta is meant to represent peace and calm, life without war. Gale, however, is meant to represent the opposite – war, violence and chaos. Throughout the story, we see Katniss go between both boys as well as in between choosing peace and choosing violence. This is specifically highlighted in Catching Fire as she struggles to choose whether to participate in the rebellion. Ultimately, Katniss chooses Peeta, she chooses peace. After all the horrors she has been through, Katniss recognizes that violence is seldom the answer, a message we should all take to heart. Katniss recognizes that Gale, and the violence he represents, is not completely worthless and sometimes a necessary evil, but ultimately peace should be the goal.
No character’s name is meaningless
Something that always stood out to me when I first read/watched this series was all the funny names: Katniss, Peeta, Seneca, Caesar, Coriolanus, Plutarch. They certainly are not names common in our culture and while many may chalk this up to the dystopian nature of the book, most of the characters names throughout the series are carefully chosen with an intent purpose.
Something that was not mentioned in the movies was that Katniss’ name is derived from a common plant, a sort of water potato. It is explained that she was given this name by her father, who explained to Katniss that as long as you can always find yourself, you will never go hungry. In District 12, this can be taken quite literally as they are often starved for food. When Katniss was on the brink of starvation, one of the first foods she remembered could be safely eaten in the woods was the Katniss plant. Her own namesake saved her and her family’s lives. This could also be understood to have a more metaphorical meaning, to never lose sight of who you are, who you love and what is important to you and you will never go spiritually hungry.
Another name that stands out is President Coriolanus Snow, the main character in the upcoming prequel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. The dictator gets his first name from a Shakespearean character modeled after a Roman general Caius Marcius Coriolanus. This general hated the common people and had a vendetta against them, like Snow’s disdain with the district people. Additionally, his last name, Snow, simply provides a name to his aura: cold, unpleasant and white. These are all themes that follow his character throughout the series.
Finally, the name of Panem itself is significant. Panem derives from the Latin phrase, “Panem et circenses,” which translates to bread and circuses. This phrase was created during the Roman Empire when poverty ran rampant and yet the colosseum remained full. The idea is that if you give a population something to watch, to be entertained by, they will generally forget their grievances with society. This concept is clearly highlighted in the series with the central plot of the hunger games, a distraction from all the other horrors happening around the country. However, it is also very applicable to our society now. The wealth disparity today is unprecedented, the number of people below the poverty line is rapidly increasing and many people cannot afford basic healthcare. However, little is being done to change any of this largely because we live in a society that is so centered around pop culture and entertainment that at the end of a long workday, we don’t want to protest, we just want to scroll through our perfectly curated TikTok algorithm.
The ending is a feminist victory
There is a lot of debate over the ending of The Hunger Games series. Many people see it as a bad ending because they feel as though a historically patriarchal trope was forced onto Katniss by making her have kids. On the surface, it can seem like this is true as Katniss said repeatedly that she never wanted kids throughout the book. However, like a lot of things in this series, the ending is not as simple as a surface level understanding.
Katniss said Peeta had to convince her over years to have kids and while you can look at this as Peeta making Katniss do something she didn’t want to do, you can also see it as Peeta convincing her that their world was safe enough for kids now, that if they were to have children the hunger games were no longer a threat. It is made clear that the reason Katniss doesn’t want kids is directly tied to the world she lives in, that they would be placed in the reaping, potentially have to fight to the death for the world to see and live a generally sad existence constantly on the brink of starvation. However, at the end of the book, Katniss having kids signifies how much their world has changed and healed. Katniss now feels that her children would be safe, that she won’t have to worry about their safety or health because of the new world she helped to create. Ultimately, the ending serves to highlight the new Panem and hope for our beloved characters.
Additionally, it shows that Katniss had the choice and opportunity to parent, a victory from a feminist perspective. So often we forget that a woman’s right to choose is not just about abortion, but also about the right to parent in a safe and clean world, something that Katniss got. Again, while this is not an aspect of choice that is currently being highlighted often, it is still something important to fight for as our world becomes increasingly dangerous with the threat of violence and global warming.
Katniss is not a heroine
We assume that Katniss is the heroine of the story because most signs point to that conclusion: she is the narrator, she won something against all odds and seems to be “the chosen one.” Like in many other books and films that were popular at the time, we look to these heroes to be role models. Characters like Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and Tris Prior are all the main characters because they are somehow inherently different from everyone else, they have the thing needed in their stories to defeat evil. Katniss is not like this; she is not the chosen one nor is she the heroine. Katniss is not special.
Sure, Katniss can shoot a bow and arrow well, but plenty of other people throughout the story are specialized in some form of combat. Katniss is painted to be just like any other 16-year-old girl, but that is what makes this story so special. This portrayal of her makes it so easy for readers to resonate with her. She rarely has the right answer to any decision, she is cold and even mean at some points, she spends the entire first half of the Mockingjay book spiraling in a mental health crisis and Coin even said that Peeta would have made a better mockingjay than Katniss. We do not even see the end of the war, the final blow, because Katniss had nothing to do with it. The war would have ended whether or not she was in the Capitol at that moment. All of this is to say that the Hunger Games main purpose is to critique society and it would not be a proper critique if one hero were to end everything. Collective action is necessary to see change and that is exactly what happens in this story.
I know your perception of the Hunger Games is probably a book you loved as a kid, but you feel you are too old to enjoy it now. Just because it is marketed to 13-year-old girls does not diminish its value, despite what film/book bros want you to believe. This story is important and it is so applicable to things happening all over the world today. It is also well written, but digestible and easy to understand, although you may have to do a little digging to understand its deeper purpose. So, if you are a college student, and especially if you care in the slightest about politics, I implore you give the Hunger Games another read (or watch) and take a step outside of Peeta vs. Gale to better understand its actual message and why it is so important for us, as the next generation, to learn from.