The Hunger Games
Imagine being born into a new world that rose from the ashes of an old world, and imagine, that in this world there is a capitol and around it there are districts – the father away from the capital the poorer the district. You so happen to live in the one farthest away, and your life is a continuous struggle to feed yourself and those close to you. Additional to that, each year, you must risk being sent to an arena where you have to kill young men and women from the other districts in order to survive and win the ‘game’. Let us then conclude that if this were your reality you would be living in a very dystopian world. But what then if you instead of living in poverty and fear on the outside, lived in the midst of this world – in the capitol? You would never be hungry or want for anything and you would live your life in contentment, without having to experiencing war. Would this then be the best you could possibly imagine your life to be, a complete opposition of the dystopia – a utopia?
This society is presented in the novel ‘the Hunger Games’ from 2008, by the author Suzanne Collins. The main focus of this paper is gong to be on, an analysis of the two opposing themes; Utopia and dystopia. This will be done by analysing several extracts from the novel. Lastly, there will be a discussion on which of the two themes, utopia and dystopia best characterises the novel.
The largest and most substantial theme – a theme where most other themes can be included, is the theme dystopia. A great example of the more dystopian fragments in the novel is ‘The Hunger Games’, but it is not only the participation in the games itself, which traumatize the children and turn them into coldblooded murders “Except I’d kill anyone I meet on sight. Without emotion or the slightest tremor in my hands”(ext. 2 P.288), or the fact that the citizens in each district have to let two of their children between the age of 12-18 participate, and that they have to treat the ‘reaping’ as if it is a celebration and the only ones who does, do it “out of relief that their children have been spared for another year”(Ext.1 P.12). There are also other consequences, which have a more indirect effect on the districts. One of these is the division within the country. The districts and the Capitol are divided by it being only tributes from the districts that participate in the games. The division which is most pronounced, is the division between districts, caused by the fact that “(…) each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate (…) the competitors must fight to the death.”(Ext. 1 P.21-22) – when a winner is found all the other children will have passed, directly or indirectly, caused by this particular winner. But there is also the division within the districts themselves, especially the districts farthest away. This division, to some extent the other divisions as well, is increased by the difference between ‘poor’ and ‘rich’/ Seam and merchant, and linked to that is the tesserae “The reaping system is unfair (…) Say you are poor and starving, as we were. You can opt to add your name more times in exchange for tesserae” (Ext. 1 P.15). This unfairness create a resentment towards the merchants “And even though the rules set up by the Capitol, not the districts, certainly not Madge’s family, it’s hard not to resent those who don’t have to sign up for tesserae.” (Ext. 1 P.16)
All of these dystopian elements lead to another major dystopian element, which is the Capitols use of the ‘power of fear’ “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.”(Ext.1 P.22) to prevent an uprising like there has been before “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”(Ext.1 P.22).
If you did not live in the outer districts, but instead, either within the Capitol or in the districts closest to it, then maybe another theme worth considering would be if the novel could be a utopia. An example of this point is, the fact that within the country Panem and its Capitol there are no wars, unlike before its existence “The country that rose up out of the ashes of a place that was once called North American (…) he list the brutal war for what little sustenance remained. The result was Panem” (Ext.1 P.21) Beside that, “The last tribute alive receives a life of ease back home, and their district will be showered with prizes (…)”(Ext.1 P.22). Thus, the victories tribute stands to gain a life where neither they nor their family will ever lack anything seems to be the coveted situation.
You could argue, that even although there are fragments and examples of the dystopian and the utopian themes, the fact that the novel is written in 1. Person following Katniss’ experiences in districts twelve, as a character belonging to the poorest group within all of society. As a reader we experience the world within the novel, through her eyes. And her experiences, very much, lean towards the dystopian view of this word, – it is difficult not to get involved and sympathise with Katniss when she is the person from whom you experience everything.
Another thing that heavily leads toward the dystopian theme, and therefore erases the utopian one, is the former winner Haymitch Abernaty from district twelve. According to the utopian promise, when you win the games your life will be good and you will not need anything, but Haymitch does not appear happy “He’s drunk. Very” (Ext.1 P.23). One can only guess why he is inebriated, but we did experience what goes on inside the ‘games’ through Katniss and experiences like hers are likely to resemble Haymitchs, and both would most likely leave scars on both the soul and the mind.
And so one must come to the conclusion that even though one can find fragments that point in the direction of the novel being both a dystopia and a utopia. The things that lean towards this being a dystopia are much more pronounced, than those leaning towards it being a utopia, and sometimes some of the otherwise could-be utopian theme characteristics, when looked into, change and become in favour of the dystopian theme instead. This imaginary world is, no matter how one could try to disguise it, twist and turn it, a very cynical, cold and unjust world were the amount of people who suffer and are treated as pawns in a game, are much larger that than those who might benefit and enjoy this ‘entertainment’ and this hard bought ‘peace’.