On My Soapbox: The Hunger Games

It’s been a minute. I’ve written and rewritten this post more times than I can count, but as I down my second cup of coffee today and sit by the piano, I think I’ve finally got it.

Welcome to the second installment of ‘On My Soapbox.’ Hope it makes you think.

This semester, I reread Catching Fire for a final project, and I really got to rethink what I got from The Hunger Games series. If you’ve read these books, you know that the dystopian society of America far in the future is so unique and thrilling that it’s hard to put the story down until it’s finished. But it’s so easy to get lost in the story that sometimes it’s important to take a step back.

The limitations of these books are the fact that they are classified and Young Adult Novels. I don’t think there’s an audience who couldn’t benefit from reading this series, but the idea that they’re meant for middle schoolers prompts a loss of viewership from older audiences. So, if you haven’t read the books, no matter how old you are, I recommend you do so now.

You see, there are layers to these books that I’m only beginning to uncover, prompted by the analysis of other writers and their perspectives. And in all the chaos of 2020, I think these insights are more vital now than ever before. It’s also important to look at the differences between what the books focused on in comparison to the movies, as it’s a direct reflection of our society’s values. That being said, let’s begin.

The “Love Triangle”

The movie adaptation and promotion of this movie was quick to fall for this trap, which is exactly what Suzanne Collins was trying to show. “Team Peeta” and “Team Gale” were so quick to become the main topics following the series, but if you actually read the books, you know that it’s not a triangle, and that it’s relatively unimportant. Katniss Everdeen is trying to fight a revolution, not find a romance. Also, Mockingjay, the third and final installment, came out in 2010, two years before the first movie hit theaters. So if you actually cared about who she ended up with, you already knew.

I blame Twilight for the spectacle of the heroine and her love triangle, and it’s so interesting how life imitates art. In the books, the Capitol downplays the death of children for sport by focusing on a romance, and that’s exactly what Hollywood did. The movies did more to add to this spectacle, far beyond what was included in the books. So suddenly the conversation focused on Katniss’ ability to capture the hearts of two boys played by Hollywood heart throbs rather than her capability to overthrow an oppressive regime. But that’s being a leading female in mainstream movies, I guess.

Spoiler alert: she ends up with Peeta, which if you read the books, is the only logical choice, considering he supports her independence, doesn’t see her as a damsel in distress, and values her feelings and capability to make her own damn decisions. He doesn’t fear her power—in fact, he admired it—and he didn’t try to pressure her into making decisions she wasn’t ready to make.  

The Symbol of the Mockingjay

Starting in Catching Fire and more so in Mockingjay, Katniss becomes the face of the rebellion as the Mockingjay, the namesake being a failed Capitol experiment used by the rebels to take gains during the first revolution. Don’t let the symbolism be lost to you, Katniss was a failed Capitol production as a victor who became of use to the rebel forces. Her inherent human value wasn’t considered, as she comes to realize throughout the third book, but rather her image’s ability to spark uprisings and continuous fighting against the Capitol.

Katniss never wanted to be the face of a war, she wanted to protect her family and friends. The main reason she became the Mockingjay was to do just that. It’s crazy to see how the Capitol uses this to get her to cooperate, and then the rebels. Are these two sides much different? Nope, and that’s what Katniss comes to discover, but we really didn’t focus on that when the movies came out. Not shocking.

Perspective and Privilege

The books come from Katniss’s perspective, and we see the decisions she makes and the intentions she makes them with. While the movies tell Katniss’ narrative, they tell the story from a third-person point of view. So what Katniss does looks a bit different from a bird’s-eye view. None the less, as she is forced into the arena twice and fights a revolution, Katniss gains a unique perspective to the workings of the world. The biggest example of this is in Mockingjay when her Capitol prep team turns up as being imprisoned in District 13. It’s a smaller moment in the book, but it’s so important for discussion.

Here’s the deal, these three people on her team are full participants of the Capitol. They buy into ridiculous fashion, they intentionally throw up food and engage in gluttony while people are starving to death in the districts, and they look forward to and cheer on the slaughtering of children for their entertainment. It’s absolutely despicable, but it seems that Katniss is the only one who see the true issue: privilege. The difference between Katniss and her team comes down to where they were born. If they had lived in the districts, they wouldn’t have been fans of the Games but rather dreaded the event each year. They never lived through the fear of the reaping, the fight of death, the struggle of watching friends and family die as a reminder of a war 70+ years in the past.

None of this excuses their behavior, but Katniss recognizes that they have a perspective shaped by privilege, and that if she was born in the Capitol, if her circumstances had been different, she could have turned out the same way. So when they arrive in District 13, she doesn’t belittle them and shame them, she focuses on educating them on why the rebellion is important, why the Games are heinous, and how they can help change the future of Panem. She treats them with kindness, and knows that their hearts are large and can handle a change of perspective.

Abuse and ignorance of privilege isn’t okay, but it’s so much more effective to educate rather than to shame. Humans are capable of change when they’re taught new things, when they can see beyond themselves. Something to think about.


The Hunger Games is a story of spectacle. The first book is literally about kids dying and killing each other for entertainment. It’s truly horrifying, but we somehow looked over that when Hollywood adapted it, and instead we focused on the spectacle of love, stardom, and revolution.

We love stories of liberation, but the system District 13 had in place wasn’t freedom; they were rigidly structured and in pursuit of their own agenda. District 13 was dying out as most of its people were infertile from a virus, so their willingness to take people in from other districts was done with selfish intentions. It took 75 years for District 13, the only district with an arsenal capable of taking down the Capitol, to take the opportunity to restart the revolution. 75 years of children dying in an arena, 75 years of oppression and violence, 75 years of doing nothing. This angers Katniss, but as an audience, we get so caught up in the fight for freedom, we overlook the complacency of this rebel side.

It makes you think: what suffering are we complacent with because it isn’t happening to us? What injustices are we brushing off because we have our own problems to get through? How are we letting down humanity by hiding in our own comfort and safety?

Pawns in Someone Else’s Game

At the end of the day, Katniss, along with Peeta, Gale, Haymitch and the likes of them, were all pawns in the Games between the Capitol and District 13. More specifically, President Snow and President Coin.

Snow was outright evil, and made it obvious to Katniss that she was a pawn and nothing more. Coin was more covert with her intentions, more manipulative, and took effort to pretend that Katniss was more than a piece in the game she was playing. If Katniss weren’t as critical and untrusting as the protagonist she was, then she probably would have fallen into the ploys set by Coin. I mean, Haymitch spent his time drinking or recovering, Peeta was too mentally unstable from torture to process what Coin was attempting to do, and Gale let power consume him and dropped bombs on children, including Katniss’ sister. And maybe it was seeing her best friend fall in line with what President Coin wanted, but it woke her up from the façade of the rebellion, prompting her to kill Coin and let Snow be handled by the crowd.

At what point have we been used as pawns? I hate to be the cynic but the governments of Panem and the districts aren’t abstract conceptions of power. At what point do we allow ourselves to become pawns in someone else’s game?

My sophomore year of college, I had to read a book titled Ordinary Men which explored the stories and actions behind men who carried out the orders during the holocaust. The conclusion came down to the idea that we are so susceptible to becoming monsters, to ignoring the horrors of the world, if we don’t think for ourselves. We have to be critical, we have to question what we are told, what we are taught. If there is an objective truth, which I believe there is, we need to be in constant pursuit of it because chances are, it won’t be easy to find.

This just really ties into what these books say: that in conflict and power struggle and war, there is senselessness, chaos, and blindness. It’s hard to get it the first time, but Gale and Katniss come from the same District, the same slum, and experienced many of the same struggles. Katniss became a pawn to the Capitol in the first Games, and continued to be so until she became a pawn for the rebellion, but she recognized that. And so through it all, she was aware of what her worth was to these people. Gale didn’t have that awareness, and so when he was presented with the opportunity to kill the children of the Capitol, to take an eye for an eye for the Hunger Games, to take revenge, he did without hesitation. It ended the war, but at the cost of morality and the lives of the innocent.

There’s so much to unpack from these books, I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. If you’ve read the books and have thoughts or any other insights, drop them below!


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