I devoured the entire Hunger Games Trilogy over the course of a few days (see my general, spoiler-free reflections here). I can’t wait for the movie. My thoughts on the movie can be found here. Everyone has been talking about these books, and for good reason.
I’ll give my thoughts on the overall plot and what I take as the meaning in the books, from my own Christian perspective. I provide a brief look at things Christians can take from the books, as well as a discussion of the ethical theory one could see in the books.
This post focuses first on the reflections, and readers who don’t know the plot should read my summary before reading that section. Next, I briefly outline some content for parents. Third is my summary of the trilogy. Finally, I share a few interesting links, including one which I think will be very useful for Christian parents wondering if these are appropriate for their children.
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS INCLUDED BELOW
I’ll first present my reflections, and follow it with a brief note for parents. Those who haven’t read the books and aren’t planning to do so can read 3. Summary for a broad summary of the plot. There are spoilers in the reflections section, so readers who don’t want to have anything spoiled should abstain from reading this post and perhaps just read the one linked above.
[I have had the wonderful pleasure of interacting with many thoughtful Christian on this trilogy and found that there is so much more to the books than I could delve into here. Please see the links at the end for more reflections.] Initially, as I reflected on The Hunger Games Trilogy, I felt that the biggest issue was that there didn’t seem to be a major point to it beyond entertainment. I asked to be corrected, and I was. Many people commenting on this post have shared incredible insights. For the Christian reflecting on the Hunger Games, one can see it as a commentary on the horrors done to children in our time (Audra Franz below brings up this excellent point), a stunning condemnation of relativistic ethical theories (see A.T. Ross’s link), a narrative of Christian martyrdom, a critique of poor moral decisions, a horrible look at a nihilistic worldview, and more. In other words, there are any number of things Christians reflecting on the Hunger Games Trilogy can take away from the series. As such, I’ve lengthened this post a bit to take more of this into account.
I’ve been perplexed by Katniss’ decision to vote to hold a Hunger Games for the children of the leaders of the Capitol. Now, upon further consideration, I have to agree with the astute reader whose idea I put forward below, but I’ve left my original view untouched here [see the last few sentences two paragraphs down]. Consider the following passage in which they are voting on this very issue (p. 370 of Mockingjay):
Was it like this then? Seventy-five years ago? Did a group of people sit around and cast their votes on initiating the Hunger Games? Was there dissent? Did someone make a case for mercy that was beaten down by the calls for the deaths of the districts’ children? …All those people I loved, dead, and we are discussing the next Hunger Games in an attempt to avoid wasting life. Nothing has changed. Nothing will ever change now…. I say, “I vote yes… for Prim.”
I’m just honestly confused by this passage and Katniss’ decision. The vote was, according to her and Coin, a way to avoid losing more life. Some want to kill everyone in the Capitol, while others think they should just integrate with them in order to help stabilize the population. These last Hunger Games were proposed as a solution–a middle ground. But it seems to me they don’t serve a middle ground, just another atrocity. And Katniss seemed to realize that, but voted yes anyway. It is unclear that these Hunger Games ever take place, however, because shortly after making this decision, Coin is killed by Katniss and it’s uncertain as to whether an announcement is ever made. One reader gave me an interest comment on this–that it seems Katniss’ vote for the Hunger Games was, in fact, a ruse to lure Coin into the open so she could take her down. This gains credence when one considers that she says “for Prim”–even though she knew it was not Capitol people, but rather Coin, who killed Prim. On such a view, her utterance of “for Prim” is ironic, and indeed may have been intended to show Haymitch what Katkniss was planning. This makes more sense to me. My thanks to the astute reader!
The world in the Hunger games is stark. It is real, and one can’t help but be drawn into it while simultaneously feeling repulsed. Perhaps that was Suzanne Collins’ point, however. There isn’t always a triumph. Sometimes it’s just bitter reality. The trilogy ends on a happy note, but the overall scheme is one which forces the reader to reflect.
So what do I take from the Hunger Games trilogy? I readily admit my worldview does permeate my thought, and the main thing I took from the trilogy is the sinful condition of humanity. Katniss acknowledges it, noting that it could be better to allow some less sadistic species take over. As I already said, there is a fairly happy ending, but looking at the state of Panem and the world–there has been war after war, there’s no clear idea that the totalitarian government hasn’t just been replaced by another under the guise of democracy, children are killed, and a “compromise” to prevent more death is to send the Capitol’s children to fight to the death once more. The sinfulness of the human race, it seems, is at the forefront. And I think that’s why I long for more in the Hunger Games–I long for that comfort of the Redeemer. There seems to be no hope in the books that things will be made right, only that eventually, the nightmares may get better. Having the comfort of redemption and hope, I can’t help but wish for that in the world of Panem–a Redeemer to come and wash away the tears. And so, because there is no such Redeemer, I see the stories as a reflection of the brutal reality of a world without God. In such a world the best that can be hoped for is that the nightmares may one day end; that children may have a better life than their parents. But ultimately, it is a hard reality, one in which there is no true hope, no way to atone for past wrongs. Perhaps that is the central message of the books, or perhaps I am reading my own worldview onto it. Either way, I find this central message compelling.
Some have expressed concern that the Hunger Games express moral relativism. A.T. Ross has an excellent discussion of this on his site. The books themselves never present a moral theory–obviously that is not their intent–but they certainly do not seem to espouse moral relativism. It is clear throughout that the government’s actions are quite evil and that killing, sexual exploitation, and the like are all wrong. Ross notes that some have complained that it seems all the actions are up to chance. The phrase used in Panem is “May the odds be ever in your favor.” But Ross has astutely pointed out that no fictional character ever survives by chance. There is an Author who guides and directs their destinies. As Ross says, “The world operates on grace whether we like it or not; what we see as luck is nothing more than a tiny slice of divine grace offered in the form of survival and the tensions of the story resolving.”
But the Hunger Games, as noted below in the comments, can also be seen as a critique of our own world and our abuse of our children. In our world, children are sold for sex, they are forced to fight, they are fearful for their next meal, just as they are in the Hunger Games. Collins has poignantly potrayed the reality of our own world in the fictional realm of Panem.
A final thought is that Christians can definitely see parallels between the Hunger Games and the plight of the first Christians as they were forced to battle wild animals in Rome. There are a great many parallels here, and I can’t help but think some of this may be intentional. I’m not suggesting Collins is Christian–indeed, I don’t know what faith (if any) she professes. But I do think that the Hunger Games trilogy brings in many concepts from Christianity–the hopelessness of life without God, the objective wrongness of certain actions (and one’s requirements to act against them [provided the alternative reading of Katkniss’ vote]), and even an allusion to the Christian’s martyrdom in the arena. These all provide significant talking points for Christians throughout the series. The books are not overtly Christian, but they can open up conversations about these topics, and that, in itself, makes them worth reading in my opinion.
Thus, it can be seen that even though the Hunger Games Trilogy is not explicitly Christian, Christians who are interested can take all kinds of talking points away from it. Parents will find much to discuss with their children, and readers who are simply interested in the series will be unable to keep themselves from earnestly reflecting on the series afterwards. My own thoughts have been wonderfully shaped by readers who have shared their comments, so please keep them coming. It is clear that the Hunger Games can captivate Christians and have us look at the world through the eyes of faith–observing what is wrong and praying for God’s aid as we turn to those problems highlighted in the series. Most of all, we have the message of redemption, which is notably absent in the series–a message which is necessary to avoid the nihilistic collapse of Panem.
2. Brief note for Parents
Parents interested in the Hunger Games should know the series is very violent and depicts the death of children in sometimes graphic detail. While not explicit, there is some sexual exploitation involved as well (again, it is never explicit, but it can easily be drawn out from the text that is there). These are not books for young children. Please see 3. Summary for more details about the plot itself to hopefully help decide whether it is for your children.
Katniss Everdeen narrates the series from a first-person perspective. The Hunger Games is an annual tournament in which the Capitol collects 2 children from the 12 districts of Panem–the mini-country that has risen from the dust of several wars–and makes them battle to the death. Only one of the 24 children will survive. Why does the Capitol do this? Because about 74 years ago, the districts revolted against the Capitol. The Capitol won and the Hunger Games serve as an annual reminder of the Capitol’s might. The Hunger Games are aired on national television and everyone in Panem is required to watch their children die. There are interviews and extensive coverage of the event.
In the first book, The Hunger Games, Primrose, Katniss’ sister, is selected to compete in the Hunger Games. Katkniss almost immediately volunteers to take her place–she can’t watch her sister die. Gale, her friend and hunting partner for years, agrees to take care of her family. Peeta, a boy who had saved Katkniss’ life by giving her food some years ago, is the male selected from District 12, their home. They get shipped to the Capitol, where they begin to gain popularity due to their stylist, Cinna, and their story of hopeless lovers. Peeta told everyone at an interview that he loved Katniss and she plays that up in order to get gifts from “sponsors”–people who like certain children and pay to send food, weapons, medicine, and the like to them while they’re in the Hunger Games arena. As children die and are killed (including Katniss’ ally, Rue), it becomes apparent that Peeta and Katniss may be among the last few. The Capitol changes the rules to allow two to survive if they are the last ones and from the same district. Katniss finds Peeta and nurses him back to health, pretending to love him the whole time (and occasionally feeling very real about it). They end up barely surviving, but then the Capitol decides to change the rules back so they must fight to the death. They are about to kill themselves when the Capitol stops them and allows them both to win.
It turns out Peeta wasn’t pretending about his love, but Katniss was. The Capitol is furious that they were outwitted by the attempted suicide, and Peeta and Katniss are in danger. The book ends with Katniss in confusion about her interests in Peeta, and Peeta totally disappointed.
Catching Fire picks up a few months later and highlights the political drama playing out as President Snow and the Capitol are still furious that Peeta and Katniss both survived. The year is the 75th Hunger Games and in it, they select victors. Peeta and Katniss once more go to the Games. There is more to the Games than meets the eye, however, and Katniss and Peeta are part of a bigger scheme now to overthrow the Capitol. Katniss is confused about her feelings for Peeta and Gale. During the Games, Katniss is rescued and transported to the previously thought-destroyed District 13. District 12, her home, has been bombed to rubble. There are revolts happening across Panem.
In Mockingjay, Katniss must decide whether to help District 13 unite the Districts against the Capitol. Eventually she does and the revolution begins to take over district-by-district. District 13’s own motivations are unclear and it’s not certain they are any better than the Capitol in some ways. Their leader, Coin, is particularly unforgiving. Peeta has been tortured and tries to kill Katniss due to brainwashing, but through the course of the book he is rehabilitated and begins sorting his false memories from his true ones. It becomes apparent Coin doesn’t like the political clout Katkniss has as the “Mockingjay”–honorary leader of the rebellion. Katniss continues to go after President Snow, determined to kill him for his atrocities. Eventually, she reaches his estate and witnesses the killing of dozens of children with a secret weapon that only the Rebellion knows about. Snow is captured.
Katniss votes to put the Capitol’s leaders’ children in one final Hunger Games as retribution[? see more on this in my reflection] for their crimes. She and Coin had agreed to allow Katniss to kill Snow, and she is about to when she shoots Coin instead, due to Coin’s involvement in murdering other children. Katniss is pardoned for temporary insanity, and goes home to District 12. Eventually she and Peeta get together and the book ends with them having children despite Katniss’ fear that some great evil will come upon them.
“Catching Fire”– A Christian reflection on the film. I review a number of themes found in the movie “Catching Fire” and tie them back to the message of Christianity and social justice.
Christian Children’s Book Review- Check out this review of the series to get more specific information parents may want to consider as they think about getting these books for their children.
The Hunger Games, Ethics, and Christianity– A very interesting look at moral relativism and realism in The Hunger Games.
The Hunger Games: Focus on the Family– Essentially a book review of the first book, The Hunger Games, with an emphasis on issues Christian parents might have with it. I don’t agree withe everything here, but I think the talking points they’ve provided for parents are pretty interesting.
Hungering for Satisfaction– a poignant look into the Hunger games. “Real or unreal?”
Deeper Hungers and Darker Games– The Hunger Games reflects a world without God. What does it mean?
The Hunger Games: The Atheist’s Utopia– No God: Utopia?
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