THE TAKE AWAY
A Christian Perspective on The Hunger Games
By Kersley Fitzgerald
Several months ago, my good friend Evangeline Denmark made a demand: You have to read The Hunger Games. I hesitated. This is the woman who loves Twilight. Finally she convinced me (possibly by telling me it was nothing like Twilight). I downloaded all three books onto my Kindle that night.
I'd read them all within four days.
It's not a romance, I tell my friends. They're not easy. They don't have a Hollywood ending. But they're awesome, and you have to read them. They are rich with meaning. They take work. Many people, including Marty Duren, have written what they thought the story was really about. Here's my take.
First, the obligatory summary: Seventy-four years ago, the thirteen districts of Panem rebelled against the Capital. One district was (presumably) destroyed. The other twelve are basically enslaved. Each district has a particular resource they provide to the Capital — food, fish, lumber, technology — in the case of Katniss's district, coal.
As a reminder of the Capital's power, every year each district provides a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 as "tribute." They are sent to the Capital, paraded around like celebutantes, trained for a couple of days, and then taken to an arena where they fight to the death. Winner takes all. They get a nice house, all the food they can eat the rest of their lives, and they're at the beck and call of the Capital whenever a need arises.
When first asked to explain the meta-narrative of the books, I said it was about the control of people in power and how they used Katniss to their advantage. How she was caught in a much larger world than just the games, and needed to learn how to balance survival with some sense of freedom. A similar thought grew out of that one, however. What if this isn't a YA story? What if it's a story for parents? Because there are two really loud messages here:
- The powers that be want what they want, and they don't care if they destroy children to get it.
- We as parents are often too stressed/distracted/deceived/selfish to do much about it.
This worldview saturates Panem at both the macro and micro level. At the macro level, the Capital chooses the 24 tributes, and the downtrodden districts meekly submit. At the micro level, when Katniss's father is killed, her mom checks out. She loses all touch with reality. Her daughters nearly starve until Katniss learns to provide for them. Both Katniss's and Gale's mothers allow them to enter their names into the tribute drawing additional times so that their families can qualify for more food. When Peeta burns bread, knowing his mom will tell him to feed it to the pigs and he can slip it to a starving Katniss, his mom beats him, showing how much more she values bread than her son — and they're one of the few well-off families of the district.
Our culture encourages us to sacrifice our children, too. There are very few worldly pleasures we can indulge in that don't eventually harm our kids. It could be working late hours to accumulate goods or plugging them in front of questionable TV shows so we can have some quiet. When we allow the culture to determine how our kids should be raised and what values they should have, it's going to destroy them.
Another theme I caught that I haven't seen commented on is that of friendship. While the trilogy has enough romantic tension to keep a certain demographic's interest, it is not a love story. It's a story about how we need each other, how we need to learn who to trust, how to work through seemingly insurmountable issues, and how to be loyal when everything in us says to walk away. That is what the church is supposed to be like. Life is a battle — a far bigger one than we realize. We will need to make alliances with people we didn't expect (Peeta) and people who drive us nuts (Haymitch) and people that others see as weak but we see something worth getting to know (Rue).
One final theme. It's very telling that Peeta made the wish before the games that he could stay himself and not be influenced by the crooked values of the Capital. In the end, it was Katniss's character that dominated the plot. When she was true to herself, when she acted out of her love and protectiveness of others, she was successful. When she acted out of hate and anger and fear, she failed. She not only lost what she was fighting for, she lost her mind.
I haven't heard too much from the younger generation as to what they think about The Hunger Games, beyond whether they want Katniss to fall for Peeta or Gale. It's the adults who seem to be overanalyzing the poop out of the story. Hopefully the larger messages will get through anyway.
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