I read all three books in The Hunger Games trilogy last week when I had pneumonia and nothing better to do, and I saw the movie yesterday. Interesting stuff. I couldn't help, while both reading and watching, drawing a number of connections among a lot of literary and mythical themes. The very first thing I thought of when I figured out the story line was the short story "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson. I've asked a dozen people about it and no else seems to have heard of it, but Suzanne Collins had to have gotten the basic premise there. Then there is a ton of Lord of the Flies--ish imagery, and the theme of young people banding together in a wilderness situation to survive, savagely turning on each other, is a pretty obvious parallel. There is also dystopian Orwellian futuresque imagery and some interesting technological sci-fi widgetry with the gamemaster's fancy equipment. Speaking of the gamemaster, I wondered: is Collins going all Nietzsche on us by saying God is dead? How many times have philosophers scratched their heads and said "what if God is up there just playing a giant video game with us as his pawns?" In The Hunger Games, that is exactly what happens. The gamemaster is God, creating the world and causing fire, flood, and pestilence. In a larger sense, in the futuristic world of Panem there is no room for another God, as this is who decides the fate of the nation's children. I saw no evidence of religion, and this is a notable lack in a storyline involving a starving hopeless populace. Throughout history stricken people have resorted to pleading to whatever god is relevant at the time, but not in Panem.
This trilogy combines so many nearly timeless mythical themes that it would be difficult to list them all. Literature majors must be drooling at the simplicity of choosing their next thesis. We could start with the basic issue of good versus evil and work down to multiple examples of mythical symbolism, such as the virgin martyr, Rue, laid out and holding white flowers. Katniss herself, the heroine who eventually brings a corrupt world to its knees, is a near-goddess born of a shadowy absent father from the underworld (a miner).
Symbolism aside, what does this story tell us about human nature? Is there no hope for us? We've been throwing people to the lions, so to speak, for a really long time. The obvious analogy between the Hunger Games arena and the Colosseum has to be drawn. They play in an arena. They are collected underneath it and taken up to playing level to battle to the death for the entertainment of those in power. Does this say that we haven't changed since ancient Rome and are headed back there again? In addition, Holocaust imagery and parallels abound. Particularly in the movie, one cannot help recalling video clips of Jewish citizens being rounded up and lined up behind barbed wire just as the children of Panem are. Were not nations of Jewish people offered up as involuntary "tributes" to save everyone else (I'm reminded of Niemöller's poem that ends "Then they came for me // and there was no one left to speak out for me").
And what of love? There are several possible love stories. We have Katniss and Gale, Katniss and Peeta. We have nonromantic love and issues therewith involving Katniss's parents and sister and Katniss and Rue. Did Katniss and Peeta agree to eat the berries because of love or simply as a means of keeping their identity and beating the system? Were Katniss and Rue actually affectionate or was it pure survivalism? It's a classic game theory faceoff. One's win is another's loss. They both knew it. Katniss's love for and sacrifice for her sister, Prim, may be the only true altruistic love in this story.
Finally, is The Hunger Games a commentary on how the rest of the world sees the USA right now? Their children starve and die of pestilence and preventable disease while we, tarted up and living in comparatively ridiculous opulence, use their sacrifices to continue our precarious balance, hoping that they do not rise up. Must not the third world nations see us as the 12 districts see the capital dwellers?