The Hunger Games: Physical or Mind games?

26 Oct


Most recently, I have become extremely fascinated and transfixed on a new book series, The Hunger Games. For most people, this could have been just any other book that they read, felt some emotion, and put down. I, however, saw the book as something extremely moving and became slightly obsessed with the idea of the hunger games as an event itself in the fictitious country of Panem in the story, but also in the message underlined in the story itself.

For those unfamiliar with the story, the Hunger Games (a novel written by Suzanne Collins) follows the main character, Katniss Everdeen, as she participates in a grueling contest, the Hunger Games. These games take place in a fictitious nation, Panem which consists of the wealthy Capitol and 12 poorer districts. As punishment for a rebellion against the Capitol in the past, from each district one boy and one girl are selected by annual lottery (Reaping) to participate in the Hunger Games. In these Games, the participants (tributes) must fight each other to death in an outdoor arena controlled by the Capitol, until one survivor remains. Much like the Olympics, each district roots for their tribute to win the whole thing in order to bring glory to their district.

As a psychology student however, I did notice some underlying themes in this book that directly related to things we learned in Psychology. For one, The Hunger Games is so interesting because it’s about psychological oppression. The Capitol uses many methods of psychological oppression, not just physical oppression. Being in the state of power, the officials from the capitol have used their power to their advantage to oppress its citizens.

The Hunger Games themselves are very much about human psychology. Not only does it numb the citizens of Panem to violence, but it makes people feel guilty about the dead children. The Districts are sending these children as sacrifices to save their own skins, that’s a real burden on one’s conscience. Guilty minds are less likely to rebel since they are blaming themselves rather than the Capitol. Moreover, the Hunger Games sets up a system where the Districts are opponents. No matter what, the fact is that someone in other Districts has killed someone from your District. That fact distances the Districts psychologically as well as physically, making cooperation unlikely in event of a rebellion.

Other themes in the story may include reciprocity and friendships. In the Hunger Games, Katniss forms an alliance with Rue, a young female tribute from District 11, an expert in finding hiding places and medicinal plants.  In return, Katniss, a bow-and-arrow specialist, provides food and security. We see that basically there is a theme of you scratch my back, I scratch yours. Another reason why this alliance was so moving was because Rue was a 12 year old girl, the same age as Katniss’s younger sister who was originally picked at the reaping as the female tribute for the 74th Hunger Games. Katniss, at this moment, was acting as mother to Prim, when their own mother spiraled into a horrible depression after her husband died in a coal mining accident. When Prim’s name was called at the reaping, in a natural instinct to protect her younger sister, Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place. Many times in the book, Katniss likens Rue to her very own sister Prim which is why, Katniss decided to ally with Rue. When Rue dies through the hands of another tribute, Katniss is extremely hurt and pained at this and goes into a stage of emotional distraught for both not being able to save Rue and also for killing the tribute who killed Rue.

Katniss protection of Rue (the District 11 tribute) has not gone unnoticed, she has developed a good reputation in the game. When Katniss is about to get killed, she is saved by the boy tribute from District 11 when he finds out that she had been nice to Rue. Watching the Games on television the people of District 11 reward Katniss by sending her a gift. We see that the Power of reputation is a very powerful tool that can be used.

Lastly, there is a strong fight versus flight theme. The story shows that there are different survival strategies. The physically imposing boy tributes from District 1 and 2 choose to engage in physical fights, which serves them well against weaker opponents but there are risks of injuries too. The younger and physically weaker tributes choose to flee and stay hidden. Or, alternatively, they form coalitions and seek out friendships. This is the tend-and-befriend strategy, which in the end gives Katniss the edge in survival.

(c) Ezra Sumbillo


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