Spiritual Allegory in The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games is a dystopian view of the future reminiscent of 1984 and The Lottery. The author and screenwriter, Suzanne Collins, takes cues from the story of King Theseus in Greek mythology.
In the Greek myth, King Minos of Crete had defeated the Athenians in war. As a result, Minos ordered Athena to send seven boys and seven girls as tributes to Crete every Great Year. The tributes were forced to enter an enormous Labyrinth where they faced a powerful monster named Minotaur. No one survived the encounter. On one occasion, Theseus covertly volunteered to take the place of one of the boys. Upon arrival in Crete, Adriadne, daughter of King Minos, fell in love with Theseus and ultimately helped him defeat the Minotaur.
The setting of The Hunger Games is in futuristic America, called Panem. Panem is divided into twelve districts inhabited by the poor. The wealthy citizens live in the capitol city. As punishment for previous rebellion attempts against the capitol, President Snow established the Hunger Games, an annual event that pits two “tributes” from each district in a battle to the death. The 24 tributes, ranging from 12 to 18 years of age, are chosen at random to compete in the games until only one is left.
The story is told from the perspective of 16 year old Katniss Everdeen, who lives in one of the poor districts. Since the death of her father, she has provided for her sister and mother by hunting in the nearby woods. On the day of “reaping”, in which the tributes are chosen, Katniss’ younger sister Prim is chosen to participate in the games. As Theseus does in the Greek myth, Katniss volunteers to take the place of the chosen tribute. Katniss, along with Peeta, the boy tribute, travel to the capitol to represent their district in the games. At the capitol, all the tributes are trained in survival skills and warfare. They also vie for the approval of “sponsors”, wealthy citizens of the capitol who provide gifts to aid in survival during the games.
(spoiler alert) In a televised interview before the games, Peeta confesses his secret love for Katniss. During the games, Katniss helps Peeta stay alive—just as Adriadne helped Theseus. Through a series of plot twists both Peeta and Katniss survive and are declared joint winners.
A Modern Day Parable
In some ways The Hunger Games is a parable of present-day America. Like the capitol city of Panem we are wealthy—so much so that we sometimes have difficulty identifying with the poor and disenfranchised. Some of us have become ethnocentric in our view of the world, meaning that our perceptions are colored by our own good fortunes and we tend to label the misfortunes of others as character defects. The attitudes and behaviors of the citizens of the capitol city in The Hunger Games prompt us to examine our own values and ethics.
This problem is nothing new. When the Israelites became proud and began mistreating each other God did not mince words. He said through the prophet Micah,
“and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
These spiritual allegories of justice, love, and humility are intricately woven into the story of The Hunger Games.
1. Justice. At a particular poignant moment in the film, Peeta said, “I keep wishing I could think of a way to show the Capitol they don’t own me; that I’m more than just a piece in their games.” Peeta was yearning to be treated justly. His feelings of oppression are a commentary on our own growing pride as a society. We should not place ourselves above others and we must never be complacent in our response to the mistreatment of others. Showing justice is treating others in the same way that Jesus would treat them.
2. Love. At several points in the film, Katniss faces a crossroads: she can travel the path of violence or she can nurture others in love. Either road will alter her life. She chooses to embrace love in a number of ways. She demonstrates her love for her sister by volunteering in her stead; she nurses Peeta back to health; and she becomes a mother figure to Rue by taking care of her. Sometimes, choosing love is a riskier option for Katniss. For instance, when she decides to join forces with Peeta (which was against the rules), the president becomes angry and demands a sacrifice. Katniss simply ignores the rules and chooses to act out of selfless love. This is the kind of love that Jesus demonstrated to us by dying on the cross for us. Romans 5:8 says, “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” Unconditional love is what we need to express to others through our actions.
3. Humility. President Snow understood what motivates people. When it was obvious that Katniss and Peeta were inspiring hope among the population of Panem, Snow told Seneca, the Gamemaker, that their job was to give the districts a certain level of hope—but not too much or it would engender a rebellion against the capitol. What Snow misunderstood was the power of humility. It takes a large degree of humility and selflessness to put hope in something or someone. Having hope in God requires us to forego our own ambitions and desires. It is an emotion focused on walking humbly with God; not on a winding trail of self-absorption.
The inhabitants of Panem are desperately seeking meaning and hope in their lives. In a world devoid of the divine their real hunger is for something real—someone they can put their hope in and trust without reservation; someone at whose feet they can lay their burdens down and rest in his loving arms.
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).