The Hunger Games is a story centered around sixteen year old Katniss Everdeen, who lives in a future world after an undisclosed apocalyptic event. She lives in the country of Panem in what used to be North America. Panem is a technologically advanced society. The Capitol is the seat of Panem’s brutal totalitarian government and is located in the northwestern Rocky Mountains. The Capital has absolute control of the twelve outlying districts. Panem holds an annual event called the Hunger Games where one boy and one girl, aged twelve to eighteen years old, from each of the districts are selected by a lottery system to compete in a publicly broadcasted battle in which only one participant can survive.
The author, Suzanne Collins, says that her inspiration for the story came from channel surfing on television. On one channel she observed people competing on a reality show and on another she saw the news with footage of the invasion of Iraq. Ms. Collins says that the two events began to blur in her conscience in a very unsettling way and the genesis for the story, the first in the Underland Chronicles, was formed.
The perpetual starvation and the constant need for resources that the people of Panem suffer create a sense of social dependence that the characters participating in the competition have to suppress in their fight for survival against each other. Katniss, the main character, has a proficiency with the bow and arrow that developed from her need to hunt in order to help provide food for her family. This results in a skill that gives her a competitive advantage in the life threatening competition. With a combination of skill and a sense of independence that gives her the courage to challenge the rules of the game when they are arbitrarily changed during the competition, Katniss survives the competition and is treated to a hero’s welcome. But she is warned by one of her mentors that she has now become a political target after defying Panem leaders so publicly.
In interviews, Ms. Collins said that the Underland Chronicles touch on issues such as poverty, starvation, oppression, and disparity. The story focuses on the struggle for self preservation that an entire society of people faces in their existence in the districts and the Hunger Games in which they are forced to participate. Ms. Collins also cites the Greek myth of Theseus, in which the city of Athens was forced to send young men and women into a labyrinth in Crete to face the Minotaur. As a child, Ms. Collins said she was impacted by the ruthless of a people who would force children into such a situation. She understood that Crete was sending a very clear message that if the people defy their government the government would do something worse than kill the people, they will kill the people’s children, and the people will be powerless to stop it.
The people of mythological Crete may have been cruel, their ruthlessness pales in comparison to a society of people who would subject a race of people to a perpetual existence of poverty, oppression, and social disparity. We might watch the Hunger Games and react with some sense of outrage at the cruelty of the authoritarian rule of the fictional Panem’s government and how it subjugates the people. But then we come away from this work of fiction to see the reality of our society that was founded under the deception that black people are inferior to white people and how it subjugates black people. It was written into the very document that established our national government that black people were not fully human and were deemed white people’s property. And when black people finally and openly defied the white people who were oppressing them, there was a clear signal from the dominant culture that black people have incurred the wrath of the white oppressors and black people will be targeted. Imagine the wrath of a society that was founded under the idea that they have the right to deem black people not human and deny them the right to pursue happiness. What kind of games would such a society design for its retribution?
Today, black people are forced to compete in our own games of employment, business, education, healthcare, justice, government representation, and everything else that we require as a people to live as a collective. All too often black people have to prepare for these games with inferior equipment and inferior facilities. Our future depends on overcoming these hurdles for our very survival. And if that’s not enough, we have our law enforcers and our judicial system ready to come down hard on black people when there might be a case of a black person defying the unwritten rules that require black people to submit no matter what.
And if that’s still not proof of the cruelty of a society that was developed with racial disparity written into its founding documents, a society that has a history of targeting black people for their defiance and for fighting back against racial oppression, this is a society that constantly reminds us all with the clear message that it will do far worse than kill black people, this is a society that will allow black children to be hunted and killed in cold blood, and will expect the black community to be powerless to stop it. Is it any wonder that George Zimmerman remains free even though we know he murdered Trayvon Martin?