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Society’s antagonism towards individuals and certain groups can be demonstrated through oppression, immoral regulations, and the misuse of law enforcement. Suzanne Collins’ 2008 novel, The Hunger Games is set in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian world. A sixteen-year-old girl named Katniss and her family live in the poverty-stricken District Twelve, one of eleven other districts that are all heavily controlled by the Capitol. She finds herself in the annual Hunger Games; a Capitol organized event between twenty-four teenagers, who are forced to fight to the death in an arena, while its broadcast on live television. Society is depicted as an antagonist towards many characters, particularly through the use of a totalitarian political system, and an unequal method of wealth distribution. However, one could argue that society itself is only the antagonist due to being the product of the Capitol’s beliefs and laws that are implemented so forcefully, making the society as a whole seem wicked. This manipulation and oppression puts Panem on the receiving end of a Trojan-horse sent by the Capitol.
The main characteristic of a totalitarian system is that the government is in full control of society, controlling all aspects of both the private and public lives of each and every citizen, often with the use of fear. A prime example of the use of terror to control the citizens of Panem is present in the Hunger Games itself. The Hunger Games are the ultimate display of the Capitol’s dominance and were designed to discourage the populace against rebellion. When Katniss talks of the Hunger Games, she says that it’s “the Capitol’s way of reminding us how totally we are at their mercy.” In the Hunger Games, the citizens of Panem become pawns in an elaborate game of life or death. “It’s to the Capitol’s advantage to have them divided among themselves”, as it creates fear and divides people across the twelve districts, which prevents them uniting and starting a rebellion once again. The theme power is present in the form of the annual Games. The sole reason the Hunger Games exist is to create fear, and dominate a helpless community. Mass surveillance is the intricate surveillance of an entire or a substantial fraction of a population in order to monitor that group of people, used predominantly in totalitarian societies. In Panem, surveillance is a big part of everyone’s life, and of the Peacekeeper’s daily job. The Peacekeepers are always listening to the citizens of District Twelve to see if there is any talk of rebellion, in which case would cause the person to be “publicly executed”. Citizens are watched by Jabberjays, and when Katniss was young, she metaphorically “scared her mother to death,” by blurting things out about the Capitol that they might overhear. Even when Katniss entered the Capitol, “The people began to point at her eagerly…they couldn’t wait to watch her die.” She couldn’t escape the feeling that she “might be under surveillance”. No one wants to be under constant surveillance, but strength comes in numbers, and the people are scared. Society is the antagonist, but only as a result of the totalitarian government within Panem.
Unequal distribution of wealth may cause division in society, and in The Hunger Games, the theme of wealth distribution and its negative effect on society is present throughout the entire book. Suzanne Collins has kept this relevant as it combats real world issues; the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This also links into the theme of social classes, as no rich people from the Capitol are put in the Hunger Games draw. The Capitol then abuses its power by exploiting its districts, taking the crops and resources that they produce and giving little in return. As a result, the Capitol continues to be wealthy and prosperous while the districts endure great poverty and hardship. The Capitol is a place of seemingly infinite wealth, especially compared with District 12. One meal of theirs, as Katniss notes, would take her “Days of hunting and gathering…and even then it would be a poor substitution,” Similarly, Katniss, along with the rest of District twelve, lives in poverty, and understands that “starvation’s not an uncommon fate in District 12.” For Katniss to keep her family alive, she must illegally hunt in the woods beside her house. Another way the Capitol heavily controls wealth distribution is by favouring the Hunger Games victor, showering their district with gifts and enough food to last a year. This ties back to the rich getting richer and the poor staying in the mud. The most poverty-stricken people must put their name in the tessera in return for a ration of grain, making their probability to be chosen for The Games higher. It is essentially impossible for District Twelve to win The Games, as they don’t have the supplies to prepare and the majority of them are malnourished, too weak to fight. Wealth inequality is a big concern in Panem, and this entire society has been manipulated to fit what the narrow minded Capitol believes is utopia.
The people of Panem are ruled by a brutal and repressive regime that will do anything to stay in power and pit the collective society against each other. Panem and its populace are just the product of the ungodly government system created by the Capitol. When the districts have the opportunity to express themselves and form a community, they thrive. One example of this was when Katniss received a package of bread from District Eleven during The Games. This occurred right after their twelve-year-old tribute Rue had been speared in the stomach, and Katniss had adorned her lifeless body with flowers. The bread given to Katniss was a symbol of appreciation, and Katniss took it graciously, looking up to the sky so the cameras could catch her face, saying “My thanks to the people of District Eleven.” This is a perfect depiction of how a strong community connection can build ties between districts, even in the most unbearable of times. Even whilst living in complete slum, an entire district put what little money they had together, to send a loaf of bread to someone who treated Rue like a human being. As Katniss does this, a mockingjay sings Rue’s song. Both Katniss’ actions and the mockingjay’s song symbolize the Districts’ ability to defy the Capitol if they work together. Katniss has done this to “show the Capitol that whatever they do or force them to do that there is a part of every tribute they can’t own”, and that Rue is not just another casualty of a cruel game used to assert dominance. Here, Collins talks of the theme community. Katniss identifies the Capitol as her society’s primary antagonist as her sense of community grows. The theme of rebellion is also implied here, as Katniss defies the Capitol and challenges the idea that Rue’s death was just entertainment for a viewing audience, and her flower decorations exhibit her realisations about her burgeoning rebellion. Another example of community forming in spite of the Capitol was when the three-finger salute given to Katniss by her district. This act of solemn respect shows the strength of Panem. Although Panem has great potential to advance and succeed as a community, they are being held back by the Capitol and its egocentric judgement and views.
Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games has perfectly shown the impact an authority can have, creating an oppressed and restricted populace. In The Hunger Games, Collins teaches us that nothing is perfect, and there is never a situation without downsides and upsides. Some things may seem right-minded and ethical in theory, but the execution is what matters most. Although Panem has been manipulated to fit a cookie cutter lifestyle, we can see how they prosper when left to their own devices. The Capitol uses punishment to maintain an obedient society, similar to the society we live in today. In a perfect world, rules and law enforcement would be unnecessary, as everyone would work towards bettering society; unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world and therefore, governments and leaders will continue to instill fear in the people in order to maintain power and control.
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