WARNING: spoilers for the Hunger Games books, particularly the third one, are in this blog post.
Perhaps it’s just the looming election, but I find my thoughts straying into politics a lot lately. Or really, they’ve always strayed into politics, but now they won’t stray back out.
Also, I finished reading the Hunger Games trilogy this last summer. I can’t imagine anyone is unfamiliar with these books, but for those few uninitiated out there let me say that these books deal heavily with the subject of government. Government tyranny, government secrecy, government cruelty, and, most importantly, government control. The nation of Panem portrayed in this book is held together only by strict government control of the people, and killing those who pose a risk to that control.
And after reading the books, I was surprised to hear certain statements from other people who had finished the trilogy—statements like “These books show a world where capitalism has spun out of control and ruined everyone’s lives.”
Now, the Hunger Games series certainly describes a post-apocalyptic world with extremist governmental practices, but any educated person who reads the books will instantly recognize that Panem is a socialist country, not a capitalist one. In Panem, all enterprises belong to the government, and all people work for the government. The government determines where they work and for how long, as well as dictating what the workers are paid. There is nothing capitalistic about that.
Granted, in Panem there is a large gap between the quality of life lived by the rich (privileged) people and the poor (servile) people, but that is not a uniquely capitalistic problem. Even in communist Russia, a small group of people lived in opulence while the majority starved. To say that a large gap between rich and poor is characteristic of capitalism, and that therefore capitalism is bad, would be ignorant. And to say that The Hunger Games teaches this would be false. In fact, the one capitalist institution in the entire series—the black market in District 12—is painted in the best possible light, and is one of the few places where Katniss, the protagonist, feels free.
However, there are books that portray a world where capitalism is taken to extremes. Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash is a good example. In Snow Crash, corporations are sovereign, and individuals are not citizens of countries but of companies (though you can be a citizen of several companies at once). Hospitals, “national” security, and even prisons are for-profit entities run by corporations. Pretty much the opposite of what we see in Panem.
The only other government we see in the Hunger Games series is District 13. If Panem is a socialist nation, then District 13 is a communist one. In District 13, not only is a person’s job controlled by the government, but every aspect of a person’s life is dictated to them—literally dictated on a list given to the person every day. A high-tech machine paints a henna-tattoo schedule on each citizen’s arm at the beginning of the day, and if a citizen deviates from the schedule, she is penalized or even imprisoned. Katniss avoids most of the penalties in Mockingjay using her celebrity status. She flaunts her resistance to District 13′s authority (although she pays the price for it later), and at the end of the series, she kills the president of District 13, demonstrating that, even though she rejects the socialism of Panem, she will not tolerate the communistic propaganda machine of District 13, which murdered Katniss’s sister to make Panem look more evil and Distrct 13 more acceptable to the people at large.
What the Hunger Games teaches us about government only favors capitalism, not denigrates it. So my eyebrows rise whenever I see someone using these books as evidence of the “evils” of capitalism. I think the real political message of these books is to avoid extremism, in all its forms, and I think that message remained strong throughout the books, and that they concluded on the right note.
Except that Katniss should have ended up with Gale. Definitely, definitely, should have ended up with Gale instead of that whiny Peeta. Peeta should have died five or six times in Mockingjay alone. I can’t believe Suzanne Collins made such a HUGE mistake.