On my birthday of my sophomore year, I unwrapped a gift that would become very dear to me - The Hunger Games trilogy. The book had been out for several years by that point and as a young adult novel most would fail to understand why such a gift would be so meaningful. But those who haven’t read the books or seen the movies are missing out. In two days, I devoured all 1155 pages of the trilogy. It follows the story of protagonist Katniss Everdeen, a girl living in a dystopian country called Panem that has been divided into districts by its dictator-run Capitol. She is thrust into the midst of a gladiator-style competition called the Hunger Games where children of the districts are selected at random and forced to battle to the death for the entertainment of the Capitol’s citizens. She, in her thirst to survive and save the ones she loves, sparks a revolution and inspires an uprising against the evil leaders of Panem. I liked the story a lot - it struck a chord with me. Something in those pages was relevant to the shifting cultural and political tides within my own country.
Last week I finally had the chance to see the third critically acclaimed film installment, Mockingjay. There was much I found in the movie worthy of my praise - the once again excellent soundtrack and the well-written screenplay including a lot more action than even the books. To my surprise, I made note of something I had missed when reading the books even multiple times - what it must be like to live in the Districts. You become so focused on Katniss’ journey from her home District to the Capitol to the arena that you neglect - those living in the Districts. I realized I had not thought much about the ways in which the Capitol oppressed the citizens of Panem.
At the Capitol’s instruction, each District is required to produce necessary exports relative to the area in which they live and are given a quota that they must meet. Travel between Districts is forbidden and punishable by death (or having your tongue cut out, whichever is more cruel given the circumstances). You are forced to work for very little in terms of food rations and supplies, and there is no respect for the exhaustive nature of many of the Capitol’s requirements for jobs. If you can’t work, you starve to death - it’s that simple. And while your neighbor may care enough to help you out, if they’re starving to death, too, that’s not much of a consolation.
I put myself in the shoes of someone living in such a system. I would just be another cog in a machine. No longer human; not valuable beyond my ability to work. Just a piece of machinery to serve the elite.
I’m sure such a system seems drastic to some readers, who chalk it up to an exaggeration in a novel for teens. I beg to differ - such systems do exist in the world, in many more parts of the world than it would make us comfortable to admit. There are those who, like President Snow, attempt to eradicate any being that dare defy his view of “utopia” or break his stranglehold on power. These political systems and those individuals that perpetuate them are the enemy of the human person; they do not see the intrinsic value that demands we give at least basic care to our fellow man. We have seen them throughout history, starting wars and committing the greatest of evils - slavery, captivity, and murder.
The greatest example of this kind of tyranny, referred to time and time again, is the Nazi Regime and its infamous leader, Adolf Hitler. Whether it be kidnapping the children of the Districts and forcing them to fight to the death or coercing and charming young Germans to fight for the Nazi party, the end result is the same. Millions are killed by leaders who have no respect for the value of human life, and those who do not hold these values must be stopped regardless of the sacrifice. Dietrich von Hildebrand understood this well, and so he fought for the value of human life in the face of government enforced oppression. In his publication Der christliche Ständestaat, specifically “The Chaos of Our Times and the Hierarchy of Values,” he writes, “The same persons… for whom physical health constitutes the ultimate standard of judgement, also display a shocking ignorance of the true meaning, value, and mystery of life.” (1) Those who selfishly focus on the production value of individuals and what they can offer to your own cause have missed completely what it is to be human and the joy within this existence.
He continues this thought in “Authority and Leadership,” saying, “Underlying these aberrations is a false belief in the power of the state to transform the world, a belief which is the foundation of socialism, of Bolshevism, and of National Socialism. … Socialism believes on the basis of its materialistic view of history, that a change of economic order could change the earth into paradise. … It is the old story of the search for the Philosopher’s Stone. Quite apart from the various ideals which these movements hope to attain, and their substantial
incompatibility with the ideal of the Christian, they all share, formally speaking, a naïve, mechanical conception of the process through which the world can be inwardly transformed. They want to bring on changes by force ‘from without,’ but these are possible only through the individual’s free will…” (2)
Yes, The Hunger Games are novels and films for entertainment. But if we look a little deeper and reflect a little more on the themes they contain, we may find a lesson for young and old alike - that people are not machines, but beings with intrinsic value. Those power-hungry enemies who try to strip away that value must be stopped before it’s too late. Katniss makes decision after decision to confront President Snow and the corrupt Capitol, not only for her own survival but for the freedom of all the citizens of Panem. That freedom is fragile and sometimes the cost of is great - countless sacrifices must be made to save Katniss from her second Hunger Games, to bring refugees to District 13, and to rescue innocents from the clutches of the Capitol. This fragile freedom and upholding value of the human person is worth everything - including the price of one’s life. Katniss freely makes the choice to give her life in whatever way she can for the ones she loves and to preserve these values. We should be inspired to do the same.
- Dietrich von Hildebrand, “The Chaos of Our Times and the Hierarchy of Values.”
- Dietrich von Hildebrand, “Authority and Leadership.”