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May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor

Lisa Marie's picture

The Hunger Games is a 2008 science fiction novel written by Suzanne Collins. Set in the future, this story is narrated by 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen. Katniss, her mother, and her sister, Primrose reside in the poor twelfth district of the nation Panem.  Panem consists of twelve districts and the Capitol, which exercises political control over all the districts. In order to maintain its political legitimacy and to punish the twelve districts for a past rebellion, the Capitol hosts the “Hunger Games” each year. At “the Reaping” one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 from each district are selected by lottery to participate in this event. In the Hunger Games, the contestants or “tributes” must fight to the death until one remains in an outdoor arena controlled by “Gamemakers” at the Capitol. This event is highly televised so people from all the districts and the Capitol are able to watch everything that goes on in the arena.

 In the 74th annual Hunger Games, Primrose Everdeen is selected to be tribute in the Hunger Games, but Katniss immediately steps up to take the place of her sister. The male tribute from District 12 is Peeta Mallark, a former classmate of Katniss. A past Hunger Games victor from District 12, Haymitch Abernathy, mentors Peeta and Katniss as they prepare for the event. Throughout the Hunger Games, Katniss utilizes her hunting and survival skills and forms an alliance with Rue, a 12 year old from District 11, as well as with Peeta, her fellow District 12 tribute. 

 The Hunger Games demonstrates “a development of the protagonist’s character [that] goes hand in hand with [her] growing understanding of the landscape” (Mugford 86).  Katniss Everdeen is able to survive the harsh conditions of the Hunger Games because she relies her previously learned skills and experiences from hunting in nature. More than that though, as the story unfolds, Katniss learns that she can challenge the political dominance that the Capitol holds, by asserting her morals and values in unique ways. The Hunger Games become more than solely being about survival, but about protesting the corruptness of the Hunger Games and not letting the lives lost in the Games to be in vain. One way in which Katniss challenges the Capitol’s power is how she reacts to Rue being killed by one of the tributes from District 1. As Rue is dying, Katniss says, “I’m going to win. Going to win for both of us now” (232). Katniss then tries to “show the Capitol that they don’t know [her], that she is more than a piece in their games.” Katniss decorates Rue’s body in flowers and holds up three fingers to the camera, which, without her knowing, sets off a rebellion in Rue’s District 11.  

 Katniss’s mother is widowed (and unnamed in the book), meaning that Katniss had to frequently take on an adult role in gathering food for her family. Therefore, Katniss and her good friend Gale spent much time unsupervised hunting in the woods in order to support and feed both of their families. Before Katniss is in the Hunger Games, she and Gale were “left alone to acquire the necessary life skills to deal with unforeseen circumstances, rather than being protected from exposure to risk and challenge through constant supervision” (Mugford 33). This unsupervised time spent hunting game in the woods works greatly to Katniss’s advantage; it is her mastery of the bow and arrow that leads to her being one of the victors of the Hunger Games. Cato, a tribute from the wealthier District 2, “was fed and trained throughout his life” for the Hunger Games. While he had developed skills meant to help him win the Hunger Games, learning them in a superficial environment and not in a natural environment works to his detriment; Cato is unable to survive the unpredictable natural environment of the outdoor arena. 

Haymitch Abernathy as the mentor takes on a surrogate parent role. Katniss and Peeta “are listened to, considered, and have a mutual reliance on this adopted companion of their journey” (Mugford 86). Haymitch advises them, even helps them obtain sustenance when they are in the arena. Additionally, the partnership and friendship between Katniss Peeta make “the exploration of wildscape and the success of the narrative journeys possible” (Mugford 87). At one point, Peeta warns Katniss when Cato and some of the other tributes are chasing after her. Peeta tells her to “get up and run” and Katniss soon realizes “Peeta Mallark just saved my life” (193). Katniss later saves Peeta’s life when she risks her own to obtain an antibiotic for his wounds.

 Throughout the novel, “the wildscape is shown to be an arena for managing risk through the acquisition of bodily strength and physical dexterity” (88). Through being in the unpredictable and often dangerous natural environment, Peeta and Katniss both acquire important skills. Peeta saves himself when he successfully camouflages himself, becoming one with nature. Katniss see his “unmistakably blue eyes in the brown mud and green leaves.” Peeta could have “painted himself into a boulder or a tree” (252). Katniss learns more about using a knife, an action that saves her from some of the other tributes. She “uses a knife to cut through a branch” that has a tracker jacker nest, directing “the insects to their enemies on the ground” (190).

 Throughout the Hunger Games, it is evident that “the wildscape is synonymous with personal growth” (Mugford 94). While Katniss had strong hunting skills coming into the Games, they continue to develop further through her time in the arena. More importantly, though, Katniss realizes that after being successful in the Games, she has the power to challenge the Capitol and its corrupt way of maintaining political legitimacy over the rest of the districts. After the Hunger Games are over, Haymitch tells Katniss “the Capitol is furious about you showing them up in the arena” (356). By the end of the story, Katniss learns that she has the responsibility to be a beacon of hope, to symbolize peace, and to challenge the fact that the Capitol does not always have the upper hand and ultimate control over the people of Panem. 

Collins, Suzanne, and Phil Falco. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic, 2008. Print.

Mugford, Katy. "Urban Wildscapes." Edited by Anna Jorgensen and Richard Keenan. Journal of Regional Science 52.3 (2012). Print.


jccohen's picture

'wildscape" in Hunger Games

Lisa Marie,

You make a strong case for how the landscape of the novel acts as a “wildscape” that promotes the learning of such survival skills as physical dexterity, flexibility, and the capacity to handle “the unpredictable natural environment of the outdoor arena.”  Because of the relative absence of her parents, Katniss learns to take on “unsupervised hunting,” for example, not for fun but to feed her family.  Interestingly, she also seems to have learned the skills of collaboration as she has worked alongside her friend Gale, and this becomes crucial as she and Peeta, among others, develop a kind of mutuality that seems antithetical to the ethics implicit in the extremely hierarchical, competitive set-up of the Games. 


As you say, “the wildscape is synonymous with personal growth”; in this case does it also represent a collective capacity for challenging the status quo?  I’d love to hear more about how you see the overall structure of the novel in terms of the woods or “wildscape” in relation to the structures of the more urban-sounding districts.  What are we meant to understand here about human beings in relation to each other and to their environments – both built and “natural”?  Would you say that the wilder aspects of the landscape are intentionally contrasted with that outdoor arena as a contained and truly dangerous space?  I guess I’m asking: when you take a few steps back from the action of the novel, how do you see the author using various aspects of setting?