(Caution: Contains spoilers.)
In his recent review of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Catholic Pulse contributor Christopher Menzhuber raises a pivotal question regarding the themes and message of the hugely influential book and movie trilogy: “Who is Katniss Everdeen?” Although the movies revolve around Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) as the central and defining character, Menzhuber explains:
Suzanne Collins’ second installment defines Katniss more through what she is not (a victim), what she is against (President Snow), and what she would like to escape from (the games). We don’t really learn who Katniss is in a positive sense, and this is unfortunate because she has become a role model.
He concludes his column by looking forward to the next and final installment of the Hunger Games trilogy, noting:
This tale is unfinished, and consequently so is Katniss’ formation. Based on the ending of Catching Fire, it would seem her character is fixed on the trajectory of shaping her into rebel. Without knowing how the story ends, my sense is that Collins has higher plans for her. I hope so. Given her popularity as an icon, it would be nice to see Katniss escape such narrow confines and develop into something truly heroic in both character and moral virtue.
Like Menzhuber, I haven’t read the Hunger Games books, so don’t yet know how Katniss’ character will ultimately develop or how the series as a whole resolves itself, but after seeing Catching Fire I noticed some allusions that I hope may point to how Katniss’ story ends and the larger meaning Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins’ intends to impart.
The world of the Hunger Games is set in the brutal dictatorship of Panem, ruled by the tyrant President Snow (Donald Sutherland), located somewhere in North America in a post-apocalyptic future. The central ruling city of Panem is the “Capitol,” a prosperous and absurdly decadent society, which as Menzhuber and others have pointed out has clear allusions to ancient Greece and Rome. Many of the names of characters are Greek or Roman in origin (Plutarch, Cinna, Caesar), the “Hunger Games” themselves are a futuristic and especially twisted version of the gladiatorial combat of the Coliseum, and the debauched Roman practice of “purging” oneself to be able to eat more is referenced during a lavish party. Even the name of the country where the trilogy takes place (Panem) means “bread” in Latin, a likely nod to the phrase “bread and circuses.”
Panem appears to be a thoroughly pagan society, and at least in the movies no echoes of Christianity remain. Because of this, I was particularly interested to see a number of Biblical allusions in Catching Fire.
One allusion is early in the movie when the Capitol’s oppressive military/police force the “peacekeepers” erect a flogging pillar in the town square of District 12, the home of Katniss. When Katniss’ friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) is fixed to the pillar and scourged, it is hard not to recall traditional Christian imagery of the Scouring at the Pillar.
Another allusion comes in the arena when Katniss, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), and two others forced to fight must flee from a poisonous fog which causes a painful and potentially deadly rash to appear when it comes in contact with the skin. After three of the characters escape the fog, they are still being tormented by the horrible outbreaks until Katniss discovers bathing the sores in water helps to dissolve them away, leading all three characters to practically submerge themselves in the water to literally cleanse themselves of the corruption. Once again, the Biblical imagery of Baptism seems clear.
And yet again, the characters eventually realized the arena is arranged into twelve sectors like the face of a giant clock. Each sector represents an hour on the clock, and during the corresponding hour of the day a deadly challenge is unleashed in that sector, such as the poisonous fog, deadly animals, lightning, or (most on point) blood raining from the sky. The sectors’ twelve afflictions are almost certainly a reference to the Ten Plagues of Egypt.
There are other possible Christian allusions as well. An elaborate costume Katniss (“the girl on fire”) wears combines the mocking-jay imagery associated with her with that of the mythological phoenix rising from the ashes, which has been associated with the Resurrection. It was also pointed out to me that Katniss being airlifted from the ground out of a hole in the dome of the now destroyed arena, her arms cruciform, may echo the Assumption.
As I said, I have yet to read the Hunger Games books, so am not sure where Suzanne Collins’ trilogy is going, but the strong Biblical imagery in a series set in a dechristianized pagan world may offer hope for a promising answer to Christopher Menzhuber’s question, “Who is Katniss Everdeen?”
– K.G. Montgomery