The Hunger Games

by: Suzanne Collins

Chapters 25–27

On the train back to District 12, Katniss thinks of her family and Gale. During a refueling stop, Haymitch tells Katniss to keep it up in the district until the cameras are gone. Peeta doesn't know what Haymitch is talking about, and Katniss explains that the Capitol is unhappy about the stunt with the berries and that Haymitch has been coaching her. Peeta angrily asks if Katniss has been acting the whole time. She says not everything has been an act, but the closer they get to home the more confused she becomes. As Peeta walks off she wants to explain that she can't fully love him or anyone else after what they've been through, but she doesn't. The train arrives in District 12, where crowd of cameras awaits on the platform. Peeta takes her hand, saying they'll pretend one more time, and Katniss fears the moment when she'll finally have to let go.

Analysis

The theme of suffering as entertainment reaches its greatest extreme in Cato’s slow death at the Cornucopia. The real-life suffering of the tributes is essentially what makes the Hunger Games entertaining to watch, much like the real deaths of the gladiators made the gladiatorial Games entertaining to the Roman populace. The finale of the Games, being ideally the most dramatic and entertaining part, should therefore entail the most suffering. Katniss comments on this fact as she and Peeta wait for Cato to die after he is knocked off the Cornucopia. She realizes the Gamemakers won’t simply have the muttations kill Cato because prolonging his agony increases the drama of the finale. When Katniss climbs over the ledge and sees him, she describes him as looking like a “raw hunk of meat,” indicating that he has been savagely mauled and undoubtedly in intense pain. By this point, Cato no longer has any chance of surviving, and it’s clear that the Gamemakers haven’t ended the competition because of the entertainment value of the grotesque spectacle.

The muttations play a central role in making the finale grotesque and dramatic, as being turned into savage hybrid animals is the ultimate form of dehumanization for the tributes. Throughout the Games, the Capitol has treated the tributes as commodities whose purpose is foremost to entertain the viewers at home. In other words, the Capitol turns them into objects and dismisses their humanity and individuality. Here, the Capitol literally dehumanizes the dead tributes, turning them into vicious wolf-like creatures. These tribute muttations are vicious, strong, and fast, but they’re most horrifying to Katniss, and presumably fascinating to the viewers at home, because they retain some of the physical characteristics of their human selves, allowing them to be recognized. Their former personalities, however, are completely stripped away and replaced by a single-minded drive to kill Katniss, Peeta, and Cato. In this way they’ve become the perfect tool for the Capitol: they are both a new danger for the living tributes to overcome and they are in themselves a spectacle to amuse the viewers at home.

The Gamemakers try to make the finale yet more “entertaining” by announcing that there can only be one winner again. Katniss realizes the Gamemakers never intended to let both her and Peeta survive, suggesting they wanted to manufacture a dramatic fight to the death between the two. The scenario would, of course, be exceedingly awful for two tributes who are supposed to be in love, but ostensibly it would be great entertainment for the viewers. This intent is thwarted, however, by Katniss’s idea for her and Peeta to eat the berries. The book never makes it entirely clear why their suicide would be more objectionable to the viewers than having them fight each other to the death. But it suggests that, had Katniss and Peeta actually carried out their suicides, the Games would have been deeply upsetting to the viewers at home. The suffering that was supposed to provide entertainment would have become too emotionally charged as a result, turning the Games from amusement to a real-life tragedy.

Katniss performs the novel’s greatest act of rebellion against the Capitol when she has the idea for her and Peeta to eat the poisonous berries. As Katniss explains, the Hunger Games are the Capitol’s weapon against the districts, but they are also a popular form of entertainment. But having the two finalists, who are supposedly madly in love, commit suicide would be extremely unpopular among the viewers, and therefore potentially troublesome for the Capitol. Thus Katniss’s idea with the berries essentially turns the Capitol’s weapon back on itself. The Capitol’s concession of allowing two Hunger Games winners after declaring there would only be one makes the Capitol look weak, however. More specifically, it makes them look as if they’ve lost control. Since the Capitol needs to keep strict control over its populace to maintain the status quo, this defeat, the story suggests, could ultimately cause problems, though it’s never stated exactly what these problems might be. Katniss, as a result of her rebellion and the problems it may cause, becomes a target of the Capitol.

Because of Katniss’s defiance of the Capitol, appearances become perhaps more important than ever in the novel. The Capitol is furious with Katniss for her stunt with the berries, which was essentially an outright rebellion against the Capitol’s declaration that there would be one winner of the Hunger Games. The only defense that will allow Katniss to avoid the Capitol’s retribution is that she was so in love with Peeta she couldn’t bear to be without him. In other words, she needs to make her defiance look like an act of love and not rebellion. This need to frame her behavior as love motivates essentially everything she says and does, notably laying her head on Peeta, in her interview with Caesar Flickerman after the Games. Cinna is aware of this need as well, and knowing that Katniss’s physical appearance will affect how the audience and the Capitol feel about her, he designs a dress for her that makes her appear young and innocent. Ultimately, every public appearance Katniss makes after the Games requires her to maintain the fiction that she’s completely in love with Peeta. Failing to do so could put her and her family, as well as Peeta and even his family, in danger.