Sometimes Coriolanus wondered if the debris had been left there to remind the citizens of what they had endured. People had short memories. They needed to navigate the rubble, peel off the grubby ration coupons, and witness the Hunger Games to keep the war fresh in their minds. Forgetting could lead to complacency, and then they’d all be back at square one. 

In this passage from Chapter 1, Coriolanus is thinking about the possible reason that some of the war’s destruction has been left littering the grandest streets of the Capitol. As he navigates his way to the Academy along the austere and well-heeled main street of the Corso, he has to dodge around large chunks of bombed-out stone and destroyed statues. His thoughts suggest that the physical remnants of war—the rubble, the debris, the grubbier elements of daily life—might be being deliberately left in the way by the city’s leadership. The leaders of Panem can make sure resentment between the Capitol and the Districts stays alive and well simply by leaving these reminders where they are. By forcing people like Coriolanus to navigate the literal ruins of their previous life daily, the President of Panem ensures that evidence of violence and bloodshed are part of quotidian life. If people become “complacent” it could sow the seeds of another rebellion, so the populace is constantly reminded of the fragility of peace. If the memory of the war never fades, there’s less likely to be another uprising. 

Everyone knew what happened if you went to the Districts. You were written off. Forgotten. In the eyes of the Capitol, you were basically dead. 

This passage is the concluding sentence of Chapter 2. As this thought flashes through his head, Coriolanus is in the depths of anxiety. He’s scared that he won’t be able to get the job of his dreams after school; he might be assigned to the Districts if Dean Highbottom gets his way. The Capitol is the center of power and privilege, and its citizens see people living in the Districts as fundamentally inferior. Earlier in the novel Coriolanus calls anywhere but the Capitol a “horrid backwater... where the people were hardly better than animals.” This disdainful view of District people also extends to former Capitol citizens who have failed to get prestigious work in the city itself. To be sent to the Districts, even as a governor or administrator, is to be exiled from anything that matters in society. Coriolanus is terrified of being “written off” even as he attends school in the city. To be prevented from attending the University would mean total erasure from the social fabric of the Capitol. His identity and worth—and that of his family—would be destroyed.  

The idea that if he went to the Districts he’d be "basically dead" in the eyes of the Capitol underscores how seriously Coriolanus takes his social climbing, even at this early stage. To people like Coriolanus, being sent to the Districts is the equivalent of not existing at all. This, like many other of the lessons that life in the Capitol teaches, is a tool of control. Ideas like this one reinforce the Capitol’s superiority: to even be associated with the Districts is to be outside the realm of the civilized.  

“Chaos happens. What else is there to say?” 


“Oh, a good deal, I think. Start with that. Chaos. No control, no law, no government at all. Like being in the arena. Where do we go from there? What sort of agreement is necessary if we’re to live in peace? What sort of social contract is required for survival?” 

In this passage from Chapter 16, Coriolanus and Dr. Gaul are discussing the essay about the good points of war he had submitted for her class. She isn’t interested in the beginning of it but wants him to expand on the idea of controlling chaos he introduces at the end. Coriolanus is uncomfortable with the attention and tells Dr. Gaul that he's not sure that chaos is in fact, quantifiable or controllable—that things just happen. Dr. Gaul then expands on what she means by investigating chaos by asking him what would happen if Panem had "no control, no law, no government at all. Like being in the arena.” Here, Gaul is drawing a direct analogy between the ideas that social philosophers in the 20th century had about the inherent nature of humanity and the Hunger Games. She’s asking Coriolanus if he thinks that people are naturally inclined to order and altruism, or whether the real state of human nature is a zero-sum game, where life is a brutal fight for survival. Essentially, she’s trying to discover Coriolanus’s views on the idea of a social contract: does he agree that some individual freedoms are a fair trade for a state that provides order and protection? She seems not to realize that the events in the arena already parallel the events in the outside world of Panem to an uncomfortable degree.