The Hunger Games

by: Suzanne Collins

Motifs

Fire

Fire plays different roles throughout the story, but most often it represents Katniss. Notably, fire is the element that gives the various outfits Cinna designs for Katniss their character. Her first dress, for example, is covered in synthetic flames, while later outfits use fire more subtly but still maintain it as a motif. Katniss’s fire dress earns her the epithet “the girl who was on fire,” and this title comes to pertain to more than just her dress. After Katniss’s surprisingly high training score is announced, Haymitch explains that they must have liked her “heat.” Cinna calls her “the girl who was on fire” again, this time using “fire” to refer to Katniss’s spirit and temperament. During the Games, the phrase takes on a literal meaning after Katniss is struck in the leg by a fireball and thinks the Gamemakers must be laughing at “the girl who was on fire.”

Defiance

The novel is full of acts of defiance against the Capitol despite the Capitol’s authoritarian control over the people of Panem. Katniss’s and Gale’s illegal hunting is an act of defiance, since they’re willfully violating the Capitol’s rules. The same can be said for the existence of the Hob, the bustling black market of District 12. The gesture of respect the residents of District 12 offer Katniss after she volunteers as tribute is similarly a form of defiance in that it contradicts the behavior the Capitol wants, and expects, to see. The mockingjay, which appears throughout the novel, represents defiance in that it recalls the Capitol’s failures, and Peeta essentially hopes to defy the Capitol and Gamemakers when he tells Katniss he wants to retain his identity and show them he’s not just a part of their Games. The most significant acts of defiance come from Katniss, however. Decorating Rue’s body after her death directly violates the spirit of the Hunger Games, which demand that tributes show no mercy for one another, and Katniss’s idea for her and Peeta to threaten suicide with the berries shows that they will not accept the Gamemakers’ rules.

Hunting

Hunting reappears numerous times in the story, but it takes on vastly different connotations depending on the circumstances. Katniss, we learn at the very beginning of the book, is a hunter, and she feeds her family primarily with what she can catch or kill in the woods outside District 12. In fact, she spends most of her day hunting, typically with her friend, Gale, and consequently it appears in one form or another in many of her stories about life before the Hunger Games. For instance, most of her stories about her father revolve around hunting. She also met Gale while hunting, and one of her favorite stories, the one she tells Peeta about how she managed to get a goat for Prim, begins with hunting. Hunting also allows her to stay alive during the Games when there is no other food to be found. In these circumstances, hunting to Katniss is always a positive experience.

In the context of the Hunger Games, however, hunting takes on a very different meaning. When Katniss talks to Gale before she leaves for the Training Center, he wonders if hunting a human will be any different than hunting an animal. As Katniss discovers, it is substantially different, and despite her experience killing animals for food, killing a person in a competition is emotionally traumatizing for her. Moreover, Peeta often refers to the Career Tributes as “hunting” when they’re searching for other tributes to kill. Though the act of hunting remains essentially the same in the arena, the connotation shifts from a positive one for Katniss to an entirely negative one.