Early in the first book of The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take the place of her younger sister, Prim. In a post apocalyptic North America, Prim is marked by a “reaping” ceremony.
The ceremony chooses youth to participate in an obscene game where desperate teenagers are forced to kill each other for the amusement of a corrupt empire’s elites. (The series alludes to the “bread and circus” of the Roman Empire’s arena games.)
As Katniss ignites a resistance movement, she becomes the symbol of a downtrodden people finally rebelling against the sins of a bloated, selfish aristocracy.
In one scene, an old man defiantly raises his hand in the salute that came to define those resisting evil. He would be killed and so would many others, as the elite answered with the only weapon they knew—physical power.
But his defiance is a beginning.
Another scene begins with only a muttering, barely discernable. Then figures rise out of the mist, marching to what they know will be death for many of them. But they are desperate.
They carry their explosives toward a huge hydroelectric dam. They are not so much attacking people, though the structure’s guards will die in the dam’s rupture.
They are attacking a symbol of an evil wealth built on the backs of forgotten, powerless poor.
They march on, their front ranks decimated by the guards’ firing, but eventually their sheer numbers prevail. They set their explosives and try to escape, but regardless, the timers have been set.
The dam explodes, and in the capital, haunt of the wealthy, the lights go out.
The theme of The Hunger Games is not new: a people may overcome when hope ignites enough willingness to suffer for a greater good. The old narrative of helpless people resisting the overlordship of a corrupt elite entices us with its stark portrayal of injustice.
I’m uneasy with the violence of the series, if violence is intended as the ultimate answer to wrongs. Nonviolence, a part of countless protests from the American civil rights movement to others in eastern European countries and other parts of the world, mark a higher way to resist evil.
This kind of resistance wishes not to demonize but rather to change both powerful and powerless.