In part two of this series, Sarah Michele Ford continues to look at the ways in which social control plays out in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, focusing on the second half of Catching Fire and the third book in the series, Mockingjay. The second half of the trilogy allows us to compare the types of social control that are used in multiple socio-political contexts. As with the previous post, SPOILER ALERT!
At the end of our previous examination of social control in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy , Katniss Everdeen had just learned that she would be going back into the arena for the third “quarter quell” – the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Hunger Games. As in the previous year, she is joined in the arena by Peeta, but this time the stakes are higher. Katniss knows that she’s the symbol of the resistance and knows that her performance during the Victory Tour has failed to quell that resistance. She knows that President Snow feels more than ever that the Games are a necessary display of social control and that he also will be planning to eliminate her as a symbol of the rebellion, hopefully quashing it altogether.
As with the previous Games, though, things don’t quite go according to Snow’s plan. As it turns out, the new Head Gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee, has been involved in the resistance movement and the Games end when Katniss and several of the other tributes are broken out of the arena. After the breakout, they are whisked away to District 13, which the Capitol had supposedly destroyed during the previous rebellion. It had long been rumored, though, that the population of Thirteen had simply been driven underground, which turns out to be true.
Upon learning that she has been rescued by Thirteen, Katniss asks why they rescued her but not all of the other tributes (including Peeta). Heavensbee tells her, “We had to save you because you’re the mockingjay, Katniss… While you live, the revolution lives” (Catching Fire, p. 386). Shortly after her arrival in Thirteen, Katniss insists on visiting her old home in Twelve, which the Capitol had bombed into oblivion immediately after the escape from the arena. While there, she discovers what she knows to be a message from President Snow – a white rose in her bedroom in Victor’s Village. He knows she’s alive; knows that she’s in District Thirteen, and continues to threaten her even once she’s out of his direct control.
In Thirteen, Katniss finds herself subject to new forms of social control, but these forms are in many ways no less strict than those in Panem. District 13, rather being an authoritarian regime, is an example of extreme communism. Individualism is quashed, and the society is an exemplar of Marx’s famous slogan, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” When they rise in the morning, all residents of Thirteen have their schedule for the day imprinted on their arms; they eat communally at assigned tables; they wear government-issued grey shirts and pants. Children are educated, adults work in a variety of areas based on their skills an everything is done for the good of the community. When Katniss begins to go aboveground to hunt, all of her game must be turned over to the kitchen to feed the community as a whole. Just as they were in District Twelve, violations of the government’s authority are punished. In Thirteen, though, it’s not through violence but through community disapproval or loss of earned privileges. But since everyone in Thirteen is having their basic needs met, the types of rebellion that took place in Twelve are uncommon.
Plutarch Heavensbee and Alma Coin, the President of Thirteen, want Katniss to continue to be the symbol of the rebellion. She eventually agrees, provided that Coin assents to a number of conditions, including amnesty for all previous tributes, even those who were captured by the Capitol or are in their home districts, the right to hunt, and the right to be the one who executes President Snow should the rebellion succeed. In the same way that the Hunger Games were a media spectacle intended to keep the population of Panem in check, Coin and Heavensbee turn Katniss as the Mockingjay into a media spectacle. They set her up with a camera crew and send her in to the districts where rebel installations are being bombed by the Capitol. Then the rebellion breaks into the Capitol’s television broadcasts with footage of Katniss meeting victims of the Capitol’s bombing campaigns, or with interviews with her and other tributes. In so doing, Thirteen continues its assault on the mechanisms of social control that the Capitol relies on to keep the Districts under control.
And succeed the rebellion does, despite the Capitol’s attempts to use Peeta as a weapon against Katniss, despite the rebellion being vastly outnumbered and outgunned. The rebellion turns to a revolution, and the revolution ends in a full-scale invasion of the Capitol by troops from all of the districts, including a group that is led by Katniss. After the dust has settled, Coin takes over as President of Panem. Katniss has been granted the role of Presidential executioner. But before President Snow faces his death sentence, Coin calls a meeting of all surviving Hunger Games victors. She tells them that many people from the districts “are calling for a complete annihilation of those who held Capitol citizenship. However, in the interest of maintaining a sustainable population, we cannot afford this” (Mockingjay, p. 368). As an alternative, she proposes one last iteration of the Hunger Games – only this time, all of the tributes would be drawn from the Capitol.
Once again, we see the Hunger Games as a form of punishment. Where the first seventy-five Games served to punish the population of Panem for their rebellion, the seventy-sixth would punish the people who benefitted from all the ones that came before. With this declaration, we also see that systems of social control – like so much else that we learn about in sociology – are contextual. The systems of social control that Coin put in place in Thirteen were strict but seemed appropriate to that context. When the leadership of Thirteen finds itself in charge of the country as a whole, though, they seem all to willing to want to fall back on the same methods of social control that characterized the previous administration. Coin says that there will be only the one final Hunger Games, but once such extreme measures are taken once, what’s to say they won’t be again?
The scene shifts directly from the meeting about the possibility of one more Hunger Games to Snow’s execution. Katniss stands opposite President Snow, bow and arrow in hand. She nocks her arrow, faces him, and sees no sign of any emotion but amusement. At that point, “[t]he point of my arrow shifts upward. I release the string. And President Coin collapses over the side of the balcony and plunges to the ground. Dead” (Mockingjay p. 372).
- What are the differences in social control between Panem under President Snow and District Thirteen under President Coin?
- Are there forms of social control that are more acceptable than others? What makes one form of social control “better” than another?
- We see both the Capitol and the rebellion making strategic use of the media. How do media operate as forms of social control in contemporary society?
- What other popular books, movies, music, video games, etc. do you think illustrate sociological concepts. Provide at least one piece of media and a description of why you think it illustrates a sociological concept.
Collins, Suzanne.  2009. The Hunger Games. London: Scholastic.
Collins, Suzanne. 2009. Catching Fire. New York: Scholastic.
Collins, Suzanne. 2010. Mockingjay. New York: Scholastic.