Panem in Our Own Lives


Katniss and Gale are fictional characters, but the problems they face in “The Hunger Games” are very real. (Courtesy of Lionsgate)

I’ll admit it.  I am obsessed.  I want to learn archery, berries now have a whole new significance for me, and I daydream in class thinking to myself, “How would I do in the Games?”

Yes, I am without a doubt a “Hunger Games” addict.  I started the first book in the series about a month ago, and since then I have read all three and seen the movie twice.  Why is this fictional world so present in my consciousness?  Why is it that I can’t shake the story out of my head?  Maybe that’s because I see the books everywhere in our daily lives in the United States.  All of us as Fordham students living in New York City need to be aware of the similarities between “The Hunger Games” and urban poverty in our nation, and be more engaged in ending urban poverty.

Millions of people around the country have probably read or seen “The Hunger Games” recently and thought “What a crazy idea” or “I wonder how she thought of that.”  Unfortunately you would not have to look hard to find a possible inspiration for “The Hunger Games.”

In “The Hunger Games” series, the rich and elitist Capitol controls 12 districts throughout North America, whose role it is to manufacture goods such as livestock, fish or coal for the sole use and exploitation of the Capitol.  The districts exist only to serve the wants and needs of the Capitol, and the government is able to sustain this oppression by keeping the Districts separated from each other.  This separation prevents political opposition from coalescing because residents of each District literally cannot visit, see, or communicate with residents of other districts.  In many ways, it is a brilliant way to control a population—strip them of their ability to form relationships and bonds of solidarity.  Without solidarity and connection, the districts are divided and weak.

We see this class division in many American cities, like The Loop in Chicago or the French Quarter in New Orleans, dominate the interests of the city, just as the Capitol dominates Panem.  It is not in the natural interest of a rich person in the French Quarter to care about the problems of residents of the Lower Ninth Ward, but it needs to become natural for residents of cities to care for each other, regardless of class or race.

Collins also portrays District 12 as a classic American urban ghetto through the impoverished children in the city. Children in District 12 in “The Hunger Games” are poor and their tributes to the Games generally lose because they are less trained. Therefore there are few living victors who can mentor new tributes, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and failure in the District. The same is true in real life; when children attend struggling schools in poor neighborhoods, they are less likely to attend college and are less likely to obtain high-earning jobs. They will then probably stay living in their home neighborhood since they will not be able to afford housing elsewhere.

The greatest tragedy surrounding poverty in “The Hunger Games” is that President Snow’s government does not want residents of the Capitol to know that the districts are starving and suffering.  He doesn’t even want residents of the districts to know what’s happening in other districts. Equally, in real life, the privileged are too often ignorant of problems facing the lower class. When the rich do not realize that others in the city are struggling with the demands of poverty, they will certainly not do a single thing to alleviate that poverty.  To deprive people of solidarity and relationships with others is one of the greatest sins imaginable, and is capable of condemning someone to a cycle of poverty that cannot be broken.

By the final book of Collins’ trilogy, the residents of Panem unite to overthrow the Capitol once they form connections with each other and see each other’s suffering.  We should be aware not just of the events in our school’s area at the Time Warner Center and Lincoln Center, but also the problems faced by those living in the Amsterdam Houses.  We need to not ignore the suffering of our neighbors, as District 2 ignored District 12.  We need to be aware that segregation is still a harsh reality in the United States of 2012, and we need to be actively involved in ending it.