Hunger Games, Dystopia, and Two Kinds of Slavery

catching fireThis week the film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ Catching Fire hits the big screen. Last year I read The Hunger Games right before the movie came out, and this year I decided to do the same. In the middle of it I was reminded of Andrew Wilson’s insightful analysis of the Hunger Games in light of the two classic, modern dystopias of the 20th Century 1984 and A Brave New World: 

George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, as has often been pointed out, imagined two very different dystopias. In 1984, written just after the Second World War, Orwell depicts the forces that held people captive as fundamentally external: coercion, espionage, laws, constraints, threats, lies, the state. By contrast, Huxley’s Brave New World, published just after the Wall Street crash had turned the excess of the twenties into the Great Depression of the thirties, portrays a future in which people are enslaved to forces within themselves: desire, inanity, hedonism, egotism, fatuity. For all the similarities between the two books, it is this difference that is the most striking.

Wilson goes on to point out that the Orwellian slavery is what we in the anti-authoritarian West tend to think of, while the ancients were more focused on avoiding the Huxleyan kind. The remarkable thing about Collins’ works is how she manages to counterpoint both conceptions in the Hunger Games series:

These Huxleyan and Orwellian dystopias, and ancient and modern conceptions of freedom, are juxtaposed (whether deliberately or not) in intriguing fashion in Suzanne Collins’ immensely popular The Hunger Games. The inhabitants of District 12, including the protagonist Katniss Everdeen, are enslaved in a very obvious, Orwellian way: through coercion, draconian laws, sanctions, electrified fences, and deprivation.

Those who live in the Capitol, by contrast, are in bondage in the ancient, more Huxleyan sense, with their vacuous pastimes, obsession with appearance, absurd make-up, and inane conversation bearing witness to the invisible chains of unconstrained desire. The citizens of the Capitol appear free when compared with those in the districts, but they too are trapped, and prevented from flourishing as humans. If anything, the sheer emptiness of the lives they lead make them more pitiable than Katniss, Peeta, and the rest.

For most of us, thinking of the latter group as pitiable is mostly foreign. Still, a truly Christian vision of freedom needs to understand and fully integrate both emphasis if it’s to be in light with the picture given to us in the Bible:

Yet if the human is to be seen as body and soul, physical and spiritual, object and subject, political and religious, then our vision of freedom needs to incorporate both modern and ancient perspectives as well. The fact that the state is best equipped to promote political freedom, which I take for granted, does not mean that it is the only sort of freedom there is.

The Judeo-Christian tradition holds both types of liberation—from the other and from the self—together, with its repeated emphasis on the concept of redemption. Israel is set free from slavery in Egypt through the Exodus, but immediately requires rescuing from her carnality and idolatrous desires in the wilderness. The prophet Isaiah describes the political redemption from Babylon that Judah will experience (chapters 41-48), and then looks forward to the spiritual redemption from sin that will follow (chapters 49-55). Jesus himself articulates his mission in Isaianic terms, promising both freedom for captives and forgiveness for sinners.

If you’re interested, (and I suggest you should be), you can read the rest of the article here.

Happy Hunger Games!

Soli Deo Gloria

4 thoughts on “Hunger Games, Dystopia, and Two Kinds of Slavery

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