One of the main themes in The Hunger Games is power and inequality. The totalitarian government of Panem is who holds all the power over the districts. The citizens have no say over their lives or what the government will impose on them. The Hunger Games is the ultimate display of the government’s power over the citizens of Panem. They were designed to continuously warn the population about how bad their situation will become if they decide to rebel, and the Games are a symbol for all to watch showing how the Capitol will keep people in the districts fighting amongst themselves and prevent them from joining forces and fighting the government. The Games are meant to crush the citizen’s spirits and keep them feeling helpless and hopeless.
Despite the Capitols intentions, the Games also show how others are resisting the power of the Capitol. When Katniss refuses to play by the rules by killing Peeta at the end of the Games, or when she joins forces with Rue and showed her kindness, she subtly rebelled against the power of the Capitol. The book highlights the difference between those that have wealth and power and those that do not. The Capitol is exempt from the games, and the wealthier districts train their tributes to have a distinct advantage over the poorer districts. The book continuously shows how different the lives of the rich are to the poor. In Panem, wealth means power and the lack of wealth means the loss of rights. If a poor citizen of Panem rebels, they either become an Avox, which is a person who becomes a servant with their tongue cut out or they are simply killed. Either way, their rebellious voice is silenced and they are forced to comply.
There are many examples of these differences in equality between the classes: such as their food and living accommodations, with the districts focusing on just surviving and having a roof over their heads compared to the people of the Capitol who often eat until they vomit, simply to make more room and live in luxurious and technologically advanced houses. One of the best examples in the book of the inequality between the wealthy and poor is the tesserae system for picking tributes. Although the reaping is considered a lottery, the poor are much more likely to end up as the tributes. The tesserae allows those who are poor to have the basic minimum of food and fuel to survive the year but makes it more likely that they will die for the entertainment of the rich and as a powerful warning from the Capitol.
Throughout the book, Katniss continuously tries to behave in a way that she believes people will best perceive her. She refuses to let others see her cry, as she worries she will be perceived as weak or self-pitying. She refuses to become overly emotional at the beginning in order to have others perceive her as tough. She and her team use her external appearance to control how other people see her, even going as far as to wear a flaming costume to present herself as the ‘girl on fire.’ Her relationship with Cinna and the conversations they have where he coaches her on her appearance and behaviour are a major factor in her success.
The book focuses a great deal on how much effort it took to prepare Katniss for the Games and to be seen in public. As well, the book thoroughly describes how different the people from the Capitol look compared to those in the districts, showing how different their lives are. The reader learns in detail about the various outfits that Cinna designed for Katniss and how they changed the audience’s perception of her. Appearances are so important during the Games that making a positive impression may mean the difference between life and death.
A great deal of Katniss’ strategy during the games was her romance with Peeta to win the favor of the sponsors and to ultimately allow them both to make it out of the Games alive. Although she has feelings for Peeta they aren’t to the same intensity as his but they let the audience perceive the appearance of them in love. Katniss views herself as someone self-reliant who does not show emotion that easily, yet she often has to act opposite to this in the Games to keep up appearances. She prides herself and works hard not to form attachments to others yet during the games she is forced to become attached to Peeta for the sake of appearances but does actually become attached to both him and Rue. She often wonders how these actions will change her and questions her real identity versus the mask she wears for the sake of the audience. Peeta also comments on his identity when he states that he refuses to let the Capitol change him and that if he has to die, he wants to die as himself.