Dystopias, as explained by Dr. Carpenter, are thought as the antithesis of utopias, and often, utopias gone wrong. Henthorne’s “Dystopia with a Difference” further describes dystopian fiction as political explorations of dreadful alternative worlds in which crucial social, political and/or environmental issues affect the everyday lives of the population.
The Hunger Games trilogy is often described as dystopian fiction, but what exactly makes the world of the Hunger Games a Dystopia?
Dr. Carpenter introduced a series of criteria to answer this question:
- Dystopias are attempted Utopias gone horribly wrong.
Panem is a nation created out of catastrophe and intended to be a harmonious country in which humanity could survive and thrive after wars and natural disasters ended with the world as we know it. However, it ended up being a world of extreme inequality, oppression and one in which children fighting each other to death is entertainment.
- Dystopian societies value stability above all else.
After a time of destruction, stability is valued in Panem. However, in dystopias, it is usually the result of a negative trade off. Technically, there is stability in Panem, no wars or conflicts of any kind; however, the trade off is oppression, social separation, starvation and sending your children to die in an arena.
- Dystopian societies serve the interests of a particular group.
A hierarchy of inequality is one of the most present themes in the trilogy. While the people in the districts suffer and starve, Capitol citizens are showered in the luxuries acquired by exploiting the rest of the nation.
- Dystopias are not written in a vacuum. They reflect contemporary cultural problem.
- Environmental issues
- Class stratification; poverty, starvation and consumerism
- Politics at home, through time and around the world
- Mass media, reality TV and media control
- Dystopias frequently call our attention to ways in which we may already live in a dystopia, related to the previews point.
- We live in a society in which mass media and reality TV are largely integrated, vastly controlled and biased, and working to shape our perception of the world.
- Politics shape our daily lives, yet we often turn a blind eye, and globally speaking, current political conflicts are abhorrent.
- Class stratification is a present issue in our society as inequality widens, progressively expanding the gap between rich and poor.
- Most of us take for grated our next meal while others are starving, and similar to the Capitol, material excess, in the form of consumerism, has become part of our culture.
- Climate change plus other environmental issues are currently a problem, and instead of fixing them we have, and still are, mostly contributing to them.
- Dystopian societies often involve internalizing of propaganda (to the point that is not recognized as propaganda)
In Panem, both the districts and the Capitol accept what has been imposed on them such as the Games, which remind the districts who is in power and keep them from unifying, and the social inequality, which they believe is ultimately for the best of the nation since each district has a crucial part to play in the system. These ideas are reinforced through the media through videos about the history of Panem, the Dark Days, District 13’s bombings and the Games themselves. Also they are reinforced through the teachings people receive both educationally and socially.
Dr. Carpenter’s characteristics of Dystopias are complemented by Henthorne’s “Dystopia with a Difference,” in which he explains how the Hunger Games, is a dystopian fiction but a different kind. This difference comes with the fact that it is more literary in relation to classic dystopias. Henthorne describes it as “real and dynamic.” The world of the Hunger Games is experienced through the eyes of one character that, as the story progresses, develops and changes. For the most part, however, Henthorne’s illustration of the Hunger Games characterizes a dystopia fiction:
- Social criticism: It is encountered in the Hunger Games we encounter, which is through Katniss experiences and often through subtly and/or emotional forces, which strongly shape a social reality in such a way that the reader will be able to empathize with.
- Environmentalism: One of the principal messages in the Hunger Games, which relates to Dr. Carpenter’s point about dystopias reflecting current issues. The environment in the Hunger Games has been damaged by pollution and war, and, as Katniss, our knowledge about how that happened is limited, yet this significantly affects her in a daily basis. The decision we take now, will affect someone tomorrow and that might as well be someone like Katniss.
- Mass Media and Social Control (Related to the last three points of Dr. Carpenter’s points): In the Hunger Games this is used to control people’s believes and behaviors. The trilogy also shows how people become passive and lose their agency, which is related to how we currently let the media shape our lives and how it blurs the lines between entertainment and reality.
- Politics of Scarcity: in a society like Panem, strategies such as scarcity are used for control. In the Hunger Games, food supply is equal control, by keeping the population hungry, they unsure their power. Also, any hint of uprising resulted in control of resources. Lastly, scarcity divides people, keeping them form uniting against the biggest evil.
- Oppression at the Hands of the Capitol: In Panem, oppression is everywhere, even In the Capitol; however, some are oblivious and others indifferent. This is related to Dr. Carpenter’s trade-off, and in our reality, to what happened in America after 9/11: oppression was permitted, the reality was best ignored.
- District 13 mirroring the world we live in now: (Related to Dr. Carpenter’s fourth and fifth points). This was the most reliable piece of the trilogy to reality. It was similar to the events of 9/11 and other events of the recent past.
- Social Change: The Hunger Games Trilogy doesn’t only exposes social criticism, it also promotes social change.