Critical Analysis of 'Hunger Games'

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The Gladiatorial Combats were arguably the most anticipated form of entertainment within the Ancient Roman era and were greatly favored amongst the majority. However, it would be inaccurate to state that the Roman form of entertainment was liked by all when in reality it received a significant amount of criticism from individuals such as Ancient writers and the Stoics. The Ancient Criticism of the Roman Arena was often focused on the negative behaviors of the arena crowd specifically. These individuals actively expressed their censure with arguments suggesting the mob mentality, excessive nature, and immorality of arena crowds. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that the games are still prevalent in modern-day films and arts. A particular example would be Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games which is a series of dystopian novels often perceived to have been influenced by the Gladiatorial games themselves. Suzanne Collins has stated in interviews that she ‘researched not only the historical Spartacus and the popular media about him but many of the historical gladiators' pre-Christian times’1. Through this, one can dispute that stoic ideologies can be affiliated with The Hunger Games to an extent and it is this argument that will be explored further in-depth within the essay.

Stoicism is the idea that happiness is found when a person is led by their mind in their understanding of the world around them. Their actions are controlled through logic rather than desires for pleasure or fears of pain and one may say, in other words, that they prioritize the duality of rationality over emotions. The Stoics were the main critics of the Roman Gladiatorial Games and had great concerns that arena crowds often deploy a mob mentality when observing arena entertainment. This negatively impacts a person’s ability to think and behave in a logical manner. One can evidence this through Seneca the Younger’s seventh letter on the crowds where he states simply that ‘That I go home more selfish, more self-seeking and more self-indulgent’ and that ‘the greater the mob with which we mingle, the greater the danger.’ 2 Here Seneca the Younger may be alluding to the fact that it is much easier to conform to the behavior of a majority and let it influence or indoctrinate you and your goals such as becoming a better version of yourself. Thus, ultimately limiting stoic practice. Seneca the Younger is discrediting the existence of such crowds and the Gladiatorial games as they are an incentive to act more viciously and non-logically rather than with reasoning which is a duality that is not encouraged by stoics. The idea of being more ‘self-indulgent’ and ‘selfish’ when in arena crowds is also translated in The Hunger Games, particularly through the concept of betting. One can argue that the Capitol’s illogical behavior as a result of watching the Hunger Games is clearly displayed through their heavy enjoyment of betting on the tributes. “They’re betting on how long I'll live!” 3. Here Katniss may be subtly criticizing the idea of trying to impress the arena crowd. She criticizes further how the Capitol have lost all ethicality over betting as they place their chances on who is most likely to survive in their morally deprived system of inevitable deaths. This shows how the tributes have been stripped of their identity and dehumanized or reduced to a way for the Capitol to earn more money than they already have. It also reinforces the extent to which their ability to act logically and in a humane way has been corrupted, as trying to gain from a such brutal and harmful event is not logical nor civilized. It is a reflection of the type of corruption and selfishness to which Seneca the Younger and the stoics, in general, allude; the idea of people losing rectitude and indulging in activities that promote killing and brutality for their individual gain, controlled by a desire for pleasure or money, etc.

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Another belief that was deeply rooted in Stoicism was the idea that everything must be done in moderation rather than excess. The Roman Gladiatorial Games are, as we know, anything but moderate with arena crowds spending hours of their lives viewing bloodthirsty combats. Minimalism and moderation are incredibly valued by the stoics as well as the duality of control rather than excess. For example, Seneca the Younger states in his seventh letter about the crowds that ‘A single example of extravagance or greed does a lot of harm’ and that ‘a wealthy neighbor provokes cravings in one.4 Here, Seneca the Younger is stating how one’s wealth (‘wealthy neighbor’) entices another to be greedy and crave the same wealth for themselves. This is harmful as one’s greed is activated and so their ability to behave in a rational and logical manner is overridden. Arena crowds display their greed through their dependency on barbaric entertainment as Seneca the Younger describes ‘And when there is an interval in the show: “Let’s have some throats cut in the meantime so that there's something happening!” 5 This presents the overindulgence of the Crowd and their lack of control to stop viewing these sorts of entertainment one after the other. This idea of consuming in excess is also translated in The Hunger Games, particularly through the duality of food. For example, the intake of food within the Capitol is of great surprise to Katniss Everdeen who is from District 12. In District 12, starvation is a common pandemic with Katniss even thinking of resorting to eating from bins to fill her and her family’s desperation. 6 An example of excess is displayed when Katniss exclaims that she stopped eating because she ‘can’t hold another bite’ and the reply elicited from those in the Capitol is one of laughter as ‘“No one lets that stop them!’ 7 This reinforces that those in the Capitol consume in excess and that even if they are full, they will still continue to eat more than they need to ( a concept which is of strong criticism by the Stoics like Seneca the Younger). However, one could argue that Katniss and those in District 12 can also be criticized for acting irrationally. For example, we see that some in the districts will add their names more times or opt for a greater chance to be selected, in exchange for tessera and a year's supply of grain and oil for one person. 8 Here Seneca the Younger’s criticism of how people will act illogically in order to fulfill a single desire can be applied as one can question why those in the districts would act irrationally by opting for a greater chance of inevitable death just for a small supply of food for one person.

Another Ancient criticism that could be applied to The Hunger Games is the fear of decline in morals that many Stoics had in response to the Gladiatorial combats. Stoics were greatly concerned with how immorality is relished in arena crowds when using the barbaric Gladiatorial games as a provision for entertainment. Immorality is again seen as the act of behaving in ways that are irrational and without reasoning. Thus, the primal fear of ancient writers such as Augustine of Hippo, for example, was the increasing decline in morals in Rome. They saw the Games as the origin of the increase in immoral behavior and this is particularly highlighted within the Augustine of Hippo Confessions 6.9 where Augustine of Hippo speaks about being a part of arena crowds and the effect that it can have on one’s mannerisms. Augustine of Hippo describes how spectators become ‘drunk on the pleasures of blood’ 9 whereby being ‘drunk’ reflects a state in which one lacks control and the ability to make logical and sensible decisions, as they unknowingly indulge in activities that corrupt and taint their soul. Moreover, the fact that he is drunk ‘on the pleasures of blood’ demonstrates how participating in such events destruct the morals of the innocent as well as their ability to care for more intellectual pursuits. Ultimately, Augustine of Hippo is portraying the dangers of adopting such behaviors and ridicules the concept of spectators gaining gratification and openly encouraging the destruction of another human being, just because it fulfills their need for entertainment. This concept can be applied to the modern Hunger Games, which much like The Roman Gladiatorial Games, are held for the purpose of entertainment and are treated like a festival by the Capitol. A particular scene showing the bloodlust of the crowds is when Katniss and Peeta arrive on the train in the Capitol. We see the extent of the crowd’s excitement and desperation to see the tributes which is ironic as they are aware of the high chance of death of these very tributes. Moreover, the concept of the Capitol gaining pleasure and satisfaction from viewing the act of 24 tributes battling for the chance to live and to see another day further displays their ‘lust for blood’ nature. Although it is televised for viewers rather than requiring them to be physically present in an amphitheater-like The Gladiatorial Games, it does not mean to say that that spectating is exempt from acting immorally. The idea of the arena crowd (the Capitol in this instance) watching other humans fight to the death is still present and one could say even more barbaric due to the fact that they hold the power of whether to provide essential resources. These resources determine the chances of survival for the tributes. The adoption of such unprincipled behaviors is inevitable according to Augustine of Hippo who believes that you are not the same person you were before participating in such means of entertainment.

In conclusion, it can be said that Ancient Criticisms of the Roman Arena from groups such as the Stoics can be applied to The Hunger Games. From the immorality and selfishness of the crowds to excessiveness and greed, there is no doubt that there are active examples of each idea in The Hunger Games. Writers such as Augustine of Hippo and Seneca the Younger had clear proposals as to the effects of arena crowds and how this can affect one’s mannerisms and behaviors. The pockets of influence from the Roman Gladiatorial Games present in The Hunger Games as well as the similarities between both arena crowds, allow us to apply such ancient criticisms to a modern reconstruction.

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Critical Analysis of ‘Hunger Games’. (2023, February 24). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 15, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/critical-analysis-of-hunger-games/
“Critical Analysis of ‘Hunger Games’.” Edubirdie, 24 Feb. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/critical-analysis-of-hunger-games/
Critical Analysis of ‘Hunger Games’. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/critical-analysis-of-hunger-games/> [Accessed 15 Apr. 2024].
Critical Analysis of ‘Hunger Games’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Feb 24 [cited 2024 Apr 15]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/critical-analysis-of-hunger-games/
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