Student Series

VICTOR’S VILLAGE STUDENT SERIES: Bread and Circuses in The Hunger Games and the Roman Empire

SURPRISE! We have one more entry in the Victor’s Village student series! This last one is a thought-provoking, meaty article from HGBC’s “assistant fangirl” (aka teaching assistant), peetasgirl!

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In the Roman Empire:

The phrase, “bread and circuses,” was coined during the time of the ancient Roman Empire by Juvenal, a satirical writer. In its original Latin form, the phrase would have been “panem et circenses,” or “bread and games.” This statement has become a common phrase, even in modern political satire. It describes a self-serving government (or emperor) who has done nothing to serve the people, yet is able to maintain popularity by offering state-sponsored “gifts” of food and entertainment. Essentially a bribe, which is unknowingly taken, but which still has the desired effect. It is an underhanded tactic to maintain power and control over a people.

“Panem et circenses” was an actual political strategy, used by the Roman Emperors and Senators to maintain their powerful positions of authority over an ever-increasing span of Empire. These leaders correctly realized that if the general populace – vast in number – were to become dissatisfied with their government, it would be easily overthrown. Later in the Roman Empire, these entitlements had become so popular, that sponsoring the “games” became the peoples’ expectation. Rulers were often judged, not by their effectiveness as public servants, but by the quality of the games/gifts sponsored.

When “panem et circenses” was first penned by Juvenal, he was attempting to awaken the common people to their pathetic attitude of complacency. It was a wake-up call. Juvenal saw himself as a voice to the people, and decried the selfishness and ignorance that he witnessed in the general populace. Roman citizens, who had once proudly participated in their government, had willingly laid aside their civic responsibilities. Instead, they had become satisfied with temporary appeasements from a self-serving government. The citizens had sold their inheritance for a bowl of soup, satisfying the immediate appetites, but at a terrible cost – the loss of their rights in government.

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In The Hunger Games:

The post-apocalyptic nation of Panem draws its name from the first part of Juvenal’s phrase. At first, it seems quite ironic to name a nation “bread,” when its people have so little food. As I think about this, I think it was a brilliant move on the part of the author – it sets up the entire dystopia.

imagesThings are not as they ought to be in Panem. The nation’s name is Panem (bread), which is the one thing that everyone needs in order to survive (food). Naming a nation “bread” implies a land of plenty and promise – provision for all. This is implied in the name. It is a very hopeful name. The government wants to capitalize upon this hope, and BECOME the hope of the people. For this reason, any other source of hope (Katniss) can be dangerous.

The government of Panem made some very calculated moves, in order to be viewed as the sole provider of both bread and hope. There is plenty of bread, but not for everyone. The government (the provider) decides who gets the bread. They use the people’s hope and need as a means of both physical and psychological control. They keep the people hungry, keep them hoping for more, giving grain to the Districts monthly (but never too much), in order to maintain their image as “the provider.” What Panem’s leaders have created is a state of total dependence. By so doing, they ensure that the citizens in the Districts would never rebel against the hand that literally feeds them. The Districts cannot rebel against the Capitol – it is their only hope of survival.

The Capitol itself is another matter. If the citizens in the Capitol were to rebel against the government, there would be upheaval in all of Panem. The Capitol’s citizens live in such close proximity to President Snow and the government agencies, they could easily stage an effective coup. So, it is in the Capitol that we see the Roman Empire’s strategy of “panem et circenses” employed to its fullest extent.

Capitol citizens receive much more than bread – they may have all the food they wish. It is a society where excess has become the status quo. Their entertainment – the “circenses” – is sponsored by the state via The Hunger Games. Tributes fight to the death for the amusement of the Capitol’s citizens, giving them an exciting diversion, and distracting them from the reality of Panem’s national condition.

Crafted by one of HGBC's students

Crafted by one of HGBC’s students

We read about them in the books, living lives of extravagance, and we want to shake them and shout, “Wake up! Can’t you see how all the other Districts in your country are suffering, while you live so luxuriously? It’s not fair!” This is what Juvenal thought about the Romans, and why he made his famous “bread and circuses” statement long ago. Like the citizens of Rome, the citizens of the Capitol are completely ignorant of others’ hardships; they are asleep. The government prefers this, and carefully controls the media to portray the Districts as they see fit.

Capitol citizens are content to never think beyond their own self-centered lives, because they have been appeased by the government, and pacified by the media. They, too, are prisoners of the state of Panem, dependent upon the government as the sole provider of their “bread and circuses.” Unlike the citizens of the Districts, however, the Capitol’s people are completely unaware. They fail to realize their true position.

In Mockingjay, it becomes an especially harsh reality for the Capitol citizens to face, having the thin veneer of “bread and circuses” ripped away. For the first time, they witness what the government – and, unknowingly, themselves – had been carefully orchestrating for 75 years: A volatile nation, filled with governmental corruption and lies, where the wealth of the few weighs heavily upon the shoulders of the poor and starving.

Is it any wonder why Snow works to hard to keep everyone in the dark? To be the only hope?
Peetasgirl

VICTOR’S VILLAGE STUDENT SERIES: Hunger Games History

We’re back with another installment of the Student Series! This time, HGBC’s class is digging into the historic events that likely inspired the series!

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I can hear Caesar Flickerman doing a “Whoo whoo whoo!”

I can hear Caesar Flickerman doing a “Whoo whoo whoo!”

If you haven’t noticed the correlation between ‘The Hunger Games’ and history… well, my friends, you’ve missed some of the whole point of how Suzanne Collins wrote the books. Not only did she intentionally write the reaping as a version of the “Theseus and the Minotaur” Greek myth, and Katniss’ story a reinvention of the real slave-turned-gladiator-turned-rebel Spartacus, but so much of the setting of the books is from your Roman history book. The tributes, the arenas, most of the names of Capitol citizens, and the Capitol’s excess: it all comes from Rome. In the following post, one of my high school students explains the connection of Roman gladiators to ‘The Hunger Games’.

From cactus: When you are first reading or explained the concept of the Hunger Games, the first word that will spring to mind is “Gladiator”. But the Games are even more similar to Roman gladiators than you might think. Here are the examples:

Roman inspired with a twist of sci fi

Roman inspired with a twist of sci fi

The easiest similarity to find (which is mostly based off of stereotypes and assumptions we make about Roman gladiators, which is actually a relatively small part of their culture, concerning their gladiatorial games) is probably the tributes fighting to the death in an enclosed arena.

Best scenario: to be attacked by a Mutt or a lion?

Best scenario: to be attacked by a Mutt or a lion?

What a lot of people don’t know is that the Gladiators were living in poverty, like 90% of the tributes, before they were chosen or forced into the arena. Many of the gladiators were, in fact, prisoners of war, or slaves, which can also be related to the people of the districts. But if and when a gladiator is victorious over his or her opponents, they are showered in riches, much like the victor of the Hunger Games. The only difference is that a lot of the time, even the victorious gladiator is sent back into the arena to fight again for the audience’s amusement, but even then, ‘Catching Fire’ can slightly relate to that when all of the tributes are former victors.

In Rome, they also had people fight animals, like lions for entertainment, or publicly executed Christians or “Pagans” in the arena. So whatever dystopian vibe ‘The Hunger Games’ emits, ancient Rome was far more corrupt and violent.

What about Rome and reality television? Tag, you’re it.
Hunger Games Bookclub

VICTOR’S VILLAGE STUDENT SERIES: No Place For A Girl On Fire

We’re back with Part 2 of our 3-part Student Series! Check out squirrelonfire’s thoughts on the power of repetition in the trilogy. Also, how much do you love that tag name?!

Be sure to comment and tell HGBC and her students what you think!

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One of my favorite things about in-depth re-reads of this trilogy is finding all the little phrases and words that Suzanne Collins used to build these books. For example, she describes Peeta as strong and steady repeatedly in ‘The Hunger Games’. That is one reason why it is so devastating when Peeta becomes… well… not steady. Another favorite repeated word is “owe”. When Haymitch brings home two victors instead of one, she owes him. When Finnick saves Peeta’s life, she owes him. AND SHE HATES OWING ANYONE ANYTHING!

I promise myself I will defeat his plan

I promise myself I will defeat his plan

One of my students goes into depth on this topic…

By squirrelonfire: “Catching Fire” has many themes of repetition, one of which being that Katniss keeps thinking about what she owes everyone (mostly Peeta). Katniss and Haymitch both agree that they owe Peeta, but they have different ideas of what that means. Katniss believe that since Haymitch worked so hard in the last games to keep her alive that it is Peeta’s turn to get saved. And Haymitch thinks that since he helped Katniss last time, Peeta gets to choose what he wants in these games. This is very interesting in how it plays out because Peeta will stop at nothing to save Katniss, while Katniss is trying to save Peeta but still not sure what she wants. Katniss is always changing her mind about what she owes different people. I think that it would be exhausting, but Suzanne Collins uses it as a tactic to write how Katniss thinks about different people and situations.

No place for a girl like me? Just watch me, Snow.

No place for a girl like me? Just watch me, Snow.

One of the other topics that I find interesting is the “Girl on Fire” as the theme of how the public (in the Capitol as well as the districts) views her. In the Capitol, it is just a fascinating fad started by a talented stylist and they love it, but the people in the districts see it as much more. In the districts, it is a spark that will start a fire that is rebellion. And they use her and her mockingjay as a symbol of defiance. “Girl on Fire” isn’t only how the public views Katniss, but also how she views herself. I really like the last sentence of “Catching Fire” Part II where she sees the arena and thinks: This is no place for a girl on fire.

Perhaps you “owe” it to yourself to find your own favorite repetition,

Hunger Games Bookclub

VICTOR’S VILLAGE STUDENT SERIES: Catching Fire Flashback

We’ve got a short but very exciting new series here on Victor’s Village! Our friend Hunger Games Bookclub is now teaching The Hunger Games to our youth as part of her Creative Writing class!

For the next three days, we’ll be posting guest posts from HGBC and her students, gaining unique perspectives on a series that they’ve (understandably) become very enthusiastic about! We’re calling it our “Student Series”. Almost sounds professional, right?!

By all means, please share your thoughts about the posts with HGBC and her teen students!

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*Spoiler Alert*

Flashback to the first time that you read ‘Catching Fire’: the gasp when you realized Peeta had been taken hostage and the chill in your bones at Gale’s words,

“Katniss, there is no District Twelve.”

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Kindergarten Katniss and Peeta? Awwww!

Were you a teenager? Those of us fans that discovered ‘The Hunger Games’ in our adult years sometimes forget that the trilogy was written for the teens. Teaching a high school class on ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy has given me opportunity to look at Katniss’ story again through fresh (much younger!) eyes. The following are excerpts written by several of my students from an assignment on Literary Devices in the books. I hope it reminds you that Suzanne Collins not only wrote an action-packed trilogy, but she also told a layered, complex story in a way that was accessible for young adult readers.

From thereisnodistrict14: A flashback is a literary device used by authors to convey a message to the reader. It is when a character suddenly remembers something from a long time ago in their life. For example, there is a flashback in ‘Catching Fire’ where Peeta and Katniss are outside the train on the tracks during a train malfuntion. Peeta is telling Katniss about when she was in school and he had a secret crush on her and she sang a song in class. The author is using this flashback to convey to the reader that there is a deeper level to Katniss and Peeta’s artificial romance.

On the count of three?

On the count of three?

From dontbeastupidfangirl: Symbolism is… an object that represents something different to give it deeper meaning. Sometimes an action, event, or word can have symbolic value… The Mockingjay is a perfect example of symbolism in ‘The Hunger Games’. It represents the spark of rebellion, the unity of the districts against the Capitol, and the rebellion itself. Another form of symbolism is when Katniss pulls out the poison berries and she and Peeta threaten to kill themselves rather than each other. It symbolizes the districts being fed-up with what the Capitol is forcing them to do. Suzanne Collins did an excellent job with symbolism in ‘The Hunger Games’ series.

From cactus: In ‘The Hunger Games’ the spark was the metaphor for the main plot to be resolved later in the trilogy; the rebellion, and the spark meaning the slow birth of rebellious behavior among the districts. In ‘Catching Fire’, the main plot stems from the “spark” from book one igniting and “catching fire”. This creates uprisings in the districts and sets up the last book to full blown rebellion and war. This is clear symbolism. They even use Katniss’ symbol as the mockingjay to intertwine with the whole catching fire theme, when she twirls and her wedding dress “catches fire” and the fire consumes the dress (another symbol for the Capitol’s strong hold, deciding even what clothes you wear) and transforms it into something new: a mockingjay. I love this scene. It uses three big symbols to tell the story of this entire book in a matter of lines.

Caesar's face says it all!

Caesar’s face says it all!

Take it from my students… don’t you owe yourself a re-read?
Hunger Games Bookclub