Spoiler alert! This article contains major spoilers for not only The Hunger Games movie, but the entire book trilogy. While it won’t spoil everything, if you haven’t read the book series, please be aware that reading this article may give you more information than you want!
A few days ago, I finished reading (“devouring” might be more appropriate) The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. This young-adult fiction series is gripping, poignant, and powerful, and in the days since I finished devouring it, Collins’ characters, terrifying setting, and themes have marinated in my mind, growing richer and deeper with more time and reflection.
In the series, the reader becomes acquainted with a bleak, yet believable, post-apocalyptic future world in which the nation of Panem has risen out of the ashes of what once was North America. This nation’s central government controls its outlying population through various cruelties, most horrifying of which is an annual reality show featuring young people chosen from the land’s various outlying districts. The young people, ages 12 to 18, are forced to fight one another to the death, for the sport of the Capitol’s citizens and to remind the districts how completely they are at the mercy of their rulers.
Against this brutal backdrop, we find plenty of characters we recognize from the real world–people who respond to their circumstances with resourcefulness, despair, nobility, and hope. We follow the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, as she struggles to survive against the odds, to protect the people she loves.
This book series is appealing for many reasons: literary quality, heart-pounding action, sympathetic and multi-dimensional characters, plenty of surprises, a touch of romance, the clever believability of a future world, and striking indictments of our own world.
Several compelling themes caught my attention as I was reading, and a few more after I finished the books: the horrific futility of war, the ultimate superiority and triumph of nature over the unnatural, the ridiculous manipulations of reality entertainment, the ironies of injustice, the corruption of power, and–to put it in Christian terms–the persistence of pervasive, cyclical, generational sin. And growing through the cracks in all of it, hope. Despite the crushing realities of life in the districts of Panem, the garish excesses of its capitol, the constant march of death, hope persists.
Hope shows up in several places in this very dark world–such as in the incorruptible goodness of Katniss’ sister, Primrose. It shows in Katniss’ rare sacrifice for her sister, when she volunteers to take Prim’s place in the games. It lives in the meadow and the woods, where the natural world exists mostly unmolested by the powerful central government. And it appears in the rare presence of real roses, specifically primroses, that outlast their genetically modified cousins from the Capitol. But the most compelling source of hope is Peeta Mellark, Katniss’ fellow competitor in the games and a shining Christ figure throughout the trilogy.
Peeta is both a symbol of Christ and a Christ-like example, and his character points readers toward the kind of hope and life we can find through Christ in this world, which in many ways resembles the world of The Hunger Games.
Peeta is a baker’s son, and he literally gives life to others–most notably Katniss–with his bread. Early in the series, we learn that he once risked his own safety to give Katniss the bread that kept her and her family alive when they were starving. Throughout the series, Peeta evokes images of the Bread of Life, making bread, sharing it, and sustaining the people around him. At one point, with Katniss emotionally dead, Peeta shows up “bearing a warm loaf of bread,” and Katniss slowly comes “back to life.”
Peeta’s initial gift of bread does more than feed Katniss for another day. This bread gives her the hope she needs to keep on living and points the way to provision for her whole family. The day after Peeta gives Katniss bread for the first time, she sees a clear symbol of life and hope, “the first dandelion of the year.” That dandelion, Katniss says, “reminded me that I was not doomed.” She had found a natural source of food that would lead to many more sources of food from the woods around their district. The dandelion makes another appearance later in the series, again representing the spark of life, when Katniss affirms, “What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again. And only Peeta can give me that.”
Peeta is a suffering servant, meek but not weak, who loved Katniss unconditionally before she knew him. He is jealous of Katniss’ love but patient and never forcing himself on her. He promises Katniss he will stay with her “always.”
He is a sacrificial character, who gives up his claim to his own life from the beginning, leaving his home resolved to die to save Katniss. He sustains wounds and scars for his efforts, from the beating his mother gave him when he saved Katniss’ life with the bread, to the serious battle wounds from the games. His body, which the Capitol cannot entirely restore, displays the evidence of his suffering for others.
When Peeta is stabbed and left for dead after saving Katniss’ life–taking the wound that was initially meant for her–he is buried in the ground and placed in a cave for three days before emerging with a new lease on life. Later, he is resurrected again, more literally this time, and then a third time we find him coming back to life after his true self–the one part of him that had yet to die–is tortured and killed in a metaphorical sense and evil appears to have won.
When Peeta plants primrose bushes–again a symbol of hope–around her house, he gives Katniss the courage to engage in her final act of rebellion and affirmation of freedom: destroying the twisted, genetically modified rose she had received from the Capitol. Once this rose is destroyed, she learns to once again embrace truth, purity, goodness, and hope. Peeta gives her the courage to grieve, to reclaim life, to grasp the future. He gives her, in a sense, life after death.
Peeta’s love is, ultimately, what redeems Katniss and the dark world she lives in. His love provides the kind of redemption, hope, and life we find in Jesus.
It’s not clear to what extent this Christ-symbolism was intentional on the part of the author, Suzanne Collins. My own research has unearthed no indications one way or the other. Clearly, she presented Peeta as a sacrificial, loving character who provides hope to many–and primarily to Katniss. But whether she created him as a character to represent Christ, only she knows.
Regardless of the author’s intentions, these parallels to Jesus add a layer of depth and a dimension of hope to the books that I hope to see reflected in the movies. Because the world of Panem, in many ways, is not so different from our own. Like the citizens of that dark world, we are lost and hopelessly oppressed without a Savior. Even as we fight for a more just and loving world, we must not only find hope in Christ, but also follow his example: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death–even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8)
Inspired by Peeta, my prayer is that we may show such a clear picture of Jesus to our real world.
This article was originally published here, with Christianity Today.
© 2013 Amy Simpson.