The Hunger Games

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Themes and Colors
Division and Control Theme Icon
Love, Loyalty, and Compassion Theme Icon
Societal Inequality Theme Icon
Appearances Theme Icon
Hypocrisy Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Hunger Games, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Societal Inequality Theme Icon

In The Hunger Games, social inequality occurs at all levels: throughout the nation of Panem, among the twelve districts, and among the inhabitants of any given district. It is this inequity that breeds strife and creates the main conflicts of the book. In Panem, for example, wealth is heavily concentrated in the hands of those living in the Capitol, and the result is that they can’t even comprehend the lives of the poor. The citizens of the Capitol don’t realize that the inhabitants of the districts are just as intelligent as they are—and just as capable of feeling—because they lead such drastically different lives. It’s this lack of understanding that allows the citizens of the Capitol to dismiss the suffering of the Hunger Games as entertainment: they don’t view the tributes as real people. They see them, via the “reality TV” of the Hunger Games, as a means of entertainment.

Among the districts, District 12 is known for being one of the poorest, and this affects Peeta’s and Katniss’s chances in the arena as well. Some of the other tributes have had the resources to train for the competition, and this advantage extends not only to combat, but also to winning sponsors who can provide food, water, and healing kits during the Games. This setup suggests that the disadvantages of being underprivileged tend to follow the poor even after they’ve left their initial circumstances behind.

Finally, the way that tributes are selected to be in the Games is perhaps the most obvious indicator of social inequality. Even though the lottery is random in theory, the tesserae system makes the poor more vulnerable. In exchange for extra rations of food and oil—tesserae—children can enter their names into the reaping additional times. Because the children of poor families need tesserae in order to survive and support their families, they’re more likely to be picked than the children of wealthier families.

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Societal Inequality Quotes in The Hunger Games

Below you will find the important quotes in The Hunger Games related to the theme of Societal Inequality.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Gale knows his anger at Madge is misdirected. On other days, deep in the woods, I’ve listened to him rant about how the tesserae are just another tool to cause misery in our district. A way to plant hatred between the starving workers of the Seam and those who can generally count on supper and thereby ensure we will never trust one another.

Related Characters: Katniss Everdeen (speaker), Gale, Madge Undersee
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

In District 12, there's an annual lottery to determine the contestants in the annual Hunger Games. But because of the income inequality in the town, poor children usually end up competing in the Games more often than wealthy children: poor families are incentivized to enter their children in the lottery multiple times in exchange for food (a system called the tesserae).

Katniss insightfully points out that the government of Panem uses the tesserae to maintain its power. By sowing discord between the poor and the (relatively) wealthy in Panem (i.e., the working classes and the middle classes), the government of Panem virtually ensures that there's no strong alliance of citizens against the government's own authority.


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Chapter 3 Quotes

“At least, you two have decent manners,” says Effie as we’re finishing the main course. “The pair last year ate everything with their hands like a couple of savages. It completely upset my digestion.” The pair last year were two kids from the Seam who’d never, not one day of their lives, had enough to eat. And when they did have food, table manners were surely the last thing on their minds.

Related Characters: Katniss Everdeen (speaker), Effie Trinket (speaker), Peeta Mellark
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

Peeta and Katniss, the two competitors from District 12, meet Effie Trinket, the narrow-minded, rather vapid manager of the Hunger Games ceremonies. Effie is disturbingly out of touch with the realities of Panem: for instance, when discussing the competitors from last year, she complains that they were messy eaters (even though, as Katniss points out, they were probably starving to death, and didn't care about table manners in the slightest).

The passage exemplifies the social inequalities of Panem. The wealthiest people in the country are shockingly out of touch with the poorest people: the wealthy literally cannot understand how the poor live. (Collins has stated in interviews that she based the social inequalities of Panem on the economic condition of the U.S. following the Great Recession.)

Chapter 4 Quotes

I realize I detest Haymitch. No wonder the District 12 tributes never stand a chance. It isn’t just that we’ve been underfed and lack training. Some of our tributes have still been strong enough to make a go of it. But we rarely get sponsors and he’s a big part of the reason why. The rich people who back tributes—either because they’re betting on them or simply for the bragging rights of picking a winner—expect someone classier than Haymitch to deal with.

Related Characters: Katniss Everdeen (speaker), Haymitch Abernathy
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

As Katniss and Peeta prepare to compete in the Hunger Games, they spend more time with Haymitch. Haymitch is a former Hunger Games victor whose job is to train future competitors his district, 12. In spite of his prowess in the Games, Haymitch is portrayed as a lazy alcoholic, often too intoxicated to speak or walk straight. Katniss realizes that District 12 never has any sponsors--i.e., rich people who send food and supplies to competitors in the game--because rich people don't like Haymitch, and therefore they dislike the competitors he's training.

Katniss's realization reinforces the vast inequalities in Panem--inequalities which "snowball" over time. Because of the inequalities between poor districts like 12 and rich districts like 2, victors from District 12 tend to be gruff and unlikable. Over time, the lack of charisma in District 12 victors results in fewer sponsorships from the wealthy, and therefore fewer victors from District 12--and thus less prestige for District 12 overall. The deck is stacked against District 12 in every way: economics virtually ensures that it will remain poor for years.

Chapter 5 Quotes

Days of hunting and gathering for this one meal and even then it would be a poor substitution for the Capitol version. What must it be like, I wonder, to live in a world where food appears at the press of a button?

Related Characters: Katniss Everdeen (speaker)
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

As Katniss travels to the Capitol of Panem to participate in the Hunger Games, she's exposed to obscene amounts of wealth and luxury. In District 12, Katniss has only the most limited access to food, money and entertainment--in the Capitol, however, luxury is everywhere. She's dazzled by what she sees--the hunter can barely imagine a life in which food is so readily available.

Katniss's unfamiliarity with the lifestyle of the Capitol is both a strength and a weakness. She's a little intimidated by the pomp and pageantry of the Capitol, and her intimidated attitude will sometimes make her a reluctant competitor in the Games. At the same time, Katniss's very lack of familiarity with the Capitol allows her to see through the gaudiness of the Games. While her competitors savor the audience's applause and get carried away with the spectacle of the Games, Katniss finds it impossible to be seduced by such things. As a result, she's a calmer and more level-headed competitor--she has no illusions about the grim realities behind the Games and the Capitol's wealth.

Chapter 6 Quotes

The Capitol twinkles like a vast field of fireflies. Electricity in District 12 comes and goes, usually we only have it a few hours a day. Often the evenings are spent in candlelight. The only time you can count on it is w hen they’re airing the Games or some important government message on television that it’s mandatory to watch. But here there would be no shortage. Ever.

Related Characters: Katniss Everdeen (speaker)
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

Katniss is again astounded by the opulence of life in the Capitol of Panem. In her hometown of District 12, life is harsh and difficult, due to the absence of food, reliable electricity, and running water in the community. In the Capitol, by contrast, there's constant electricity, as well as huge, intimidating buildings illuminated with electricity at all hours of the day and night. Katniss has never seen anything like it.

Katniss's unfamiliarity with the glitz of Capitol life is one of her biggest assets. In the Capitol, and in wealthier districts like 2 or 3, the people are more complacent--they reap the benefits of the other districts' suffering, and so they're less likely to challenge the status quo. Katniss, however, must fight for everything she wants: if she wants dinner, she has to go out and hunt for it herself.

Chapter 7 Quotes

Almost all of the boys and at least half of the girls are bigger than I am, even though many of the tributes have never been fed properly…The exceptions are the kids from the wealthier districts, the volunteers, the ones who have been fed and trained throughout their lives for this moment.

Related Characters: Katniss Everdeen (speaker)
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

Katniss checks out her competitors in the Hunger Games. Many of the children are just like her: malnourished, tough, forced to spend all their time fighting for their food. As Katniss has already explained, the biased format of the lottery system virtually ensures that the majority of the Hunger Games competitors are from poor families.

Katniss also notices that some of her competitors are well-fed. Katniss finds it disturbing that some of the Tributes in the Hunger Games have actually volunteered for the task. They've spent their entire lives training for the Games--learning how to use various weapons, working out, etc. The residents of the wealthiest districts, such as 1 and 2, pay Tributes to fight on their behalf, seeing it as a way to win glory and fame.

In other words, there are two kinds of competitors in the Games: poor, malnourished people, and well-paid volunteers. In a way, both kinds of competitors have spent an entire lifetime training for the Games: the poor children because they've always had to fight to survive; the wealthy volunteers because they've grown up preparing for the Games.