How is Panem a dystopian society in The Hunger Games?

Dystopian societies usually have hidden flaws that lead to suffering and abuse.

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Let's examine this by considering some of the characteristics of a dystopian society:

Conformity is expected and individuality is punished. We see this characteristic throughout Panem. Most notably, each District is required to send one boy and one girl tribute to the Hunger Games each year, and all but one of the group will die. Citizens are always expected to adhere completely to the rules of the Capitol; traitors have their tongues cut out and become an Avox. Of course, Katniss herself becomes a representation of individuality when she refuses to play by the rules of the Hunger Games, threatening to kill herself in a double suicide rather than kill Peeta. Her lack of conformity makes her an enemy of the Capitol and sets up the next book in the trilogy.

The society is presented as perfect but has many, deep flaws. The citizens of the Capitol most readily reflect this "perfect" life. Citizens there dye their hair and skin in bizarre colors as a matter of art and fashion. They enjoy lavish parties and wear grand clothes that look more like costumes than actual clothing. Disturbingly, they also enjoy the great "sport" of the Hunger Games, gathering with excitement each year to watch children kill each other. This reflects the depth of the flaws in this society. The citizens have no remorse or compassion for the death of innocent children and instead seem so far removed from the truth of death that they consider it more fiction than reality. They are detached and aloof, and their temporary sympathies for the death of a favorite child have no meaningful impact on them.

There is a feeling of being under constant surveillance. Even before Katniss arrives at the Hunger Games and truly is monitored every second of every day, she knows that her actions in District 12 are monitored. Thus, she is very discreet about her hunting activities, which she must do to feed her family. Katniss also mentions the Peacekeepers, who are tasked with public whippings for those caught being disloyal to the Capitol and sometimes are more violent, possessing automatic weapons to effectively end any attempts at breaking the rules.

Katniss's actions bring to light the flaws in their dystopian world in a way that no one has been brave enough to do before, and she provides a platform that demands change for citizens all over Panem.

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Panem is a dystopian society because it's built on exploitation, violence, and brutal repression. The exact opposite of a utopia, this is not a society in which many people would choose to live. Those who live in Panem have no choice, and so they're forced to live their lives in a society without freedom. Citizens cannot leave their districts; they cannot hunt for food; and worst of all, the food supply is controlled directly by the Capitol. This gives those in power additional means of keeping the population under control.

In a utopian society people are able to develop themselves to the fullest...

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extent, to lead the kind of lives they want to live. In Panem, it's completely different. Citizens are forced to live lives marked by poverty, misery, and, of course, hunger. These are all the classic hallmarks of a dystopian society.

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Panem is a dystopian society because everyone in the capital lives a wonderful life but the rest of the country suffers.

A dystopia is a type of science fiction in which people have tried to create a perfect world, and in doing so have created a nightmare.  These dystopias usually restrict people’s rights and use science and technology to terrorize and control their citizens. 

The country of Panem is carefully constructed into thirteen districts in order to keep the population in line.  There are actually only supposedly twelve, because the thirteenth is said to not exist.  Each district produces critical foodstuffs or goods for the capital, and the districts recede into poverty the farther they get from the Capitol. 

Participation in these programs is not optional.  Katniss’s district, District 12, produces coal.  There are other elements of dystopian disharmony in Panem that are exemplified in District 12.  Residents are not allowed to have weapons, even a bow and arrow to hunt their own food.  In fact, hunting is illegal.  There is an electrified fence Katniss has to pass in order to get to her hunting grounds, but Katniss is usually able to do so easily because electricity is so spotty in her impoverished district. 

Speech is severely restricted, especially in the districts far from the Capitol.  Katniss explains this to us in the beginning.  People who badmouth the government get into trouble. 

When I was younger, I scared my mother to death, the things I would blurt out about District 12, about the people who rule our country, Panem, from the far-off city called the Capitol. Eventually I understood this would only lead us to more trouble. (Ch. 1) 

In another feature typical of dystopias, Panem has a spectacle known as The Hunger Games.  In order to punish the districts for rebelling, the Capitol forces each of them to have a drawing of all children over the age of twelve.  The two who are chosen are sent to the capital for a reality show where they have to fight to the death with the children from the other eleven districts in a live reality TV show.

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What is a dystopian society, as found in The Hunger Games?

A dystopian society draws a strong contrast to utopian societies; a utopia represents all of the most ideal aspects of social, political, and economic life.  Life is seemingly perfect in all respects.  However, a dystopian society is basically the direct opposite of a utopia. Many times in literature, dystopian societies may have the appearance of goodness on the outside, but actually have many hidden flaws, flaws which ultimately cause suffering or abuse. 

Panem and the Capitol are perfect examples of dystopian society in The Hunger Games.  Collins presents Panem as a government that has achieved total control of its outlying populations in the Districts through manipulation and fear.  The populations of the Districts live in shadowed fear of Panem's retaliation; their lives, from their work to their daily rations, are completely controlled by the Capitol.  The Hunger Games themselves are another good example of how the Capitol reinforces its power over the lives of their citizens.

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