Protagonist Katniss introduces the reader to a dystopia in the first chapter of The Hunger Games. The issues at hand are starvation and general lack of resources, mistreatment of the working class, and an oppressive government.
The chapter opens with Katniss describing her hatred toward her sister Prim’s mangy cat. The cat presents only another mouth to feed to Katniss, introducing us to the topic of limited resources in Katniss’s District 12. ”District Twelve. Where you can starve to death in safety,” Katniss says.
Katniss then remarks that electricity is only provided to residents for two or three hours an evening, further demonstrating the lack of resources in District 12. Lastly, she explains the concept of “tesserae,” wherein children can enter their names more times into the drawing for the Hunger Games in exchange for food and resources.
The working class in District 12 is described as having slouched-over shoulders and being so dirty from their coal mining that they no longer attempt to scrub their faces and nails clean. We then learn that Katniss’s father was blown to pieces in a mining accident.
Lastly, Katniss’s father came from the poorer part of town. Though Katniss’s mom is from a family that ran an apothecary business, she decided to move to this poorer neighborhood to raise her family with the man she loved.
The oppressive government in The Hunger Games is perhaps the most prevalent theme. Katniss states that poaching is highly illegal and carries a steep punishment. However, more people would hunt if they had weapons, demonstrating the choiceless environment this government presents.
To ensure that this and other rules are followed, Peacekeepers loom over District 12. Residents are not expected to speak their minds on political or socioeconomic issues, else they will face trouble and punishment. The Hunger Games themselves are described as punishment for a past uprising against the government and a means of keeping rebellion consistently squashed.
Collins paints a bleak and hopeless world with limited resources, abuse of the working class, and a Big Brother–type government.