Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Problem with Panem

Panem (the fictitious nation in Suzanne Collins' hit series The Hunger Games) has a lot of problems. The president-dictator is an evil man, running a country full of slaves in the most brutal way. He is still punishing the people for a rebellion that happened 75 years ago by brutally killing off their children in a gladiator-like arena. The people in the 12 districts have poor living conditions, little food, and less hope.

President Snow lives in constant terror of another uprising. This is why he treats the districts so poorly. He wants the people to live in constant fear of the government and its power over them. He allows a victor to live every year to give the people just enough hope to keep living, but not enough hope to fight back. This, I think, is the main problem with Panem.

The fastest way to unite a group of people is to give them a common enemy. This is why some governments flourish, and some fall to rebellions every few years. Honestly, this is probably why Hitler's rise to power worked so well for him (for a time). He was a persuasive man who convinced the people that all of the problems in their lives were caused by a particular group of people, namely, the Jews. He then called for their help rounding up these "undesirables", and for a while had a fairly united government. The people under his control felt needed. They had problems, but they  had someone other than the government to blame them on.

Panem's biggest problem is that its people have only one common enemy: the Capitol. When the downtrodden people finally begin to look at their lives, they realize that their lack of food is caused by the Capitol. They are forced to watch their children brutally murdered by the Capitol. They are sent to work as slaves in mines and fields by the Capitol. And when the people start to realize this, they start to realize just how many more of them there are than their captors.

You see, Panem probably could have worked. If the people were kept well fed and warm and relatively safe, they wouldn't think of uprising. The "dark days" could stay a sad chapter in their history books, but as long as there is no reason for the Capitol to be the common enemy, the people won't rise against it. President Snow could even stay a dictator-president, as long as he causes the people to love him, instead of hate him.

Wow. So this is altogether more political than I usually like to get. But, these are really very political books. Collins brings up flawed governments, failed ecosystems, nuclear war ... the list goes on. A recurring theme in the third book, Mockingjay (which I am almost done with!) is trying not to completely destroy humanity.

These political thoughts about the main problem with Panem were what mainly kept running through my mind as I read Catching Fire. President Snow started realizing he had a problem when it became obvious to him that the people loved Katniss, and she wasn't too fond of him.

The man's an idiot. Yes, to run a country he needs a certain amount of power over the people of the country, but the best power to have is that of love and respect. He could have presented himself as this kindly grandfatherly man who saved them from the dark days, but instead constantly threatened to throw them back into them.

What about you? Have you read the Hunger Games books? What do you think of them? Do you think Panem could have set itself up for success by making a few simple changes, or do you think there is no way to save it? What do you think of political themes in novels, especially young adult novels? Read anything else good lately that I should read once I finish Mockingjay? Leave a comment with your thoughts!

1 comment:

Dave said...

I would fully agree with that. In Zimbabwe when things began to fall apart they started a land reform process trying to create a common enemy in the white farmers. As they in turn won lawsuits he had to escalate with violence to stop them. Then the national Zimbabweans began to get frustrated and he had to escalate even more violence to stop them.

It's a slippery slope because as you increase the violence to control the fear you also increase the hatred which gathers more people against you.

I agree that potentially a message of forgiveness rather than a constant reminder of atrocities and slavery could have been a much better solution to maintaining a peaceful dictatorship.