I promised a *spoiler-filled follow-up to the video review for The Hunger Games, as the ideas of identity and substitution can’t be fully discussed without wrestling key elements of the plot for the first film and entire trilogy. So, for those who are already fully vested (or those who don’t mind knowing how things end up after things start Catching Fire and the Mockingjay sings) count down from 10 and enter the arena below
Someone noted on our Youtube post that I shouldn’t take the idea of Katniss’ substitution as completely paralleling Christ’s ultimate proxy, since Jesus substituted himself for the unworthy. Prim is presented as weak, but rather innocent, not a stranger or a sinner. The question, “would Katniss have offered herself in her sister’s place had her sister committed some crime worthy of death?” is thought provoking, but obviously not the focus of Suzanne Collin’s narrative arc for Katniss. (Maybe if she’d substituted herself for the mangy cat, Buttercup…)
However, someone else in the series does sacrifice quite a bit, for a character whose worthiness may be considered questionable.
The strong-willed Katniss isn’t sure she wants to rely on ANYONE other than herself, though she finds herself drawn in different ways to two different men: Gale and Peeta. The harsh world has built into her a notion of self-reliance, and a lot of mistrust (and much of this is sadly warranted). I suspect this is one reason Katniss Everdeen is such a relatable character to men and women, as we all tend to look inward and rely solely on ourselves, rather than God or anyone else, a cocktail of understandable past hurt, shaken with fear, but mixed with a self-destructive shot of pride.
It’s obvious that if Katniss has a leaning toward either relationship in the beginning, it’s obviously Gale: the man named for the wind, a strong “gale-force” personality that reflects herself in many ways. How often do we ultimately want someone who is a mirror of our own self– a vanity lived out in our relational choice– someone who validates not only our best traits but also our worst, so we don’t really have to change?
Conversely, the humble Peeta, supplier of bread and life, is not someone Katniss respects at first. She even distrusts his motivations. He claims to have loved her since she was a child, and continues to desire relationship despite her flaws. Peeta is grieved that her affections at first are simply for her own survival, actions for necessity, for results instead of relationship. He’s willing to lay down his life for her and doesn’t even let Katniss in on the whole plan, because he knows she’ll chafe or resist. In the later books he is tempted and tortured severely, and the character we know is even psychologically slaughtered, but Peeta’s love and character ultimately rise again to become the foundation Katniss will eventually build her life, home and hope upon.
We love because he first loved us. – I John 4:19
Although his name sounds like a kind of bread and thus serve as a metaphor in one sense for the answer to Katniss’ ultimate hunger (beyond mere survival. for love and relationship) Peeta’s name is more closely associated with Greek roots, a feminine form of Peter, that mean “rock”. Intentional or subconscious, it’s curious that Collins chose a word we would associate with both firm foundation and sustenance for our body. In the end, Katniss doesn’t go chasing the Gale-force wind, but instead receives love from the one who loved her first, continued to love her despite her mistrust and scorn, who didn’t shirk from action but ultimately treasures peace. Instead of simply hiding and hunting for survival– the life she probably would have had with Gale– Peeta’s hope even makes Katniss dare to risk being fruitful, forging a future and building a family legacy together.
Although not perfect, (as no human parallel can be) Peeta is the Christ-like figure in The Hunger Games, taking Katniss’ single act of loving substitution for a sibling to an even godlier parallel, demonstrating a long-suffering persistence for someone less deserving. One of the reasons I identified so deeply with Katniss is realizing that her journey follows a similar path to my spiritual relationship with God:
He loved and provided for me before I even gave him a second glance.
I was glad he fed me, but didn’t give him much thought.
My initial devotion to him manifest as simple necessity (as outward appearance) at best a tactical desire to escape the arena of hell, but lacking any genuine inward affection for the one who first loved me.
Eventually, realizing how much he sacrificed for me, Christ’s long-suffering brought me to humbled and willing relationship.
He is now my foundation (rock) and sustainer (bread of life).
How about you? Do you see the parallels inherent? It’s not stretching to think this narrative similarity emerges from this story, or ANY story about life and love, since scripture tells us marriage as a concept was designed at creation to be a mysterious metaphor for the ultimate revelation of Christ and his spiritual “bride” the church (Ephesians 5). Like Mockingjays responding to a masterful tune, our lives and love mimic the ultimate love song of our Creator and Lord.
It’s no surprise then, that our most popular fictions like The Hunger Games are the ones singing it back to God in close approximation.