Spoiler alert! This article contains spoilers for not only The Hunger Games movie (opening this week), but the entire book trilogy. While it won't spoil everything, if you haven't read the books, please be aware that reading this article may give you more information than you want!
I recently finished reading ("devouring" might be more appropriate) The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. This young-adult fiction series is gripping, poignant, and powerful, and Collins' characters, terrifying setting, and themes have been marinated in my mind ever since, growing richer and deeper with more time and reflection.
The series depicts a bleak, yet believable, post-apocalyptic future world in which the nation of Panem has risen out of the ashes of what once was North America. The central government controls its outlying population through various cruelties, most horrifying of which is an annual reality show featuring young people chosen from the land's various outlying districts. The young people, ages 12 to 18, are forced to fight one another to the death, for the sport of the Capitol's citizens and to remind the districts how completely they are at the mercy of their rulers.
Against this brutal backdrop, we find plenty of characters we recognize from the real world—people who respond to their circumstances with resourcefulness, despair, nobility, and hope. We follow the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, as she struggles to survive against the odds, to protect the people she loves. The books are replete with heart-pounding action, sympathetic and multi-dimensional characters, plenty of surprises, a touch of romance, the believability of a future world, and striking indictments of our own world—including the futility of war, the ultimate superiority and triumph of nature over the unnatural, the ridiculous manipulations of reality entertainment, the ironies of injustice, and the corruption of power.
Permeating it all is the persistence of pervasive, cyclical, generational sin. And yet, growing through the cracks in all of it, hope. Despite the crushing realities of life in the districts, the garish excesses of its capitol, and the constant march of death, hope carries on.
Hope shows up in several places in this very dark world—such as in the incorruptible goodness of Katniss' sister, Primrose. It shows in Katniss' rare sacrifice for her sister, when she volunteers to take Prim's place in the Games. It lives in the meadow and the woods, where the natural world exists mostly unmolested by the powerful central government. And it appears in the rare presence of real roses, specifically primroses, that outlast their genetically modified cousins from the Capitol. But the most compelling source of hope is Peeta Mellark, Katniss' fellow competitor in the Games and a shining Christ figure throughout the trilogy.
Peeta is both a symbol of Christ and a Christ-like example, and his character points readers toward the kind of hope and life we can find through Christ in this world, which in many ways resembles the world of The Hunger Games.
The bread of life
Peeta is a baker's son, and he literally gives life to others—most notably Katniss—with his gift of bread. As a young child, he risked his own safety to give Katniss the bread that kept her and her family alive when they were starving. Throughout the series, Peeta evokes images of the Bread of Life, making bread, sharing it, and sustaining the people around him. At one point, with Katniss emotionally dead, Peeta shows up "bearing a warm loaf of bread," and Katniss slowly comes "back to life."