'May the odds be ever in your favour'
by Helen Bryant
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To take a look at some of the messages and themes in The Hunger Games.
Preparation and materials
- You will need a leader and two volunteers, chosen during the assembly (see Step 1).
- Have available the song ‘Tomorrow will be kinder’ by The Secret Sisters and the means to play it at the end of the assembly (check copyright).
- Leader I would like to pick two people to help me with today’s assembly.
Watch all the hands go up. The point here is to pick two children who have not volunteered. If you are in a mixed school, pick one boy and one girl. Otherwise, choose one small and one bigger child.
Thank you. What made you put up your hand to volunteer for me today?
Ask the students for their responses.
That’s excellent, thank you, but I haven’t told you what you have ‘volunteered’ for. It is a fantastic opportunity for you today, you have the possibility of winning great fame and fortune for yourself and you also could win money for the school and for your family. Are you still happy to be a part of this?
It is entirely possible that neither of your candidates wants to do this, but that is the whole point.
I know that you haven’t volunteered, but, unfortunately, there is no choice, you have been picked at random to represent the school and you have no choice in the matter. If you protest, you will be expelled.
Choose your candidates wisely so this doesn’t make them anxious that this will actually happen – you might even want to brief them beforehand.
That’s wonderful – ‘may the odds be ever in your favour’.
- Some of you may have already guessed where I am going with this at the start of today’s assembly, some of you may have only just got it and others of you will be thinking that I have lost the plot. However, so begins the film and book called The Hunger Games.
Two ‘tributes’ are picked at random from 12 districts in the post-apocalyptic nation of Panem to take part in the Hunger Games, a reality TV show in which the candidates have to kill one another. The last one standing is the winner.
It seems barbaric and you might say to yourself, ‘I’d never watch anything like that’, but I wonder how many of you watch programmes such as The X Factor, The Voice and Britain’s got Talent in order to laugh at or mock those who think they can sing, act or have talent and don’t. I am not sure that makes us much different from either the citizens of Panem or the citizens of Ancient Rome who went to the Colosseum to watch the gladiators fight.
As the hero of the book, Katniss, tells us, ‘the real sport of the Hunger Games is watching tributes kill one another’. As we are a civilized society and do not watch killing live on a big screen, we may think that we are above what goes on in this imaginary world, but there are parallels to be drawn none the less. It is in this direction that I would like to take today’s assembly.
- Those of you who have seen the films will know that, during the reaping, our hero’s sister, Prim, is chosen, but Katniss takes her place. She puts herself into the arena to save her sister. She thinks of no one but Prim’s and her own survival here. Katniss is aware that entering into the Hunger Games is more or less a death sentence for her, but she may well stand more of a chance than her sister. She sacrifices herself for the life and future of her sister.
The other tribute from District 12 is one Peeta Mellark, who wants to die in the arena ‘as himself’ to show that the Capitol has no claim over who he really is. His view is that it may well dictate how and when he dies, but it will not turn him into something he is not. This defiance and will of the people of District 12 really comes through in the novel – that no matter how powerful or harsh the state may be, it cannot truly take who a person is. They are not like the ‘Career’ tributes of Districts 1, 2 and 4, who see the Games as a badge of honour and want to take part and win.
- Katniss and Peeta are whisked off to the Capitol to prepare for the Games. As Katniss spends more time in the Capitol, she begins to draw inevitable comparisons between District 12 and the world she now inhabits. ‘How you must despise us’, says Cinna, her stylist. The food, the need to be thin and young, to go around pretending to be something you are not in order to win friends and influence people. In District 12, a round belly and wrinkles are signs that you are well fed and you have lived longer than anyone else and so are seen as things to aspire to.
- There are a number of parallels with our own society here. Think of the celebrity diets, the newspapers and magazines that peddle unrealistic images of men and women and the underlying hints that you need to be thinner, better, have the latest things. It is not enough to be yourself, you have to conform and be as society would wish you to be. We in the West are concerned about whether or not we have the right smartphone, the ‘correct’ clothing, but there are people in the world who are simply concerned about water, if their children will die in infancy or if they will live beyond the life expectancy of 42.
- As the Games progress, Katniss realizes more and more that she may well be in with a chance of surviving. Nearly half the tributes die on the first day and the field becomes easier to deal with. Katniss is a skilled huntress, having had to learn to hunt in order to feed her family after the death of her father, so she uses her skills and abilities to form alliances and also keep herself alive. One of the younger tributes, Rue, becomes an ally of Katniss’, but, once Rue is inevitably killed off, Katniss is reminded of Peeta’s need to remain true to himself. She sings to Rue as she dies and places flowers on her body as a sign of respect to Rue and a very obvious sign of disgust for the Capitol and its control over the lives and deaths of its subjects. Rue died with love and comfort in an arena in which that seemed impossible. Where the Capitol tries to dehumanize and debase, those taking part in the Games, Katniss’ respect and love for Rue show some humanity where it would seem that there could be none, surrounded as they are by brutality and needless death.
- Katniss finds Peeta wounded and dying when the Games Makers create a new rule, which is that two people from the same district can win the Hunger Games. Katniss uses the view of the Capitol’s audience – that she and Peeta are ‘star-crossed lovers’ – to her advantage to win sponsors, which allows her, ultimately, to save Peeta from dying. Without really realizing it, Katniss is playing the Hunger Games to her advantage; she is playing the Capitol at its own game.
- Nowhere does this rebellion and need to defy the Capitol become more important than when the Games Makers announce another shift in the rules. With only Peeta and herself left, it is announced that only one can win the Games. One of them must die.
Peeta has spent all his time trying to keep Katniss alive because he loves her. She couldn’t kill him either. As she rightly puts it, she would spend the rest of her life thinking about him and vice versa, it seems as though death would be the easier option. So, in an act of defiance that has been one of Katniss’ traits throughout the games, she and Peeta make a pact to end both their lives themselves, free of Capitol control, and then there is no winner. Katniss makes it so that, if she and Peeta are to die, they still have their own autonomy and are in control of their own lives and their destiny. They chose to die in the way they wanted to, but it is the Capitol that stopped them just in time.
Let your ‘volunteers’ sit down now.
Time for reflection
Which of us, with that choice in front of us, would be as brave as Katniss or Peeta? Would we simply bow down to Capitol and state control or would we ask the questions that need to be asked?
It is very difficult to consider how we might fare in a situation that seems so alien, but I wonder how many of us in our own lives have simply gone along with something because it suits us. Have we helped the person being bullied, have we forgiven those who have bullied us? Have we always conformed or, when the time was right, have we asked the right questions?
Controlling and totalitarian regimes have always sought to brainwash and control their subjects, but it is important always, wherever you are a ‘cog in the machine’, to keep your autonomy and keep questioning.
Obviously, we have rules and laws that keep us safe, but which of us would be brave enough to stand up, even about something on a small scale, and say, ‘No, I don’t agree’?
‘Tomorrow will be kinder’ by The Secret Sisters