- The Hunger Games and Philosophy: A Critique of Pure Treason edited by George A. Dunn and Nicolas Michaud
One of forty-one books in the Black-well Philosophy and Pop Culture series, The Hunger Games and Philosophy is a collection of critical essays analyzing the philosophical elements of the Hunger Games trilogy. This timely collection offers those outside the field an introductory look at some of the basic tenets of philosophy, often giving a history or background for each theory or philosophical idea used for analysis, while discussing an extremely popular contemporary series.
The authors of the essays in this collection range from professors and lecturers to high school teachers, graduate students, and military personnel. This diverse group of scholars offers equally diverse insights into the Hunger Games series, its characters, and setting.
The book is organized into seven cleverly titled sections that feature quotes from the series, as well as an introduction and a section dedicated to short bios of the contributors. The introduction explains why the editors love the Hunger Games books and why the authors of the collection love Katniss. Because she often contemplates the messiness of humanity, editor George Dunn states, Katniss is the perfect example of essential questions of philosophy. He adds that because The Hunger Games is a cautionary tale, readers must contemplate the important issues within.
Part 1 takes readers back to the topics discussed in Aristotelian times: art, music, and language. These essays serve as an excellent gateway into philosophy for the newcomer and recognize that early philosophical principles still apply to contemporary entertainment. The first essay in this section by Brian McDonald creates an interesting and tangible comparison of Hunger Games main character Peeta and the citizens of the Capitol. McDonald discusses how Peeta performs Aristotle’s mimesis, mimicking nature’s true form in art to disclose the universal features of nature, via his baking and his camouflage painting throughout the series (11). In stark contrast, the Capitol’s obsession with fashion and body modifications represents an insult to both nature and mimesis. McDonald also states that Peeta’s mimesis allows Katniss to heal and to believe in a world of good again.
In part 2, the authors delve deeper into issues of morality. These essays take the reader one step further into philosophy by covering the topics of luck or chance, schadenfreude (the enjoyment gained from others’ suffering), and the bonds created by gift giving. Perhaps the most relatable to the contemporary philosophy reader is Andrew Shaffer’s essay on schadenfreude, The Hunger Games, and contemporary [End Page 307] entertainment. Reflecting on Arthur Schopenhauer, Immanuel Kant, and Friedrich Neitzche, Shaffer discusses schadenfreude and how it manifests in the citizens of the Capitol. The citizens’ lack of empathy for the tributes and their enjoyment of The Games demonstrates the level of schadenfreude in this dystopian world (80). But Shaffer’s discussion of how schadenfreude manifests in our contemporary entertainment will compel readers more; he posits that reality television often reflects our obsession with schadenfreude and our need for “justice” to be served for “villains.”
Part 3, “‘I am as Radiant as the Sun’: The Natural, the Unnatural, and Not-So-Weird Science,” focuses on how modern science may translate into the dystopian world of The Hunger Games. Though this section has only two essays instead of three, it easily holds its own with the other segments. The essays blend together old science (Darwin’s natural selection) with new science (interspecies breeding and chimeras). Both pieces analyze the circumstances of The Games themselves, but the first essay by Abigail Mann creates a more contemplative look at Darwinian survival of the fittest and the altruism that is shown by the tributes, specifically Katniss, Rue, Thresh, and Peeta. Jason T. Eberl’s essay compares “mutts” in our own world with the mutts in The Hunger Games, both good and bad. Eberl urges that though chimeras used for political weapons are not part of our reality yet, we should be ever watchful of contemporary...