- Agency in The Hunger Games: Desire, Intent, and Action in the Novels by Kayla Ann
Few series have captured the world’s attention at the scale of Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy. With the publication of the first book in 2008, an international obsession was born. The popularity of The Hunger Games spread like wildfire as young adult readers around the world soaked up the tragic, inspiring, hopeful tale, laughing, crying, and struggling alongside protagonist Katniss Everdeen as she fought for her life against the Capitol. For over a decade, scholars have investigated this popular series in depth, attempting to determine what has made the books so popular and what value they bring to the genre of dystopian literature. In Agency in The Hunger Games: Desire, Intent, and Action in the Novels, author Kayla Ann adds her voice to this scholarly discussion, focusing specifically on how characters utilize agency within the series.
What separates this work from other analyses, beyond the specific attention to agency, is its target audience. While much analysis surrounding The Hunger Games is academic in nature, Ann writes for the everyday reader. “The purpose of this book,” she explains in the introduction, “is to build on previous scholarship with the direct intent of focusing the discussion on the evolution of personal agency as displayed by various characters in a way that is both enlightening and understandable for fellow Hunger Games enthusiasts” (3). The resulting text engages both scholars and fans, extending Hunger Games scholarship to include a broader audience.
In refreshingly accessible language, this book delves into the complex topic of agency, defined in this context as “the individual’s ability to perform intentional actions based on his or her own beliefs and desires,” by systematically analyzing when, how, and to what extent major and minor characters successfully (or unsuccessfully) exercise agency within the trilogy (7). Ann also investigates how morality, power, and sacrifice influence a character’s ability to act as an independent agent. Throughout this investigation, she grapples with questions such as: “Can an individual truly retain agency if their actions are controlled by another?”; “Is the act of killing moral if it is self-defense?”; “Must agency be vocalized?”; and “Is shared agency more powerful than individual agency?” (10, 11, 12). In answering these questions, Ann encourages readers to think more critically about the motives, influences, and consequences surrounding characters’ actions.
While not explicitly divided into major sections, readers will find that the first three chapters are dedicated to the main protagonist, Katniss Ever-deen, while later chapters investigate secondary and tertiary characters including Peeta Mellark, Gale Hawthorne, Cinna, Haymitch Abernathy, [End Page 413] Primrose Everdeen, Finnick Odair, Mags, Johanna Mason, and Beetee Latier. Ann uses each of these characters to explore a different facet of agency, revealing the depth and complexity of the topic.
The first three chapters investigate agency through its connection to the human body, morality, and trauma, respectively. Within these pages, Ann suggests that Katniss’s agency is intricately linked to control over her own physical body, her adherence to a moral code, and her ability to confront and overcome trauma. One particularly interesting question Ann explores in chapters 1 and 3 is whether or not suicide constitutes agency. She compares two instances in which Katniss considers suicide within the trilogy, ultimately suggesting that the connection between suicide and agency depends on the motivation, logical reasoning, and situational context surrounding the act. This frank discussion, and many others within the first three chapters, illustrate Katniss’s agency as a fluid construct, something she constantly and cyclically fights for, gains, loses, and reclaims. This illustration of agency being consistently attainable offers readers a sense of hope, showing that they, too, have the ability to continuously strive towards personal agency.
Chapters 4 and 5 shift the focus away from Katniss, toward the two characters closest to her: Peeta Mellark and Gale Hawthorne. Within these chapters, Ann thoughtfully analyzes each character’s identity, painting Peeta as a Messianic character whose actions are rooted in self-sacrifice and Gale as...