Connecting The Hunger Games to the Holocaust

Spoiler Alert:  Because my posts are going to focus mainly on using The Hunger Games trilogy in your classroom, there will be spoilers.  So please be warned if you have yet to read the novels!  And if you haven't read them, what in the world are you waiting for!? 

In an earlier post I mentioned there were many ways teachers could relate the material in the novel The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins with World War II, Hitler, and the Holocaust.  The purpose of this post is to explore some of those connections students can make or you could point out.

As fellow teacher Carol Ann pointed out in a previous comment, one of the first connections we may make is to ancient Rome and the gladiator games where people would watch others fight to the death for entertainment.  And there are certainly plenty of allusions to this time period and society to support those connections.  Suzanne Collins admits she was inspired by Roman gladiators for the basis of the Hunger Games in an online interview on Scholastic Books' Hunger Games website.

I do like to have the students make connections to ancient Rome when they learn early on what the Hunger Games are.  But as we get further into the novel, I also like to connect it to more recent events/times, such as the Holocaust.  I think it helps students realize how easily we can be manipulated into believing murder is acceptable, and even necessary, to sustain or better our way of life.  Adolf Hitler wanted to establish a "New Order," which included domination (and extermination) of many groups of people.  As a result, millions of innocent people died in the Holocaust, including over six million of Jewish faith.
Photo courtesy of: http://israelchildren.co/The_Holocaust.html

While the Holocaust may not have been a public form of entertainment like the Games, the millions of children, women, and men who died were killed by those who were either forced to kill or it was their job and they willingly did it.  These murderers may have been the victims' peers, or their neighbors, and maybe even their friends.  Did they want to kill them?  Did they do it because they had to or because it meant their life was spared? Or were they brainwashed by the political propaganda they were fed and believed they were superior to the Jewish people and other minorities?  As you force your students to look at both perspectives, they should see that Katniss and the other tributes are put into the same position many German soldiers and citizens were: kill or be killed.

You can discuss as a class how people can be persuaded to believe one group of people is superior over all others.  (Racism in America is also an effective way to prove that people can be manipulated into believing anything if they are shown negative images or told lies about a group of people.) Talk about political propaganda and how it is used to exercise control over people.
For visual examples, you could use this internet resource for anti-Semitic materials distributed during this time period or a sample of a student project on Nazi propaganda.
Ask students how they would react after being fed lies about a group of people, then asked to kill those people?  Would they be the type to happily follow orders, or would they rebel against the government and try to help their human comrades?

In The Hunger Games, we see both kinds of characters.  Katniss is sickened by the senseless deaths of her fellow tributes and tries to find a way to survive without having to kill offensively.  Other characters, like Clove and Cato, take pleasure in killing the other tributes.

Therefore, I don't think it is a far stretch to view the actions of some of the characters (such as Peeta, Thresh, Rue, and Katniss) as similar to those who tried to protect the Jewish people during the Holocaust (such as Miep Gies, who helped hide Anne Frank and her family).  Each one of these Hunger Games characters tried to protect another tribute from death: Peeta led the Careers away from Katniss and took on Cato so she could escape; Rue warned Katniss of the tracker jacker nest and became her ally; Thresh spared Katniss's life because Katniss had tried to protect Rue and was kind to her before she died; Katniss risked her life to save Peeta's at the feast and came up with the idea to fake their suicides so they could both live.  They all risked their lives to protect others, just as Miep Gies and many others (like Oskar Schindler and Aristides de Sousa Mendes, who used their status to falsify documents or issue visas, risking their own lives in the process).

In another Scholastic Books video interview, Suzanne Collins offers up a modern-day war connection regarding the televised U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.  Some discussion questions you may ask your students are:
-What message was being sent to viewers by having constant coverage of the march to Baghdad?
-Would we want 24/7 coverage if it was our own country being invaded?  (For example, how do we feel when we watch coverage of 9/11? Do we feel the same when we watch images from the war in Iraq?  If we don't, why not?)
-Does this cause desensitization to violence, and, if so, how will that ultimately effect our society in the future if everyone thinks violence/war/taking someone's life is no big deal?

I think The Hunger Games, and certainly Catching Fire and Mockingjay, offer valuable connections to so many events in history, and even present day.  Perhaps students reading Catching Fire will see similarities between the actions of President Snow and modern-day world leaders. Maybe students reading Mockingjay will contemplate the reasons nations go to war and will think of other ways to solve the problems of the world.  There are many ways we can embrace and encourage class discussions so students will make these valuable connections.
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