A Literary Criticism of the Classical Themes and Allusions Found in The Hunger Games

Mary McGunigal

Document Type Article


Twenty-four children aged 12 to 18 fighting to the death in a televised bloodbath may not seem like a viable plot for a bestselling book among adolescent and adult readers, but that’s precisely the premise of The Hunger Games—and its author, Suzanne Collins, may have the ancient Greeks and Romans to thank for its success.

The Hunger Games is the first installment of a trilogy set in a dystopian future. The series takes place in the nation of Panem, the ruins of a post-apocalyptic North America consisting of an exploitative central city termed the Capitol that reigns supreme over its twelve outlying, impoverished districts. Every year, two children are selected from each district by lottery to compete in the annual “Hunger Games,” a televised fight to the death until one victor remains. The story is told through the eyes of heroine Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers to be the “Tribute” from District 12 when her younger sister is chosen.

Although The Hunger Games—with its potential interpretive connections to both historical events and literary staples—is ripe for critical analysis, classical influences seem to be most prevalent among its pages. Numerous classical themes and allusions permeate the book: mythological, historical, linguistic, and stylistic in nature. By drawing from sources of classical myth and history, an original literary criticism of The Hunger Games may be constructed.

While direct parallels to Greek myths and the Roman gladiatorial games emerge, the ultimate aim of this research is to prove that classical influences serve as the underpinnings at the story’s core. They inform and inspire its timeless themes, and the questions it demands of humanity. The Hunger Games uses the same fantastical elements contained in myths enjoyed by ancient audiences to tell a story—enmeshed in a frame of socio-political criticism—about universal experiences.