Struggling with Class (Jenna Roberts, P. 6)

Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games series is seemingly a story in which children are slaughtered in a game of sorts in order to keep the citizens of the country of Panem under harsh rule of the Capitol.  But is this children’s series really a depiction of Marx’s struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat?

For background information and for those unfamiliar with The Hunger Games trilogy, here is a brief synopsis of the story. The setting is post-revolutionary, dystopian America now known as Panem where Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12.  When Katniss is sixteen she is chosen to enter the Hunger Games as the child, female tribute for her district.  The Games is a yearly event held by the Capitol to keep control by fear of Panem in which twenty-four children, two from each of the twelve districts, are forced to fight to the death until one victor remains.  The series then follow Katniss’ struggle through the Games and her life after them.  A year later she is forced to return to the Games which sparks her becoming the face of a revolution in the districts against the Capitol as the Mockingjay.

When reading the excerpt from the Communist Manifesto about the bourgeoisie class and the proletariat class, I cannot help but think about the elite Capitol citizens of Panem and the impoverished District citizens.  Marx implies that the bourgeoisie are the upper class of a society who rules over the lower, working class, the proletariat.  Through the main character Katniss, Collins describes Capitol citizens to be “dyed, stenciled, and surgically altered [that] they’re grotesque” because of their elaborate sense of lifestyle and dress.[1]  Both of the bourgeoisie and the Capitol citizens lord over another class which, especially in The Hunger Games, is a majority group.  They use mostly their political power but some wealth to keep a close eye on the lower class.

But first, the bourgeoisie-Capitol had to rise to power.  The Capitol’s rise to power was done politically through a revolution.  By winning a revolution over the rebellious Districts, the Capitol was able to establish “exclusive political sway” in their favor by basically making them the sole ruling power of Panem.[2]  To exert its power over the Districts, the Capitol took away the chance for citizens to specialize, among other things including violence.  Granted, each District has a particular specialization, but what if a District citizen is better specialized to work in another District?  They and the Capitol will never know; frankly, the Capitol does not care to know either as long as the job gets done in order to please and serve the Capitol.  The bourgeoisie-Capitol are also extreme.  Through the Capitol’s process of urbanizing the population they then contained the population through electric fences and no traveling between districts.  This extreme interpretation of Marx does allow for his idea of “political centralization” to exist.[3]  Unfortunately for the upper clas as Marx put it, all of these instituted standards will be turned against them by the proletariat-Districts.

A major point Marx makes about the lower proletariat class is their lack of specialization as an individual.  The proletariat-District citizen is forced to work at an assigned trade quite nearly until they die.  This makes them a “slave [to] the bourgeois” by not allowing the individual to explore different trades in order to be most productive which can ultimately hinder the economy.[4]  Because of this forced work that the Capitol institutes, the Districts build up self-doubt and resentment towards the Capitol that can lead to an outbreak of rebellion.  Although the forced labor is not technically good, it does contain a positive aspect.  Being a member of the working class includes both men and women which is a sure sign in the direction of equality.  It is a twisted equality but equality nonetheless.  This also applies to The Hungers Games in the fact that young girls are entered into the Games to fight ruthlessly against other boys and girls their age to the death.  But, hey, the child that remains alive wins food for their District.

When Marx mentions how “the workers are victorious, but only for a time” when battling against the bourgeoisie I cannot help but think of the many uprisings the Districts of Panem go through before their full-scale rebellion.[5]  Districts 13, 8, 11, and 12 all have small outbursts against the Capitol, and all of them are short lived and put down.  But these minor losses allowed for alliances between the Districts to build leading to an even greater and complete victory of the Districts over the Capitol.

Although The Hunger Games is fictional, the Marxism view of class struggle can still exist in real life.  To display the current class struggle in the United States, James Atlas uses the example of different seating on planes: first class and coach class.

Atlas describes the discrepancy between the flight classes as quite obvious and visible to those in coach class.  The first class enjoys “dinners on white linen tablecloths,” while the coach class is lucky to get a bag of chips.[6]  His main point though is the mirroring of inequalities from the air to the ground.  Basically, what he is saying is that class struggle exists today in the United States with airline seating being one of those problems.  Unfortunately, for lower class citizens this means their struggle will not end because it has become harder to move up in economic class.

The idea of a first class passenger versus a coach class passenger is a great example of how society becomes stuck in their roles as bourgeoisie and proletariat.  The first class passenger is entitled to special treatment and services right in front of the coach passenger where they can do nothing about it but dream to have it someday.  Sadly, according to Atlas’ article, for the proletariat they will never achieve that dream of being in the bourgeoisie.  Atlas reminisces about the glory days of flying when everyone was treated like millionaires while still sitting in coach, but this glorious time vanished with the emergence of a new decade known as the seventies.  The swankier days of flying make me think of Marx’s classless society where a passenger theoretically would share the same amount of resources as all the other passengers on the plane.

The idea of no separation, whether it be on a plane or in a dystopian society, is achievable but only for a short while.  In The Hunger Games final installment one revolutionary leader puts it quite plainly when asked if the new classless society would last, “…collective thinking is usually short-lived.  We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction.”[7]  In this quote the character points out that everyone flying comfortably with friendly stewardesses and living as one class are only to last briefly.  No matter how great that way of life may be, humans will naturally find fault in their ways and force a change.  The demanded change may be a return to a divided society with a wealthy class and a working class, or it may be a society of no class, but either way, society will circle back to the other extreme in only a matter of time.

 

[1] Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic Press, 2008.

[2] Marx, Karl. “Bourgeois and Proletarians.” In Manifesto of the Communist Party. 1883. Reprint.

[3] Marx, Karl. “Bourgeois and Proletarians.” In Manifesto of the Communist Party. 1883. Reprint.

[4] Marx, Karl. “Bourgeois and Proletarians.” In Manifesto of the Communist Party. 1883. Reprint.

[5] Marx, Karl. “Bourgeois and Proletarians.” In Manifesto of the Communist Party. 1883. Reprint.

[6] Atlas, James. “Class Struggle in the Sky.” NY Times. 6 July 2013. Web.

[7] Collins, Suzanne. Mockingjay. New York: Scholastic Press, 2010.

image: “The Hunger Games Photo: Effie Trinket at the Capitol.” Effie Trinket at the Capitol. http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/the-hunger-games/images/30714590/title/effie-trinket-capitol-photo (accessed May 5, 2014).

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