The Hunger Games: In Which Women Talk to Men or Katniss

Main characters from Hunger Games sitting on a large couch
What do social networks tell us about The Hunger Games?/Lionsgate

Social Network Sunday features books made into networks. Characters become nodes connected by specific interactions, which, here, is direct speech; a line between characters is called an edge. How many edges a character has indicates her importance to the stability of the network, a structural centrality that doesn’t always match thematic centrality. The purpose of this feature is less interpretation than experimentation. For more on method, please see the note below. Here is The Hunger Games:


character network map of The Hunger Games

Katniss is both thematically and structurally central with 23 edges, almost three times the amount of the next leading character, Peeta, with 8 (Peeta doesn’t even share an edge with his own father!). Cato, the villain-on-the-ground, has 7; the mentors, Effie and Haymitch, both have 4. Poor Gale—the other half of what turns out to be a very structurally unbalanced love triangle—is at 3. Though, in a neat bit of foreshadowing for the future revolutionary, he is the only one who directly addresses Peacekeepers.

None of these findings seem particularly surprising on their face, but look what happens when I highlight the gender—circled are the women and girls. Blue is for the four who only share an edge with Katniss; yellow for the rest.

Detailed Hunger Games character network

Women in The Hunger Games never talk to another woman who isn’t Katniss. This includes scenes where two non-Katniss women appear (e.g. Prim & Mom, Octavia & Venia, Glimmer & Clove, Effie & Portia). This is not the case for men, who talk to other men (e.g. Cato to Marvel and Peeta) and multiple women (Gale to Madge and Greasy Sae, Cato to Clove and Glimmer, Flavius to Venia and Octavia, Haymitch to Portia and Effie). This means that if Katniss is removed from the network, women only stay in through a connection to a man. Here is The Hunger Games without Katniss:

What a Hunger Games network looks like without Katniss

So women matter to the network if Katniss talks to them or if they talk to a man. “Flat” characters–those caricatural literary creations E.M. Foster says are “constructed round a single idea or quality” (emphasis mine)–are to be expected in a network whose stability is so dependent on the protagonist.  But there’s no immediately apparent narrative reason why the women characters should be relationally flatter qua women through their construction round a single woman. The amount of named women and men is almost equal (in fact, there are more women), and the Bechdel-Wallace test is passed in numerous scenes.

It’s hard to look at this disparity as something other than a map of unconscious bias, as a sneakier version of the one girl trope (which Sara Bernstein discussed in Star Wars), especially vis-à-vis Prim and Rue. These girls have almost no importance to the network—Prim disappears without Katniss and Rue becomes just another tribute interviewed—but readers know they carry all the thematic weight of motivating the politically reluctant Katniss. This pattern is almost certainly unconscious, but bias isn’t the only plausible interpretation. There is always metaphor. Because the other thing I see when I look at this map is that Katniss speaks directly to everyone except the men in power—the police, the mayor, the voice of the games, the president. Even a girl without a tongue. The Hunger Games as network: a formal story about the fragility and isolation of women in dystopic conditions and the importance of a girl to carry their voices forward.

A Note on Method: Social Network Sunday features network analyses of books I use in my work (though I’m open to suggestions!). Though there are several visualization platforms for analyzing large data like gephi, these are a small set, and so the charts are more…artisanal. Making networks of books allows you to see the relational world of the text as a model. You read, or really skim, just for character interactions and then rate them based on what you’ve decided counts as a significant interaction. It could be mere presence together in a scene like Ben Blatt’s analysis of Friends or in comics, like Ricardo Alberich, Joe Miró-julià and Francesc Rossello’s study of the Marvel universe . It could also be speech between characters—which I’m using here—or, conversely, silence (in a nod to Edward Said, one could track background or characters who function as setting). What counts as significant depends on what you’re looking to see, and it is an interpretative act. My model here is Franco Moretti’s “Network Theory, Plot Analysis.” Like his networks, I chose explicit speech acts to link characters, relying on direct address. If a character is clearly addressing multiple people, as when Flavius gives a command to both Venia and Octavia (the make-over team), then that piece of dialogue links him with both of them simultaneously. However, characters in scenes together who do not address each other directly were not linked together by mere presence in the same room. This is how Katniss’ mother and Prim have no edge between them. If you look at the scenes where they are both in the room, they talk only to Katniss, particularly stark in the farewell scene where Katniss talks to her mother about Prim without addressing them both. One caveat particular to Hunger Games, there are two crowd scenes where anonymous people speak, and, of course, there is the TV audience, who is sometimes spoken to. I left out anonymous speech and direct address to the TV audience. But, I indicate the two characters who only speak to collectives: President Snow and Claudius Templesmith (the Games announcer).

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