Archetypes, as defined by the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung, are the “contents of the collective unconscious”. Similar to motifs, archetypes are the “deposits of the constantly repeated experiences of humanity”; they are universally understood symbols and patterns that have occurred and continue to occur in art and literature. In The Hunger Games, there are several key archetypal characters and situations.
The archetype of the hero or heroine in the story is Katniss, a brave sixteen-year old girl who offers to take the place of her sister in the annual Hunger Games. She displays remarkable courage in the face of fear and is firmly faithful. Katniss finds herself and her self-identity throughout the story.
Katniss embarks upon the archetypal “monomyth”, or hero’s journey in the movie. Joseph Campbell, an American scholar, explicated that the hero’s journey consisted of departure, initiation, and return and that many narratives around the world share this fundamental structure. Katniss initially lives the life of normality prior to the call of the journey, or the departure; she lives in District 12, an area of mostly poor coalminers and carries out tasks such as hunting and attending school. However, when her sister’s name is called in the lottery for the gladiator-like games of death, Katniss receives the “call of adventure”.
The archetypal hero also often receives aid before the initiation stage of the journey. In The Hunger Games, this aid comes in the form of Haymitch Abernathy. Abernathy is also an archetypal figure; though not the most orthodox example, he is essentially the “sage” of the film. Abernathy is a mentor to Katniss and strategically guides her to ensure survival in her heroic task.
After her training, Katniss enters the initiation phase of monomyth. She ventures to the Capitol, where she must participate in the games. Her combat with the other participants in the battles is her “road of trials”, a series of tests she must undergo in order to transform as a heroic character. Katniss and her ally Peeta fight the forces of evil and finally emerge as the victors of the Hunger Games at the end of the movie.
After winning the games and overcoming the major conflict of the plot, Katniss finally enters the chapter of return. She has gained wisdom and experience through her journey, and now must return to District 12 where she will be able to integrate her newfound understanding into her daily life. Katniss has completed the hero’s journey, and has now fully undergone the heroic transformation.
Archetypes are prevalent and will continue to exist, even in contemporary films like The Hunger Games. The hero and his or her journey, the battle against evil, the rite of passage, and the return are all classic archetypes within the movie and are the same archetypes that will continue to shape artistic and literary narratives in the future.