Concepts of Nature in Young Adult Dystopian Fiction. Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games Series

Bachelorarbeit, 2016

44 Seiten, Note: 2,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Concepts of Nature
2.1 Concepts of Nature – Soper, Grewe-Volpp & Clark
2.2 Wilderness and The End of Nature?
2.3 Nature – A Definition for Analysis

3. Dystopian Young Adult Fiction 12
3.1 Characteristics of Dystopian Young Adult Fiction
3.2 Urban and Natural Places in Dystopian Young Adult Fiction

4. Concepts of Nature in Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games Series
4.1 The Hunger Games
4.1.1 The Woods Outside of District
4.1.2 The Arena
4.2 Catching Fire
4.2.1 The Woods Outside of District
4.2.2 The Arena
4.3 Mockingjay
4.4 The Animals of Panem

5. Conclusion 38


1. Introduction

An oppressed society, a young hero and extreme settings – young adult dystopia is the rising star of genres in literature and film in today's society. Because it raises questions about the world we live in and creates rebellious and authentic protagonists, it appears to be charming for the adolescent readership. Throughout the last years, especially The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins has been extremely successful. Starting with the books, over the films, to little Mockingjay pins in the shops, Collins's trilogy took over the world of teenagers. The story is about a teenage girl, named Katniss, who lives in one of the poorest parts of her country, Panem. Every year there are the annual Hunger Games where teenagers are forced to fight each other to death until there is only one winner. After Katniss survives the 74th Hunger Games by tricking the government, a rebellion of the oppressed people of Panem starts and Katniss becomes the symbol of it.

Nature and the manipulation of it, as well as the benefits of knowing nature, play a major role in The Hunger Games series since Katniss has a special relationship to the natural world which helps her to survive in the Games, and later, is the anchor to her sanity. The Hunger Games series shows that the strict separation of people from nature and the creation of a fake, artificial nature that is manipulated by an oppressing power is a central way to control people by taking away a source of sustenance and a place of freedom. The nature outside of the districts of Panem symbolizes freedom, refuge and escape, while the artificial 'nature' in the arena causes distance and fear of nature for the citizens of Panem, as it is the only access to nature they are allowed to have.

This paper will examine how nature in Collins's trilogy is conceptualized by analyzing the function of nature outside of the districts and the 'nature' in the arenas in The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay. I will prove that nature in the series is also a symbol of power and will explore the questions why nature outside of the districts of Panem is separated from the citizens, what 'real' nature means to the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, and why the government does recreate natural spaces in the arenas instead of setting the Games in an urban space. In Mockingjay, after examining the meaning of nature outside of the districts, I will analyze the ending of the whole story as it represents Suzanne Collins's message that to live in balance with nature and culture is the ideal way of living. Then I will proceed to an extra section concerning the animals of Panem distinguishing between wild animals and muttations which are created by the government.

But before analyzing The Hunger Games series, there will be a need to define what nature is. I will present different conceptions of nature, explain the term wilderness by Greg Garrard and also consider the position that there is no nature and different opinions about this statement. There will be a short definition of the significant terms used for nature in this paper. This notion of nature will be referred to in the analysis of The Hunger Games series. After that, I will present different characteristics of the dystopian genre, explain what a dystopia is and examine the importance of setting in urban and natural places in young adult dystopian fiction. Lastly, I will proceed to the analysis of the novels and then give a short summary and conclusion of my findings.

The aim of this paper is to show that nature and ecocritical topics are a significant aspect of young adult dystopian novels, since they are supposed to remind the readers that to respect nature and live in harmony with it is an important feature of their lives and a key to happiness. Contemporary dystopian young adult fiction is also supposed to remind the readership that exploiting or manipulating nature or avoiding environmental issues – next to the other features of our today's society that are criticized in young adult dystopian novels, like reality TV, the restriction of individual freedom and constant surveillance by the government – will lead to the destruction of the world as they know it and the development of a dystopian world. The Hunger Games series is the only young adult dystopian fiction that will be examined, hence, the results found in this paper regarding the concepts of nature in contemporary young adult dystopian fiction might not be suitable for every other novel in the genre. This study is focused on The Hunger Games series, because it can be considered as one of the most popular contemporary young adult novels.

2. Concepts of Nature

In literary theory, there are various notions and concepts of nature. Some of them are similar to one another and some theorists even state that nature in its purest sense cannot be found in today's present world anymore. The conceptualization of nature always has to be seen in human's interaction with the environment and their influence on it. To later examine the concepts of nature in the dystopian world of The Hunger Games, it is necessary to find a definition of the term. A definition of nature especially for this paper will be created after introducing different concepts of nature in literary theory and the term of wilderness, and finally, the idea that there is no nature.

2.1 Concepts of Nature – Soper, Grewe-Volpp & Clark

In What is Nature? Kate Soper argues that 'nature' is a very complex term. It is familiar and elusive to us at the same time and that there “can be no adequate attempt, that is, to explore 'what nature is' that is not centrally concerned with what is has been said to be.” (Soper, 21) She writes that nature can refer to humans to “the object of study of the natural and biological sciences; to issues in metaphysics concerning the different modes of being of the natural and the human; and to the environment and its various non-human forms of life.” (Soper, 2) She clearly is referring to different kinds of human understandings of the term nature. She argues that nature and culture are distinguished from another but nature also raises questions about our behavior with nature. As a result of the ecological crisis, nature is also a major topic in politics and 'calls' us to think about human/culture's actions, their consequences and our responsibility towards nature (Soper, 2).

In the book, Soper first of all distinguishes between two major approaches to nature – the ecological approach and the approach of recent theory or cultural criticism. The ecological approach sees 'nature' as true, authentic and valuable. It is the nature we are destroying and polluting, even though, we should appreciate it. On the other hand the cultural criticism approach refers more to the ideological functions of the appeal to 'nature'. It says that the idea of 'nature' is culturally constructed and that the ideas of it are always historically mediated through the conceptions of human identity and difference to 'nature'. The order of nature is therefore entirely linguistically constructed (Soper, 3). These two perspectives on nature can also be seen as the romantic perspective and the constructivist perspective on nature, or, how Soper calls it the 'nature-endorsing' and the 'nature-sceptical' perspective opposed to each other. The nature-endorsing perspective is concerned with the limits of 'nature' and our need to value and preserve it. It suggests that we are dependent on nature and that must be recognized by us. It also points out the continued exploitation of the natural by culture and humans. In contrast, many concepts of the nature-sceptical perspective arose from postmodernist theory, but also from Marxist, feminist or socialist perspectives. It is rather concerned with the cultural relation to the term 'nature' (Soper, 4-8). The nature-sceptical perspective is a reminder of the “cultural 'construction' of nature, of its role in policing social and sexual divisions, and of the relativity and ethnocentric quality of our conceptions about it.”(Soper, 7) Soper positions herself in between the two concepts as she agrees that human interaction with nature is exploiting and arrogant, but she also thinks that this exploitation is a product of a culture “that has constantly professed its esteem for nature” (Soper, 150), hence, we are exploiting nature, even though, we appreciate it.

Later, Soper explains why she puts 'nature' in inverted commas. 'Nature' is the cultural construct of the 'real' thing, but as it is only signified in human discourse, the inverted commas would be unnecessary as 'nature' is nature (Soper, 151).

In the following chapters, Soper makes another distinction of nature. She distinguishes two paradigms – the Cosmological 'Nature' and Human 'Nature'. Cosmological 'nature' derives from a neoplatonist perspective of nature and sees 'nature' as the totality of being, thus, humanity would be part from 'nature' instead of being separated from it. Soper writes: “'Nature' is in this sense both that which we are not and that which we are within.” (21) 'Nature' therefore is referring to the world around us and which we live in, which we are a part of. In the context of the cosmological 'nature' she is referring to The Great Chain of Being (a theory that arose in the early Middle Ages) which says that there is an oder of 'nature' and the cosmos and humanity has a place within that order (Soper, 22). An order of 'nature' also means that there is a hierarchy of things which may encourage the idea of superiority of humankind over animals and plants and that all of the things stand under a deity (Soper, 23). Therefore, this approach also could be seen as an theological, however the philosophical theories of Immanuel Kant, John Locke or Addison were a reminder that the Chain also shows the superiority of other creatures over human. Soper states that if the 'theological trappings' of the Chain are eliminated and one only looks at the cosmological aspects of it, the ideas of plentitude, diversity and organic interconnection show parallels to recent arguments about “the interdependency of the eco-system, the importance of maintaining bio-diversity, and the unpredictable consequences of any (…) subtraction from it.” (25) Thus, The Great Chain of being also refers to modern ecological issues and topics in politics.

The second paradigm Soper examines is Human 'Nature'. Human 'nature', she explains, is a 'nature' humans are possessed of; the distinctive features humans show which they cannot escape or change. It is their 'essence' and distinguishes them from the natural world and other species (Soper 25-26). In this case human nature is opposed to 'animality'. It is an order of 'conventions' of our kind “that no other creature can be expected to recognize.” (Soper, 27) While the cosmological paradigm sees humans as a part of nature, human nature is what separates us from the rest of the world around us. It is about our special features seen as 'human nature' rather than our place within the 'natural world'.

In the chapter Nature and 'Nature', as well as in The Idea of Nature Kate Soper lists three concepts of 'nature' – the metaphysical concept, the realist concept and the lay or surface concept. The metaphysical concept is what she calls “the concept through which humanity thinks its difference and specificity. It it the concept of the non-human.”(in Coupe, 125) Hence, 'nature' is the opposite of culture and 'the human'. The metaphysical concept is used in referring to human's relation to 'nature', seeing humans separated from it. The realist concept of 'nature' on the other hand, does not divide the human and the non-human. Soper argues it “refers to the structures, processes and casual powers that are constantly operative within the physical world, that provide the objects of study of the natural sciences, and condition the possible forms of human intervention in biology or interaction with the environment.”(in Coupe, 125) The realist concept refers to the physical and biological laws of nature to which we are always the subject to and according to which we interact. It is the concept of 'nature' we cannot change or escape even when we examine it in the sciences. Lastly, the lay or surface concept means 'nature' is everything humans do not inhabit. It sees the natural opposed to the urban or industrialized environment as the 'wild', 'wilderness', or 'wildlife'. It is “the nature we feel for: the nature we love and reserve”, but also “the nature we have destroyed and polluted and are asked to conserve and preserve” (Soper, 180; in Coupe, 125). This concept is the most common used meaning of 'nature' in the Green Movement, even though, the concept of lay and the metaphysical concept are interlocked. The difference between the two of them, is that people refer to the metaphysical concept when talking about the need of preservation of 'nature' while the lay concept is supposed to also refer to the kind of 'nature' we have already affected. The lay concept, according to Kate Soper, refers to “the worked and unworked environment, the 'virginal' territory and the 'cultural landscape'” (Soper, 181). Hence it is the concept of nature, we use in everyday-life language, when referring to for example forests or nature reserves.

Soper also emphasizes that we, as humans, have definitely already affected 'nature' by our actions. She writes that if 'nature' is what is fully absent of human action, everything we refer to as 'natural', e.g. natural landscapes, would not be natural at all as it already has been affected by culture. To emphasize the need of the lay concept, she refers to Cicero who also distinguished between nature constructed through human activity and non-human nature (Soper, 152). While she agrees that our engagement with 'nature' may be arrogant, anthropocentric, which means human-orientated, and instrumental, she also finds that culture's interaction with 'nature' has not been without the thought of preservation or respect for 'nature' (in Coupe, 123). It is society's dualism of pollution and preservation. Kate Soper states that people actually want to be closer to 'nature', but the public support is missing. As an example she refers to virtual reality zoos that are created to “preserve the wildlife from the miseries of captivity” (in Coupe, 123). People are trying to create a new kind of nature to preserve the 'real' nature – a 2nd nature.

The contrast of different concepts of nature can also be seen in the history of humanity. During the Enlightenment, nature was noticed to be “chaotic, unruly and unpredictable” and in “need to be contained by civilization.” (Gersdorf & Mayer, 17) On the other hand, in the Romantic age, nature was said to be innocent, pure and sacred. Gersdorf and Mayer conclude Soper's conceptualization of nature in Nature in Literary and Cultural Studies: Transatlantic Conversations on Ecocriticism by saying that it “exists outside the reach of human will, [but] it is also a functionally multivalent, historically complex, and ideologically paradoxical concept.” (Gersdorf & Mayer, 17) It means that although nature is an entity independent of human culture, human history and ideologies have an impact on it.

In the same book, Christa Grewe-Volpp distinguishes in her essay Nature “out there” and as a “social player”: Some basic consequences for a literary ecocritical analysis between nature as a factual reality and nature as mere text by referring to the concepts of nature by Soper. Nature as a factual reality derives from an ecocentric perspective and requires one's knowledge about the natural environment, which in nature in this sense and is separated from culture. Nature as a mere text, again, refers to the social construction of nature, like Kate Soper described it. Grewe-Volpp writes: “The essential difference is between a notion of nature as a social construction on the one hand, and as a prediscursive entity, independent of human culture on the other.” (in Gersdorf & Mayer, 74) Grewe-Volpp hence, also makes the distinction of nature as an autonomous force and nature as a cultural construction.

In the following part of her essay, she writes about Donna Haraway and N. Katherine Hayes' notion of nature. Haraway defined the term cyborg as an organic and technological subject. A cyborg is a hybrid of an organism and a machine and has a multiple identity. Therefore, Haraway sees the boundaries between what is human, natural or technological as blurred. Grewe-Volpp writes that Haraway's notion of nature “resists any notion of certainty”, as it is not fully analyzable in human terms (in Gersdorf & Mayer, 75). Haraway refers to nature also as a kind of cyborg, also a cyborg, and a trickster, as it is at the same time an agent and a construction. She points out that nature must always be reconstructed and reinvented in its historical and cultural context. Grewe-Volpp summarizes Haraway's notion of nature writing that: “[n]ature to her is no longer an object that can be analyzed, categorized, and finally known. It is neither pristine or pure, to be protected from human interference, nor an entity we can holistically merge with.” (in Gersdorf & Mayer, 75) N. Katherine Hayes' notion of nature can be seen parallel to Haraway's perspective. She positions herself between radical constructivism and scientific objectivism – a position she calls “constrained constructivism” (in Gersdorf & Mayer, 75). She writes that conceptions of nature must confirm our experience of the reality. The source of this experience is what Grewe-Volpp calls nature 'out there'. Nature that exists on its own, but is the source for individual experience on human beings. Hayes also calls this the 'unmediated flux' “depend[s] on the particular embodiment of the perceiver which determines the kind of interaction with the world” (in Gersdorf & Mayer, 76). The world is seen as a result of the interaction between the perceiver, which is the individual, and the unmediated flux, but it only becomes 'world' when the interaction is processed by an observer. Hence, we are always interacting with the world around us, but it becomes a world only by our experience and reflection on it. Haraway and Hayes' goal is to maintain a balance between constructivism and objectivism They are emphasizing the independence of nature and culture, while at the same time, the separation between the two is not possible. They are dependent on each other and keep renewing and reshaping their relation within the current cultural and historical context (in Gersdorf & Mayer, 77).

Christa Grewe-Volpp lists four different basic consequences for an ecocritical literary analysis. The first consequence is that Nature is an autonomous force and an active agent (in Gersdorf & Mayer, 78). She argues that in literature, there can only be attempts of approaching nature as literature is always written from a human perspective. Nature in literature is approached by the human means of perception, reflection, imagination and articulation and humans cannot know non-human means, as the means of nature itself. She claims that authors have to develop respect for the nature “out there” and “try to protray it in its difference and – as Carolyn Merchant puts it – as 'a free autonomous actor' (1996:221)” (in Gersdorf & Mayer, 78) So basically, authors have to make an attempt in portraying nature as independent with its own means, but they can only do it by human means. Grewe-Volpp points out two functions of the portrayal of nature:

1) The highlighting of culture and society as a part of and within the material world, and therefore within nature. The world in this sense is an active entity.


2) The rejection of notions of human's dominance and superiority over nature. Grewe-Volpp refers to Haraway's notion of nature as a trickster which cannot solely be forever manipulated and contained. The trickster will one day get back and reemerge in surprising and often undesired ways to humans as a response to their interference, for example by natural disasters or catastrophes as a result of human actions. Nature is an autonomous actor and “can no longer be depicted as mere setting” (in Gersdorf & Mayer, 78). In this case, nature becomes the protagonist, the agent able of articulation and a powerful force that humans have to react to.

(in Gersdorf & Mayer, 78)

Grewe-Volpp adds that some writer give nature a 'voice' to represent it as a powerful force, but not in the sense of anthropomorphism that human characteristics are ascribed to nature, rather in a sense that nature is reacting in nature's way to people's actions (in Gersdorf & Mayer, 79). She adds that giving nature a voice is a “paradoxical effort to realize and to appreciate nature's own laws” with the effect of articulating its distinction, otherness and autonomy and working against the notions of human's superiority and exceptionality (in Gersdorf & Mayer, 79).


Ende der Leseprobe aus 44 Seiten


Concepts of Nature in Young Adult Dystopian Fiction. Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games Series
Universität Rostock  (Anglistik/Amerikanistik)
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
813 KB
The Hunger Games, Nature, Ecocriticism, Dystopia, Suzanne Collins, Young Adult, Young Adult Fiction, Tribute von Panem, concepts of nature, Literary Studies, Literaturwissenschaft, Dystopian
Arbeit zitieren
Lisa Kubatzki (Autor:in), 2016, Concepts of Nature in Young Adult Dystopian Fiction. Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games Series, München, GRIN Verlag,


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