The Hunger Games: Morphling Explained

New examples of dystopian fiction often struggle to stand out. A few classics remain influential and rule the genre, inspiring endless imitators. A lot of innovation is needed. Most newcomers shift their perspectives and shift their focus in new and fascinating ways. The Hunger Games introduces morphling, a popular drug that many citizens rely on. Instead of using it to quell rebellious districts, the Capitol and its decadent aristocrats choose to take their pain out with a needle.


The Capitol is not a particularly well-realized civilization. It’s hard to imagine anyone honestly living in the circumstances presented in the books and movies. They are often evil without justification. Cognitive dissonance does not justify a culture that dresses up as cartoon characters to celebrate the nation’s blood sport. The few citizens of the Capitol who spend their lives maintaining an almost heroic level of intoxication are more connected than most.

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What is Morphling?

Morphling is a pain reliever prescribed to patients with severe injuries or terminal illnesses. His name is an extremely visible reference to morphine. The change is so slight that one wonders why Suzanne Collins didn’t use the name. Morphine is an opiate drug designed to be used by people with severe pain. Morphine has a huge potential for abuse and is routinely addictive. The Morphling shares these traits, but the dystopian structure of Panem affects its place in society. Only citizens of the Capitol or District 13 have access to morphling, as it is expensive and regulated. Many wealthy residents of the Capitol are hopelessly addicted to morphling. The clever aspect of the drug is its effect on the emotions of its users. While morphine numbs physical pain, morphling also dulls almost all psychological highs and lows. Grief and Joy become impossible while using morphling. Katniss Everdeen suffered a severe burn during a battle, prompting her to take a morphling. She described its internal effect thus:

Morphling dulls the extremes of all emotions, so instead of a stab of grief, I just feel emptiness. A hollow of dead bushes where flowers once bloomed

Who Uses Morphling in The Hunger Games?

Fire end, Katniss

The most famous morphling addicts in the series are named after their drug of choice. The Morphlings were tributes from District 6 who participated in and won the Hunger Games. Their names are never shared in the series, nor are the specific annual events they won. Morphlings became citizens of the Capitol after winning their games. Their talents were not violent. They were capable artists and camouflage artists like Peeta Mellark. They turned to morphling to numb their guilt and trauma. The drug turns their skin yellow and leaves them emaciated, making them appear permanently close to death. The Morphlings were dragged back into the 75th annual Hunger Games, where they secretly allied with the other tributes. The male member of the pair died in the initial push for the Cornucopia, leaving the lady alone. She gave her life for Peeta when an ape-like creature attacked, dying in his arms. None of the morphlings are treated particularly well by the text. They are never given names and their motivations are mostly communicated through tacit confession. Peeta later questions why the young lady would willingly give her life to protect him. Although they received next to nothing, some fans see more to them than their single character trait.

Casca Highbottom is the other most famous morphling addict in history. Highbottom is introduced to Ballad of songbirds and snakes as Dean of the Academy. He spends most of his time under the influence. His addiction was well known and he used morphling recreationally in public. His least favorite student, Coriolan Snow, nicknamed him “Kite-High Bottom”. Highbottom explained his addiction to the drug to Snow at the end of the story. Highbottom attends the Academy with Snow’s father, Crass. His professor, Volumnia Gallus, challenged his students to devise a punishment for the rebellious districts. Crassus got Highbottom drunk and pushed him to innovate. His last creation was The Hunger Games. Crassus introduced the proposal after assuring Highbottom that it would never be heard. Gall later installed The Hunger Games, crediting Highbottom with inventing them. He begins a lifelong addiction to morphling that will last the rest of his life.

The most famous morphling addicts do not use the drug to treat physical pain. It’s a salve for the guilt that would otherwise consume them. Katniss briefly dealt with chemical dependency, as did her friend and comrade Johanna Mason. They fought their addiction and succeeded, allowing them to continue their fight against the Capitol. This means that morphling can be more effective, perhaps more necessary, as an emotional pain reliever than a physical one. Chronic pain caused by burn or shock provokes consistent use of morphling. The all-consuming pain of knowing how much one has contributed to the suffering of others guarantees a life of addiction. Morphling is a fascinating element of The Hunger Games a story that allows the characters to manifest their guilt in substance. Morphling addicts present themselves as obsessively as death on the outside as they feel on the inside.

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