a-vox. [a - L fr Gr, not: without; vox - L voice]. 1. n A person in Panem who is punished for a crime [usu., a crime against the state, e.g. treason] by cutting the tongue to disable speech, and condemned to a life of servitude. 2. v To silence opposition.
In The Hunger Games
, Panem is a country, founded in the ruins of North America, of twelve subservient Districts plus the Capitol that dominates and controls them. Of course, the Capitol tolerates no dissent. Every strategy employed by the Capitol to demoralize and control its people boils down to enforcing conformity by silencing the opposition. Where the control mechanisms – such as constant surveillance and keeping people starving and in bone-crushing poverty – fail to squelch dissenting voices and behavior, the Capitol either kills the offenders or makes them avoxes. Of the two choices, the fate of the avox is by far the most stunningly brutal penalty.
When the Capitol turns a person into an avox (“avoxes” them if you will), it not only destroys a voice, it tries to destroy the expressive power of silence
Think about that idea for a moment.
This is, I think, the extreme end of a slippery slope that Collins wants us to see, and like all slippery slopes at their extreme, it ultimately contributes to the destruction of the dystopia. But it is also a critical piece of how the dystopia came to be. The novelist carefully lays the groundwork for our understanding in three early scenes.
At the reaping in Seam, after Katniss has volunteered to take her twelve-year-old sister’s place as tribute, the crowd response – expected to be applause and cheering if for no other reason than relief among those not doomed to be tributes – is a silent salute. We know enough by this point to know that constant surveillance is the norm, and any unexpected behavior can be viewed as aberrant and defiant. This scene is revisited aboard the “tribute train” on the way to the Capitol when Katniss, Peeta et al
view TV reruns of the reaping “festivities” from that day. The rerun is accompanied by official commentators who apparently notice and have difficulty explaining the crowd’s action, resorting to generalizing that District 12 has always been backward, but aren’t their local customs charming?
Later, we meet our first avox in the Capitol, and learn that not only can they not speak, others must not speak to them except to give an order. Thus the squelch of a voice is complete.
The length of the road to Panem is inversely proportional to how far we are willing to go to silence opposition; are we even willing to attack silence itself?