On The Hunger Games series
The following post is heavy on spoilers. If you’ve yet to read Suzanne Collins’s series - The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay – and intend to (of course you intend to!), please note that there will be several major plot revelations in the analysis below.
Thank you for your emails and tweets about the book(s), the conclusion, the love triangle. I guess the most obvious place to start is did I like it? Did I love it? Mockingjay? Well, it wasn’t my favourite. Out of the three, my favourite is Catching Fire. Having said that, I was satisfied with how Mockingjay delivered on its purpose, and I totally agree with that purpose. To me, it was the right way to end, the best way to end, even though it may have not been a popular way to end – with a broken Katniss, no longer a heroine, no longer a criminal, who loses everything but who ultimately finds redemption in rejecting the stronger, more dominant part of herself: the Mockingjay.
After all, if The Hunger Games, as they say, is at once an indictment of the cycle of war and homogenised peace, refracted through the dystopian reality of our increasingly camera obsessed society, then how could any character emerge from the wreckage not profoundly damaged? I’ve often wondered in both readings of Mockingjay whether or not it has to do with being Chinese. We like it to go all to sh-t, we like it when the evil prevails and people die. But I’ve decided, it’s not so much my nihilistic cultural preference, but rather admiration for Collins’s courage – because I too would have fist pumped temporarily, and may have secretly hoped for it at a few points, had Katniss rescued the world, and become the symbolic, beloved national treasure, and ruled benevolently until the end of time. Vainly satisfying, sure, but totally temporary, and ultimately weak.
In a world where children must volunteer to kill other children on live television simply for the right to feed their families, how could the victor emerge more whole than when she/he went in?
I have heard from many of you who wanted that happy ending, understandably, especially after the violence you’d just endured. But as simplistic as this sounds, a happy ending would have justified what came before it. And, really, there is no justification, and Collins is too smart to piss on such a brilliantly told story by throttling it with a conclusive bow. This too is why Prim had to die.
Some of you felt this was unnecessary, that Katniss had already suffered too much. Had she? Katniss may have lost a few friends, people she genuinely admired and may have cared about temporarily, but none of those deaths changed her behaviour – she continued to be selfish, she continued to deftly deceive and manipulate, she continued to succeed by hunger gaming the people around her.
Katniss won because she was so well suited to the play, and while she struggled with this truth all the time, and acknowledged that those characteristics, those attributes – the faking and the famewhoring, the eye for victory above morality, the lying ruthlessness – were the darkest parts of herself, it doesn’t change the fact that they were the dominant parts of herself too, the parts that distinguished and defined her, and the parts that ultimately governed her, and, devastatingly, the same parts she shared with Gale.
Was it a convenient way to resolve the love triangle? By associating Gale with Prim’s death and therefore also killing, with one bomb, both her sibling and their romantic connection? Those of you for “Team Gale” (which I find insulting because it immediately reduces Collins’s work to Stephenie Meyer’s dumb level) thought it was a copout.
I’m a sadist, so I was Team No One, and would have preferred to have Peeta die, and Gale survive, and Katniss to end up alone. I also understand though that Peeta’s death, along with Prim’s, would have provided no opportunity, however slim, for some form of redemption. And here’s why I think Gale and Katniss could never be: because they could only share the worst of themselves with each other – as Collins too obviously pointed out for us at the end.
Gale’s heart had no room for forgiveness or moderation. Gale is one day destined to overthrow President Coin. Gale could be Snow. Gale and Katniss together, fuelled by hate, emboldened by power, could only be terrible. And ultimately, Gale’s possible hand in Prim’s murder left Katniss no choice but to stop relying on other people to BE the good in her life. So long as she loved someone as good as Prim, she could at least pretend to herself she might be good too.
What was the hardest part about Peeta forgetting and being brainwashed by those crazy bees? For Katniss, it wasn’t that she missed him for him. It was that she missed him for loving HER, for finding something to love about her, which in a way kept her lovable.
Ultimately then, to me anyway, Katniss herself serves as an extreme manifestation of Us. That, as opposed to what we want to believe in angel songs and Oprah dreams, that we are NOT, in this current social iteration, inherently Good. That Good is perhaps the smallest part of us. Why was Haymitch so f-cked up all the time? Sure, he was mourning those he’d lost, but what he was really trying to forget was the duplicity, and the price other people had to pay for it. Katniss’s duplicity too came at a terrifying cost although through her final choice, to walk away from the life of the Mockingjay, there is certainly some reason to believe that it wasn’t all for nothing.
All told, I thought Mockingjay was the least enjoyable of the three. Needless to say, it’s not the most uplifting summation, and as such, could not realistically be expected to be excellent taken on its own. As part of the greater story, of course Mockingay – in my opinion – was the right and proper finale to the series. The book itself though felt ... tedious. So much less fun – is that the right word? – than the other two. Like forced suspense and tension.
I missed the arena. I missed the challenges. I missed the ingenuity of the Games themselves. The clock and its horrors in Catching Fire. The crafty strategy in The Hunger Games. In Mockingjay, the Games arena instead was replaced by the landscape – I get the parallel of the war zone but it was an unworthy substitute. I found it confusing to “see”, that Collins was all over the place when writing the action, that without the actual structure of the place of the Games, her fighting and manoeuvre sequences were incredibly hard to picture. There’s a huge section of the book that I imagine in my mind’s eye to be a series of explosions and some wild machine dogs mauling the good guys and a lot of blood and they run frantically and people die.
And because of this lack of clarity, Katniss’s angsty mood shifts became that much more irritating. Like the closet sulking. I found the closet sulking way too repetitive. I found her inner monologue so much more grating. And it’s not like there wasn’t any of that in the first two books, because all she does is talk to herself and about herself the entire series. But in the absence of the ruled competition, in the free for all of the battle, Collins seems to have gotten a bit lost in all the description. And the melodrama of her writing, at times eyerollingly unnecessary, became even more pronounced.
Duana and I discussed briefly the ending – what she felt was trite and rushed, what I felt was exactly on tone. It was empty and bare, wasn’t it? And shouldn’t it be? The point of all of it was its pointlessness, right? There’s not much you can say when the sh-t is bleak. But then again, as noted earlier, I’m much more inclined to appreciate an ending where hope isn’t waving at you, in your face like an infomercial, waiting to be sold. In fact, I would have been straight up angry if Collins had wrapped it all up without consequence and regret. How else can you properly convey the dangerous power of Choice?
I could go on, but this is long, and you’re probably tired now of reading my rambling. We can devote a little time tomorrow during the liveblog to The Hunger Games to further discuss. In the meantime, please let me know your thoughts once you’ve finished. Can’t wait to hear them.
As for who will play Katniss – Collins is writing the script herself – it’ll be the next most coveted role. There’s a dumb and totally offside sounding rumour that they want to give it to Miley Cyrus. Please. It would never happen. It would be like remaking Harry Potter with Justin Bieber as the Boy Who Lived. NOT POSSIBLE. So we’re not having that conversation. We are NEVER having that conversation.
Also, want a signed copy of Mockingjay and a $50 gift card for Indigo, Chapters or Coles location in Canada? To enter for a chance to win, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Mockingjay” as the title before EOD Friday, September 10, 2010. We have two (2) of each available (drawing two winners, each getting one book and one gift card). Each prize is valued at $70CAD. And, don't forget to vote for The Hunger Games and Catching Fire in the Teen Read Awards at www.teenreadawards.ca. Voting closes September 12.