Monday, February 20, 2012

My 'Hunger Games' Melancholy Conclusions

I have been waiting for a while to express my views on Book 3 of The Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay. I really enjoyed this series, I have a soft spot for young adult literature and dystopian apocalyptic literature, so needless to say, I devoured these books, and by devoured I mean one-click-buy for my Kindle and reading during every spare moment of the day. My mind was filled with Katniss Everdeen and her hard edge, her ability to defy an oppressive dictator by obeying her instincts and innate capacity for human compassion, a compassion that was at the whim of her stubborn mind, an easy switch to turn off and kill when deemed necessary. The conflicting inner states of Katniss was much more appealing to me then say that of Bella Swan, but in the third installment of the series I was left with a bit of muddled regard for one of my favorite heroines in recent years.

SPOILER ALERT! (I think the internet rules of etiquette require me to state such a thing).

I do not necessarily think my muddled regard is of a negative nature, in fact, I think it matches the tone of the last book and its conclusion. Katniss wound up being a broken human being. Shell shock, post traumatic stress, grief, whatever you choose to call it, the reality is that she was no longer the pillar of strength that I admired and followed with bated breath through her horrific adventures. I don’t begrudge her this, I think that the portrayal of her brokenness was actually a genius psychological maneuver on the part of Collins that is not commonly explored, especially in young adult literature. She had one moment of beautiful glory in Mockingjay amidst her emotional breakdown and the societal upheaval of overthrowing the Capitol: Killing President Coin. It had to be done. It was equivalent to her eating the berries at the end of the first book, only more direct.

The novel seemed to have some pacing problems, and the depiction of the war rigged Capitol and their infiltration often teetered on the edge of unbelievable, but I kept reading. I know why her confrontation with President Snow went the way it did, but it was almost anticlimactic. I know he had to be the one to plant the seed in her mind to rejuvenate her pulsing distrust of authority, but her hate and determination to kill him was what got her through some of the torment she endured. And if it was her plan to use him to have a shot at President Coin, I wish I could have understood a little bit more of the psychology behind that plotting, as was always evident in her plans in the previous books.

In the beginning of the book, I wasn’t sure I would be able to read it with the glaring absence of Peeta and the undeniable light he brought to the books as a character embodying all the virtues of love and hope. Gale and Katniss never fit together in my mind; she needed someone who could make her see the beauty in life. Peeta loved her unconditionally, and the fact that President Snow robbed them both of that one element of freedom in the human condition through his torture of Peeta, devastated me. And yet, I understood what Collins was trying to achieve as a writer, especially when you consider characters in other young adult fiction like Bella Swann. Katniss needed to exist without Peeta. It had to be done. To reduce her to an emo teenager over her feelings for him would have been tragic. So that is a major WIN in my opinion. But, when Peeta came back and was a different person, I wanted to see that emotion from Katniss then. She of all people should have absorbed the shock of his transformation and tried the hardest to bring him back to life, but that isn’t the way she reacted. She withdrew, she got angry, she avoided the situation. And I don’t know if I agree with that reaction, and I wish the process of bringing Peeta back around to himself hadn’t been so rushed, again, pacing.

I liked how it ended. I don’t think you can go through what Katniss went through and come out whole. The way she lived the rest of her life made sense to me, and I cried when Peeta planted the Primrose bushes outside of the house. I was so relieved that they were together in the end. They were both shattered spirits, but they had shared so much, and it brought me some comfort to know that they lived their lives out in love and freedom. Katniss even conceded to having children, which is (or so I’ve been told) one of the indescribable joys in life.

Characters in novels are very real and dear to me, so what happens to them and how books end can profoundly impact my life. Hunger Games was an amazing journey, but it left a feeling with me like George Orwell’s 1984, a kind of despair at the direction things are headed in this world. But there is something that Katniss possessed that 1984’s Winston did not, and that is – she never gave in to oppressive authority, and I would like to think that if it came down to it - neither would I. 


  1. Definitely agree with all of your thoughts here, Amanda. You do a much better job of expressing yourself with words than I do. I loved all three books but was left kind of empty at the end of the series and I couldn't figure out why. You got it right on, though. -Kelly

    1. Thanks Kelly. I've been thinking about my post-reading feelings for about a month or so now. I was waiting for a couple of close friends to finish the series before I posted this, but it has definitely been weighing on my mind.

  2. I enjoy discussing this series, as they are probably my favorite books in a long time, and I hope we can discuss them futher in person soon.

    Initially, your overall view on it is pretty similar to mine; I also love the series, I believe the author was able to manipulate the reader in all the right ways, and I agree with the idea that the third book felt very rushed toward the end.

    My favorite part of the entire series (other than the actual games, which I found enthralling), is the PTSD that Collins bestows upon Katniss. Collins must have done in-depth research because her discriptions are spot-on. The moment that stands out for me is when Katniss is trying to get colored pencils in a box, cannot do so, and snaps all of the pencils. Simultaneously a simple and powerful scene.

    I'm also glad you mentioned Orwell, because to me, this series is a love child of George Orwell's 1984 and Shirley Jackson's The Lottery. Both are among some of the favorite pieces of literature and, because of this, there is no suprise that I enjoyed The Hunger Games so much.

    Thanks for the post!

    1. We will definitely have to talk about it more in person. It made me think of The Lottery as well - which is a story that has stuck with me over the years. I've read 1984 several times and have used it in countless grad school projects, it is such a powerful piece of literature that should never be far from our minds in this day and age.

      I agree with you about the PTSD. I didn't think about the colored pencil part until I read your post though, I think I was drawn into Katniss' world after Prim was killed. This is where she just wanders around the mansion and hides in the wardrobe with all of the silks, I don't know why that particular part stayed with me so closely - how she sang to herself and hid. She definitely lost her grip, but I thought that to be much more realistic then any happy ending that could have been conjured up.

      There was something about her tone in the Epilogue that was so true. She seemed slightly removed, almost emotionally reserved - a kind of subdued Katniss nearly going through the motions. Even as she talked about deciding to have a child. I thought that was very interesting, and I was glad for that realism even though it was pretty depressing.

  3. Hello my dear. We have similar tastes in stories. (Lost, Twilight, Hunger Games- we should be closer friends) ;)

    This series changed me somehow. I see your discomfort with the anticlimactic Snow situation. I pretty much feel that in the end, there was so much injustice and destruction- how could it just be placed on this one person. Maybe that would be the Hollywood portrayal of a story. "I kill Snow." Hollywood. She tracks down the reason for all the despair- kills him- lives happily ever after with the boy she chooses- has kids- hooray! That is not how it could end. Snow was going to die anyway- Coin was going to do use exactly the same forms of "justice" that the Capitol enforced. She was going to continue the Hunger Games to punish the Capitol- hence continuing the cycle. Katniss merely put an end to the cycle. No huge act of vengeance- she simply shattered the circle of hate with one last arrow.

    I cried when Katniss was with the cat in the end. Both mourning the loss of Prim- the very reason for her involvement in the first place- she took Prim's place in the Hunger Games- and yet, Prim dies anyway. I am glad that Katniss and Peeta were together in the end. They were both so broken that I do not think either of them could have lived any kind of life with anyone else. You need someone who has been through exactly what you have been through. It fit. Perhaps it wasn't a happy life per se- but the important part was- they lived.

    1. Hey there!

      You bring up a point that I didn't talk about in my blog and it got my mind to racing. The fact that Prim died anyway. All that she went through to save Prim in the first book, and to continue to keep her safe thereafter, and she was faced with the blatant futility of it all when she blew up in front of her. What a horrible thing to see and feel, and then later to know that it was always an inevitable outcome. Like Final Destination or something, death had marked Prim. But I suppose that sense of futility of our finite natures is just another aspect of the human condition that Katniss must face. She always seemed so willing to face her own, but never for Prim. Prim was that token of unmarred innocence that could even represent the unbroken part of Katniss that still existed, and once that was gone - the world and existence just seemed absurd.

    2. Expanded upon beautifully!! That is exactly right. So sad but true. Honestly, we are all broken in some way. Some more than others. But we all are.

  4. Well thought, and well stated. I agree with you - the last book had me bawling, because the ending was about as real as you can get in a dystopian novel…it wasn't a happy ending all tied up in a pretty bow, but it was about as good as they were gonna get. I think Collins was brave to not give the books a Disney ending, and I think it's an important lesson kids these days (ESPECIALLY these days!) need to learn - life isn't fair, and fairytales don't always come true. But you take what you have, and you make the best of it.