Tag Archives: The Hunger Games Trilogy

Mockingjay: Not Really about That

Cover of Mockingjay

Title: Mockingjay

Author: Suzanne Collins

Date of Publication: 2012

LC Call Number: PS3603 .O4558

So, I’ve finally finished this series! I waited too long to write this post, so it will not be good. Sorry.

(And I’m going to spoil the heck out of this one, so be warned.)

I’d heard conflicting things about Mockingjay, the last book in the Hunger Games series. I’d heard it was the best book in the series, and I’d also heard that, whatever book in the series is best, it definitely wasn’t this one. Some of my interlocutors were of the opinion that the writing had been weakened by Collins’s awareness that the book will be made into a movie, and there was, in fact, more drama in this one, along with a less structured plot.  As for me—I still think that the first book was the best, and I’m not sure exactly how much I liked this one. I think I liked it; in any case, it is interesting.

We return almost immediately to the question that comes up at the end of Catching Fire: to what extent are the rebels really better than the Capitol? It quickly becomes obvious that they lead a strictly regulated, very prison-like lifestyle, which they are perfectly willing to impose on anyone who ends up in District 13.  Over the course of the entire series, there is very little time during which Katniss is not a prisoner; her sojourn in District 13 doesn’t really count as one of those times.  It’s really interesting how Collins builds up the relationship between Thirteen and the Capitol for the reader, actually.  The Capitol is a huge, composite panorama of everything that is decadent and wasteful, totally willing to overdose on pleasure and take it beyond the point where it is even enjoyable at all—remember the vomit pills? Thirteen, on the other hand, is utterly parsimonious. There is no consideration of pleasure and a very strong sense that everyone must be engaged in the war effort on one level or another.  In the Capitol, people have huge parties during which they eat as much as possible and, actually, even more than that; in District 13, people eat exactly as much as they’ve been scientifically allotted to serve their need to stay alive. Time, too, is a resource that is carefully budgeted in a top-down way—and of course, this is the part, more than anything, that makes it feel prison-like.

What is Collins doing by building up this contrast? It would be pretty disappointing for this series to end up with the sentiment that as bad as the Capitol is, the rebels are just as bad.  One of the things that really impressed me about the first book was the way that it made clear to the reader that Katniss’s victory was never a sufficient goal.  While the reader was concerned about Katniss, there was an underlying strong critique of the Capitol, what they do and why they do it.  For the book to condemn the rebels as no better would be kind of a cop-out; I don’t want Collins to throw up her hands and say that it’s impossible to do better than a society in which the Hunger Games exist, along with extreme class differences,  a violent and repressive state, controlled media, etc, etc.  She doesn’t quite do that; by the end of the book, she pins a lot of this on Coin and apparently when she is gone, the rebels can set up a better government without too much trouble—not that this is exactly realistic either. But Katniss’s decision to shoot Coin, and her suspicion that the rebels ordered the bombing that killed her sister, are disturbing in their anti-idealism.  Gale has become kind of scary, especially his reasoning that the rebels are justified in using any tactic that the Capitol might be willing to use against them (deeply suspect).

There’s a lot throughout the series about retaining one’s personal integrity or at least one’s sense of identity under extreme situations; by this book, attempts to do this are all failures in one way or another.  Peeta’s hijacking is the most obvious example of this, but by the end, Katniss is referring to “the old Katniss” as someone she can barely remember, Gale is unrecognizable, and pretty much everyone else is dead.

It’s an interesting move. I like that the book acknowledges that people are changed by things that happen to them. I can’t assess the accuracy of the way that Katniss’s trauma is shown, but it’s certainly believable and compelling.  She is “mentally disoriented” and prone to emotional breakdowns. She suffers from self-doubt and fears it is all her fault. She has strong reactions to small things like the scent of roses. It’s easy for me to understand that this is frustrating to readers who were initially drawn to Katniss because she was a competent, compassionate and intelligent girl who was equally at home kicking ass and critiquing her social structure.  It’s really appealing to come across a female protagonist who doesn’t suffer from crushing self-doubt and trusts her own judgment, and it’s frustrating for this same character to end up as kind of a mess. But I think it’s justified; she doesn’t need to be an untouchable superhero, after all, and her reactions are actually reasonable.  Katniss is actually not overreacting to what she’s been through.  And she still resists—sometimes reasonably and sometimes not—but I’m still impressed by her bravery and intelligence.  She still tries to protect the people she believes need protection; her deal to protect the other tributes near the beginning of the book is so Katniss.  The end is the same as it is in the other two books—Katniss sees the options that are presented to her, thinks carefully, and comes up with another possibility that  suits her better.  So in that way, she really hasn’t changed.

The books are about resisting being used by others to accomplish—whatever it is they want to accomplish. Katniss has been turned to other people’s purposes in almost every way conceivable. I wrote in about the manipulation of her appearance and sexuality in my post on Catching Fire, saying that I wouldn’t actually be surprised to see a rape in Mockingjay.  Rape is indeed referred to, but it’s Finnick’s. Huh.  I guess this is one way of reminding us that It Is Not All About Katniss.  But then, maybe it is, after all.  The end of the book mostly ignores the political plot and focuses on Katniss’s attempts to rebuild her life and how well they have worked. Ultimately, Collins does not really concern herself with the process of nation building and it’s not really about how well the rebels can govern. It’s only about how destructive all these things are—oppression, resistance, and rebellion—and the choices that this particular character makes.  Am I satisfied with this? Maybe. Not sure.

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Catching Fire: About That Consent Thing

Cover of Catching Fire

Title: Catching Fire

Author: Suzanne Collins

Publication Date: 2009

LC Call Number: PZ7.C683

Here I am with another “one more thing” post, because after I wrote my earlier post, I found myself thinking further about Katniss and things that happen to her, and the things that I hadn’t written about. So here it is. (yes, this one has spoilers too)

Many of the scenes that I didn’t write about but that nevertheless caught my attention had in common Katniss’s body, and as I considered it further I began to notice all the ways in which control over her body has been wrested from her. This seems like a strange thing to suddenly bring up in a story which has mostly involved her being forced to battle other teenagers to the death, but there are specific gendered and sexual losses of control that happen above and beyond that which seem to be particular to her.

The scene that made this clear to me was the one in Catching Fire in which she is reunited with her fashion team, and she notes that there are no secrets between her and these people when it comes to her body. She’s already said that she will be unrecognizable when they are finished with her, which seems to indicate a certain separation from her body as presented to the public. They construct her in the mode of an idealized femininity, which is absolutely not under her control and is not at all what she would choose. It has a certain appeal to her, just as it does to the crowds–she expresses admiration of Cinna’s work in particular–but her appearance is very far removed from her identity.

But her lack of control over her gendered appearance is only the first step. There is also a fairly comprehensive co-opting of her sexuality. Of course, that really started with The Hunger Games, with Peeta’s declaration of love and Haymitch’s support of this as a plan, and the need to act this out in order to survive and so on. But in Catching Fire, this gets worse. She isn’t just required to perform her way through extreme circumstances with the hope of surviving and going home. Now, there is no going home, because she is asked to make her entire life conform to this story. The pregnancy story is an interesting one, because like so many things in Catching Fire, it directly parallels something in The Hunger Games, the declaration mentioned above, but unlike that, it turns out to be unnecessary. It’s hardly played up at all and it doesn’t really seem to make much difference to the story, which brings us once back to the question of how well justified this behavior was. It seemed justified in the first book because it worked, but here, where it doesn’t… maybe less so. We’re forced to revisit this question even if we (like Katniss?) had reconciled ourselves to it before. This is a way of using her presumed sexuality for show, and both times, it’s nonconsensual. It doesn’t really touch her body, but it controls how her body is understood, perhaps even affecting how she understands it herself.

So Katniss doesn’t control how her body is maintained, nor how it is seen. And then, of course, she also doesn’t control how she gets to use it. She sees that she will be forced into marriage and strongly suspects that her childbearing capabilities will be harnessed by the state to create new, exciting tributes. In other words, she will be forced to conceive children with Peeta (and, obviously, this is rape, even if we concede it isn’t Peeta’s fault and assume he doesn’t want this), and undergo forced childbirth. She has already been more or less forced to carry out a physical relationship with him, though it hasn’t come down to actual rape yet. Given where this seems to be going, though, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a rape in Mockingjay.

All of this stuff is so obvious that it’s hard to see why I would bother making a post about it, but there are two things that I wanted to say about it. First, I wanted to put all these violations of Katniss’s bodily autonomy together to show how they’re related to each other (and Peeta’s comments to her throughout the book, which I mentioned in the other post, seem to contribute to this, as he is making assumptions about what he gets to say to her without regard for her feelings). Second, it’s interesting that Katniss identifies marriage as a right that the District Twelve people have been able to rely on, which is now being taken away from her, directly as a result of her willingness to challenge these power structures. Using sexuality to control rebellious women, hmm, there is a political statement in there somewhere.

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