Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mockingjay

Last week I blogged about The Hunger Games, and this week I finished the trilogy with Mockingjay. As much as I admired The Hunger Games, I thought Mockingjay the best book of the three. If The Hunger Games is a soldier’s-eye view, Mockingjay not only brings us back to the battlefield, but also brings us into the halls of power where presidents and generals make the choices that play out on battlefields.

In this book Collins also sums up the relevance of the series: “Because something is significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifices its children’s lives to settle its differences.”

The rest of this is SPOILER-filled, so I'll use a cut.



As much as I like this book, there are a few things in the final scenes that I don’t understand. The most important is Katniss’s vote on a new Hunger Games, “for Prim.” As a healer, an almost-tribute and the sister of a tribute, Prim is the last person who would ever want another Hunger Games, so I believe Katniss votes the way she does solely so that Snow will hear of it. I also believe it is this vote, this Hunger-Games proposal, that leads Katniss to assassinate Coin–but I suppose there are other interpretations.

Another mystery is Katniss’s calling for Gale to shoot her after the assassination. Since she has written off Gale seven pages earlier, it’s not clear why she turns to him at this point—although it would be in character for him to oblige, and I’m not sure why he doesn’t. Katniss interprets it as his failing her, but it is also a soldier’s task and Gale never fails as a soldier. It’s possible he foresees a better ending for Katniss than she sees for herself—and if so, he is right, as he always is about her. (Gale’s inability to be what Katniss needs does not preclude his uncanny ability to know what she needs, throughout the book. While Katniss is put off by Gale’s saying she will choose “'whoever she thinks she can’t survive without,'” she even uses that phrasing of his at the book’s end, describing her choice of a mate in terms of “what I need to survive.”)

Overall, the book is so well done, portraying the rebels not as purely noble good guys, but showing that they too mistreat prisoners, and use horrifying weapons, and justify civilian casualties. The rebels have among them the ambitious (Coin, Plutarch) and the vengeful (Gale, Johanna), just as the government of the Capitol does. The realities of war are that good people die in senseless ways, and noncombatants get hurt, and as Katniss says at one point, killing stays with you. Those who have been in combat suffer psychologically—most obviously in the cases of Annie and Finnick and Katniss and Peeta, but there are hints that even Gale suffers sleepless nights.

The arguments that the rebels have when strategizing about the Nut are the same arguments that have been going on in our own country for years now (and, really, have been going on as long as there have been wars): When is killing all right? What is defense, and what is counter-offense, and what is unwarranted aggression? To what lengths should warriors go to protect civilians? What methods, if any, are just too horrible to use? If one accepts war as a necessity, what are the moral differences between one kind of killing and another? If one does not accept war as a necessity, how can it be stopped? I hope this book leads young people to ask these questions, because chances are they will have to confront their positions on these questions in reality before long, whether in the voting booth or at the policy-makers’ desks, or on the battlefield themselves.

For me, nothing shows Katniss’s trauma better than in the epilogue, when she refers to her children, rather chillingly, as “the boy” and “the girl” (rather than by given names, or in more personal terms such as “my son and daughter.”) One of each, the reader can’t help noticing—just like tributes--and I had to remember Plutarch’s words at this point, about how peace is always temporary: “'We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction.'”

But Katniss later switches to the warmer phrasing, “my children,” and their very existence as well as her life with Peeta gives what hope there is at the end of the book (hope truly being the thing she cannot survive without.) And this calls to mind something else that Plutarch says in the book: “'Although who knows? Maybe this will be it ... The time it sticks. Maybe we are witnessing the evolution of the human race. Think about that.'”

source of recommended read: bought

2 comments:

  1. Interestingly, I found the third book to be my least favorite. I'm not sure why, but as I read your thoughts, I think it is because of my difficulty with leadership and manipulation.

    My thoughts on why Gale didn't kill Katniss? She didn't kill him when she was supposed to. Is he being spiteful or understanding what she understood when faced with that?

    I agree with you on many sentiments, especially with the confusion as to why Katniss would support another hunger game. I came to realize she never would and only said yes to throw Coin off her trail. Katniss already knew she had to kill Coin and the only way to do it was to "join" her.

    And I also love how PTSD is not hidden. I nearly cried when Katniss said one day she'd have to tell her children why she has nightmares. Unfortunately, for too many in the real world, this remains true.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Now I can't wait to hear what my 13 year old boy thinks!

    LJ

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  2. LJ: I know I'm in the minority on preferring MOCKINGJAY. I had the benefit of coming to the series late and perhaps expecting different things from it than many of HG's fans did. In fact, it was hearing about MJ that made me decide to read the trilogy.

    Katniss certainly thought Gale held his fire out of spite, and that very well could be what the author intended, but it didn't quite work for me. In the scene right before that, he touched her cheek in parting, and G. and K. had already said, long before, that they were good at disagreeing. But most of all, whatever his personal feelings, G. was always a good soldier (it was the fundamental problem between him and K., after all). I think he would have shot K. just because that's what a good soldier does there. So this is an interesting point of discussion.

    (And by the way--given that almost everyone was so vengeful in the Hunger Games vote, isn't it interesting that K. was acquitted at her trial? I kind of wish we knew a little more about what went on there.)

    I'm glad you see the Hunger Game/Coin situation the same way I do, because otherwise I really don't understand K.'s vote on that! But I'm open to other readers' suggestions on it, too.

    It'll be interesting to hear what your son thinks. Most of the analyses of this series that I've heard have come from adults, and I wonder if children's perspectives differ.

    Thanks for commenting! :-)

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