Katniss Everdeen keeps beating the odds. She has survived the Hunger Games, but instead of finally being freed from the arena, the whole of Panem becomes the arena as the revolution she has started catches fire, and the Districts start turning on the Capitol. It turns out District 13 was never destroyed by the Capitol – they started the rebellion in the dark days, but when the Districts lost the fight they withdrew themselves from the fray, and being in possession of weapons of mass destruction they convinced the Capitol to portray District 13 as destroyed, and District 13 was cut off from the greater Panem. Now the survivors of the District 12 bombings (including Katniss and Gale’s families) are living in District 13, which has become the command centre of the rebellion. Rescued purposely to publicly lead the war against the elite, Katniss officially becomes the Mockingjay – the symbol of the rebellion. As long as Katniss is alive, the rebellion is alive. The fight for freedom has begun. The question is, how long can Katniss keep up the fight knowing that Peeta is held prisoner by President Snow, and that everything she does in defiance of the Capitol will directly lead to Peeta’s torture?
Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay, the conclusion of the Hunger Games trilogy, is nothing like I would have expected. Instead of being portrayed a war hero, Katniss is ultimately made out to be a hopeless, shell–shocked lunatic; granted, to exonerate her from murder, but still. The Girl on Fire, the Mockingjay, the girl who kick-started the rebellion is not portrayed as a hero – perhaps to bring home the point that in war there are no heroes; not really. While The Hunger Games and Catching Fire do condemn senseless killings and the coldblooded way in which humans often treat each other, Mockingjay goes a step further and focuses on war. Mockingjay questions just how far is acceptable to go in warfare – can you truly justify thinking and acting like the enemy? Just what is acceptable in war? Bombing of hospitals, we can all agree, is not; but killing a majority of possibly innocent bystanders to simultaneously kill a few masterminds of the enemy? This is where the grey areas start (for some of the characters, at least). The character of Gale was best used for this purpose. He was the one always willing to go one step further in the name of war, always willing to sacrifice the innocent for the greater good. In questioning Gale, the reader truly questions how far is too far. What can be justified in the name of war; what can be excused; what can be forgiven – and what will never be? Needless to say I was very upset by the major characters who die for the cause, and then the most innocent of all who is just a casualty of war – all combine to illustrate just how screwed up war-like thinking is.
Katniss' message to the Capitol soon becomes a slogan: If we burn, you burn with us. This one sentence captures the core message. In war everybody suffers.
I was very surprised and saddened by the deaths of Cinna (I know he technically died in Catching Fire, but I've been hoping he's still alive), Finnick and Prim – three wonderful characters who were three of my favourites – but I suspect Collins killed these three to illustrate the senselessness of it all, the waste of life and the long term effects upon victims’ loved ones. Cinna, the truest of friends is killed for no good reason (unless you count loving and helping Katniss as a good reason); Prim, a kind doctor dies trying to save lives; Brave young newlywed Finnick dies at the hands of the enemy, leaving his pregnant wife a widow – his son doomed to grow up without a father. These are the realities of war. It creates widows, widowers and orphans. Children and innocent bystanders are usually the ones who suffer most. Kind aid workers are not exempt.
Peeta’s erratic behaviour following his rescue from torture does a great job of illustrating the ways in which war can change the kindest of people. The way how certain scenarios bring out the worst in him is reminiscent of post-traumatic stress disorder which all soldiers and victims of war live with to a certain degree. Katniss and Peeta are also both very damaged by the final act of warfare, physically and mentally, and their relationship never truly gets back to the better moments of happier days – they both suffer long term effects from the war – very realistic. They go on, but the nightmares and the fears remain. They overcome the issues that made them hate each other for a while, they learn to love each other again (despite the physical and emotional scars – the truest form of love, really) and they build a life together. But they never quite go back to being the happy hunter and the gentle baker. And then there’s Haymitch, who never gets over his alcoholism. War changes people. For the worse. In most cases, irrevocably.
I expected, and hoped for, a happy, shiny conclusion to the trilogy – but come on, what was I thinking? Surely a series centred on people forced to kill others for survival can’t realistically have a happy, shiny conclusion. Because that’s the message of it all – war destroys people. Living through something so horrific, it’s impossible to go back to the way you were before. You can accept, you can adjust, you can move on – but you can’t undo the damage.
The Hunger Games trilogy is more than a young adult book series about sticking it to the man; it does a beautiful job of taking a hard look at the harsh realities of war.
Author: Suzanne Collins
Number of pages: 400
Publisher: Scholastic Press