SPOILER ALERT: I’ve been told I need to add a spoiler alert to these sorts of posts. I’ve never really understood this practice, as I’ve always assumed that if I am reading something, I am going to learn something about the subject at hand. Nevertheless, if you thought you were going to read this post and learn nothing about The Hunger Games, you have now been warned that this is not likely to be the case. Tread carefully.
In this, my fourth and final post on The Hunger Games trilogy, I want to visit the concluding chapters of Mockingjay, the last book in Suzanne Collin’s best-selling trilogy. For it is here that the author does her finest work; and it is here that the fog of war lifts to reveal the true worldview that has always lurked around the murky edges of the novels’ central story. If you haven’t read any of my previous posts on the subject, I would recommend:
Now, assuming you have read the previous posts in this series, you know that The Hunger Games are a series of highly politicized novels in which the morally bankrupt people of the tyrannical government live out lives of hedonist luxury, lives that are built upon the unrelenting labor of the surrounding population. In the final novel, Mockingjay, the masses have risen in open rebellion and the forces of the Capital are under constant siege. Not surprisingly, a new government-in-exile has been formed; and this new government is at the forefront of the rebellion that is rapidly gaining momentum.
But then, late in the novel, when it seems that the rebels are about to win, everything goes horribly wrong. Primrose, the younger sister of the heroine, and by far, the most innocent of anyone in this trilogy, is killed while performing an act of mercy. What’s worse, it doesn’t appear that the Capital is behind the act. Instead, the government-in-exile has committed this atrocity in the hopes of falsely accusing the Capital and providing one last rallying cry for the rebel soldiers.
So here, at the climax of a 1000-page story, the rebels are on the verge of victory, but the newly formed government is no more just than the government that is being overthrown. And when faced with the opportunity to legally execute the overthrown President of the Capital, Katniss Everdeen, the heroine of the novel, opts instead to launch her arrow into the heart of the new President, thus choosing for assassination in the belief that no government will ever be just. In the days the follow, Katniss is tried and eventually exiled back to the fire bombed ruins of District 12. En route, she has this conversation with the new head of communications
The truth is, no one quite knows what to do with me now that the war’s over, although if another one should spring up, Plutarch’s sure they could find a role for me. Then Plutarch has a good laugh. It never seems to bother him when no one else appreciates his jokes.
“Are you preparing for another war, Plutarch?” I ask.
“Oh, not now. Now we’re in that sweet period where everyone agrees that our recent horrors should never be repeated,” he says. “But collective thinking is usually short-lived. We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction.”
If The Hunger Games is to be praised for anything, it is commended for its remarkably consistent worldview. For whether they are in positions of power or in positions of subjugation, people are viewed as desperately flawed and prone to violence at the slightest provocation. Interestingly enough, the author, Suzanne Collins, even extends this flaw to her main character, Katniss. When she is given the opportunity to stand up against the violence that has been perpetrated upon the children of the greater population, Katniss opts to vote for naked vengeance that will be extracted by putting the children of the Capital through the same horrors that have plagued her and her friends. What is particularly interesting is the fact that Collins does not make any attempt to mask this desire for vengeance. There are no coy references to justice or “doing the right thing.” This is all about getting back at the one’s that have hurt you; and your satisfaction is worth the price that others have to pay.
Is there room for mercy is this world? Is there any room for redemption? No. There is not. The only lasting value that stands in the world of The Hunger Games is the ability to survive amidst a never-ending cycle of violence and retribution.
And so, at the conclusion of this series, I amend my original recommendation. If these books were to be read solely for the purpose of entertainment, I would advise against it, for there is nothing but loss, anger, and empty grabs for power. The worldview is so dark that I fear a non-critical mind might absorb some of the “lessons” of fatalistic nihilism. If, on the other hand, these novels are read with a critical eye, I believe they can be of immense value in terms of discussing the ethics of an increasingly hostile world that is caught in the very cycle portrayed throughout these books.
What do you think reader? Can you find value in books that offer nothing but a critique of society? Or must a good writer seek to provide a solution as well?