I started the night determined to get some real work done on a marketing project. Unfortunately, that involved critiquing online book selling websites, which of course led to Amazon, and eventually the Mockingjay book page. This is when I gave up on getting any school work done.
If you haven’t read all three books you should bookmark this page, go read, and come back. You’ve been warned.
The top user review of the book at the moment somehow managed to beautifully put to words almost everything I thought about The Hunger Games trilogy in a way I had never quite been able to verbalize. Quite a few people were horribly disappointed in Mockingjay. They hated the bleakness, thought Katniss was weak and completely out of character and scoffed at the epilogue. I have to admit, the first time I read the epilogue I was a little disappointed. After everything that happened it seemed too simple, life was left too ordinary.
But once I took a long walk to clear my head I realised that it wasn’t a disappointment at all. The ending didn’t have to be a tale detailing a life of glory, because there was none to be had.
Although some claim the ending was far too happy, it wasn’t. After all, we watched as these kids played in a meadow filled with graves.
I will be the first to admit that, at times, The Hunger Games is not the most well written series. There are stretches that could have done with another run through by an editor, but small glitches in the narrative voice can’t overshadow the overall themes and emotions.
I was furious and devastated as more of my favourite characters turned up dead or broken throughout the series, the final book in particular, and I think that this “throw a dart” method of killing characters upset a lot of people, but it worked.
Thinking back to the first book, despite being warned beforehand, I refused to believe that Collins would really kill off almost two dozen children in a YA book. I was convinced that a group of tributes would band together, refuse to play the Capitols games, and find a way to escape. When I was proved wrong, I started to compromise: Katniss, Rue and Peeta will all escape I assured myself, they’ll live as some happy little rebellion family, the next books can chronicle their triumph. Wrong again. Even when Katniss and Peeta finally escaped together I thought that the sheer tragedy would be over – at least for awhile. Until we learn just how serious eating those berries was. I suppose I felt just as clueless as Katniss here – why would holding up berries be anything other than a hopeless attempt at mutual survival?
Looking back, this is really when I should have clued in that there would be no glorious ending.
In the second book, Catching Fire, I often think of my reactions as an exercise in the five stage of grief:
- Denial: This district tour will be great, President Snow will be convinced, and something will happen so that we don’t have to worry about the Hunger Games again.
- Anger: This is dumb, they can’t send these two back to the area, it’s simply too depressing and hopeless.
- Bargaining: The tributes are banding together, the Capitol is in an uproar! They’ll have to cancel the games, if they don’t everyone can just refuse to fight.
- Depression: Everyone is dying again. I should just stop reading, because everyone is going to die.
- Acceptance: They’re saved! I don’t quite understand what is happening, but the good guys have come to the rescue!
I know, I was still horribly naive. I walked into these books completely unprepared.
The final book is dark, there’s no point in denying it. Collins purposefully took the most hopeful things we had left, and dashed them to bits. District 12 is gone, Peeta is, for the moment, worse than dead, and we’re forced to watch it all unfold through the damaged soul of our poor girl on fire.
I think I finally began to acknowledge that there would be no happy ending when details of District 13 started to emerge. As with most narratives I had always assumed there would be two sides: Good and Bad, Right and Wrong. But Collins refuses to give us that.
It only makes it all the more realistic, and is probably why I felt the series as a whole resonated so deeply for so many people. Life doesn’t have clear cut winners and losers. There is no group of “good guys” that win at the end. Sometimes the good guys lose, and even more troubling, sometimes there is no “good” side to cheer for at all.
Collins let that fact sink in slowly throughout the final book, a continual feeling of despair, where deep down you knew that the light at the end of this tunnel wouldn’t be much brighter than the tunnel itself.
These characters we had grown to love, and entrusted with a part of ourselves were already broken, soon after we met them.
Gale already had so much rage inside for someone so young. He had to grow up the night his father didn’t return from the mine, and it jaded him. When he should have been learning about the depth of human kindness and forming the internal lessons of right and wrong he was hunting on his own, weighed down with the knowledge that letting himself care too much would result in starvation for his family. It’s no wonder that he, intentionally or not, ended up designing the trap that would kill Prim. His life had left him with a set of morals whose edges were just a little too jagged.
When we met Prim she was too innocent and pure to survive long in this life she’d been handed. Sure, she grew so strong by the time she died, but the ideal that Katniss, and in turn we, had for her was too fragile. If she didn’t die she would’ve had the sweetness associated with her name torn from her.
Peeta was set to a high standard as well, he refused to be changed by the Capitol, he maintained a sense of self and assurance for so long that his eventual torture was made all the worse. Here’s someone whose own family didn’t think they’d see him again, and openly admitted it, but in so many ways he ended up being stronger than anyone.
Now we come to Katniss, the girl who was broken apart too many time to count. The only one who volunteered for her role in this, and therefore the one who takes the role of the tragic heroine. The girl who quite literally sacrificed herself at the alter to protect a sister who would only end up being killed a year or two later anyways. Critics of Mockingjay point at this as a fatal flaw to the series, after all what was the point of it all if Prim dies anyway?
The point, of course, is that the choices we make are so much bigger than that. At the very least, Katniss bought Prim a choice. She didn’t have to leave 13 for medic duty, but she did, because innocent people needed her, and that’s what she needed to do, something she no doubt learned from her sister. Maybe that small choice seems meaningless, but it’s not. It means everything.
Another critique I often hear is the sheer randomness of who dies in Collins books, the pointlessness of it all, but that’s the point. Not everyone who deserves one gets a heroes finale. Life doesn’t work that way. It’s mean, and it’s random, and the fact that any of us can get up and deal with it is amazing.
People die every day for no reason. Sure we can preach that there must me a higher level reasoning we haven’t figured out yet, but there’s not. Horrible things happen, and all we can do is deal with it. If we’re lucky we can form some kind of justification, but we usually can’t, and it hurts, and it breaks us, but then it ends.
The pain stays as the scars fade, and we can scream and fight, but it happened, and yelling for pay back or revenge only turns one wrong into two. All we can do is deal with the fact that our souls and spirits need to be stitched back together, and hope that we don’t run out of thread.
Unfortunately for the parts of our souls that we gave to Katniss as we entered her world, she ran out of thread before she could quite finish the job.