Prompt: Which of the three books did you like the most or the least? Why? You must be specific and elaborate on why you liked/disliked the book. What did you like about it? Character development, storyline, ending…
Despite our conversations in class, despite rampant criticism to the contrary, and despite my own reservations, I’m writing to defend Mockingjay as my favorite of the Hunger Games series. I will never say that it is a perfect book, and I acknowledge it does leave much to be desired. It’s rushed, especially toward the end. Some instances of emotional buildup are left unresolved. The writing style is rather short of poetic. But what it does have is unbelievable poignance and excellent storytelling that sets it apart from the previous books as well as much other popular young adult literature on the market today.
Call it a masochistic streak, but I love sad stories. My favorite movies have always been the likes of Forrest Gump, The Pianist, Brokeback Mountain–I’m of the opinion that a story that leaves us in tears, grappling with a feeling of existential emptiness that lasts for hours or days at a time, is all the more worth telling. Mockingjay achieves this on multiple levels. First, there is the all-too-obvious gratuitous violence. I don’t think, however, that Collins displays an overly heavy hand with her blood and gore. The story is about an angry war fought against a cruel dictatorial government–there is bound to be some loss of life. In her descriptions of the more horrific of scenes, Collins is often liberal with her application of detail. The mention of “undersized body parts” strewn everywhere after a bomb detonates in a group of children is gruesome, but it serves a literary purpose. With each atrocity that Katniss witnesses first-hand, she loses a little more of herself. As is to be expected in a young girl experiencing far too much trauma, she has difficulty handling things. The detailed descriptions of violence are frequently followed by quiet scenes of Katniss alone. The juxtaposition of motion to stillness helps us follow the progression from Katniss’ hysterical distress to–what, exactly? What does one do when they’ve witnessed the fires of Hell and then are gently prompted to report to Reflection time after a calorically balanced dinner? We as readers are frustrated alongside Katniss, convinced that such inanity can’t possibly matter after what she has witnessed.
The effect of this explicit violence on the characters brings about another feature of Collins’ carefully crafted feeling of desolation. The characters have suffered deeply, as we are reminded by their nightmares and marred functioning. The victors especially. As the story is told via Katniss’ point of view, for the first part of the novel we are keenly aware of the rift that has grown between her and Gale. She has seen a kind of darkness that he has only imagined, and his frustration with her confusing motives is matched only by her hopelessness in the face of their broken relationship. The oldest friendship she has, the comfort that saved her so many times in her past life, is becoming dimmer and farther away, and we feel as powerless as Katniss herself to stop it. Even those fans on Team Gale must begin to reevaluate what is best for Katniss, as her situation has long ago moved past complicated.
Katniss’ loss of Gale and the ongoing horror that is her life makes for some of the most emotionally satisfying moments in the entire book. Somewhat of a paradox, I admit. Her fellow tributes share with her a bond that becomes, for all of them, desperate and nearly fearful. They are all damaged, haunted by nightmares that no one else can see, and the interactions that connect these characters together become a breath of fresh air in the midst of their drowning. It is these moments that kept me turning pages. Finnick teaches Katniss to tie knots in order to delude herself away from the reality of Peeta’s madness. In any context, this is purely unhealthy, but Finnick understands without explanation how badly Katniss needs denial to survive. Katniss brings a satchet of pine needles to Johanna in the hospital so that she can be close to her home district by smell if nothing else. This would seem an odd gift, but it derives from an understanding and an empathy that cements their friendship beyond what any bought token ever could. In the Capitol, when Peeta is inches from losing his mind, Katniss kisses him and holds his wrists, pleading, “Stay with me.” Her acceptance of him and care for him, even in his most dangerous state, brings him back to his senses enough to answer, “always,” a nod to the days before the Quell when they comforted each other through their nightmares. These interactions are at best unusual and at worst disordered, but they are utterly necessary for the characters’ sanity. With nothing left for them in the world of other people, they cling to each other, seeking some measure of comfort in their agony.
When Gale sees Katniss going to Finnick when her sanity threatens to leave her, his first reaction is amorous jealousy. He and the type of relationship he offers is so far removed from what Katniss can manage that the choice between him and Gale is no choice at all. Much of the fan contention in this series is about Gale versus Peeta, when for Katniss it has never been about romance. Peeta becomes the obvious choice because he can provide her with something so much more important to her than a husband with whom to have children–he anchors her in reality and draws her back to the light in the same way she did for him when she gripped him by the handcuffs in the Capitol and made him promise to stay.
On that note, many people complained that the ending of Mockingjay is the destruction of a feminist hero because Katniss goes on to live with Peeta and have children with him. I have to resent that. Katniss’ eventual decision to stay with Peeta was a long time coming and quite beneficial for her mental health. They do well for each other, and while she could have chosen to live alone, it would benefit no one. Her decision to have children, many say, goes against everything she believed in the first book; this is purely false. In the first book, her fear of having children derived from the Games and the fact that she could never bear to see them suffer the same fate she did, either at the hands of the Capitol or in the grips of starvation. When Peeta finally ‘wore her down,’ convincing her to have children, it was clearly no case of a shrinking violet of a woman bullied into submission by her chauvinist husband–the idea is ludicrous. Katniss will always be independent, strong-willed, and capable of providing for herself and those she loves. In fact, she continues hunting after the games and is likely the main breadwinner between the two of them (no pun intended). The decision to have children in itself is in no way anti-feminist; for Katniss, it was a combination of her own acceptance that the danger of her youth was behind her and a desire to please the man who became the most important person in her life, just as she was for him. Even before the first reaping, Katniss’ life was never planned out, but rather a frightening and uncertain future doomed to follow a path of hardship. Her settling down marked the beginning of her well-earned safety, and her decision to have children with the man she loved makes Katniss no more a victim of traditional female gender roles than Haymitch.