I (like many people) am a pretty big fan of the Hunger Games. I could go on and on about how the series as a whole comments on society in America, all together has interesting and well-rounded characters, but we can mostly all agree on that. However, I’ve had several friends tell me that they didn’t like Mockingjay and since the movie is coming up relatively soon I thought it was a pretty good time to explain why I think I disagree with them, and what we can understand by analyzing why some people don’t like the book. The way I see it, the people who do not like Mockingjay are missing the entire point of the book and, in a way, are just solidifying that point: that there is no black and white, good guys or bad guys, in a war.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
Before I can talk about why I like the book, we need to look at why a lot of people do dislike it. See, the typical Revolution Action Movie Trope has taught us to expect an exciting story of glory and blood, with an underdog rebellion with whom we can sympathize. Take for instance, the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars or the main characters in the Matrix. Going into Mockingjay we’re excited that Katniss is finally with the mystical rebels of District 13, we think she will finally truly get to be the Mockingjay and whoop some Capitol butt. However, we are quickly trapped along with Katniss into a world of PTSD, sly political undertakings, manipulations and a whole lot of hiding in a cabinet. We want some justice for the horrors our beloved protagonist went through in the Hunger Games but instead we see her forced into more make overs when she begrudgingly agrees to be the Mockingjay (heck, she’s not even being a proper hero!) and the battles that do happen are anything but glorifying, they’re devastating and terrifying. This breaking of people’s expectations leaves them disappointed. We have to analyze why it is we have these expectations and what it means that Suzanne Collins chose to break them.
We expect the resistance to be gritty underdog with appropriate morals. We expect an ‘American Dream’-esque story of success. We expect the hero to be reluctant, but still passionate about the cause. We expect – for the most part – the good guys to be good guys and the bad guys to be bad guys. All of these expectations are left unfulfilled in Mockingjay. Katniss has spent the entire series being forced into situations that she doesn’t want to be in, and every time we think she will get a reprieve she’s thrown to the sharks again. We (and Katniss) think that who ever wins the Games is golden for the rest of their lives, but being a Victor takes away what little freedom Katniss had forcing her into a relationship with Peeta and eventually back into the Games. We think the revolution will finally allow Katniss some say in her fate, but instead she’s thrown into yet another authoritarian government that uses her just as much, if not more, than the Capitol. We find out that the Resistance is far from better than the Capitol, and it’s really frustrating. We want it to fit into our little story molds, but it just doesn’t and neither does the real world. The point is, that both sides of the war are out for themselves, they don’t stand on any moral high ground, and they don’t have our hero’s best interest at heart. We see reflections of the Capitol in District 13’s actions: forcing Katniss into make overs, televised broadcasts designed to depict Katniss as they see fit, cruel treatment of prisoners. The fact that they design a set, and do Katniss’ makeup to make her look as if she is a dramatic war hero directly comments on the shallowness of it all: that’s how we readers want to see her. We’re forced to consider that maybe all the things we see on screen aren’t necessarily true. As more and more atrocities occur, our trust in President Coin disappears until Katniss kills her. Even then the system is corrupted because Katniss doesn’t even have a say (or seemingly much interest) in her own trial.
So, what can we take from all of this? Mockingjay shows us that there really is no glory in war, but there is astounding death, loss and tragedy. Especially in war, there is no clear cut good and bad. Katniss’ is not immune to the effects of death and tragedy, just because she happens to be a ‘war hero’. She’s filled with so much hatred, that she does what seems to be unthinkable to us readers and votes to put the country through one final Hunger Games. Ultimately, everyone has light and darkness with in them; darkness can be overwhelming but it’s always possible to find the light again. I think those are all pretty important lessons.
Buy Mockingjay on Amazon