Book Review: Mockingjay

Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay is the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy, and closes it in an ominous and highly unpleasant way. The book itself is, as could be expected the chronicle of successful resistance to the corrupt empire of Panem. The choice of name for this empire is reflected in its forming the first part of the Latin “Bread and Circuses,” which the astute reader [1] will have noticed from the beginning.

Following directly on the heels of the abrupt ending of Catching Fire [2], this book reads more like a war chronicle in which Katniss Everdeen seems ever more the tool of forces beyond her control, the surly face of rebellion, mistrustful of both friend and foe, and dealing with the fact that her best friend Gale is in fact a war criminal advocating the murder of innocent workers while her sorta-boyfriend Peeta has some massive PTSD and psychosis as a result of torture from the Capitol on the orders of President Snow himself, and even attacks her in his insanity. Though the story is itself told with the same efficient pace and suspense as the first volume (which was exemplary), the story is much more difficult to enjoy as a result of the constant lying and double-crossing (which makes the morality of most of the characters particularly murky) as well as the incessant reminders of the response of the human mind and heart to constant trauma. Those who have survived traumas and abuse are not likely to view the vivid and realistic portrayal of these traumas with anything approaching pleasure or even equanimity.

And it is that immoral and unpleasant tone of constant and often pointless suffering that makes this book an unsatisfying conclusion to the Hunger Games trilogy were it not for a dramatic conclusion that points to some of the hopeful themes of divine providence at the start. For one, despite the uncertain loyalties of the author in the culture wars, the book’s conclusion makes the most sense in a viewpoint of divine justice and retribution. The dictatorial president of the rebel forces from Region 13, whose grimly regimented and socialistic state is witnessed in all its horror, is killed rather abruptly, and without explanation, in one of the author’s closing “twists” that seem to accompany each volume.

It should be noted that this twist is only acceptable if the death is a just one. It would appear as if Katniss’ not guilty verdict on account of insanity would indicate that the assassination is in fact just as a result of her presumable complicity in the death of Katniss’ innocent and very intelligent younger sister Prim as well as her order to torture an equally innocent group of capitol-bred stylists. The book does not justify this perspective, though, only hinting at it through the constant psychological torments of the diabolical President Snow. The book wisely suggests little hope for human advancement through politics, even though the Mockingjay is primarily a political symbol, the source for much of the book’s murky morality.

The epilogue of the book, where Katniss and Peeta marry and have children as they try to rebuild the ruins of District 12, is very touching and bittersweet. To have children is to have hope that the future can be a better time. When people are consumed by worry and doubt and fear about the future, they do not marry nor have children, just the same as what happens when people are consumed by the superficial pleasures of the present with no thought at all to planning for for future generations. It is only a responsible and optimistic view of the future that leads to families, and the fact that (despite delay) Katniss decides to start a family of her own suggests that even after the horrible trauma she and Peeta suffered that there is reason to have hope for a better future than this tragic world has yet to see. And thus a dark and gloomy work ends on a bittersweet note of hope, of singing and dancing over recently dug graves in the ruins of a warzone. Such a hope brings light even in times of great darkness–it is only a pity the work it comes from shows too much darkness for the light to entirely cast it aside.

[1] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/book-review-the-hunger-games/

[2] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/05/26/book-review-catching-fire/

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About Nathan Albright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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