Sunday, November 16, 2014

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay is the dark and tragic conclusion to The Hunger Games series. The final novel in Suzanne Collins' dystopian trilogy opens with Katniss visiting her home district, District 12, which was fire-bombed into oblivion. 12 was bombed almost immediately after Katniss was airlifted out of the Quarter Quell arena providing the people in the district almost no time to flee.  Gale managed to save about eight hundred people from 12 by herding them towards the Meadow where there were no wooden structures covered in coal dust to catch fire. Three days later the survivors were evacuated to District 13 where they were assigned clothing and living compartments. Connor a survivor from another district has told Katniss that District 13 needs the survivors after a pox epidemic killed many and left others infertile.

The District 13 authorities, including Plutarch Heveansbee and his assistant, Fulvia Cardew,  were against her returning to 12 but Katniss made it a condition of her cooperation with the authorities in 13. She needed to see for herself the devastation. Only the Victor's Village was left intact and Katniss finds President Snow has left one white rose for her in a vase in her bedroom - a promise of revenge.

The president of 13 is Alma Coin who wants Katniss to be the symbol of the revolution- the Mockingjay. Most of the districts with the exception of District 2 are now in open revolt against the Capitol. Besides Katniss, Johanna Mason, Beetee an older inventor from 3, Finnick Odair from the fishing district were also rescued from the arena, although Finnick is in rough shape due to the high voltage shock he received.  Katniss wonders if becoming the Mockingjay will actually do any good and if she might do more harm by getting more people killed. Her mother and her sister, Prim, and Gale's family are all safe now.

The people in District 13 live entirely below ground in a huge complex that was originally designed to be some kind of refugee for government leaders during wartime. 13 survived because the rebels were able to gain control of the nuclear arsenal stored there and to use it as a bargaining chip to have the Capitol retreat and leave them alone.

Shortly her visit to 12, Katniss and Gale are called to Command and watch a broadcast from the Capitol featuring Peeta being interviewed by Caesar Flickerman. Peeta looks unharmed and indicates that he had no knowledge of the plan to rescue Katniss and that Katniss herself had no prior knowledge of the rebels plans. Shockingly, Peeta calls for a cease-fire.  Not understanding why Peeta would call for a cease-fire, Katniss makes the decision that she will be Coin's Mockingjay, but with conditions.

Those conditions include amnesty for Peeta, Johanna Mason and Enobaria, that she and Gale be allowed to hunt outside the complex and that she be allowed to kill President Snow. Once she decides to be the Mockingjay, Plutarch shows Katniss the special uniform Cinna designed for her and she is assigned to making propaganda films (referred to as propos in the novel).  Beetee also designs special arrows for Katniss.

Katniss films a few propos but Haymitch suddenly appears and tells them that this will never work. With Coin, Plutarch, Fulvia, Finnick, Gale, Beetee and others gathered around Haymitch asks them when Katniss has genuinely moved them. He suggests that Katniss be put out in the field, into combat zones. Coin arranges for Katniss to travel to District 8 to a makeshift hospital with a camera crew. On the way to 8 Plutarch tells Katniss more about the rebellion and that the rebels plan to organize a republic where "the people of each district and the Capitol can elect their own representatives to be their voice in a centralized government." He also tells her that rebels plans are to take over the districts one by one, with District 2 being the last to be secured. This will deprive the Capitol of supplies and weaken it enough that it can be invaded.

When Katniss arrives in District 8 she is taken to a makeshift hospital where she is appalled to see all the wounded. However, the people are buoyed by her presence. Her visit turns deadly however, when the district is bombed and the hospital is completely destroyed. While under attack, Katniss and Gale break free of their security and help shoot down several of the Capitol's bombers although both suffer wounds. The footage of Katniss is sent through all the districts but not the Capitol.

While recovering, Katniss and Finnick see another Capitol broadcast of Peeta being interviewed by Caesar Flickerman. This time it's obvious Peeta has been tortured; he's lost weight, is in obvious pain and his hands are shaking. Again he beseeches Katniss not to allow herself to be turned into a weapon by District 13 and asks her " you really trust the people you're working with? Do you really know what's going on? And if you don't...find out."  Finnick warns Katniss not to let on that they saw Peeta. When Gale doesn't mention Peeta's appearance, Katniss begins to wonder how Peeta could know anything more than what the Capitol tells him.

Beetee finally manages to break into the Capitol's broadcasts and they interrupt President Snow's broadcast which also shows a more distraught Peeta. Despite his condition, Peeta tells District 13 they will be dead by morning - an indirect warning that they are about to be bombed. Haymitch understands and along with Katniss they inform Coin who orders everyone evacuated to the lowest levels of the bunkers. Katniss begins to realize that Snow is using Peeta not to extract information he doesn't have but to weaken Katniss and break her emotionally.

After the bombing, they learn that the first ten levels have been totally destroyed but Coin wants them to produce some propos to show that the district is fine and the Mockingjay has survived. Katniss finds it difficult to make the film because she knows everything she says will be taken out on Peeta. After she breaks down and awakes, Haymitch tells her that a team of seven people are going into the Capitol to retrieve Peeta. That team includes Gale who successfully bring back Johanna Mason, Annie who is Finnick's love and Peeta. But when Katniss attempts to embrace him, Peeta brutally attacks her, attempting to strangle her.

When she awakes, Katniss learns that Peeta has been subjected to a torture called "hijacking" which is a kind of fear conditioning that uses tracker jacker venom. Peeta's memories of Katniss have been altered and saved so that he sees her as life-threatening. Katniss is sickened by the fact that someone could make Peeta forget that he loves her.

Meanwhile Gale and Beetee are working on adapting Gale's traps so they can be used against humans in the assault on the Capitol. They try working on Peeta but all attempts to help him seem to not work - he is angry and hateful towards any mention of Katniss. Katniss believes her sister is wrong, that Peeta is irretrievable and she decides she wants to go to the Capitol with one mission - to kill Snow and end the war. However, Plutarch tells Katniss that they must secure all the districts and District 2 is the only one remaining. He agrees to send her to 2 with a team to help the rebels crack the Capitol's military base in a mountain nicknamed "the Nut". Katniss leaves believing Peeta is lost to her and her only remaining choice is to die killing Snow.

Mockingjay starts out slowly, in fact, almost tedious in its opening 80 pages or so, until the first serious action when Katniss and her team are on the ground in District 8. However, although the reader might know generally how this is all going to end, it's the twists Collins incorporated into her story that make it exciting.

Mockingjay is first and foremost a tragedy; there is no true happily ever after because after all this is a dystopia and Collins stays true to the genre. Katniss volunteered to be a tribute for the Hunger Games to save her sister Prim. But after all she's endured and despite her best efforts, in the end, she does not save Prim.

What Collins manages to portray so poignantly is the effects war has on individuals and societies.  Katniss is broken after the Quarter Quell, but the loss of Peeta is compounded again and again by repeated exposure to war, physical injuries and emotional trauma. The hijacking of Peeta and the death of Prim devastates Katniss to the point where she can no longer speak. When the Capitol is crushed and she is called to a meeting, Katniss wonders "I can't believe how normal they've made me look on the outside when inwardly I'm such a wasteland." 

War leaves Gale filled with anger and so changed that he and Katniss have no future together. Haymitch has always been a symbol of the effects of war throughout all three novels; he's an alcoholic who has been forced to mentor tributes for the past twenty-three years, resulting in him reliving the Hunger Games over and over.

Collins also explores the theme of ethics in war when the rebels are debating how best to crack "the Nut", the impenetrable military mountain fortress in District 2.  Gale suggests there are two ways to disable the Nut; to trap people inside or flush them out. Gale wants to set off rock avalanches to block the entrances, trapping the soldiers inside along with most of the Capitol's airforce. Boggs indicates that this risks killing everyone in the mountain but Gale makes it clear he has no intention of saving anyone. He wants to seal not only the entrances but the train tunnel to the square in District 2. The planning group argues about the morality of killing everyone. Some want to offer the workers a chance to surrender, others like Gale suggest that they will never be able to trust them again. Katniss however, frames the situation in terms that Gale can relate to - a coal mining accident. Katniss realizes that while Gale used to talk like this back in 12 he is now in a position to act on his words. She argues that the people in the Nut may not have had a choice to be there and that their own people, who are spies are also in the mountain. It may very well be that this exchange is what ultimately breaks Gale and Katniss apart. The war has hardened Gale, but in Katniss she learned to find mercy and to make peace. This is seen later on when she confronts the man from the Nut in the square and tries to talk him and the rebels out of killing one another.

The biggest twist in the novel comes during Katniss's unexpected meeting with President Snow in the palace. He expresses sorrow over the death of Prim and indicates that he did not order the parachutes, but that Coin did so. He also reveals that Coin's plan from the beginning was to "...let the Capitol and districts destroy one another, and then step in to take power with Thirteen barely scratched. Make no mistake, she was intending to take my place right from the beginning...After all, it was Thirteen that started the rebellion that led to the Dark Days, and then abandoned the rest of the districts when the tide turned against it. But I wasn't watching Coin. I was watching you...." When Katniss doubts him, Snow responds, "Oh, my dear Miss Everdeen. I thought we had agreed not to lie to each other."   This leads Katniss to consider who is the real enemy of the people.

Despite this, Collins ends her trilogy on a somewhat hopeful note. Katniss and Peeta have made a life together. Peeta has given her "The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again."

It is likely that the Hunger Games trilogy will become a classic in young adult literature and rightly so. Although filled with violence and controversy especially since it involves children who are forced to kill one another, these novels have much to say about the ethics of war, the effect of war on individuals and society and the theme of betrayal.

Book Details:
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
New York: Scholastic Press     2010
398 pp.

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