I no longer feel any allegiance to these monsters called human beings, despite being one myself…Because something is significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifices its children’s lives to settle its differences…in the end, who does it benefit? No one.
The truth is, it benefits no one to live in a world where these things happen.
-from Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
I resisted reading Suzanne Collins’ trilogy about a future, dystopian world where children are chosen to fight to the death in arena-style games. Despite hearing many friends speak about how great the books were (although violent-there was always that caveat), I just…found the subject matter horrifying. Did I want to read about children killing each other? Really?
I held off until summer 2010, when the buzz about Mockingjay, due to be released August 24, was at a high. Considering the popularity of the books, and the number of friends and acquaintances (including members of my writing group and my own mother) who were reading the books, I decided I would read series.
Turns out I was right. The books are horrifying. And with the conclusion of Mockingjay, I realized why they had to be .
In fact, The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay each follow a classic horror movie structure. A group of characters is introduced and an evil presented (in this case, the Capitol and its Hunger Games, an annual tradition where two children ages 12-18 are chosen from each District and sent to fight each other to the death for the entertainment of the Capitol’s citizens, in reminder of the Capitol’s control over the Districts who once tried to rebel). Then, one by one, as in a horror story, our characters are systematically killed until only the protagonist, and a lucky few, remain.
This structure serves the first two books well, where in the first two acts, readers are introduced to the protagonist, Katness Everdeen and the rules of the Hunger Games are explained. In Catching Fire, we see more of the Districts, the uprising, the Capitol’s cruelty, and a pumped-up version of the Games, the Quarter Quell, in which all surviving victors of the Games must participate.
In Mockingjay, the “Games” in the third act are the Rebels’ attack on the Capitol, a resistance that’s been building for seventy-five years. In fact, Katniss compares their attack several times to the Games, and notes her satisfaction that this time the Capitol’s President Snow, in a sense, is one of the players. Yet the first two acts drag on a bit as the underground District 13 is bombed by the Capitol to no significant damage, Katniss agonizes over Peeta’s imprisonment and torture, and endless preparations, including military training for Katniss and the other main characters take place. The first two acts also hastily build readers’ distrust for a new character, mayor of District 13 Alma Coin, who becomes a major player in the story’s final scenes.
Still, Mockingjay takes the conflict of the first two books-the appalling choice to kill or be killed-and raises the stakes even further. The conflict saturates every aspect of the story: Katniss loves her best friend Gale, who sees the justice in killing by any means to stop the Capitol, but also loves Peeta, her peace-loving partner in each of the Games. She has an innate sense to protect people, and yet she is the Mockingjay, the face of the rebellion. Katniss is determined to kill President Snow, yet by the end of the story, she is presented with new information that makes her question even this decision.
No one expected a happy ending to The Hunger Games, did they? The conflict must be fierce, the stakes must be high, and the subject matter must be horrific, and Mockingjay delivers on all aspects. Collins does not subdue the true atrocities of war and killing. The deaths are tragic and heartbreaking-and numerous. They have to be. Otherwise, Mockingjay would not have succeeded in expressing a most powerful message: War is not a game.
Collins, Suzanne. Mockingjay. Scholastic Press, New York. 2010