Monday, 8 November 2010

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins

Contains spoilers

Since I first heard of the book, one question bothered me: What is a mockingjay? In case I'm not alone in be plagued by little details, I will answer this now. I guessed that it was a bird, a hybrid species. In fact it is the offspring of a female mockingbird and a male jabberjay - a genetically altered species developed by the Capitol with the ability to repeat speech, used for spying purposes. By the time of The Hunger Games, the jabberjay has more or less died out, but the mockingjay lives on, unable to imitate speech but with a skill for repeating song. When she volunteered for the Games, Katniss was given a brooch in the shape of the mockingjay, and it came to be a secret symbol of the rebellion against the Capitol. Katniss is rescued from the second round of the Hunger Games by rebels and taken to District 13, hitherto believed to have been utterly destroyed in the last uprising. She is elected as their mockingjay personified: a mascot, a spokesperson for those fighting against President Snow and the Capitol, the face of the revolution.

For the second time, Katniss Everdeen has survived the death trap set by the Gamemakers to silence the dissentors against the Capitol's regime. But her freedom has come at a terrible cost. Now Panem is openly at war, and Peeta is held captive by President Snow.

When I read The Hunger Games I was fascinated by the history of Panem, and wondered to myself how the world evolved into this nightmare. In Mockingjay, I came to think early on that we were being shown. Katniss opens by being furious at the District 13 rebels, hating them, and my first thoughts were, "these are the good guys. These are the Capitol's enemy. And they've rescued you." But Katniss has moved from being the Capitol's pawn to that of the District 13 rebels. Her hometown has been destroyed and she is heartsick, feeling helpless. She is not leading the rebellion, she is simply being used. This is not the simple but decent lifestyle of the Smoke in Uglies, but a ruthless army who will do whatever it takes to overthrow the government. Collins does not shy away from the messiness of war, and the fact that whatever side you are on, you will get your hands dirty. This is not a clean fantasy war with insignificant casualies (and maybe the odd tragedy of a fallen brother or friend thrown in for good measure.) This is brutal, calculated, and horrible. The deaths are relentless, with beloved characters mentioned in a sentence as having died off the page. Yet the magnitude of the slaughter does not desensitise you, but overwhelms you with the senseless waste of life. We are left under the impression that Panem (once North America) is all that is left of humanity. (Whatever happened to the rest of the world? We are not told.) The war becomes a massacre. District 12 has been - not decimated, because only about 10% of the population has been left alive. This war could truly be the end of the human race.

The fantasy genre is full of uneven battles that you just know the good guys will win, eventually. Usually, overthrowing an evil government is portrayed as part of the hero's day's work. But in Mockingjay there are no heroes, and though you know that the Capitol must be defeated, the odds are not in our protagonists' favour and we really feel the near-impossibility of their task and what it will cost them.


  1. What a interesting concept to have a hybrid bird!

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