I want to start by saying I’m not wearing my academic hat right now. This is not a literary analysis or critique or any kind of formal review. This is a complete emotional response to the end of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. I haven’t read any reviews or critiques of the series or talked to anyone else that’s finished the series. I am eager to hear what others think and how they Mockingjay has been widely received. And maybe I’ll like the final installment more after I simmer down. I just finished the book last night and for now I just want to share my initial emotional response. This will stick with me for a while, just as the end of Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince did.
If you haven’t finished the trilogy, please don’t keep reading. SPOILER ALERT!!
I’ve been listening to The Hunger Games trilogy on audio over the last couple months during my trips to school and back. I was hooked immediately. I particularly enjoyed listening to this trilogy because of the first person narration. Katniss became so much like a personal friend to me, joining me on these long drives and telling me her story. After finishing The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, I never expected Mockingjay to have a happy ending. I assumed the Rebels would win but that lives would be lost along the way. We’d already had many losses, including the most tragic losses of Rue and Cinna. But I didn’t expect quite so many lives to lost in Mockingjay. The first one that seemed particularly sad was Beetee. The next one to really hit me was Finnick (especially because of his love story with Annie. And of course this was made even MORE wrenching when you later learn Annie is pregnant). But, I suppose these deaths were reasonable. It was war, and they were on the front lines. Unfortunately, it’s the price that’s paid. I’m not really upset about these deaths in the story…. just reflecting back on some of Mockingjay‘s sadness, which seems exacerbated now by the biggest loss of all.
Prim’s death. That just crossed a line for me. From the moment Katniss volunteered at the reaping in The Hunger Games, Prim was her motivation and her truest love. For Katniss to lose her… for Katniss to witness it… was unbearable. From the start of Mockingjay, the story became much grimmer. And it had to, really, given that the stakes were so high. But the post-traumatic stress Katniss was suffering (“My name is Katniss Everdeen. I am seventeen years old. My home is District 12…”) combined with the continual stress and trauma she suffered… it was just so intense. So tragic.
If you know me, you know I’m NOT in favor of censorship AT ALL. So what I’m about to say is not at all an indication that I believe that The Hunger Games should be pulled from schools or libraries for kids. But, what I want to say is that, by the end of Mockingjay, I found myself rather stunned that this is young adult lit. It’s hard to say where the line is for YA. Some say as young as 10. Some say as old as 25. But I can’t imagine anyone younger than Katniss (17) reading this book. Again, I’m not saying it should be censored. I just don’t think it’s for kids. Just in the same way, for example, that I don’t think kids should watch The Walking Dead. It’s just too much. Too many grown up themes. Too much violence. Maybe I’m too sensitive. But knowing how this book has affected me at 31, I can’t imagine how it would have hit me at say 12 or so.
Prim’s death was tragic, but what happened after that was even more tragic. For Katniss to become an assassin (not that I support President Coin) was honestly such a sad thing. Even though she had killed others, she did so because she had to. Now, again, I don’t support Coin. And I was glad she wouldn’t become the president, would not get to run another Hunger Games… but for Katniss to have to be the one to make that decision… and then to want to commit suicide after. I think that’s when it really got too dark to me. Katniss had been, really, at this point, manipulated SO much by The Capitol, by District 13, by Snow… the heroic qualities I had seen in her were gone. She was not the strong mockingjay. She was a pawn, beaten, abused, battered, and utterly broken. The war was won, but her spirit was lost.
I finally broke down in complete tears when Buttercup came home looking for Prim, and Katniss screamed at him that Prim was dead. That felt to me to be such a moment of despair. Knowing the bond of sisters, knowing the bonds of pets and their owners. So much was lost here.
Oh, and then the loss of Gale. Even if he made the bomb that killed Prim, it would have certainly never been his decision to kill children, especially Prim. For that to be the thing that ripped apart their years of friendship… for her to lose her sister and her best friend…
So, finally… the epitaph felt trite. Sure, Katniss and Peeta survived. But he too would have opted for death many times. (And I’m very concerned about the desire for suicide that was present in this final novel). Seeing Peeta’s disintegration… “Real or not real?” He underwent even more trauma than Katniss did. They were so scarred, so deeply wounded, so psychologically damaged. Sure they had each other and grew to have children. But for Katniss to explain to her children why she still had nightmares… the games would always be with her.
I think the story really greatly what we’re doing when we send our young men and women into combat and bring them back, possibly to their families, but really never “home” again. Never safe again. So psychologically wounded. It’s absolutely tragic. And I felt that – despite the fact that Katniss lived and that Capitol was overthrown – there was NO hope left. Hope was killed with Prim. And my initial feeling when I broke down with Katniss and Buttercup was a strong desire that I had never started reading these books.
Last week I bought a mockingjay pin and wore it with pride. It made me feel connected to Katniss, a strong warrior. Now I don’t even want it. It breaks my heart. I think of Katniss and her description of her melting wings when she caught on fire… of that brokenness that no time can heal… and I want nothing to do with that symbol.