Wednesday, March 7, 2012

“Mockingjay” by Suzanne Collins

Having read the first two books in the trilogy, I found myself frequently questioning the assumption I had that these were books intended for young readers. In “Mockingjay” my concern is not appeased, but my doubts are silenced. The themes are too clearly spelled out as if the reader needs help seeing the point. For one thing, the characters in the book highlight the connection to the "bread and circuses" theme, something that would be clear to most readers with a high school education. More disturbingly, there is the whole sequence early in the book where Katniss sings a song and then explains its meaning to the reader. At this point we see where the book is heading, and it makes it harder to continue—or we read on with a sense of dread.

On the one hand, this book has a lot of important things to say; things that people of any age would do well to consider. We are entertaining ourselves to death. We have ceased, as a culture, to engage in rational thought, ethical standards and to consider morality as having any impact on life. Our cultural decline has resulted in a corruption of our cultural institutions and no major power player in politics is worthy of trust. It is a grim reality that Suzanne Collins asks us to face.

The problem is that a lot of the philosophical fallacies that our cultural decline are cause by are also embraced in this book. Ideas like: Reality is unknowable or hard to discover. Life is just a game that everyone losses in the end. There is no greater meaning to life than extending survival as long as possible. The only real solution to the inevitable conclusion is to check out early.

This trilogy is well written and entertaining. In a roundabout way it can even be edifying if used as a springboard towards truths that should be considered in life. However, I would encourage young people to undertake the journey with a mentor who can guide them through “The Hunger Games” avoiding the dangerous traps along the way.

(See here for thoughts on "The Hunger Games" and here for thoughts on "Catching Fire")

4 comments:

  1. I think I have to suggest that you are guilty in your review of what you dislike about the book - painting with too broad and obvious strokes and missing the finer subtleties of the story. Yes, obviously, it is about Rome and power and reality tv and a culture of entertainment and violent entertainment. I don't always look to works of fiction to make conclusions. Sometimes I am ok with them just raising the questions and leaving room for the reader to come to their own conclusions. Writing with a lighter hand and trusting the reader - I like this style as well. But what I thought made the series wasn't those elements you hit on, but the other questions lurking under the surface, that you haven't addressed. What does violence do to the heart? How do children recover from having to grow up way too soon? How can one navigate circumstances where there is no right or wrong, but all choices carry shades of wrong? Sometimes bad things happen to good people, but that doesn't mean the people should become bad to cope. And sometimes there is a clash between humanity and inhumanity. While we can't always choose what happens to us, we can choose which side we land on. And sometimes, even when huge cataclysmic things are going on around us, it is still our individual world which demands our first attention. Some people are heroes - most people are just people caught in the middle. In answer to those questions, I loved the first person narrative, which I thought gave a beautiful window, not to what happened, but what it felt like as it happened. Big difference. As you can see, I'm a fan of the books, but not in the way most people are. Yes it is a good story. Yes they will probably make good movies. But if you look under the surface, there is much there to stir and move the heart. I guess on this one, we can agree to disagree. But as always, I enjoy and appreciate your reviews.
    Deanna

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    1. Yeah, I have to confess, I wasn't really working on my likes or dislikes here but more of a general interaction with the themes I see running through the books. Cheryl asked me, "Can't some books be just about an enjoyable read and not a message?" She has a point, but the older I get those two things-message and enjoyment-are more and more connected. Also, I was reacting in some ways to the struggles and questions I got from my 13 year old after he read them. Actually, a lot of the questions and problems these books stirred in him were ones he was bringing to the book from before. I think they are common struggles of the culture, and this book is a product of that culture.

      As to pure enjoyment: I really enjoyed the first one. Liked parts of the second. I have to admit, I mostly disliked the third. Especially the last couple of chapters. They struck me as a nit disjointed. That, and the last paragraph was a pretty good description of the nihilism I see in the culture here, and it rubs me the wrong way.

      All of that, and I have to confess, I usually dislike stuff written in first person narration. Especially if I dislike the character telling me the story. That is just a personal problem. :)

      (Do you think there really was a case here of there being no right or wrong, or more of a situation where there was little to no positive choices available--there could have been "right" things to do that were just undesirable. I see that most in Peeta. He was the one voice offering the tough but right perspective most of the time. That being said, the universe she constructed was notably devoid of a "right." I see that as a problem of world building.)

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  2. Hi Jason. This is my first time visiting your blog - pleased to meet you :)

    I'm just reading a few reviews of Mockingjay having just finished the book. Yours is an interesting take. When you mention about the book promoting ideas that have led to our cultural decline, such as the meaningless of life, do you write from a Christian perspective? It would appear you do from skimming the titles of some of your other posts, but I wouldn't like to presume. It's an interesting viewpoint, and not one that I've run up against in other reviews. Certainly, it creates an odd juxtaposition between Collins's social critique and her own implicit role in the society she condemns.

    Interesting thoughts.

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    1. Thanks, Matthew. Yes the thoughts here tend to be informed by my faith. I liked your review over at Bibliofreak as well.

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