Katniss the Betrayer? Part One

*major spoilers ahead. Proceed only if you’ve finished Mockingjay*

A lot of readers were confused and disturbed by the end of Mockingjay, that it was “out of character” with the rest of the series, that it was “dark,” or that it was “inconsistent” with Katniss’ character.

I submit the reason for this concern is that many are not really sure what Suzanne Collins is doing in Mockingjay. This final novel of the trilogy is designed to resolve all of the thematic issues of the previous books. Without getting into the textual evidence, these themes are two-fold.

(1) We must finally resolve the Peeta-Gale-Katniss issue. Without getting too far afield, this is her struggle between the New Man in the Spirit (Peeta) and the Old Man of the flesh (Gale). As Gale says, she’ll choose the one she can’t live without.

(2). Katniss is said to still be in the “Games” in Mockingjay, and it is the political struggle between the Capitol and District 13 through which she must wrangle that represents this continuing Games. She and those she loves are essentially caught in an invisible Games between Coin and Snow, the “Careers” of Mockingjay. Just as Rue died at the hands of the Careers (Rue always identified with Prim), so Prim will die at the hands of these new Careers.

We’ll look at (1) in the second part of this post, tomorrow. For now we can look at (2). Katniss’ decision to vote with Coin at the end of the book, to begin a new Hunger Games, is the decision that will resolve both of these central themes of the book. The single act of voting to go along with this new Games and of shooting Snow dead is the literal hinge upon which the whole trilogy turns. It resolves all our plot lines and major themes, and in a way morally compatible with the Christian faith. First, though, we need to take a little sideline to see how this can be.

Was it Revenge?

So why did Katniss vote yes to the Games proposed by President Snow? Katniss clearly says her vote is “for Prim.” So is it a simple desire for revenge. Such a reading is totally incompatible with Katniss’ character and transformation that takes place over the course of the three books of the series. Why would she always take the side of the poor and broken, to show mercy and avoid killing as much as she can only to succumb to vengeance and unrighteousness. Such a view is fundamentally incorrect.

But if not for revenge, then why? For an answer we have to look at the dichotimy between the Capitol and District 13. The Capitol, fixated as it is on fashion and media-created drama, is a hedonistic Roman Empire focused entirely on panem et circuses, Latin for “bread and circuses,” the phrase used by a number of ancient writers and philosophers for the hedonistic degredation of the Roman Empire. The implication is that such a culture is obsessed with the “baser” instincts of man, gluttony and petty distractions while the world collapses into injustice and evil. Thus, Panem and the Capitol are dystopian representations of Huxley’s original dystopian Brave New World, and also represents our own Western culture. It is essentially a nightmare super-corporatocracy.

On the other hand, District 13 is a sterile, tightly controlled and monitored dictatorship of a different order; clean, authoritarian, and scientific. It is Orson Welles’ 1984. It is essentially a socialist nightmare of a totalitarian state. In this Collins’ subverts our expectations, since when we first hear about the “lost district,” the typical post-apocalyptic narrative makes this distant community the good guys. So we too assume at the opening of Mockingjay. It is quickly apparent District 13 is far from perfect, but they at least seem better than the Capitol. But as the book progresses, Coin is revealed to be more and more ruthless.

What we’re left with at the end of the book is what Collins believes to be a false choice between two sides, the utopias of both Left and Right are revealed to be dystopian nightmares. This point is hit home when we find out Coin arranged to kill Prim and the other children at the climax of the battle for the Capitol, and we realize Coin and Snow are essentially the same person when she decides to hold the new Hunger Games as an act of vengeance.

Which brings us to Katniss’ vote. Since both governments are the same, Katniss knows that she is still playing the Games. She is still the symbol, the Mockingjay, to be manipulated and used by those in power. The other Victors’ votes are not really very important in themselves; Coin is mostly interested in getting the support of the Mockingjay. The decision to hold a new Games is unpopular and would be able to sell with the backing of the symbol of the rebellion. Recall also at the very beginning of the book when Coin says she will grant Katniss’ conditions for being the Mockingjay only if she does what she is told. One of those conditions was killing Snow. If Katniss had likely voted no she would have been locked up and none of her conditions granted, including clemency for Peeta. So she votes yes, knowing that killing Coin is the only way to stop the bloodshed. Snow is no longer a threat to human life; Coin has become the new President Snow, so in killing her Katniss fulfills her vow at the very beginning of the book.

It is also important to see that she kills Coin, not out of vengeance for Prim, but out of a righteous sense of justice. Her arrow is the sharply directed sword of Ehud delivered to the unsuspecting belly of Eglon (Judges 3). Her yes-vote is “for Prim.” But not really for Prim. Prim now represents all those who die needlessly for the bloodlust and entertainment of others. Prim is Rue is all the other innocent lives lost in the Games. It is not simply for Prim and Rue in the past, but for the Prims’ and Rues’ of the future who will be sacrificed in the Games to atone for the sins of their fathers.

Continued in Part Two

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