Mockingjay Discussion 12: “Real or Not Real?”

by John on August 25, 2010

When we meet Katniss in District 12 as Mockingjay opens, she is recovering from her concussion and having a hard time staying clear about who she is and what she’s about. It’s bad enough that she has to repeat a mantra of sorts about her life-identity essentials: My name is Katniss Everdeen. I am seventeen years old…

When we meet Peeta after his rescue, he’s gone to the place-of-no-maps. Having been ‘”hijacked” by Capitol brain washers, his memories have been modified and the process has left him either convinced that what is not-real is real or hopelessly unable to discern the difference. He has been transformed into the mutt-ation shadow-monster of the Peeta we know from Games and Fire, who was something of an Unconditional Love and Meaningful Aesthetics incarnation. His solution is to trust those around him rather than himself and to ask them in his confusion if any given perception he has is “Real or Not Real?”

This struggle of the story’s two central protagonists is the central theme of Mockingjay and is the heart of Collins’ critique of war, of television, and their intertwining in news coverage of armed conflict.

“To murder innocent people costs everything you are” Peeta tells Caesar Flickerman, Caesar repeats it, and in case we didn’t get its importance , Katniss says this is what it’s really like in the arena (chapter 2, p. 23). Remember, Katniss’ father told her she will “always survive if she can find herself” — but war and the inevitable murder of innocents takes away “everything you are,” your survival as an integrated person.

Katniss’ struggle to keep her thinking straight is not only a function of the arena’s madness, but also of the artificial environment of District 13. Separated from the sun and the real world, her grip on reality is tenuous at best. Peeta suffers a much worse fate or extreme deprivation and re-programming in his being “hijacked,” a kind of drug-and-television mind-wipe-and-reset.

The Capitol’s scientists inject into his brain housing group false presentations and distortions of events he has experienced or did not know about. He learns eventually that he can distinguish these misrepresentations and lies from real memories because the artificial ones shimmer, but his ability to do this is very weak. Peeta’s grasp of “real or not real” is so weak that he must confirm with others whose minds have not been formatted lest he act on his false inner convictions.

Can you say “postmodern epistemology”? “Don’t believe what you think” because the metanarrative of cultural programming makes true perception of reality impossible; we are necessarily blinded by prejudices. Ms. Collins’ distinguishing point in this is only that television programming by the power holders is the primary means to our mind formatting, reprogramming, and consequent inability to discern real from not real.

And both the rebels and Capitol power players are all about television. The war is largely a battle between Volts and the Capitol teevee producers for the air waves and, once Volts makes broadcast possible to the Districts and Capitol, between the program producers and their packaging of the war’s meaning. Neither the district or Capitol residents seem to have any resistance to the images of the broadcasts that confirm their beliefs. They’re not asking “real or not real” as Peeta does and are, consequently, prisoners in Plato’s cave to the shadows on their wall, the images on their television screens.

The last words of the book are Katniss’ answer to Peeta’s question:

“You love me. Real or not real?”

I tell him, “Real.”

This conversation is only possible after a prolonged time away from the Capitol or District 13, from the madness if the war, and from the induced mind-stupor of television, unnatural living, and socialist/hedonist cultural ideologies. In the first two books of the trilogy, the enemy was the Capitol, an enemy we came to think of as “other,” not us, because of our identification with the districts through Katniss and Peeta. In Mockingjay, Ms. Collins forces us to come to terms with the reality that those in resistance to the Capitol in District 13 are nothing but the other side of the coin if they use the same tools — war harming innocents and television production — to gain and hold power over people’s minds.

The Capitol is the Hunger Games story stand-in for corporate America. The brave new world of District 13, similarly is Ms. Collins’ transparency for do-gooder big government that regulates every aspect of life. Both control us as they do, turn us into mutt-ations incapable of telling “real from not real” rather than vehicles of love, via our televisions and media. Their regimes only have their authority in the world because of their willingness and ability to murder innocents — and present this murder in such a way that we embrace it as, if not entertainment, than at least an idea and reality we can live with.

The last word, though, is that love is the only reality and the human task is to escape the cave and seek this reality that can only be known in the light, “the bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction.”

Your comments and corrections, as always, are coveted.

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