There are howls coming from Hunger Games fandom that Ms. Collins left the rails of her story in the series finale and wrote something of a treatise about war rather than the heart-warming Young Adult romance we got in Games and Fire.
I understand that response. But Ms. Collins did not leave her story formula when writing Mockingjay. In fact, the critical things that happen before and in the Games and Quell arenas happen in Mockingjay‘s story line as well. She is telling us that this “real world” slaughter of innocents and the “artificial world” nightmare of children dying in the Capitol’s Hunger Games don’t differ except in our seeing one as acceptable and the other as unacceptable.
Here are the formula story points of Games and Fire that are hidden but echoed in Mockingjay:
Katniss starts out in District 12 –
Mockingjay opens in the devastated coal district, which Katniss has insisted on visiting to regain her bearings. She returns with family tokens, to include a pet cat.
She is taken against her will to the artificial world of the Games’ sponsor –
Katniss is only in District 12 by special permission and for a brief period of time. She is air-lifted back to District 13, the Mockingjay host of the war starring Katniss that it broadcasts for its political purposes to all of Panem. This war is the Mockingjay equivalent of the Capitol’s Games.
She observes the cruelty of the power holders to those who will not conform
In Games and Fire, Katniss is horrified to meet the Capitol’s slaves, the Avox (Latin for “voiceless”), who are former citizens who have been mutilated and muted for daring to speak out against the regime. In Mockingjay, Katniss discovers that District 13 has their own torture facilities on level 39. Her prep team are being held and cruelly mistreated there for the crime of eating more bread than their allotted allowance.
She makes her choice to resist those in power
In Games, it comes at Rue’s death. In Fire, her decision to stay and fight, not to run away, is a consequence of Gale’s beating. In Mockingjay, she decides to play the role District wants her to after Peeta’s call for a cease-fire. but that is to protect him and the other Victors as much as to fight the Capitol. Her choice to do the right, sacrificial thing comes in District 2, when it response to Haymitch’s prompt, she tells rebels and Capitol members that “These people are not your enemies!” She is, of course, promptly shot (chapter 15, pp. 216-217) for her advocating a cease fire of sorts on her own.
She is prepped by her stylist’s prep team –
Check! The three stooges, sobered by torture, keep the Mockingjay looking good for her close-ups.
She is cloaked by Cinna in a coal costume that is illumined for her anti-Capitol “girl on fire” message –
Cinna is, sadly and unexpectedly, absent from Mockingjay. His place in the story formula, however is book-marked if not satisfied, by her Mockingjay super-hero action-figure battle-costume having been designed by Cinna before his repose. It is, like his costumes in Games and Fire, jet-black.
Katniss is paraded before all of Panem in her pony-show chariot. She gives an unforgettable performance as the the Girl on Fire –
Cinna’s costume in Mockingjay doesn’t come with flames but in this novel’s equivalence of the chariot entrance, the staged exhibition in District 8 for propo filming, Katniss opens fire on the planes that have set the hospital warehouse on fire. In case we missed the fire-on-black connection, she gives her “Fire is catching! And if we burn, you burn with us!” philippic.
She takes part in training sessions –
I think her time hunting with Gale above ground are Mockingjay’s equivalents of her training sessions with Peeta in Games and Fire. She gets official commando training alongside Johanna before she goes to the Capitol for the last battle which is the Games replacement in the series finale.
She makes an “I’m not your pawn” statement in her private sessions with the Games Makers –
Her list of terms to President Coin in exchange for her signing on as the rebellion’s Mockingjay is the anti-team player message she sends with arrows into the pig’s mouth and the Seneca Crane dummy.
She goes into the arena with Peeta — and realizes there that she loves him –
In Games Katniss enters the arena with the expectation that she may have to kill Peeta to survive. Peeta is determined to save her and, in this resistance, to demonstrate he is not a Capitol slave. In Fire she and Peeta are allies and committed to the other’s survival. In Mockingjay, Peeta enters the arena convinced he will kill Katniss and she must several times resist the call to kill him. She decides to protect him (chapter 21, p. 302) and gives him a kiss, less out of affection than to achieve an effect (chapter 22, p. 314). Sound familiar?
The Games arena is a nightmare of murderous monsters, machines, and poisons –
Katniss and Finnick joke during their briefings about the pod defenses in the Capitol that they are just going in for their third Hunger Games. In case, the parallel between the fight for the Capitol and the Hunger Games is not that obvious with all its Meat Gringers, Mutt-ations, and serial booby Pod traps, Katniss repeatedly refers to her feelings inside the place as echoes of how she felt in the arena.
She defeats the Games with bow and arrow and by attacking the story parameters –
In Games, Katniss walks away a Victor by sending an arrow into the Career tribute’s face and by her Berry Rebellion. The suicide attempt forced the chief Gamesmaker to choose between losing face because the children died on their own terms rather than those of the Hunger Games or because more than one tribute survived.
In Fire, Katniss uses her bow and arrow to destroy the literal and figurative story boundaries by exploding the arena force field and escaping.
In Mockingjay, Katniss sends a lethal shaft into President Coin, the District 13 Gamesmaker-President, for killing Prim and for proposing a Capitol-children Hunger Games to replace the tributes version. She destroys in one shot the woman who was responsible for turning the rebellion into her own Hunger Games and, flushed with success, who was determined to continue their use as a political tool.
She winds up her story by exiting the Capitol miraculously
In Games, she exits under a cloud consequent to the Berry Rebellion, and, in Fire, it’s in a rebel hovercraft. After the assassination in Mockingjay, she leaves the Capitol as a mentally unstable PTSD veteran who was let off on the murder charge through an insanity defense.
So, if Mockingjay really is the third Hunger Games novel and conforms to the story formula in its key points, why does it feel so different?
(1) Catty Katniss: In the first two books, Katniss is an innocent girl just fighting to survive and protect her family. In a nutshell, she is a “gothic heroine” and de facto story orphan, for whom the reader sympathizes because of her situation and with whom he identifies because of her being the narrator. We see the story from her perspective and eventually join her because of her likability and our shared experience.
In Mockingjay, her family is safe (we think!) and she volunteers for her entry to the Games/fight in the Capitol. She is as likable as a Career tribute might be. The reader, consequently, does not enter into the story as profoundly in Mockingjay as s/he does in the first two books.
(2) No romance! Peeta is a prince and a saint in Fire and in Games, and, as we identify with Katniss and she falls in love with him despite herself, so do we. President Snow turns Peeta into a mean Mutt-ation of himself, however, in Mockingjay and it isn’t until the very end of the book that we get any of the Katniss-Peeta in love energy back. The story line, consequently, doesn’t engage us as it did in the set-up books.
(3) Good Guy and Bad Guy confusion. In the first books we don’t have to think hard to “remember who the enemy is.” President Snow and the Capitol power holders are the black hats and there is very little about them that we need to understand. Capitol, bad; rebels and tributes, good.
President Snow and the Capitol are still folks we can love to hate in Mockingjay but the saviors of the finish in Fire, namely, District 13, not only don’t seem so good, a lot of the time they look and act like the Gamesmakers in Fire. Geez, the District even has a Capitol Gamesmaker producing their audio-visual spots and master minding the war as a made-for-broadcast studio production.
Games and Fire worked on the surface level because the story points, narrative voice and narrator, and clarity of pro and antagonists worked together to draw us into the surface, to suspend disbelief, and experience the story on the inside. Mockingjay, not so much. Which is a real shame, because I think it has a load of edifying meaning in its allegorical levels (moral, allegorical, and anagogical, about which, more tomorrow) but without that immersion or full entry into the book’s surface story, the reader does not experience these other levels or walk way much changed by that experience.
Your comments and corrections, please.