Several months ago, when I first read The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, I decided to assign The Hunger Games to my ENG 111 (Expository Writing) students at my college. I was also singing the praises of the book to friends, colleagues, and former students. The ENG 111 folks started reading and writing about The Hunger Games last week, before Mockingjay’s release, and I already have students emailing me to tell me how much they love the book, as well as engaging in thoughtful, insightful conversations, more of which I’ll share in coming weeks.
As I began Mockingjay, though, I found myself thinking, “What have I gotten these people into?” If some readers are unhappy with Collins for not concluding the series as they expected her to, what will these students think of the teacher who took them to Panem and set them up for this finale? My concerns have been assuaged greatly by the wonderful insights of a former student and current friend, whom I set on The Hunger Games a while back and who actually finished Mockingjay before I did. Her comments here are from the notes she sent me on Facebook (until I said “Wait! I’m not finished!”).
Though she’d like to remain anonymous, it’s not because her thoughts are anything of which she should be ashamed (far, far from it). I’ve left out my replies, as I like her thoughts and questions as stand-alones. They are wonderful examples of how a good book makes us think, and comfort to the teacher concerned her students may be going on a trip whose destination may not be what they want or expect. A book, like other tools for our learning and edification, does not always have to make us happy, especially if it can make us feel and think.
Here, with little editing, are the engaging thoughts and provoking questions of She-Who-Does-Not-Want-To-Be-Named:
My First Written Reaction to Mockingjay:
(A series of notes on Mrs. Hardy’s facebook wall on August 26, 2010)
Mrs. Hardy….. I don’t think I’ve ever been so….. shocked; devastated…completely ravaged by a book like I have been by Mockingjay. I finally got to finish it today, after beginning it last night, and I’m still reeling. I know I need to just let my brain absorb the shockwaves and overcome its overload and confusion. I’m not confused about why Collins wrote it the way she did, not at all, it’s just that it’s…so much to take in, you know? And very different than what I expected. Did you feel like that? Again, I know that this is most certainly a major ironic point on Collins’ part, and I’ll give her full credit, it’s certainly working.
I AM confused about the ending…. whether there is really hope and healing, or is there…. really not? Peeta and Katniss did not seem at all like they should have been at the end…. again, I know that’s the point, but still…. where is the “characters being realistic but also demonstrating we can overcome-type thing?” Or is the whole point that they and we don’t/can’t/won’t, or that they are, it’s just not rainbow colored, because she does say that Peeta gives her the hope of life and healing, but doesn’t really seem to convince me?
I’m sorry, I know this doesn’t make any sense–I can’t believe I’m writing this to my English professor when I KNOW I’m not making any sense, but you know how much I love these stories and characters, and it’s…. devastating to feel so uncertain about them. Is that what Katniss meant when she saw Finnick and Annie together? (insert a million more questions). The point is….. WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON?
And what is WITH these characters?? Peeta seems to really be giving a rather fair sizing-up of Katniss when he’s still mad from the torture–she doesn’t seem like a “heroine”–but then he learns to really see her and love her unconditionally again (or just be freed from his mind to do so). But are any of the characters, at their core, the same? Are they really our heroes? Or do we have the wrong idea of a hero, & that’s the point? & are K & P sincere in whatever it is they have, or is it a “game” too, at the end? How wretched is THAT?? Or is it just the fallen world we live in? The whole “survival” thing with Katniss….is she really just intent on that, even with Peeta at the end??
Or did I get that completely wrong and it’s really that Katniss DOES conquer—that she does FINALLY admit she loves Peeta, does answer for herself alone when he asks the question “real or not real” (I couldn’t help but think of Jesus making Peter say it for himself, too: “Who do YOU say I am?”), does give herself over to who she really is, there at the end, to the true light, life, and love that is only in Peeta and that she not only needs and even desires but chooses and commits to, even though they don’t get a “fairy-tale” end?
And does that mean that “’mere’ survival” isn’t the worst thing that can be, the worst ending we can have, even though it’s definitely not the best? Even if we have to still play some sort of game as mortals, as long as we’re in as much command of them, of ourselves, of our destinies/choices as possible? But what does THAT mean? To give yourself over to love and realize there is liberty, but on this earth it’s not complete? Or do we sense that Katniss does not have that security? Or is she just being honest and acknowledging her weaknesses, along with Peeta, while they seek to be as strong as they can in each other’s strength and live for each other, and mostly for their children? And in that, she is absolutely free. But really only in principle, right? Her children will live in uncertainty……But is that hopeless, too? I think all parents must feel that way to a degree…
Notes on Mockingjay, written after my brief notes to Mrs. Hardy
26 August 2010
With the extreme, brutal bleakness of this book, I thought maybe after all the characters did not mean what they should anymore. And I’m still not positive….but Katniss does succeed, you know. She and she alone took out Coin and Snow, so that there would be true freedom. All the hell everyone suffered through would have been utterly worthless without her saving them from the dictators. She does save Peeta—from his utter physical, mental, and emotional desolation and unutterable, inhuman agony—just as he saves her. Just as they always have. And just as they always will. Not the same as before; they have suffered far, far too much for that. But they do choose life. They do choose light. They do choose love. Together, as one. “Peeta and I grew together again;” I think this means they not only grew close again, but that they moved forward, they grew beyond all the horror, together—and together is always how they “grew.” And then there’s the beautiful passage with Katniss recognizing that no matter what had happened, the only right choice was Peeta—she finally sees Gale for who and what he is, and Peeta for who and what he is. And gives herself to him entirely, finally saying—and I believe absolutely meaning—that what is truly real—actual, authentic, existent, pure, right, good, desirable, enduring—is their love; that it is indeed their love, because she does love him back entirely at last, choosing to commit to and cherish him; that love is the only real thing for anyone, for herself and Peeta. Even though the agonies and suffering will never completely leave them, even though they cannot be utterly free in this world…Katniss finally chose to love Peeta, finally actually said it for herself and him—not for the Capitol, not for the Rebels, not for anyone but themselves, and it had to come from her and only her at Peeta’s asking. And that liberty and strength and comfort and beauty is enough to sustain and fulfill them and enable them to hopefully equip their children to handle whatever comes their way, too.
But was Gale right? Katniss says “what I need to survive,” just like Gale said she would. But is it selfishness and coldness, calculation, or just complete honesty and freedom? She has truly loved Peeta since the first games, and has deepened and strengthened and expanded that love since. Except that you wonder after poor Peeta is tortured if she really does—is she really turning him off, or in “selfish” grief acting out? Does she save Peeta in the Capitol because she wants to keep him alive to spite Snow more than anything, or because he means more than anything? Is she with him at home at the end simply because she’s lonely and he’s the one and only reason, support, comfort to stay alive, who alone understands what she’s been through, and loves her unconditionally? Does she love him like this for real? I’d wonder, but for her saying that (eventually) what she feels with him is what she felt that night in the Quarter Quell…that was before any Mockingjay mess, and symbolized her true love, not at all mere physical desire (even Gale, whom she snogs in desperation, acknowledges their experience can’t remotely hold a candle to her kiss (and relationship) with Peeta…). She says she realizes she would be with him even if all that happened in Mockingjay hadn’t happened. But it did. Is she the same? Enough to be the genuine article, like they used to be? Less so? Or perhaps MORE so? And Peeta surely asks “real or not real” to allow Katniss to really decide, not because he doesn’t know what’s going on. He’s better when he comes back, and will continue to have “flashbacks” that make him grip the chair, but otherwise he’s…back to his old self? They all go back to their former activities, resume their former relationships, slowly, but surely….in theory, in practice, or in genuine actuality?…as it used to be, except so much more “matured” because of what they’ve been through. Are they at the core themselves, still? And back to how I began. Katniss does overcome. She saves everyone. She grieves. She revives when Peeta comes back to her. And slowly but surely, heals and is complete—as complete as she’s going to be—in his arms. Not because she’s desperate or lonely or thinking only of survival. Frankly, why would she merely want to survive, when reality is so wretched? Surely life and healing and hope DOES beckon, and not in a selfish way. She loves her Peeta, and he loves his Katniss, and they love their children….whom I pray never have to endure the hell their parents did. But it is a hellish world…..and life can feel like games. But if you win them by conquering yourself if nothing else…..if you’ve done so through selfless, undying, unifying love, as Katniss and Peeta do……then that is true victory.
So for us….what is real. What is not. How can we change our world. How can we not. What should we do. What should we not do. What makes it worthwhile……
Just checked the book again, and I missed how important it is that when Peeta returns, she is revived. She bathes, she combs her hair, and most of all, burns her clothes from the Capitol….she casts off that self. Faces the truth about Gale, about the District, Madge and her family, and then when Buttercup comes, about her precious sister. And who is there but Peeta, with a loaf of warm bread. Who is right there as she “slowly comes back to life,” when she generates her idea about the book—and who helps her seal it with tears and “promises to live well to make their deaths count.” Surely as they return to life—and to love—it is a true return, and not some fake or superficial or selfish or meaningless or even tragic thing. It is the opposite of all the above: it is true and deep and selfless and meaningful and victorious. And enduring, everlasting, even in their shared suffering and fear for their children. “They have each other.” And means to guide their children to victory as well. Which they will surely do: because they ARE our heroes.
Further thoughts on above paragraph on 08/27/10:
She also dresses in clean, “new” clothes—she puts on a ‘new self.’ And who moved her after she lost consciousness from her weeping so that she comes to in her bed? I doubt it was Granny Sae. He watches over her as witnesses the effects his return has had. And he brings her warm bread—that means everything from their story; that’s how he first reached out to her, how she always regards him, and here at what she thought was the end of all things, as Katniss did when she was a starving, hopeless child in the rain, here there is offered life and warmth and goodness and strength and hope and love. Straight from his heart to hers. And then notice how naturally Peeta is included in the “coming back to life” process. She says Granny Sae made “us” breakfast—not sure if that’s Katniss and Buttercup, but it might very well mean Katniss and Peeta. “Us.” From there, he’s simply naturally, seamlessly included, with the Book, and as Haymitch joins them in recovery and renewal, and then of course as Katniss relates that they grew together again. I wonder when he and Katniss started ‘sleeping together’ again; that very night when Katniss begins to heal, or a while, maybe even a long while, later? Regardless, they do slowly but surely grow back together in every sense, and then at last, at last are ‘entirely’ freed from the darkness and severance and doubt and fear, and come together completely, utterly, absolutely in that love. In its truth. And in full confidence thereof.
Continued notes from 08/26/10
Peeta and Katniss not only save and then sustain and heal each other, they do this for others, too. For Haymitch, for all of Panem. THEY are the ones who truly inspired and won the rebellion, and they are the ones who document—because it would be a “crime to forget”—all the precious people and memories that make them who they are, that made the Rebellion possible and then actual. They refuse to forget, they honor, they love, and they vow to live well so that their beloveds did not die in vain. And this process is acutely personal and painful, but necessary and healing, for Katniss and Peeta, and they selflessly allow Haymitch to enter this and benefit from it as well. And then later, when their precious children are ready, they too will gain from this memorial, so that they might truly understand, and never forget…but always cherish, and LIVE well themselves, in the footsteps of their parents.
Ending—can be seen as a less than happily-ever-after, indicative that our characters aren’t our heroes, or that they are even more than we could have dreamed possible. And the reason it ends somberly is because it IS somber—their situation, all they’ve lived through, and perhaps most importantly for us….our OWN situation, too. It, too, is dire. It is sad. It is not ‘colorful.’ But love is real, and we have the choice to become givers and receivers of it, to succeed as much as we possibly can to change things and make them better—but perhaps most of all, to never forget what is REAL, what is worthy, what is good…and to claim and live and share it to the utmost we possibly can.