Mockingjay, the final book in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, concludes the story of Katniss Everdeen, but whether it is a satisfactory conclusion is a question open for debate. As the book begins, Katniss has been whisked away from the Hunger Games arena by the shadowy rebels from District 13. These insurgents have spent many hours planning her escape and spent many lives bringing it about–which begs the question: what makes Katniss Everdeen so important? Hers is a face that the whole country knows and admires–hers is the voice that could inspire the overthrow of the Capitol.
Furious that the rebels rescued her while leaving Peeta to his fate, Katniss initially refuses to become the symbolic Mockingjay that will inspire a revolution. But when she sees the utter devastation that the Capitol has wreaked on her home District, she agrees to take up the role they require and lends her celebrity status to propaganda films denouncing the Capitol’s cruelty.
Gale, Katniss’ mother, and her sister Prim are some of the refugees who escaped the obliteration of District 12. Together with Katniss they take shelter in the underground bunkers of District 13. The rebels’ regimented life of austerity, enforced by their leader Alma Coin, chafes a little with the refugees. Have they escaped the dictatorial oppression of the Capitol only to have exchanged it for a new kind of oppression?
The difficult dilemma that faced Katniss in the previous book (does she love Gale or Peeta?) alters dramatically as both of her friends undergo radical changes. In Gale, a harsh bitterness against the Capitol springs up and an insatiable thirst for vengeance. In Peeta, the unconditional love he has always shown for Katniss disappears under startling circumstances. Katniss no longer has either of the two rocks on which she used to rely.
Collins makes the allusions to ancient Rome explicit in this book as one of the characters explains that the country’s name, Panem, comes from the Latin phrase “panem et circenses.” Offering bread and circuses was the way that the Roman empire kept its citizens occupied and kept their minds off revolting. In Katniss’ world, the circuses are the Hunger Games. For three quarters of a century, the Capitol has been able to distract the Districts with the televised horrors of children killing each other for survival.
Mockingjay brings into high relief the theme of violence which Collins introduced in the previous books. Does the end justify the means? If the rebels wage war with the same atrocities committed by the Capitol, are they really any better than President Snow? Is it even possible to wage war without becoming a monster? After Katniss admits to Gale that she would have killed to have kept herself out of the arena, she thinks:
But I don’t know what to tell him about the aftermath of killing a person. About how they never leave you.
For Katniss, violence, even violence in self-defense, will never fail to leave its scars. Book three is a post mortem of her own post traumatic stress disorder, of the imprint that the Hunger Games have left on her. In the first two books, the tension of the story was relieved periodically with happier moments and pleasant interaction between the characters. But the entire atmosphere of Mockingjay is dark, brooding, and as oppressive as the Capitol itself.
In the end, Katniss must make her own choice about whether to become as machiavellian as President Snow or to salvage whatever shreds of decency are still left to her. But either way, there is no hope to redeem the events of the story. There is no Gospel–“good news”–to redeem what has happened to Katniss and what Katniss has caused to happen. Katniss Everdeen may have survived the Hunger Games, but the Hunger Games have eaten up her life, and like Joseph Conrad’s character Kurtz, the only thing we are left with is: “The horror! The horror!”