Tag Archives: suzanne collins

“Mockingjay” by Suzanne Collins

I woke early this morning and finished reading Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, and I have to say that I enjoyed the book as much as the other ones in the trilogy. Before I go on, though, I have to warn you that there will be some spoilers in here for those who have not yet read the book.

While the first two books explored totalitarian government as represented by the Capitol, this book addresses the problems associated with a militaristic communist regime, as represented by District 13. In the book, “soldier” is used instead of “comrade,” and the propos are the propaganda materials used to sway the views of the citizens to join the rebellion. People in District 13 are forced to dress the same, given assignments and schedules, and basically discouraged from expressing individualism.

I was fascinated by the brainwashing of Peeta, because it was reminiscent of what was done to Alex in A Clockwork Orange. Peeta is given a drug (tracker jacker venom) that causes intense fear and paranoia. While under the influence, it is presumed that he is shown films of Katniss, causing him to associate his pain and terror with her. This is no different from the Ludovico Technique in Burgess’ novel. So while the concept is not new, it was certainly well done and fits perfectly in the story.

For me, the pinnacle of the story was when Katniss realizes that Coin, the leader of District 13, is no different from Snow, the Capitol’s president. Katniss concludes that the slaughter of the innocent children was staged by District 13 to turn the last citizens against the Capitol and bring the war to a swift end. This is followed by Coin deciding to have a new Hunger Games, only this time reaping tributes from the Capitol. As the scene plays out, I kept thinking about the lyrics from The Who’s classic anthem, Won’t Get Fooled Again: “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.”

Plutarch has a great line that really sums up the problem with society as it is presented in the book: “We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction” (p. 274). I am inclined to agree, which is why I am grateful that Ms. Collins wrote these books. Lest we forget, she reminds us of the cruelty we are capable of, and more importantly, she also lets our young readers know.

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Totalitarianism in “Catching Fire”

This book is a very fast read. It was so engaging that it was difficult to put it down. I found myself crawling out of bed at 4:00 am to get some reading in before the day started and work began dominating my mental energy.

In case you don’t know already, Catching Fire is the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy written by Suzanne Collins. Personally, I enjoyed this book better that the first one. Maybe it was because I was already invested in the characters and the story, but I think it was also the way that the book examines totalitarian government and how a totalitarian regime controls the masses.

While I was in college, I took an interdisciplinary honors seminar that had an emphasis on totalitarian government, and one of the books that made a lasting impression on me was Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt. The book goes into detail on the social climate that gives rise to totalitarian regimes, how they gain power, and the methods they use to spread misinformation and control the masses. It’s a fascinating book and I have never looked at government and media the same since.

The Capitol in Chasing Fire is the classic totalitarian government. It uses fear and extreme forms of public punishment to control the masses. Control of resources keeps individuals weak and focused on basic survival. Finally, and most important, is media control. The government controls what images and what information is presented to the people. Never underestimate the power of the media when it comes to manipulating people.

I love that this book introduces the younger generation of readers to the threat of totalitarianism. Let’s face it, totalitarian governments still exist today, and in many countries, the sociopolitical climate is ripe for the rise of a tyrannical regime. Large groups of people are embracing the fear that is spread via media and seem willing to accept the oppression of those they fear in order to gain a sense of security. Thankfully, there are still people out there who recognize the threat and can express the dangers in a way that motivates people to stand up and face these issues. I see these brave individuals embodied in the character of Peeta:

He can use words. He obliterated the rest of the field in both interviews. And maybe it’s because of that underlying goodness that he can move a crowd–no, a country–to his side with the turn of a simple sentence. (p. 235)

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“The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins

My daughter recently read The Hunger Games and loved it. She strongly encouraged me to read it also. Since there is so much hype about the book and film, and the fact that the film was shot around the area that I live, I figured I should read it. I was not disappointed.

Basically, the book is a modern dystopian story intended for younger audiences. That is not to say that older readers won’t enjoy it. I certainly did, and I’m not young anymore. The story struck me as sort of a combination between Rollerball and The Lottery, with a touch of 1984. I’ve read commentary that the story is very similar to Battle Royale, but since I have not seen or read that one, I really can’t comment on it.

One of the strongest aspects of the book is how it addresses people’s attitudes toward oppressive governments. The story is filled with vignettes depicting the characters’ attempts to defy an authority that seeks to repress and control its citizens. One passage in particular stands out: “They take place in the boldest form of dissent they can manage. Silence.” (p. 20) In a society that demands the ostentatious support of its people, this form of non-violent resistance can be powerful.

Not surprising, but one of the central themes in the book is hunger, and the fact that whoever controls the food and water supply controls the people dependent on it for survival. I often think about how precarious our food supply is. Having gone through Hurricane Andrew, I saw first hand how quickly food can run out, and how desperate people become when they are hungry. All over the world, there are people who are starving and malnourished. I’m sure many of them feel the way Katniss does: “What must it be like, I wonder, to live in a world where food appears at the press of a button?” (p. 49)

Overall, I thought it was a fantastic book: well written, engaging, and exciting. I’ve heard some people say that the writing was not that great, but I disagree, and to back up my view, I’ll cite a short passage that so eloquently captures the feeling that I had as a youth exploring the woods at night, that there is no doubt in my mind regarding Ms Collins’ skill as a writer.

The woods always look different at night. Even with the glasses, everything has an unfamiliar slant to it. As if the daytime trees and flowers and stones had gone to bed and sent slightly more ominous versions to take their places. (p. 196)

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