Near the end of Mockingjay, the final book in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series, the long-suffering heroine and narrator, Katniss Everdeen returns home, carrying enough emotional scarring for a dozen people. She has been forced into not one but two to-the-death combat competitions, physically wounded in several different ways, witness to the death of several people close to her, including the little sister on whose behalf she entered the Games, and thrust into a leadership position within a civil war. If Katniss were not severely damaged by the end of this story arc, we would have to wonder at Collins’ honesty.
The old Hunger Games, by means of which the Capitol controlled the outlining districts, are being replaced, at least one time, by new Games in which Capitol youth are forced to participate. The would-be incoming replacement for the evil President Snow turns out to be every bit as manipulative and self-serving–although not as creepy–as the old leader. Katniss might be forgiven for channeling Jerry Rubin and saying, “Never trust anyone over thirty,” although it’s not entirely clear that she can trust anyone under thirty either.
How then, can Collins provide this trilogy with something approximating a happy ending? The civil war has ended but there’s no assurance that the new powers will not be equally oppressive as the old powers. Everyone she loved is either dead or absent or seriously damaged. This book seems bleak beyond belief, making Luke Skywalker’s introspection at the end of Return of the Jedi seem absolutely giddy.
What provides a ray of optimism in this book at its series emerges in the last few pages as Katniss and Peeta attempt to make a life among the ruins of District 12.
We learn to keep busy again. Peeta bakes. I hunt. Haymitch drinks until the liquor runs out, and then raises geese until the next train arrives. Fortunately, the geese can take pretty good care of themselves. We’re not alone. A few hundred others return because, whatever has happened, this is our home. With the mines closed, they plow the ashes into the earth and plant food.
In short, the scarred survivors of Collins’ story make a life through their work and their daily routine. These words remind me of Ecclesiastes 9:7-10:
Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.
Neither the Hunger Games nor the words of Ecclesiastes should be read as dismissing the evil and cruelty of man against man, but something I admire in the world that Collins evokes here is that life needn’t be perfect in order to be lived. She neither ignores the pain and suffering of the past nor allows it to utterly paralyze her. Less like a Mockingjay than another fictitious bird, the Phoenix, Katniss rises from the (literal) ashes of her home to create new life and a new hope.