books rambling

Rereading the Hunger Games trilogy (spoiler: one of my favourite book series’)

The Hunger games

I decided to reread the Hunger Games this month for a number of reasons- I reread my favourite book series’ around every two years (I love rereading, it’s a problem haha), The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is causing a lot of Hunger Games discussions which really made me want to reread, and I’ve found that there is something strangely entertaining about reading dystopian during a lockdown (in a very odd, dark way).  I first read this series when I was around 14 or 15, without any expectations as I hadn’t heard about the series until my friend recommended it (thank you)- it’s strange to think about the extent to which a film franchise can influence the popularity of a book. I definitely think reading this series before the film came out gave me an advantage; I was able to objectively form opinions and I was unprepared for the depth of emotion and the attachment I developed to these characters whilst reading. I’d just like to say that this is not an academic analysis or review or these books, more so a stream of consciousness so that I can ramble about my thoughts and the emotions I experienced whilst reading. I’ll also say here that I typically do not like YA books and a number of their tropes, however, I would class this series as a favourite, and I think it’s beautiful. P.s. sorry this is a long one, also there will be spoilers.

Relationships:

I think I should first address the love triangle: it’s a standard trope in YA that I usually hate, but I think it works in this story. The format of the story and the situations that drive the characters actions and decisions allow the ‘love triangle’ to feel natural and true. A large part of Katniss’ story arc is initially feeling like a pawn of the capital with the burden that is thrust upon her. Katniss’ relationship arcs with both Gale and Peeta make sense within the context of the story and are very interesting in understanding Katniss’ character and the influence of this dystopian society. When I read the Hunger Games for the first time, I was ‘team Gale’ due to the similarities between Gale and Katniss, their pre-hunger games connection and I just liked him more overall. However, I think this was just to get away from the popular opinion haha, and even on first read, the love triangle was definitely not the forefront of my mind; these books are about character and identity, with love and relationships developing as a natural outcome of these themes. I love that the ‘romance’ has been written in this way and I’ll talk more about this when I think about Mockingjay. I love the metaphors and illusions to hope, life and future that are associated with Peeta, creating a subtle (in comparison to a number of YA books) depiction of Katniss’ connection to Peeta before their relationship begins. Peeta personifies safety, warmth and assurance for Katniss who would have been open to these qualities had she not been forced into such a horrific situation.

No one has held me like this in such a long time. Since my father died and I stopped trusting my mother, no one else’s arms have made me feel this safe.’ (Hunger Games pg. 363)

Characterisation and themes of grief/loss:

I don’t know if I feel more sensitive or ‘connected’ to books during this time of lockdown, but I instantly felt a strange sense of emotion and nostalgia when I started reading this book. I’ve spent a lot of time in woods and forests, and whilst I’ve definitely not been hunting or sleeping in trees, I’ve felt more connected to nature (I’ve always loved nature but a benefit of this time is experiencing it more deeply). I love birdsongs and I’ve been thinking and the importance of birds and nature within this story. I recently read Jen Campbells Instagram story (she’s a writer and talks about books on youtube), where she filmed a beautiful 5am sunrise in an isolated forest with birdsong and wildlife. Jen heard a bird mimicking an ambulance siren in a haunting and sad moment. This contrast of beautiful untouched nature, and the difficult experiences of human life was very emotional and reminded me of The Hunger Games, where the environment creates a peaceful escape for Katniss even within the confines and struggles of her lifestyle. I think in character I’m closer to Peeta than Katniss, and even more so Prim (although I’m not as kind, I think it’d be hard to be), however, I identify with Katniss’ independence and almost closed off nature that has been heavily influenced by the loss of her father (in writing a collection of my thoughts, this may become a bit deep at times). My dad passed away when I was 11 and the portrayal of grief and loss throughout this series is one of the main reasons it resonates so closely with me; I find Collins depiction of grief to be incredibly realistic and allows me to identify with the very real characters, even in such a dramatic story. I relate to Katniss’ sense of independence and extremely close relationship to her family (as well as her drive to look after and protect them)- I think it is extremely realistic to assume that these qualities would drive Katniss after the death of her father. Katniss’ sense of identity is primarily focused on her adoption of her father’s role as a hunter and provider for the family. Collins often emphasises the similarities between Prim and her mother, whilst Katniss has her father’s traits and favours her father. I think this is important is understanding her actions and sense of identity. This is also very important in understand Katniss’ relationship with Gale. Gale’s own grief is expressed as anger and rooted in the past. I feel that Katniss ultimately could not find peace in the future if she was to be with Gale, his anger has become so that it makes a large part of who he is- evident in Mockingjay during the rebellion without the confines of the Capitol.

I glance over at Gales face, still smouldering underneath his stony expression. His rage seems pointless to me, although I never say so. It’s not that I don’t agree with him. I do. But what good is yelling about the Capitol in the middle of the woods? It doesn’t change anything.. I let him yell though. Better he does it in the woods that in the district.’ (Hunger Games pg. 17)

I feel that several books, particularly in the ‘chosen one’ genre have the loss of a parent or carer as an adverse experience driving the main character, however, this loss is never mentioned again. Similarly, the main character will often experience a loss in the middle of a series, to move the plot forward and create character development. I feel that The Hunger Games deals with grief more authentically and Katniss’ memories of her dad are interwoven into the story in a very natural way, influencing her sense of identity and relationships (Katniss’ somewhat unconscious struggle to feel safe and let people in is a very important aspect in her dynamic with Peeta throughout the trilogy). I’ll reflect more on the themes on loss and grief in Mockingjay (after I cry for several hours haha) but I truly admire Collins ability to create a perfect, authentic tone.

Writing style:

I really enjoy the simple writing style and structured format of these books. It can’t be described as calming due to the subject matter, however, I find the format almost satisfying: Katniss deals with the immediate problem, breaks it down and finds a solution. This format ensures that the book is fast paced, interesting and easy to read. I also feel that this approach to problem solving matches Katniss’ instincts as a hunter, and therefore feels like the narration is personalised; it feels like the writing structure is reflective of Katniss’ character and role specifically, rather than a generic narrator. This writing style also creates fast paced storytelling and gets across the message of the story quickly and powerfully.

Identity:

I noticed in rereading that identity appears to be the key theme and is driven by the element’s safety vs. rebellion and family/relationships. Another element of this series that makes it a favourite for me is the fact that these characters are real multi-dimensional people aiming to find a purpose and dealing with the emotions that life brings; the dystopian setting and plot of the games feels secondary to me, but this setting has been used as a device to reflect upon the influence of society, culture and safety on a person’s identity and happiness. I find this incredibly interesting, and coupled with the attachment to the characters, this story is one that really stays with the reader (for the most part any way, I’m sure some people don’t like these books). I think themes of identity are set up in the Hunger Games and are explored more deeply in the next two books.

For the first time, I allow myself to truly think about the possibility that I might make it home.. No fear of hunger. A new kind of freedom. But then…what? Most of it has been consumed with the acquisition of food. Take that away and I’m not really sure who I am, what my identity is.’ (Hunger Games pg. 378)

As I slowly, thoroughly wash the makeup from my face and put my hair in it’s braid, I begin transforming into myself.. I stare in the mirror as I try to remember who I am and who I am not. By the time I join the others, the pressure of Peeta’s arm around my shoulders feels alien. (Hunger Games pg. 450)

Catching Fire

After the games, Katniss (and all of the people in her life) is impacted by more loss and trauma. Katniss has lost the sense of identity she has worked hard to create with the money (and notoriety) she has gained, and I was very interested in the ways in which this perceived freedom and ironically increased restriction impacted Katniss’ sense of identity. Katniss begins to try and align her identity with one that can exist within a state of rebellion. For Katniss, rebellion represents a shift from survival instincts to fighting for Peeta’s life.

Now a new kind of confidence is lighting up inside of me, because I think I finally know who Haymitch is. And I’m beginning to know who I am. And surely, two people who have caused the Capitol so much trouble can think of a way to get Peeta home alive.’ (Catching Fire pg. 244)

Katniss is still treated as a ‘pawn’ in catching fire, passive in the events and rebellious opportunities that have been created. Gale and Peeta represent interest in the building rebellion more so that Katniss, and throughout this story the shift can be observed. I liked Katniss’ uncertainty and shifts in attitude that continued throughout Catching Fire and Mockingjay with regards to rebellion, I think this uncertainty matches Katniss’ identity and is more realistic than the enthusiastic ‘chosen one’ arc that several main characters in dystopian or YA books take on. Again, these shifts and Katniss’ part in the rebellion feel more nuanced and realistic than the sudden and bold character changes I’ve observed in some books.

The berries. I realise the answer to who I am lies in that handful of poisonous fruit. If I held them out to save Peeta because I knew I would be shunned if I came back without him, then I am despicable. If I held them out because I loved him, I am still self-centred but forgivable. But if I held them out to defy the Capitol, I am someone of worth. The trouble is, I don’t know what exactly was going on inside me at that moment.’ (Catching Fire pg. 143)

Mockingjay

I should probably say that I’ve been writing this in chunks, and I’m writing this part directly after finishing Mockingjay- well, an hour after because I couldn’t see the keyboard through my tears (it’s 2am, I’m definitely a night owl). Thank you if you’ve made it this far, I’ve loved writing and reflecting in this way even though I know I’m going to post this and think of so many things I’ve forgotten to mention haha.

Haymitch:

The first thing it strikes me that I want to think about is Haymitch and his relationship with Katniss. Haymitch represents so many things: I see him as an equal to Katniss in a sense, they are very similar and mirror each other in personality, spirit and logic, however, he has a number of roles to play in Katniss’ life- almost a brother or an uncle and in some ways even a father figure (not in a traditional sense, but in the way that Katniss requires him to be and to the extent that she can accept). Relationships and character are the most important elements of a book for me, and I love Katniss’ relationship with Haymitch. At the end of Catching Fire, Katniss is left reflecting upon her own rage and the anger at Haymitch’s betrayal, the way that he has used her as she is consistently used. Katniss is continuously used by the rebellion, individuals, and the Capitol representing the war and politics around her. In this sense, Katniss is a pawn in the rebellion. I was, however, interested to note that Katniss’ instinctual actions in times of agency ‘spark’ the instances where she becomes- as she perceives herself- a pawn. The tribute for Rue, the berries, and Katniss decision to confide in- and therefore trust- Haymitch in her plan to rebel (during Catching Fire). As a side note, this quote represents important growth in Katniss’ transition from pawn:

It just goes around and around, and who wins? Not us. Not the districts. Always the capitol. But I’m tired of being a piece in their games.’ Peeta. On the rooftop the night before out first Hunger Games. He understood it all before we’d even set foot in the arena.’ (Mockingjay, pg. 252)

 Katniss truly understands her connection to Haymitch and feels like she is observing in him the qualities her own qualities that she does not like. I believe that this is why Katniss is incredibly intolerant of his drinking and depression, she cannot abide by weakness and is exceptionally hard on herself when she feels weak. Haymitch potentially represents the reality of the future Katniss could face. In saying this, I love the subtle but essential character development throughout the books as Katniss’ perception of weakness, grief and loss changes to become far more accepting and less black and white. In seeing herself in Haymitch, he is the character Katniss ends up confiding in and displaying vulnerability towards; this results in so many of the cutting remarks that create frustration or a sense of betrayal when Katniss or Haymitch inevitably hurt each other and ‘put up their walls’ to mask their pain. I find their relationship very interesting and touching. I also appreciate their ending in Mockingjay and the way it reflects their relationship and personalities- they are quietly and steadily there for each other even in the times where grief and illness create a need for solitude. Their relationship is consistently steadied by Peeta.

He looks yellow and has lost a lot of weight, giving him a shrunken appearance. For a second, I’m afraid he’s dying. I have to remind myself that I don’t care.(Mockingjay, pg.87)

Several sets of arms would embrace me. But in the end, the only person I truly want to comfort me is Haymitch, because he loves Peeta too. I reach out for him and say something like his name and he’s there holding me and patting my back. (Mockingjay, pg. 191)

‘A furious Peeta hammers Haymitch with the atrocity he could become party to, but I can feel Haymitch watching me. This is the moment then. When we find out exactly how alike we are, and how much he understands me. ‘I’m with the Mockingjay’ he says. (Mockingjay pg. 432, deciding upon a final games)

I’d also like to mention that I love Katniss’ relationship with Finnick. Finnick’s death is always a strange one for me. I feel that it’s a good example of the point about narration that I rambled about earlier. Finnick’s death is exceptionally sad but I never really feel it and this is because it’s over quickly and I feel numb. In writing this way, the reader experiences the numbness that Katniss feels at this moment, the lethargy and horror of War (I also feel that the volume of events and horror happening in this relatively short story are written to represent the strange mixture of lethargy and adrenaline felt in War. That sounds very dramatic, but I just mean I think Collins may be trying to engage us in the setting and tone, as she does throughout the series through the writing style. Then again, I always somehow end up reading this book in almost one go, ending in the middle of the night haha, so that might contribute to this feeling). I feel Finnick’s death more in rereading Catching Fire and Mockingjay as we see the elements of his personality. Some of my favourite quotes:

Really, the combination of the scabs and the ointment looks hideous. I can’t help enjoying his distress. “Poor Finnick. Is this the first time in your life you haven’t looked pretty?” I say.
“It must be. The sensation’s completely new. How have you managed it all these years?” he asks
.’
(Catching Fire)

Finnick grasps my hand to give me an anchor, and I try to hang on. (Mockingjay pg. 155)

It takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart. (Mockingjay pg. 183)

I was going to say that I also love hearing Finnick recall his story, however, I realised that I just love his character and entire storyline including his humour and persona in Catching Fire. I love his relationship with Mags, Annie and Joanna, I love his reaction after he saves Peeta’s life and contemplates Katniss’ reaction, I just love his character. I’d also like to spend time thinking about Prim but this is going to become an entire dissertation in a minute so I won’t haha.

Peeta:

There is just so much to say about Peeta that it’s almost making me not want to touch on his character in a way haha, because I wouldn’t do it justice. I didn’t appreciate Peeta’s character the first time I read this series, I think he needed to grow on me because on first read as a teenager he’s not the most ‘exciting’ in comparison to characters like Gale, however, now I appreciate that he’s exceptional. As I mentioned, I love the mirroring of this series and I appreciate that Peeta’s traits, values and qualities align with Prim. Peeta therefore has the ability to recall Prim’s memory and he can support Katniss to process her grief in a positive healthy way.

While I was reading today, I began to consider that Katniss became close to Gale due to the connection in the grief for their fathers, however, Katniss subconsciously associates Gale with her own supressed grief and his rage. Peeta’s memories of Katniss’ father are distanced from the loss and grief, and Peeta therefore brings life to her father in the way he recalls his singing. In having this ability, Peeta creates an opportunity for Katniss to think of a way forward through her grief and create a sense of peace in her memories for her father (and sister). This is almost a metaphor for Katniss’ entire relationship with both Gale and Peeta and represents the way Peeta helps Katniss to live and grow and overall represents life.

Rue, who when you ask her what she loves most in the world, replies, of all things ‘music’. ‘Music?’ I say. In our world, I rank music somewhere between hair ribbons and rainbows in terms of usefulness.’ (Hunger Games pg. 255)

This is the first time music is referenced in the story. Katniss is in character here with her roles driven by a need to survive and her hunter instincts not allowing time for anything that is not a necessity.

Because when he sings.. even the birds stop to listen.’.. It strikes me that my own reluctance to sing, my own dismissal of music might not really be that it’s a waste of time. It might be because it reminds me too much of my father.’ (Hunger Games pg. 366)

Even as Katniss and Peeta are just getting to know each other, and within such extreme life threatening circumstances, Peeta is the one to draw out memories of Katniss’ father and allow Katniss to process her grief in subtle ways.

‘A hush in the trees. Just the rustle of leaves in the breeze. But no birds, mockingjay or other. Peeta’s right. They do fall silent when I sing. Just as they did for my father.’ (Mockingjay pg. 145)

He couldn’t Haymitch. He never heard me sing that song.’ ‘Not you, your father. He heard him singing it one day when he came to trade at the bakery. Peeta was small, probably six or seven, but he remembered it because he was specially listening to see if the birds stopped singing.’ (Mockingjay pg. 246)

Peeta and Rue allow Katniss to think about singing again, representing a healthy outlet for grief and the time to remember her father as he lived. I find this incredibly poignant. I’ve always felt deeply connected to music and singing, and I remember my Dad through his favourite songs. This can be painful but it’s very healthy and allows me to feel connected and feel the emotions that are important to experience. I can also feel incredibly happy when I sing a song that reminds me of childhood, or a funny memory associated with my dad. The moment that I really start to cry whilst reading Mockingjay is without fail always this one:

something unexpected happens. I begin to sing.. Hour after hour of ballads, love songs, mountain airs. All the songs my father taught me before he died, for certainly there has been very little music in my life since.. a voice that would make the mockingjays fall silent and then tumble over themselves to join in.’ (Mockingjay pg. 439)

The ending:

I’d like to reflect upon the ending of the story now. Because I love character driven stories, I’m actually quite lazy with plot and while I find action scenes interesting, I prefer them to be short to I can get to the impact of these events. This may be the reason that I was very happy with the decision to stay with Katniss and her recovery and discover the conclusion of the war as Katniss does. For one, Katniss has a strong presence as a narrator, and I hate when books turn to a different narrator nearing the end of a story as I find it very jarring. This is a story about characters (particularly Katniss) and the impact of War and loss. This is not a story about a rebellion or War, rather those who are impacted by the War and politics they had no intention to be involved in or no power to avoid. At no point did I want the story to become one of action and rebellion, and at no point did I feel I missed anything by staying with Katniss. I wouldn’t have brought this up, but I made the mistake of reading a number of Mockingjay reviews after reading it for the first time and I was shocked to read so many angry reviews that felt cheated out of the action. This is just my opinion, but I feel that this is missing the point of the series and I don’t know what readers are getting out of this story if after three books they do not feel close to the main character. I interpret the purpose of Mockingjay as being a story to reflect upon the themes of meaning, choice and identity within a society that limits free will through it’s constructs that confine the lifestyle people can have.

This leads on to another point that I saw several readers make- reviewers expressed anger or confusion about the way the romance ends. Some people commented that they expected Katniss and Peeta to be together immediately after the War, to be more ‘passionately’ in love. Again, in my opinion, I feel that this distance and time is the only realistic portrayal of love in a setting where the characters are experiencing so much grief and PTSD. After overcoming the initial trauma, Katniss is finally free to build her life, rediscover who she is out with the confines of the capitol and think about the future she wants- or even just the future she can cope with. This is also true for Peeta. To have these characters gravitate towards each other through choice after a period of  time portrays (in my opinion)  the depth of their relationship and is the only realistic way to express that Katniss loves Peeta- she chooses him, he is not chosen for her, she does not have to be with Peeta or see him ever again, she chooses him freely (as does Peeta). I absolutely love the way this happens even though it is heart-breaking. I also love the writing decision to rebuild their relationship by supporting each other through grief, this is again realistic and emphasises the love they feel (I also love that Haymitch continues to be in their lives as the three resume their roles in their relationship dynamics).

Lastly in my seemingly endless ramble, the epilogue. In general, I hate book epilogues, I don’t even like Harry Potters, I tolerate it. I think it’s the time element that can feel a bit jarring and makes me feel distanced from characters I love. I do, however, think Mockingjay did it well by keeping it brief, sentimental but with purpose. I’ve read reviews where readers were unhappy that we did not read more detail such as the children’s names. I’m very happy these details were not included; they don’t need to be and would take away from the ending of the story in my opinion. I’ve also seen reviews where people express anger that Katniss has children. I understand these more, however, I think the point within the story is not that Katniss doesn’t want children, but instead that she is afraid to raise them in a society where they could be involved in the games. Katniss is incredibly nurturing towards Prim and Rue and I personally believe that her actions express that she would like to be a mother, she has just never allowed herself to think about this. 

As I drift off, I try to imagine that world, somewhere in the future, with no games, no Capitol. A place like the meadow in the song I sang to Rue as she died. Where Peeta’s child could be safe. (Catching Fire pg. 427)

I was going to go into grief a little bit more, but I’d rather leave it where it is in a somewhat happier note. I do, however, as I’ve mentioned appreciate the portrayal of grief in this series, I find it very realistic (and therefore very hard to read at the end of Mockingjay). I’m sure this is going to sound dramatic, but I feel like books can be an outlet for grief. I’m constantly brought back to the comfort and nostalgia of rereading my old favourites, but ironically a lot of my favourite books feature elements of grief, for example, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter and The Time Travellers Wife. These book also feature friendship, love and characters that I feel connected to, and I think I’ve therefore come to associate these characters and consequently reading as a safe and comforting way to cope with grief and anxieties in life. That sounds very depressing and morbid, but I think it’s quite magical in a way. That someone can write a story, create a fictional character that can resonate with your personality, experiences, interests, emotions and even grief, and that this work of fiction can comfort and potentially heal. This is why I think writers are incredible and why I read.

Thank you for reading, I hope you’re well. Please let me know what you think about this series.

12 comments

  1. Fantastic insight into the impact of this series. As an older adult I have never been drawn to read it but I used to teach young adults and was always after books that engaged. Your critique of this book is so well written and gives such insight into how the characters are formed by the writer and how they engage you and others. I also am interested in what you say about plot. Thanks, and this may help me with my novel too which I am being asked to pitch at young adult but wrote it for all.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh… and I have a funny story from the first time I read it. This was right around the time the first movie came out, early 2012. I borrowed the books from a friend because I didn’t want to be the only one at the movie not knowing what was going on. My friend who lent me the books texted me several days later asking how far I had gotten; I said I had just read the part where Foxface ate the berries.

    I had an interesting reaction to Foxface my first time reading it. She is described as small, with red hair, and extremely cunning and clever… and that is a dead-on description of the ex-girlfriend I was with for much of 2011. We had just broken up a couple months before I read the book, so she was still fresh in my mind.

    So I told that to my friend, and she replied that it’s funny I should say that, because the first time she read it, every time they talked about Cato, she pictured her violent ex-husband. So apparently a book about kids fighting to the death brings out thoughts of toxic exes…

    Liked by 1 person

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