The Mockingjay (Hunger Games #3): Battle Not with Monsters, Lest Ye Become a Monster
“Battle not with monsters, lest you become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” – F. Nietzsche
“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened.” – E. Hemmingway
I have an insatiable thirst for justice.
Some call it a personality flaw. I call it a disturbance to my peace. Because this urge that things be right often causes me grief.
This world? It’s simply not fair.
I have issues with leaders who abuse their power. I see this far too often in faith-based or humanitarian-centered organizations. While claiming to be moved by the plight of others, their inner workings often resemble the intolerant or abusive groups they vehemently oppose. I was raised to believe – as I think many of us were – that leadership should serve those they lead, and not the other way around.
Those are the leaders who lead by influence. Those are the ones we want to follow.
But I won’t go all John Maxwell on you. What I want to say is a warning. Just as Suzanne Collins warned us in the final installment of The Hunger Games.
Because this third book in the riveting Hunger Games trilogy, The Mockingjay, is really all about leadership.
It’s also a caution: we can become the very thing we fight.
The obvious evil in Collins’ trilogy is President Snow. Willing to do anything for power, he’s manipulated and massacred all those in his way. The essence of dictatorship, he enslaves even the spoiled Capitol residents in their compulsive needs to be the best, skinniest, most beautiful, most talented, and most popular of the Capitol.
Think Hollywood on futuristic steroids. Think high school at its worst. Think of the most toxic environment you’ve ever known.
Then make it ten times worse.
Leaders like Snow thrive on toxicity. Never direct – for directness is fair enough to let their followers know what they’re thinking – they plunge themselves ahead in a backstabbing cloud of fear and confusion.
No wonder then, that Coin – the leader of District 13 (yes, it was there all along, as many of us probably suspected!) and the self-appointed leader of the rebellion – and Katniss – the hesitant symbol of the rebellion, hence the title of the book, Mockingjay – agree to ‘flip’ for the right to kill Snow, once the Capitol is overthrown.
In the final pages of the book, Coin surrenders this right to Katniss as our heroine wakes groggily after injury in battle.
Fueled by anger and revenge, Katniss recalls images of the last great Capitol injustice: bombing innocent children after the districts had won. One of those innocent children was her younger sister, Prim.
In the first book, Katniss fights to stay alive for Prim.
In the second, Katniss fights to keep Peeta alive for the rebellion.
In the third, she watches both Peeta and Prim slip away from her. One of those losses is permanent, and the other she believes to be.
So when she hears Coin’s voice through the haze of post-loss-of-consciousness awakening, saying, ‘I saved him for you,’ she is more than determined to serve the now fallen-and-captured President Snow his just desserts.
Manipulative as ever, President Snow tells Katniss why she shouldn’t follow her instincts. He says both he and Katniss committed the same fatal error: they underestimated Coin.
Coin had me guessing throughout the book: was she good or evil? I never really knew. But I didn’t trust her, and neither did Katniss.
So when President Snow confesses, “my failure was being so slow to grasp Coin’s plan,” Katniss pauses her murderous quest to listen.
According to Snow, Coin’s plan was, “to let the Capitol and districts destroy one another, and then step in to take power with Thirteen barely scratched… (Coin intended) to take (Snow’s) place right from the beginning…it was Thirteen that started the rebellion that led to the Dark Days, and then abandoned the rest of the districts when the tide turned against it.”
Snow says his and Katniss’s problem is the same: they were watching each other when they should have both been watching Coin.
“I’m afraid we have both been played for fools,” Snow says.
He claims he wasn’t responsible for the final bombing. Coin was. Katniss doubts this at first, but then realizes she knew who made those bombs.
And it wasn’t the Capitol.
Katniss returns from her visit with Snow, uncertain who to believe. Then Coin presents the new Panem leadership with a variety of options for punishing the Capitol’s last revenge on its innocent children.
Coin’s preference? A final Hunger Games for the Capitol residents, that they may feel the pain the districts have endured for seventy-five years.
And Katniss – to Peeta’s disbelief – agrees to it.
Not for long, of course. But I won’t give away the actual ending. I will say it’s one of the most brilliant, surprising, and satisfying endings I’ve read in a long time.
Collins gives us three leadership models in this novel: an obvious evil in President Snow; a utilitarian-bordering-on-communist Coin; and the reluctant hero, Katniss.
We assume Snow is the monster both Coin and Katniss are fighting against. Yet both Coin and Katniss are seduced – in varying measures – by the power of Snow’s rule.
The essence of their seduction? Revenge.
Perhaps even the thought that, ‘If I were in charge, it would be so much better.’
Have any of you been there? I sure have, multiple times in the past ten years. And each time, in my quest to oppose those abusing their power, I inevitably become a bit more like them.
The results of the last time I did this were painful and ugly enough to wedge themselves somewhere between the neuron outraged at injustice and the one who insists I’d be better than that. Now, before I make that mental leap, I remember what happens to me the moment I start thinking I could be trusted with that kind of power.
As this blog’s opening quote warns: Battle not with monsters, lest you become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.
I’ve written before about the need to be ‘for’ things and not ‘against’ them. Being ‘for’ something is harder than being ‘against’ something. But not only is it more effective, it’s safer.
I don’t exactly understand why, but we inevitably – and often unknowingly – become just like the thing, or person, we oppose the most.
Maybe its because we spend so much time looking at it. Maybe its that we give so much energy to thinking about how wrong it is.
Katniss effectively resists this shadow side of her by the end of the novel, but it takes help from another. And it’s this ‘other’ (I don’t want to give away the ending, guys, you really should read it!) who I think Suzanne Collins meant to be the real leader – or hero – of these books.
You might already know who I’m talking about.
We can’t let evil win. We need to fight it. But we must fight it with good.
If we don’t, we become the monster we fight.
Now, how we do this, well, I’m still not sure. If any of you have ideas, I’d love to hear them.
Because I’d like to give the next generation something to believe in.