The Mockingjay-symbol of a revolution
The power and dangers of mass media portrayed in The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
This paper is concerned with one of the most preeminent motifs in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy. It poses the question why the use of mass media plays such a dominant role throughout all three novels. The aim of this thesis is to demonstrate that mass media functions as a powerful tool to control, manipulate, and ultimately, free the population of the fictional state Panem. It will show that mass media is one of the most essential components of the novels that drives the story development and significantly contributes tothe storyline’s arc of suspense. Also, it will examine the reoccurring symbol of the Mockingjay, and how the main character Katniss Everdeen becomes the figurehead of the revolution. In this paper I am going to prove that this is also a consequence of mass media, which will support my thesis that mass media is the central element of The Hunger Games.
The Hunger Games introduces the reader to the fictional state Panem that emerged after a disastrous Third World War in which the majority of the earth’s population got killed. The remaining survivors founded the state of Panem. Panem consists of the wealthy Capitol and twelve poorer districts ruled by the Capitol. The Capitol is lavishly rich and technologically advanced but the twelve districts are in varying states of poverty. The reader follows the story of sixteen- year- old Katniss Everdeen from District 12. In order to prevent a rebellion against the Capitol the tyrant President Snow annually hosts the so called Hunger Games; an arena fight of life and death, in which every year one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 of each District must participate. After taking her little sister’s place in the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss involuntarily gets in between the ongoing fight for power between President Snow and the rebellious District 13. After winning the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss becomes a symbol of hope for the oppressed districts and a key figure for the following revolution and the war against Snow and the Capitol.
CONTEXT AND HISTORY OF ORIGINS
The Hunger Games trilogy consists of the three novels The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay that were published between 2008 and 2010. In an interview with School Library Journal the American authoress Suzanne Collins stated that she based The Hunger Games on the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, which she read when she was eight years old.(Margolis n. pag.)Collins said that the cruelty and ruthlessness of this myth had had a deep impact on her when she was a child. (Margolis n. pag.)In Theseus and the Minotaur the Athens periodically have to send seven youths and seven maidens to the island Crete, where they are thrown into the labyrinth and devoured by the Minotaur. “The message is, mess with us and we’ll do something worse than kill you—we’ll kill your children. … But I didn’t want to do a labyrinth story. So I decided to write basically an updated version of the Roman gladiator games.”(Margolis n. pag.) the authoress said in the interview. The actual idea forher story came Collins one night while watching television. (Margolis n. pag.)While channel surfing she came across one reality TV competition and a war movie. (Margolis n. pag.)The impressions of both programs – in one young people competing against each other and actual war fighting in the other - blurred together and Collins got inspired to write The Hunger Games story (Margolis n. pag.).
So, The Hunger Games novels consist of a mixture of old Greek (Theseus and the Minotaur)and Roman (gladiator games) myth and historical facts as well as contemporary reality TV culture. The message of the Capitol in The Hunger Games and the Minoans of Crete in Theseus and the Minotaur stays the same: Mess with us and we won’t just kill you- we’ll kill your children. But the dimension and display magnifies drastically in The Hunger Games. The district children of Panem are not just taken and executed but taken hostage into the Capitol, paraded in front of the population, emotionally drained in television broadcast interviews and then forced to kill each other in an arena battle of life and death while the whole country is watching. The Hunger Games do not just take the lives of the contestants but also their privacy, human dignity, and even identity. The minute the tributes arrive in the Capitol they get makeovers, get examined and receive point scores that appraise how long they might survive in the arena, are told what and what not to say, and even forced to try to win their offenders favor in order to have a chance of survival. During the first Hunger Games Katniss is determined to win and concentrates on the fighting and survival training but her mentor Haymitch constantly reminds her that that eventually will not be the factor that will decide her fate in the games. Even the arena fight against each other does not take place on fair terms. The Gamemakers and sponsors are the true judges about who lives and who dies, so ultimately the Capitol does not just control the lives of the tributes until their very last breath but also their deaths. A book passage that clearly showsthe emotional struggle Katniss and Peeta have to go through isthe talk between Katniss and Peeta the night before the start of the first Hunger Games:
“I don’t know how to say it exactly. Only… I want to die as myself. … I don’t want them to change me in there. Turn me into some kind of monster I’m not. … Only I keep wishing I could find a way to ...to show the Capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than just a piece in their Games.”, says Peeta. “But you are not”, I [Katniss] say. “That’s how the Games work.” (Collins 2008: 171)1
1 editorial remark: Quotation marks are used because of the direct speech of the characters in the dialogue. I am aware that there is no need to put quotations that are longer than 4 lines into quotation marks.
Most readers might be shocked about what they just read in the novels and calm down by telling themselves that The Hunger Games are science fiction and that something like in novels could never ever happen in our real world. But is this true? If we think about some of today’s reality TV shows it is easy to discern certain elements of the Hunger Games procedures in our society. The forced makeover after the arrival at the Capitol, for example, is already a fixed part of all Next Topmodel versions and many other shows. Of course, the contestants of these shows are not forced to participate but nonetheless they are forced to leave most personal decisions about their bodies to strangers as soon as they enter the show. Furthermore, the hosts of the show almost always refuse to tell the candidates beforehand what kind of changes they are planning to do. And this is just one of the most overt and easily visible parts of autonomy losses contestants experience in such shows. Like in the Hunger Games all scenes we -the audience gets to see are carefully composed and manipulated to convey to us certain picture of a situation. And during the course of every new year shows come out that take it to new extremes. Considering what some people are willing to do or endure physically and emotionally in some kinds of these reality shows like Naked and Afraid or all other survival shows, the procedure of the Hunger Games is not so far off of the reality anymore. And interestingly, the reasons for doing it are almost the same: Entertainment of the masses. Of course, the Hunger Games have a much bigger and preeminent political dimension but this topic I will discuss in detail in the chapter THE ARENA of my paper.
HOW KATNISS EVERDEEN CATCHES FIRE
The Hunger Games novels are told in the first person perspective of the main character Katniss Everdeen. The reader experiences the story entirely out of Katniss’ point of view. Katniss’ narration is mostly objective, but on occasion she imagines what other characters must be feeling.According to Katniss’ main character traits the tone of the novels is mostly stoic but can get very emotional in some parts of the books. The novels are written in present tense which adds to the credibility of the narrator. Altogether the combination of the first person narration, the time mode, and especially the realistic characterization of the main character generatea feeling of authenticity. Other than the usual main character of many YA science fiction novels Katniss is not the all virtuous, rebellious heroine who has a dramatic key-experience and decides to fight injustice. Mostly she isjust an average young girl with many shortcomings and insufficiencies. Katniss’ character is the result of her upbringing in a poverty- stricken society where starvation is common. Her father’s early death and her mother’s severe depression forceKatniss to mature at a young age and let her grow into a tough, resourceful, and quiteunsentimental young woman with a little bit of a temper she sometimes cannot control. After her father died she becomes the only provider of her family and feels completely responsible for the well-being of her little sister and mother. This is also the reason she decides to take her sister’s place in the Reaping and volunteers for the Hunger Games. She does not want to make a point or to be especially heroic, she just wants to save her sister. Nonetheless, Katniss’ decision to volunteer and not to accept the choice of the Capitol’s Reaping like so many others, make her remarkable from the beginning. Katniss is as afraid as the other tributes and actually tries to comply to the rules of the Capitol, but nevertheless, she cannot get out of her skin and repeatedly transgresses against the laws: At the Capitol, for example, Katniss talks to and apologizes to the Avox girl although it is strictly forbidden to talk to the Capitol’s Avox slaves, and during the ranking of the tributes Katniss’s gets ignored while she showcases her skills with bow and arrow and decides to revolt:
Suddenly I am [Katniss] furious that with my life on the line, they don’t even have the decency to pay attention to me. That I am upstaged by a dead pig. My heart starts to pound, I feel my face burning. Without thinking, I pull an arrow from my quiver and send it straight at the Gamemakers’ table. I hear shouts of alarm as people stumble back. The arrow skewers the apple in the pig’s mouth and pins it to the wall behind it. Everyone stares at me in disbelief. “Thank you for your consideration.”, I say. Then I give a slight bow and walk straight towards the exit without being dismissed. (Collins, 2008: 124)
- Quote paper
- Iris Strimitzer (Author), 2015, The Mockingjay, symbol of a revolution. Power and dangers of mass media in "The Hunger Games" trilogy by Suzanne Collins, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/316263