Mockingjay, Part 1

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Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

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29 Responses

  1. Avatar Burt Likko
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    I read and enjoyed the books. The Last Psychiatrist seems to have missed two things, one of which is particularly within a psychiatrist’s sphere of concern.

    1. Perseverance Is what Katniss is really about. Because

    2. From the start of her adventure, Katniss is fighting against PTSD induced by her oppressive, violent government, which participating in the Hunger Games only compounds.Report

  2. Avatar Murali
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    It seems to me that this subversion of the traditional “strong woman” archetype is precisely what makes it feminist.

    On a feminist reading of the movie, two distinct (and possibly related) feminist points are being made.

    1. It is a mistake (and rather androcentric one at that) to think that things like the wellbeing of one’s cat, or the feelings of one’s sister are trivial when compared to things like bombing raids. That you see it as concerning oneself with more trivial things just means that you are blinded by the patriarchy and your privilege. On an ethic of care, it is not the big consequences that matter, but the caring relationships developed and the virtue of caring that matters. In that sense Katniss and her sister are exemplary.

    2. The fact that Katniss is a puppet is an allegory for how even our own conceptions for what counts as strong and heroic are conditioned by the patriarchy. The implication being that if women strive for equality according to standards and ideals devised by men, they are just as bound by the patriarchy as they would have been under (for instance) coverture.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali
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      It seems to me that this subversion of the traditional “strong woman” archetype is precisely what makes it feminist.

      Which just goes to show that anything can be seen as feminist by viewing it thru the right metafilter. Same goes for any other ism too, btw, so no knock on feminism. So these types of discussions strike me as more about the metafilter by which reality is viewed (reailty is, in this case, a fiction) than they do anything about reality per se. And not only that, the entire game of analysis at this level is purely meta-intellectal: it’s about coopting a preferred filter as the “real” filter by which to view (fictional) reality.Report

      • Avatar LWA in reply to Stillwater
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        says:

        This, and Lee’s comment below, that the real objection by the Last Psychiatrist appears to be that the author didn’t write the book he wishes she would have written.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman in reply to LWA
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          says:

          A more adept criticism is that Collins didn’t write the book that it is praised as being.Report

        • Avatar trizzlor in reply to LWA
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          says:

          >>didn’t write the book he wishes she would have written

          There’s a fine line between identifying weaknesses in a work (i.e. criticism) and envisioning and entirely different work. I think LP identifies a real weakness: in a story that’s all about kids being forced to kill, Katniss never actually has to make the decision to kill or not. The story often revels in grit and realism, so that seems to me like an omission because it was challenging for the writer and not because it was better for the story to leave it out.Report

          • Avatar LWA in reply to trizzlor
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            Its a Hollywood rule, I think enforced by Writer’s Guild bylaws, that the hero never, ever kills except in exigent circumstances, against their will, and only when there is no conceivable other option left.

            So the hero in [movie of your choosing] never ponders the choices, and decides to kill the villain in cold blood.

            FWIW, I recall a scene in the 3rd book where the leaders of the revolution demand that Katniss shoot the vanquished President but she turns and shoots one of them instead.

            The theme of children being used cruelly by adults is a constant in the books- Katniss didn’t lead the revolution, she didn’t really even go into this wanting one- the revolution was other people agenda, and the book is clear about how it came dangerously close to spinning out of control and becoming the sort of reign of terror it displaced.

            Katnis, like most good protagonists, had ambiguous and uncertain motives- she was dragged into the barbarism unwillingly and her personal, arguably petty motives (saving her sister and deciding which cute guy to love) were every bit as important to her as the future of the society.
            Very realistic, in other words.

            Look, I’m not even saying its an unblemished work (what is?) but the criticism that “she’s not a real feminist” descends into the Mallard Fillmore parody of the grim didactic leftism.Report

        • Avatar trizzlor in reply to LWA
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          says:

          I only watched the first two films, and it does sound like shit gets more real as the series progresses. But LPs point isn’t that Katniss isn’t a killer, but that she never *gets to choose* whether she wants to be a killer or not. She goes into the games ready to do so, but is able to avoid having to make that decision through forces outside her control.Report

  3. Avatar LeeEsq
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    says:

    This particular feminist critique of the Hunger Games seems strained. If Katniss was a young man rather than a young woman, few people would criticize the Hunger Games series because our hero never makes any decisions on his own. It would just be seen as a standard young adult fantasy series about a somewhat unusual take on the hero’s journey. Garion in David Edding’s Bulgaria is in a similar situation to Katniss in the Hunger Games, except with destiny literally existing as a force of nature in his world, and nobody criticizes the Belgariad for having a hero that doesn’t make his own decisions and has to rely on others for protection and guidance a lot. There is no reason why a young woman can not fulfill a similar hero role that a young man usually does and not be feminist.Report

    • Avatar trizzlor in reply to LeeEsq
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      says:

      You can definitely apply this critique to lots of YA lit. The Harry Potter series is practically built around the idea that Harry can hardly get anything right without the help of his friends and mentors, who are able to channel his courage into practical applications. You could argue that the solution to the final boss fight was conceived entirely without Harry’s involvement and that he was merely a very persistent and courageous pawn, but a pawn nonetheless.

      I think this is a case where the feminist critique of Hunger Games is so obvious – Katniss spends as much time focusing on clothes, makeup, and boys as she does on saving her people – that people are looking to outdo themselves by digging into other flaws that are just typical aspects of the YA genre.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to trizzlor
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        says:

        YA lit is particularly dependent on the wants of it’s audience. I do not think that any young adult author could completely ignore what the audience wants the way a more literary adult author could. Typical teenage concerns like early budding romance and sexuality are going show up even if not appropriate.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to trizzlor
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        says:

        The “Alien” model of feminist fiction is one that I don’t know whether it should be seen as awesome or not.

        Just write a really good story about some really good characters… then, right before you give it to your editor, change the gender of the main character to female. If there’s a romantic sub-plot, change the gender of their partner to male. (If you’re lucky, you’ll inspire “Why Peeta is the best girlfriend ever” clickbait stories.)

        I don’t know if this doesn’t raise more questions about gender than it answers, though.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          Among SF writers, John Varley is known for kickass female leads, and Steven Brust for kickass female supporting characters: you do not want to meet Cirocco Jones in a dark alley, and if Sethra Lavode turns you into a newt, it’s not going to get better, Brust supports this with wordplay, as is his specialty: the common wish to a newly married couple is that they have pretty sons and brave daughters, and his narrators (who have seem their stories translated into English) complain about the foolishness having different pronouns for males and females.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          Jay,
          But what about when you can’t tell someone’s switched genders and races?
          Has the character been drawn badly, or not?
          Is it offensive if you didn’t even notice it?
          [Yes, I do have a particular character in mind.]Report

      • Avatar trizzlor in reply to trizzlor
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        says:

        I think we can start worrying about the Alien model just as soon as “take a traditionally male story and put a female into it” becomes as big a trope as “take a traditionally female story and put a female into it”. I mean, I’d love to have writers that set out to craft good stories and these stories also happen to pass the Bechdel test. But given the number of movies that outright fail it, I’ll take writers who purposefully write Bechdel-passing stories to score feminist points as a close second.Report

  4. Avatar Mike Schilling
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    says:

    Of course you should be hunting for your cat! It’s exactly what a mockingjay would do!

    However deficient the film’s take on women, it shows no understanding whatsoever of birds.Report

  5. Avatar Owen
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    says:

    What a weird criticism of the first book.

    Hmmm, here is a surprise: Katniss never kills anyone. That’s weird, what does she do to win? Take as much time as you want on this, it’s an open book test. The answer is nothing.

    Well first off, she kills two tributes with a nest of deadly insects, which apparently doesn’t even warrant a mention in the whole post. Then later she mercy-kills Cato, but since he asked her to, that apparently doesn’t count as a choice to kill either. Oh, and she makes the critical decision to mourn Rue, thus planting the seeds of solidarity between districts that the games are supposed to crush. That also goes unmentioned. And of course she makes the climactic choice to attempt mutual suicide with Peeta. LP oddly claims that “the book robs her” of that choice as well, even though the whole point is that she recognized that the Capitol could not allow the games to end with no winner for propaganda reasons. Haymitch directly tells her that the Capitol was pissed that she outsmarted them.

    Reading the footnotes is even more weird:

    So if Katniss tries to kill someone, and fails, she has agency; but if I, the reader, can predict that at no point will she actually kill anyone because I can tell the author doesn’t want to put her into such a position– and then she tries to kill someone and “fails”, then Katniss lacks agency.

    Huh? I honestly don’t know how to parse the concept of “agency” for fictional characters with respect to the author writing about them.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Owen
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      says:

      Yeah, she makes all sorts of impactful choices in the first book. After that? She gets swept up in events that are beyond her ability (or anyone’s ability) to control with specific choices, and the main choices she makes in the sequels concern whom she will trust as she tries to keep her head above rushing waters. But the sequels are just not very good (the third book is awful), so judging the first from those two makes little sense.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Chris
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        says:

        I would note that the movies have the unusual distinction of being films that actually improve on their source novels. The Hunger Games did well when focused on the tight narrow scope of the Games themselves. As the sequels progressed and the scope widened the authors limits were badly visible and the whole thing struggled. Mockingjay Part I in particular really polished up the writing and themes in a really helpful way.Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to North
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          says:

          That’s interesting. We watched the first movie, but I haven’t seen the other two. Maybe the teenager and I will check them out.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris
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            says:

            When North says the movies are better than the novels you have to remember that the second and especially the third novel are … pretty horrible. Especially the third one. Which is really bad.Report

            • Avatar Chris in reply to Stillwater
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              says:

              Ya don’t say. 😉

              Back when I read the books, which was around the time of the good doctor’s post to which Vikram links, I had a conversation with a friend who really likes the books. I compared the Hunger Games trilogy to The Matrix trilogy: it starts with an entertaining, and more importantly, tightly-focused story set in a potentially rich world built entirely as a space within which to tell the story, and then the follow-ups are less and less focused, and more and more about the world in which the initial story took place. Tightly-focused stories are relatively easy when compared to sweeping epics, and the writers of those two trilogies were nowhere near talented enough for sweeping.

              I imagine just writing subsequent tightly focused stories within the same world (with new details as necessary for the stories) wouldn’t have produced the same buzz.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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                says:

                I’ll add that the Hunger Games books were my first foray into “Young Adult” fiction as an adult, and I was not particularly moved to read more. However, my son had to read some for school, and I found much more interesting examples. Such as.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Chris
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                says:

                Strikes me that calling books “young adult” is kinda … demeaning to the books. If your book is good enough to get read, it’s good enough for adults too. Not everything needs to be HBO ™.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris
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                says:

                Oops!!! Sorry bout that. All that digitial ink wasted. And here I thought I was making a really perceptive, insightful and more importantly, helpful comment! (Really, my only point was that given that the first movie was – in my view – better than the book we have every reason to think that the movie sequels would also be better than their respective books.)Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                To be honest, I don’t remember the first movie that well. I do remember that Lenny Kravitz is in it, though.Report

  6. Avatar bookdragon01
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    says:

    Okay, I have read the books but not watched the movies, so I have no idea how far the movies stray from the books.

    That said, Katniss is the classic reluctant hero. She learns to poach to keep her family alive and volunteers for the games to save her sister. She does not want to lead a revolution, only retire to a quiet existence afterward. (Burt’s second observation is spot-on imo).

    If she doesn’t appear to exercise agency it is because she is not meant to. Not because she’s female: neither Peeta nor Haymitch do either. They are all subjects of an authoritarian state that has trained them to resigned obedience for generations. Even their small acts of survival-inspired rebellion are met with harsh measures. The story in subsequent books grows from how Katniss’s small act of rebellion in showing kindness and grief for Rue, and deciding not to live if it means killing Peeta, inspires others to rebel.

    In other words, it’s no surprise she’s a ‘mascot’ since she unwillingly and unwittingly becomes a symbol to a movement she did not even know existed until well after her victory in the games. When she takes up that mantel it is not because she is the revolutionary leader type of hero: she knows she is not. Like any young teen in her circumstances she is confused and somewhat clueless about the greater world and the political forces that she is suddenly thrust into. When she becomes the mockingjay it is because both the govt and the rebels essentially force her into that position.

    Regardless of the gender of the main character, that strikes me as far more realistic than ‘the young rises up from obscurity to lead the rebellion’.Report

  7. Avatar Bert The Turtle
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    says:

    With respect to the linked articles, well, TL;DR. But my knee-jerk reaction about whether or not THG is sufficiently feminist is to say that a book with a protagonist who perfectly meets all the criteria to be an ideal (post?) third-wave feminist would be so boring as to be unreadable. I read the three books in THG, and although they certainly aren’t going to displace Ulysses or Gatsby at the top of any “Best English Language Novels” lists, I enjoyed them. But trying to shoehorn in ideologically pure protagonists is one of the reasons why modern conservatives have so little influence in modern art/entertainment fields (to pull an example off the top of my head, think of the recent film An American Carol).Report

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