Flunking Sainthood

mockingjay.jpgFriends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears! I’m counting the days until Tuesday’s release of Mockingjay, the final installment in Suzanne Collins‘s Hunger Games series. Apparently I’m not the only one, because the book is listed as the #1 bestselling book on Amazon, days before its release.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what to expect, and have crafted some speculations based on the novels themselves and also from Roman history. These aren’t really spoilers so much as theories, so take them all with a grain of salt. Just before Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released, I had fun blogging my wild theories about the book and then seeing which ones were correct, and which ones–rather spectacularly–were not. (Regulus Black did not turn out to be Crookshanks. But it was a great idea!)

Just as names are important in Harry Potter, they’re an important clue in The Hunger Games. Some District names derive from plants (Katniss, Prim, Rue); others from nature’s elements (Gale), others from the agricultural process (Thresh, Seeder, Chaff, Haymitch); and still others from food (Peeta, “the boy with the bread”). In the Districts, names are related to nature in some way. These contrast sharply to names in the Capitol and inner districts, which have come straight from the Roman Empire: Octavia, Flavius, Portia, Caesar, Claudius, Brutus, Plutarch, Cato, Venia, Cinna. (This last one is especially telling, because in the play Julius Caesar, there are two characters named Cinna: one conspires against Caesar, and the other is a humble poet who dies because he is mistaken for the first Cinna. Collins’s Cinna has embodied a little of both.)

The land in which this story is taking place is called Panem, a Latin word meaning bread. In the Roman Empire, a vast network of conquered peoples, the emperor asserted both his authority and his magnanimity through panem et circenses (“bread and circuses”). In this approach, the Empire appeased the people’s basest desires by distributing free food to the provinces and providing gladiatorial spectacles for their entertainment. Over time, the people of Rome demanded larger and ever more violent performances, using conquered peoples from around the world who were forced to fight each other to the death as gladiators.

In The Hunger Games, Collins is clearly drawing from the history of the Roman Empire, the great irony being that her Panem doesn’t even provide bread to its people. It starves them.

Maybe I am taking the significance of names too far, but I don’t think the name Darius is an accident either. I’m switching periods and empires here, but in the Old Testament, Darius is the Persian king who permits the Jews to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem. By the standards of the ancient world, he had a live-and-let-live policy toward conquered peoples, giving them a fairly wide latitude in maintaining their culture under the rule of a distant empire. In the HG books, Darius is the district manager whose lack of brutality toward District Twelve leads to his being made an example of the Capitol’s viciousness when his tongue is cut out and he is made an Avox (Latin for “no voice”). Incidentally, removal of the tongue was a punishment that the Roman Emperor Caligula used against people who dared to complain against the regime.

So much for historical analysis. Let’s get to some crackpot predictions.


Gale is going to die. To all of the Team Gale people out there: I’m really, really sorry. But from the standpoint of good fiction, readers want a book’s best-developed characters to wind up together, and that means Peeta wins hands down. If Katniss winds up with anyone (and she might not), it will be Peeta, who has been by her side throughout the books and not merely offstage and in flashbacks. It would be highly unusual in an adventure story for the third person in a love triangle not to conveniently bite the dust.

Peeta is going to rally support for the Revolution in the Capitol while Katniss galvanizes the various districts from her headquarters in the former District 13. Peeta will find allies in the previously apolitical and shallow members of their prep team (with names like Trinket and Venia, superficiality has always been the order of the day). Portia in particular will prove a valuable ally, because she has been galvanized by Cinna’s death. (And yes, I do believe that Cinna is really dead, as much as I wish otherwise.)

Katniss will find a way to forge a new society without destroying the Capitol’s people. Even though her own District has been flattened, Katniss will not retaliate by visiting similar destruction on the Capitol’s citizens, people she has come to realize have never known any other life than one of thoughtless luxury. She will find a way to merge the Districts (representing nature) with the Capitol (representing empire). This merger is already symbolized by Katniss’s signature emblem, a mockingjay–a new creature born of the unexpected mating of the sinister, inorganic jabberjay with a mockingbird.

Haymitch is going to die a hero of the Revolution. Mentor characters have to go the way of Dumbledore and Obi-Wan Kenobi. It’s a proud literary tradition. But it will be nice to see Haymitch sober up just in time for the end.

And here is something I hope will happen:

Katniss will personally assassinate President Snow. An arrow right between the eyes would be satisfactory. And speaking of Pres. Snow, there is something interesting beneath his veneer. Have you noticed that he’s the only higher-up in the Capitol without a Roman name? My theory on this is that he was actually from an outer District–perhaps even District 12–and turned on his own people 75 years ago to quell the rebellion. This would of course make him unnaturally old and well-preserved, but they have surgeries for that in the Capitol, don’t they?

Until Tuesday. Wishing you “a happy, happy Hunger Games!”

Previous Posts
Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus