The Mockingjay, Revisited

Recently I had a very thoughtful–and thought-provoking–comment to my page The End Games, the page in which I shared my thoughts about the role of combat trauma in the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.  I felt the comment deserved a more prominent place on the blog, and I wanted to spend some time in response.  Kirstin, the author of the comment, caused me to think again of the role of honor, shame, and love in combat–and in its aftermath.  I suspect that she and I might end up in different positions about the relationship between the combat veteran and the Nation-State, but I do believe that each of us sees the message of the trilogy similarly:  that no matter how painful life may become, meaning–and hope–can one day be made.  Be aware, spoilers abound, but for those who have finished the books, or who have read The End Games page notwithstanding, I hope you enjoy Kirstin’s and my conversation in Peace and War, War and Peace, located in the Thoughts section above.

A VA Psychiatrist at the Hunger Games (Spoiler Edition)

I take the word “spoiler” seriously: these three books are well worth the read, and part of the pleasure of the read is the relentless unfolding of the narrative.  Consequently, I am not writing my post in this section of the blog.  Instead, I have placed it on a separate page entitled Thoughts, and by clicking this link or the link above, you will reach the post.  You will therefore not be able to “stumble” onto plot details that you might otherwise not want to know if you have not read all three books.  You’ll have to spoil yourself purposely, in other words.

I do this for a simple reason: for me as a psychiatrist who treats combat veterans, the final chapter and the epilogue of the final book, Mockingjay, are nothing short of astounding.  Even now I can’t quite believe how powerful–and how instructive–these two chapters are.  I easily can imagine (and in fact know) that many persons are/will be quite disappointed in the events of these chapters.  Yet when read as a story of trauma and its aftermath, Collins’ final words are so relevant, so revealing, I can only shake my head in wonder–and deep admiration.

Therefore, to speak as deeply about these books as I wish, I have to mine these chapters (pardon the District Twelve pun, as readers would understand!) quite thoroughly.  I suspect that if I had followed the books as they were published, I would still find the narrative compelling.  Yet these final chapters have transformed the compelling into the rewarding–and richly so.

I have gone back and forth as to a recommendation whether combat veterans should read these books.  I’m afraid that I’m going to have to go with the assessment in Nicole’s comment on the previous post and recommend that they not read them.  I do not, however, recommend this in light of the books’ violence, for while violence is certainly within the stories, it is not per se overwhelming.

My bigger concern is the terror, the anger, the confusion, and the grief that the characters of the book must endure–and Collins’ quite effective prose that conveys these emotions throughout the entire narrative.  I repeat a word I’ve used more than once: these emotions are relentless, and these would more likely become  the present-day triggers of the painful memories and experiences that combat veterans have had to face.

Yet still, the ending.  It’s so right on target, so complex and yet so basic.  I wish every combat veteran could feel its impact.

So instead, I do strongly recommend this book to family members and friends of these veterans.  If you let the narrative grab you, you will finally have an inkling–a distant, but accurate one–of your loved one’s experiences.  And if you let the ending be what it is (and not wish for something different, for example, nor wish for more “clarity” or “closure”) you will have an inkling–now a near and accurate one–of what your loved one needs and why it is so hard for him or her to fulfill that need.  As the characters in the book discover (or at least some of them), though, hard does not mean impossible.  It just means hard.

For those of you who have read the books–or for those of you who are just “game,” if you will–I hope you enjoy my Thoughts.

For all of us, though–but especially for the men and women who were willing to go when and where the rest of us either refused or resisted even acknowledging–may the games finally become the past, every day, for a lifetime.

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