The Hunger Games, and it’s Unlikely Bad Guy

WARNING: SPOILERS!

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So, I’ve been a fan of the Hunger Games since I read the books a couple of months before the first movie came out.  I read all three books within a week, and have been hooked on the franchise ever since.

Now that the movies have all come out and I’ve reread the series again, there is one character that seems more despicable than the rest, at least on a personal level.  Oh, you’ve got President Snow and his league on pompous minons, controlling their little slice of the world through cruelty, suffering and callousness, but he’s always been the antagonist…the thorn in nation’s side, shall we say.  And then you’ve got President Coin, who came along towards the end of the series, originally positioned as a saviour, though it was hinted the whole way through her story that she was basically just a female version of Snow.  No, there’s someone in the books and the movies who’s betrayal really upset me, probably more than it should have.

Ceasar Flickerman.

Aka, this dude:

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Yeah, I bet you didn’t see that one coming.  In a book full of people who fall into two categories – brave and noble or weak and untrustworthy, there are plenty of people I could have said.  While it’s true that Gale’s betrayal (though unintentional) was tough, I still didn’t find it as uncomfortable to read/watch as Caesar.

I’ve thought about why this is for a little while now.  I mean, on paper it doesn’t make sense – he’s the embodiment of everything that is the Capitol.  His perfect teeth, his expensive outfits, his garish coloured hair and eyebrows.  He’s the face of the Hunger Games, and thereby all it stands for.  He’s shallow and fake.  Yes, on paper I should feel nothing at all about this character except mistrust and disgust.

I don’t though.

He seems like such a friendly guy in the first two books/films.  He helps the nervous contestants on stage, getting them through situations they’ve likely never even envisioned themselves in.  If it wasn’t for him, a lot of them wouldn’t get sponsors, and if they don’t get sponsors, they’re basically doomed in the arena (“If no one sponsors me, my odds of staying alive decrease to almost zero” – Hunger Games, Book 1, Chapter 8).  Plus, even as an embodiment of the Capitol, his crazy hair and over-the-top personality really make him seem like a good guy.  Even Katniss – who doesn’t seem to like anyone much, even her pretend-boyfriend most of the time – seems to get along with him.  Surely that’s saying something?

Then it all changes.  Once the dramas happen after the Quarter Quell, he becomes another minion of the Capitol.  He interviews Peeta several times, watching him appear increasingly unwell, and pushes him along.  In the films, he’s also the one that puts out the alerts for Katniss, which adds a whole other level of betrayal, and I think is what got under my skin the most.  It’s one thing to side with the Capitol, but quite another to speak in such a horrible way about someone you knew personally, who never did anything to intentionally harm you.  Yes, her rebellion affects his way of life, but he saw firsthand that she never wanted to be the figurehead of anything.  When she revealed the wedding-come-mockingjay dress, he saw her surprise.

He also saw what she went through in both Games.  I think, underneath the betrayal, his character upsets me because he had the chance to really help out the rebels.  He was centre stage.  The audiences ate up every word he said.  After watching the Games for the last fifty years, meeting all these kids, interviewing them…then watching their gruesome deaths, surely even he could understand the rebellion.  Surely he could see what they were fighting for.  If he came across as heartless from the start, or distant, or uncaring, then maybe it’d be easier to swallow.  The fact is, he was never any of that.  He seemed like a genuinely nice guy, and nice guys don’t throw kids under buses like that.

I guess the other reason he upsets me is because he is basically positioned in a similar light as Effie Trinket.  Both preening, pretentious, yet ultimately wonderful people from an otherwise messed up, wasteful city.  In fact, Effie was probably written as much more of a Capitol lapdog than Caesar, and with less power to help.  Yet, when it came down to it, Effie chose her side not on how it will affect her, but for her loyalty to Katniss and Peeta, and for knowing how completely messed up it is that she’s had to see so many kids she’s gotten to know personally die.  She lost her whole way of life by doing this, and it would almost be understandable if she didn’t join the Rebellion.  Caesar, on the other hand, fought the rebellion, betrayed people he could have done so much for and ultimately played a part in the deaths of so many people.

War is never easy, but that doesn’t excuse the actions of some people.  Especially people like Caesar.  He felt like a friend, someone I could trust, and then went and stabbed everyone in the back.  The worst part is, I should have seen it coming, but didn’t.  I just hope that whatever happened to him after the war ended, it was something Katniss and Peeta had a hand in.  After all, what goes around, comes around, right?

“Who is your favourite literary character of all-time?”

My favourite literary character of all time is Ellie Linton, the heroine from John Marsden’s the Tomorrow Series and later, the Ellie Chronicles.  A character a lot of Australians would know well.

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I first read the series when I was about twelve after a recommendation from my Grade 5 teacher.  I initially didn’t think much of it.  I was young, what could I possibly like about a series based around a war?  Little did I know it would become my favourite series ever, one I’d read over and over again.

All the characters in it are great and relatable in some respects.  Fi is the innocent friend, the one you hate to see hurt the most.  Robyn is the religious friend, who is caught between her faith and her loyalties.  Lee is the smart one, who can sometimes be a little socially awkward.  Corrie is the faithful best friend, always there with a shoulder to cry on.  Kevin is the outspoken one, who let’s his words get him into trouble as much as get him out of it.  Homer is the boisterous one, the good guy with a rebellious front.  The reason I love Ellie most of all though, is because she’s the bravest and the toughest, even in her weakest moments.  Where Fi and Robyn show bravery then fall apart, Ellie doesn’t let herself do that.  Not only that, but she’s incredibly selfless, and always puts her friends first, even when it could cost her her life.  That kind of loyalty is something usually reserved for male characters.  In saying all this, though, she isn’t some sort of war robot.  She’s constantly torn between what’s right and what needs to be done, and sometimes she gets it wrong.

I love the character because it shows that it’s okay to be scared, to make mistakes, to be human.  It shows girls can be brave.  It shows girls don’t always need men around to protect them.  She’s fiery and strong and a leader, a character that I believe has shaped me into someone I’m always striving to become.  I don’t believe the books would be half as powerful to read if a male was the narrator.  It would be just another war series.  John Marsden made a fantastic choice when he put Ellie in the driver’s seat!

Who’s your favourite literary character?

-JD