Ever since Mockingjay (the book) was released, I’ve heard people say that THAT character died at the end for nothing more than shock value. As a writer myself, I have to strongly disagree.
Primrose Everdeen needed to die.
And here is why.
‘The Hunger Games’ is about worldly truths
Years ago, I did a post on my blog about two different kinds of truth you find in fiction. One is “Absolute Truth” — eternal, transcendental truths that uplift and encourages others, such as “never give up,” “love conquers all,” and “be true to yourself.” The other kind is what I call “wordly truth.” Wordly truths illuminate one’s understanding of the world. They leave the audience sadder but wiser and more aware of serious issues. Absolute Truths are about how the world should be and worldly truths are about how the world is.
“Feed and entertain people so they lose political power,” “human beings are entertained by violence and bloodshed” — these are worldly truths.
The Hunger Games has never been a story about Absolute Truths. It’s about the worldly ones.
And when you understand the worldly truths of series, it makes sense that Prim needed to die.
Why she needed to die
All the way from book one in the series, it’s clear that Panem is a world where the wicked, ruthless, and tough, survive, while those who are kind, gentle, and everything good, don’t. Katniss says this herself about Peeta. It’s not the goodhearted people like Peeta who win The Hunger Games. They’re the ones who get killed. “No one decent ever wins the Games.”
And that’s exactly why she volunteered to take Prim’s place. Prim is softhearted and kind. It’s noted in the very starting of the series that if Prim sees Katniss upset, she cries before she even knows what’s wrong. Prim’s that empathetic. In a world that is so cold toward other human beings that they watch them kill each other on TV, Prim is a rarity.
She even risks her own life to save a cat. When Katniss questions her about it, Prim says she couldn’t live with herself if anything happened to Buttercup.
Are you kidding me?!
Prim is that good.
It’s clear from the beginning that Prim doesn’t belong in this world. If anything close to Absolute Truth makes an appearance in the series, it’s Prim. In fact, Prim embodies everything good, innocent, and pure. Peeta is a close second, but still not on the same level as Prim. After all, he is willing to kill other tributes if he must, while Prim can’t let a cat die.
That’s why Katniss volunteering at the Reaping is even more significant. She’s volunteering to save her sister, yes, but symbolically, she’s volunteering to fight for and save everything that’s good.
Then we have President Snow. He embodies everything in the book that’s evil. And what’s his trademark? Roses. He says himself that white roses are “pure.” It’s brilliant that while Snow represents the wicked appetites of humankind, Primrose represents the good of it. Prim is “pure.”
Snow uses roses to cover up the fact he poisons people. He uses the pure to cover and protect himself, just as he uses children to barricade himself in his mansion in Mockingjay.
But what is the point of this series? What is the story trying to tell us? Is it Absolute Truth? Where the good guys storm the Capital and the rebel leaders fight and win a better future and everyone lives happily ever after?
It’s about worldly truths. One of which is that humankind itself is what corrupts and destroys what’s good. These books are about reality. We are the Capital, we have been the Capital, we will be the Capital in the future. “Panem today, Panem tomorrow, Panem forever.”
We see how the world corrupts Peeta. What happens to him is exactly what he feared most: through hijacking, he becomes a piece in the Games, and more than that, he’s not even himself anymore. Keep in mind that this was done by the Capital.
But remember who is even more pure and innocent and good than Peeta? Primrose. When the barricade of children are bombed, Prim rushes to help them. She’s surrounded by human beings who are killing one another, even to the extent that the difference between Peacekeepers and rebels grays (which furthers the argument that this isn’t about good guys vs. bad guys, this as a discussion on the human condition–it always has been). But Prim’s not there to kill anyone. She’s not there to even hurt anyone. She’s only there to help and heal.
But she gets bombed too. She dies.
Is she destroyed by the Captial, like Peeta? No! She’s destroyed by the rebel leader. No one decent ever wins the Games — and that includes President Coin.
All of this — the children used as a barricade, Prim dying trying to help them, Coin being the one behind her death — cements and drives home the worldly truths of the book.
That human nature destroys all that is good.
That no one decent wins the Games.
That the people a wicked society and war hurt most are the most innocent and pure.
This whole war was supposed to be about making a better world, and in the process, they destroyed what was most good!
Prim had to die to drive home the heart of the books, the worldly truths!
Suzanne Collins didn’t kill Prim just for shock value! Sure, the event had shock value, but shocking content, when done right, can actually drive home the themes of a story.
When done right, it helps the reader reach an emotional state where the theme leaves an indelible mark on them and changes them forever.
The Hunger Games has never used shocking material for the sake of it–doing that would be the very antithesis of the entire series!
Prim died to drive home the worldly truths and themes.
Read more of my work on my blog.