Writing, Like Killing, Is Always Personal

[Note: This film contains spoilers for the movie Mockingjay: Part Two.]

In one of the many memorable conversations in Mockingjay: Part Two [1], Katniss Everdeen, played skillfully by Jennifer Lawrence, is talking to longtime friend Gale about killing, and Gale attempts to defend the idea that sometimes killing isn’t personal, that some people have to be wiped out because they are enemies and that it is simply business. The response of Katniss is that killing is always personal, with the implication that this remains true as long as one remains a human being. Later on this becomes important because a specific weapon and tactic overheard by Katniss ends up killing her beloved younger sister Prim, who serves as a field medic and ends up getting killed in a secondary blast, which is portrayed slightly differently in the movie than in the book, but equally effective at making the point clear that Gale is culpable for putting Prim in an arena. Given that his responsibility when Katniss went into the games was to keep everyone else safe, his failure to protect Prim by thinking too operationally and not enough as a human being ends any chance of a lasting friendship or anything else that he has with Katniss, who cannot but remain human despite all of her immense suffering.

At the very end of this movie is a scene that reminds me why I had such a hard time sleeping after reading the novel this film is an adaptation of. Years have passed since the horrors she has seen, and she is married with two adorable children, and in a conversation she has with her own infant, she comments that someday she will tell him/her (it is hard to tell) about why the nightmares have never ceased. Living far from the corridors of power, despite her role in serving as the symbol of the rebellion that changed Panem forever, she never was able to find peace of mind, never able to shake from her memory the suffering and trauma she had faced. There was something profoundly sad in the portrayal of her as being completely shell-shocked, wounded to the core of her being, yet defiantly compassionate towards others, willing to court death, if necessary, to relieve the suffering she faced and that of her people. As it happens, she was given the chance for a long life, a life that allowed her to pass on her wisdom and insight to others who would hopefully not have to suffer as intensely as she did despite living in a fallen world of human beings with a great capacity for self-destruction.

It is clear that if one is a human being and realizes that one is dealing with human beings that war is always personal. You let the arrow fly straight to your enemy’s heart, you pull the trigger on the gun to slay the wicked, you click a button on a fighter or bomber to release payload and blow something up, and you are personally targeting something or someone else directly. Even those for whom war is like a video game, acting in control of remote drones, war is still personal, so long as you remain a person and so long as you remember that you are using technology to hunt down other people. Not everyone necessarily remembers that their enemies are human beings too, however wicked or self-deluded, for it is easy to paint a dark picture of our enemies in order to justify our wickedness against them, and sometimes their deeds are wicked enough to require little exaggeration or working up among ourselves to justify all that we might wish to do to them or cheer on others doing to them. President Snow, for example, with his skill in poisoning rivals and harshly killing and torturing rebels, even claims a sort of morality by saying that he only killed for a purpose. To be sure, these purposes did not justify the deeds he took, but they demonstrate a chilling aspect of killing in that it can seem to be undertaken for rational ends in those who lack concern and respect for the dignity of the lives of others.

What may not be easy to understand is that killing is only one of many activities that is personal so long as the people engaged in them remember that they are people and that they are dealing with people. Katniss Everdeen is not only an important character because of her skill with bow and arrow, but also because she is able to engage with others, even those who might be assumed to be her enemy, and retain her humanity no matter how much it tormented her. The torment that we suffer as human beings, whether it is the torment we personally suffer or the torment that we vicariously suffer by our identification with those who do suffer, demands an outlet of release. Some people choose to mask their torment with various chemicals or other artificial means of burying it deep inside. Others find their self-control is lacking and the torment they feel becomes an anger and fury that lashes out uncontrollably against others, always to be justified intellectually in some fashion. Some of us choose to write, seeking to engage in the difficult process of describing or explaining who we are and where we have come from and what we want to a world that often appears to range from mildly curious to indifferent to utterly and implacably hostile.

Writing, when it is skillfully done, can sting a lot like an arrow piercing the skin. This can be true even when the words are themselves mild and restrained, because the feeling beneath them can be felt, and because one is aware of the larger context in which those words exist. For example, it was largely words that began the American Civil War, as extremely sensitive slaveowning Southerners who deceived themselves as to their own Christian example, could not bear any longer to read or hear words that condemned their oppression of men, women, and children, for their own selfish greed and ambition and the gratification of their own lusts. Those who have hardened their hearts against others, who do not regard those they are dealing with as human beings and worthy of being treated accordingly, are especially vulnerable to the sting of words that remind us of how we have fallen short of who we present ourselves to be, of how we have departed from the path that we have claimed to follow, of how we may possibly merit judgment in this world and in the world to come, in the verdict of history as well as the verdict of our heavenly Judge, as a result of what we have committed. For just as the word brings life to those who cherish it and obey it, it brings death to those who rebel against it and intentionally and deliberately disregard it. Do we choose life or death this day?

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/10/05/the-hunger-games-trilogy-and-the-perils-of-adaptation/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/book-review-the-hunger-games/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/05/26/book-review-catching-fire/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/05/27/book-review-mockingjay/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/11/24/show-them-what-it-costs-to-be-friends-with-katniss-everdeen/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/11/26/remember-who-the-real-enemy-is/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/03/28/panem-et-circenses/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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6 Responses to Writing, Like Killing, Is Always Personal

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