Wednesday, August 3, 2016

League of Literary Gentlemen: Secrets and Sugar Cubes

Usually when a book series presents a love triangle, people get into fights over which "team" they belong to. But for me, I usually end up falling in love with the "third" option, or the male character that isn't a direct/immediate choice for the main character. Such is the case for The Hunger Games trilogy. I have friends that argued over Peeta and Gale for years. But I have and always will be a Finnick fangirl.

Finnick Odair holds a special place in my heart. I read Catching Fire pretty much the day it came out, back in 2009, and I was head-over-heels captivated by this smug, trident-wielding Hunger Games victor. For most of my high school career, he was my favorite modern literary character. There was just so much more to him than what the surface-level suggested. He isn't just the "sex symbol" of the Capitol; he's Finnick, a man with a big heart for those he loves.

"It's as if I'm Finnick, watching images of my life flash by. The mast of a boat, a silver parachute, Mags laughing, a pink sky, Beetee's trident, Annie in her wedding dress, waves breaking over rocks." -Mockingjay, 312

1. He's a legend

In The Hunger Games trilogy, Finnick is originally known as a legend in Panem. He's the "handsome bronze-haired guy from District 4 who was crowned ten years ago at the age of fourteen" (Catching Fire, 191). He's young, he's handsome, and he's proven his skill in the Hunger Games. The Capitol fawns over him, even to the point that when he "recites a poem he wrote to his one true love in the Capitol" a lot of people "faint because they're sure he means them" (CF 250).

It might seem shallow for him to be considered this blessed-by-the-gods heartthrob, but Finnick proves time and time again that he deserves the title of being a legend. He doesn't gain that by simply wooing people with his good looks or seductively asking girls if they like sugar cubes.

"'Want a sugar cube?' he says, offering his hand, which is piled high. 'They're supposed to be for the horses, but who cares? They've got years to eat sugar, whereas you and I... well, if we see something sweet, we better grab it quick.'" -Catching Fire, 208.

When they are in the arena during Catching Fire, Finnick is oftentimes the one finding and preparing food to eat, weaving mats for shelter and baskets to carry water, and generally taking care of basic needs for those around him (CF 288-89, 315). He also is handy with the trident, using it to protect himself and his allies: "It's Finnick, who seems to have spent his childhood doing nothing but wielding tridents and manipulating ropes into fancy knots for nets" (CF 225). Basically, Finnick has a lot of skills necessary for survival, and without him, the other victors on his side wouldn't have gotten far. Later, in Mockingjay, the rebel leaders don't choose Finnick to invade the Capitol for his charm and good looks, they need him to fight: "'Yeah, we're already the two best-equipped soldiers you have,' Finnick adds cockily" (251). The Capitol may see him as only a sex symbol who won the Games at a young age, but his legendary skills are also helpful in keeping people alive.

"Finnick Odair is something of a living legend in Panem. Since he won the Sixty-fifth Hunger Games when he was only fourteen, he's still one of the youngest victors. Being from District 4, he was a Career, so the odds were already in his favor, but what no trainer could claim to have given him was his extraordinary beauty. Tall, athletic, with golden skin and bronze-colored hair and those incredible eyes. While other tributes that year were hard-pressed for a gift, Finnick never wanted for anything, not food or medicine or weapons. It took about a week for his competitors to realize that he was the one to kill, but it was too late." -Catching Fire, 208.

2. He chooses the right side

When it comes to the alliance formed in the arena during Catching Fire, Finnick makes the correct choice by siding with the rebels. He doesn't have to make that choice. He could have fought his own way, and he might have even survived given his skills. But he choose to rise above anything the Capitol could give him, even risking the ones he loves, in order to do something greater.

"'No," Finnick repeats. 'Because whatever happened in the past is in the past. And no one in this arena was ever a victor by chance.'" -Catching Fire, 277.

Throughout the Quell, he puts up with Katniss and Peeta; he works with them in order to survive (CF 270-72). But it doesn't stop there. He continues to chose the correct side. He chooses to reveal the truth of his life in the Captiol--that he was "someone bought and sold. A district slave" (M 171). He spills the Capitol's secrets to all of Panem because he's chosen to side with something greater than his shame or his past. Later, he continues to side with the rebels even when it means being parted from Annie and going into danger; he decides to fight in the Captiol: "'Of course. I want to destroy Snow as much as you do'" (M 252). Unfortunately, his choice costs him his life.

Even up until the end, though, Finnick continues to fight for what he believes in--the rebellion--and he does it to protect the ones he loves.

"Finnick suddenly grins, 'Lucky thing we're allies. Right?' [...] he shifts his hand and something on his wrist catches the sunlight. A solid-gold bangle patterned with flames. The same one I remember on Haymitch's wrist the morning I began training." -Catching Fire, 270.

3. He has more to him than first impressions

As often is the case, first impressions can be misleading. For Finnick Odair, this is the truth. I myself was a little...appalled by his introduction in the books. I was unsure who this sugar-cube-seducing guy was, but as the story progressed, I soon learned there was much more to him than being so attractive that "the citizens of the Captiol have been drooling over him ever since" (CF 209).

Deep down, he does have a heart, which is evident in how he treats those he cares about. A lot of his actions revolve around helping people, whether it's giving Katniss trident lessons during training or looking after Mags in the arena, Finnick genuinely cares for people. In addition, he also has a "fun" side. Most of his dialogue is sarcastic or teasing replies to Katniss or Peeta. He convinces Katniss, in the middle of an arena that wants to kill them, to tease Peeta when they wake him up, which provides an opportunity for Katniss and Finnick to both laugh hysterically (CF 317).

"'Poor Finnick. Is this the first time in your life you haven't looked pretty?'" I say.
'It must be. The sensation's completely new. How have you managed it all these years?' he says."
-Catching Fire 316.

Because of his time as a sex slave for the Captiol, he also understands people in a deeper way. He knows that Peeta is a better person than any of the other victors: "Finnick knows then what Haymitch and I know. About Peeta. Being truly, deep-down better than the rest of us" (CF 277). He understands what it means to lose someone he loves (M 155). He understands what it feels like to be the center of the Capitols' fanfare and fame: "'They'll either want to kill you, kiss you, or be you'" (M 71). He isn't just a pretty boy that happens to be good at wielding a pointy weapon; he's smart and empathetic and caring. He is much more than a victor.

"It's something to see Finnick's transformation since his marriage. His earlier incarnations--the decadent Capitol heartthrob I met before the Quell, the enigmatic ally in the arena, the broken young man who tried to help me hold it together--these have been replaced by someone who radiates life. Finnick's real charms of self-effacing humor and an easygoing manner are on display for the first time." -Mockingjay 240. 

4. He's strong

Physically, Finnick is strong. In order to wield that trident around and consider himself a fierce warrior, he has to be strong: "Finnick, glistening and gorgeous stands a few yards away, with a trident poised to attack" (CF 269). Throughout both Catching Fire and Mockingjay, he shows his strength through his fighting and rescuing skills. But he's also strong in other ways. He's strong mentally and emotionally.

At times, he doesn't seem like he's that strong or stable: "Finnick--his bare legs showing between his hospital gown and slippers, his tangle of hair, the half-knotted rope twisted around his fingers, the wild look in his eyes" (M 79). But after being paraded around the Capitol for the past ten years, not to mention killing other people in the arena and enduring the loss of the ones he loves, it's a wonder Finnick stays stable that long. He does break down. He has moments where he wishes that he and everybody he cares for were dead to escape the torment of the Capitol: "'I wish she was dead,' he says. 'I wish they were all dead and we were, too. It would be best'" (CF 389). He can't concentrate on anything, he wanders around in a dazed state, and he's constantly tying knots in order to distract himself from reality (M 11, 36). It seems like he's weak, but I think his methods show his strength.

"He looks down at his legs as if noticing his outfit for the first time. Then he whips off his hospital gown, leaving him in just his underwear. 'Why? Do you find this'--he strikes a ridiculously provocative pose--'distracting?'" -Mockingjay, 79 (aka the best moment in the entire series). 
Despite everything he's been through, he keeps pushing forward. He could have given up long ago, resigned to his fate of either being enslaved or letting the Capitol hurt the ones he loved; but he never gives in. He fights, especially when he chooses to join the rebellion. And even after, he continues to push through the haze that surrounds him. He ties knots as a distraction, but he helps Katniss get through the pain also.

"'How do you beat it?'
Finnick looks at me in disbelief. 'I don't, Katniss! Obviously, I don't. I drag myself out of nightmares each morning and find there's no relief in waking [...] Better not to give in to it. It takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart.'"
-Mockingjay 156.

His greatest strength is that he pulls himself through the day, beating against the terror that follows him. It's heartbreaking, but it's also admirable. On more than one occasion, he and Katniss both use humor in order to move past all the tragedy and obstacles they face. They joke about the "Seventy-sixth Hunger Games," and Finnick's replies are usually ripe with cockiness or sarcasm (M 242, 251). It's the only thing he can do, except tie knots, to get past the damage that's been inflicted upon him.

"I watch for a minute while he picks up a length of rope, makes a noose, and then pretends to hang himself for amusement." -Catching Fire, 225.

5. He's protective

Finnick's greatest quality is his underlying sense of protectiveness over others. When we first meet Finnick, this trait isn't obvious or even assumed. He seems to be a cocky, self-centered jerk. This trait isn't even something that's fully explained outright in the novels. Instead, it's just something that becomes obvious over the course of the story. Finnick Odair protects people he cares about.

From Mags to Peeta to Annie, Finnick is always the one to act in order to help other people. From the start, he saves Katniss at the Cornucopia bloodbath, he rescues Peeta from the water, and he demands he can't leave Mags behind: "'Well, I can't leave Mags behind' says Finnick. 'She's one of the few people who actually likes me'" (CF, 273). Later, he revives Peeta, guides them to safety, and sacrifices Mags to save both Peeta and Katniss (CF 206, 337).

"I go forward, wondering about Finnick, who saved old Mags but will let her eat strange nuts. Who Haymitch has stamped with his seal of approval. Who brought Peeta back from the dead. Why didn't he just let him die? He would have been blameless. I never would have guessed it was in his power to revive him. Why could he possible have wanted to save Peeta? And why was he so determined to team up with me? Willing to kill me, too, if it comes to that. But leaving the choice of if we fight to me." -Catching Fire 285-86

It might seem he was doing all of this simply to do his part in keeping Katniss safe so the rebellion could use her as the Mockingjay, but that wouldn't be the truth. Maybe not at first, but over the course of their time in the arena, Finnick begins to care about them. In Mockingjay, he does a lot of small things to protect Peeta, like helping him understand reality, protecting him from gas when he's unconscious, and convincing Peeta that one of the crew's deaths was not his fault (MJ 270, 284, 290). Finnick cares, so Finnick protects. And before that, he still had a heart for those he loves, which is evident in his reaction to Mags' sacrifice: "I look in his eyes, at his face, and realize he's barely holding back tears. Mags" (CF 314). Mags, as Johanna says, was half of Finnick's family (CF 323). He doesn't make the decision to let her go easily. He would have saved her if he could have. He also cares for Katniss when the jabberjays arrive; he races after her into the jungle to make sure she's okay. When he hears Annie's voice crying out, it terrifies him (CF 341). There are people Finnick truly cares for, and Annie Cresta is the most important one of all.

"And suddenly, it's as if there's no one in the world but these two, crashing through space to reach each other. They collide, enfold, lose their balance, and slam against the wall, where they stop. Clinging into one being. Indivisible." -Mockingjay 176. 

Finnick does everything he can to keep Annie safe. He does what the Capitol demands, even if it's selling his own body (M 170). He shares his secrets with the world in order to distract Panem during the raid to rescue the imprisoned victors (M 169). He can't focus on anything except what might be happening to her because she's "the only person on earth he loves" (M 11). I even think part of the reason he ends up going to the Capitol to stop Snow once and for all is to save Annie; to make sure she is never in that position again; to make sure she has a future without more damage or heartbreak.

"He never lets go of Annie's hand. Not when they walk, not when they eat. I doubt he ever plans to. She's lost in some daze of happiness. There are still moments when you can tell something slips in her brain and another world blinds her to us. But a few words from Finnick call her back." -Mockingjay, 240.

Finnick Odair is my favorite character from The Hunger Games trilogy. Six years later, I'm still angry about his death, but his character lives on through his legacy. His skills and strength helped him to become the person he truly was--not a sex symbol but a heroic, protective, and kind gentleman that chooses the correct side in a tangled game of life and death.

All quotes are from The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, published by Scholastic Press: Catching Fire (2009) and Mockingjay (2010). 

1 comment:

  1. I remember when I first read Catching Fire thinking how easy it is to like Finnick. Even if you're not sure what he's doing or whose side he's choosing, he is intriguing and dynamic and very real. He's also very wise.

    Out of the series, I think his death was the one that was most painful and most shocking. I had to reread that scene twice for it to settle in, and then I just wanted to drop the book! (Also, the quote from page 79 is definitely the best moment of the series!)