There are so many themes and analysis that could be made about The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes I’m not sure I can give it justice. It been a while since I read The Hunger Games trilogy so I may have missed some of the references in the book. If I did I apologize.
In The Hunger Games trilogy President Snow was the villain of the novels. This book is a prequel to the events with Katness Everdean. It’s an origin story for President Snow, and takes place when he was a school aged boy. Based on who he was in the trilogies, you would expect to hate him as a child, but I found him to be a relatable character. He had a difficult childhood and you really feel sorry for him, and respect that fact that he was able to keep his dignity and compassion through out it all. Living during war time is very hard and destroys people and lives. Cornelius was effected greatly but still cares for people and his fellow classmates, even if his motivations are to secure schooling for himself so he can support his family and raise them to the status they once had.
His Desire for Control
Cornelius likes control, and he hates being poor and helpless. Especially being from a family that was once rich and had influence, all his actions were to help preserve that picture of the family. Everything he did was trying to get control of his life back. Without money life in the capital is grim. And to gain back control of his life must get free passage to university, get a good job, and support his cousin and grandma. Being a student mentor in the Hunger Games, seems like the perfect opportunity to win a scholarship.
In the beginning half of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Cornelius always had the desire to be a decent person. He was jealous of a fellow student and hated that his family used money to gain an influential position in the capital. But despite this, he was the only one who at least tried to be friends with him. But whenever he was forced to make a decision, his need for survival always took presadance over being a good person. And this was where his downfall started.
Coriolanus thought about what it had felt like to be in the arena, where there were no rules, no laws, no consequences to some one’s actions. The needle of his moral compass had swung madly without direction.The Ballard of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
A Clash of Upbringing
The friendship between Cornelius and Sejanus is complicated. Sometimes he generally seems to like Sejanus. He sticks up for him and does attempt to help him on several occasions. The problems arise because their political views are clearly very different. Spending his whole childhood hungry and then to see a fellow student from the Districts, who in the opinion of the Capital are to blame for the war and all the suffering Cornelius family faced, have a plentiful life, causes an underlying tension that he cant shake.
In the end did he know what would happen? Was he trying to save Sejanus or ruin him? Its hard to tell, and it may not be that simple, it could be a bit of both. Even Cornelius was unable to understand his true motives, or at least is unable to admit them. And that’s how I see Connelius, someone with an angry/selfish side and a conscience, who has to justify all his bad actions in order to live with himself. Do you think he knew what the outcome of his actions would be?
People would call him a tyrant, iron fisted and cruel. But at least he would insure survival for survival’s sake, giving them a chance to evolve. What else should humanity hope for? Really, they should thank him.The Ballard of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
Can a Teacher Shape who you Become
Was Cornelius shaped by Dr. Gaul? Without her influence would he still have become President Snow? There were other students in his class that were also exposed to her and did not become monsters or were swayed by her teachings. Cornelius didn’t fight hard enough against her ideas, instead he found the logic within them, by ignoring the implications and hurt they would cause. Why did he do that, and why was was he easier to influence then the other students? I suspect it was because he suffered the most, and had nothing left to loose. His reputation and that of his family was at stake, the possibility of losing everything he had left, pushed him to go beyond what he thought was moral, and once that line is crossed it is hard to go back.
Am I justifying what he did? No, there is always choice. I’m just recognizing he was still a child and his weaknesses were exploited by an adult who should have been protecting him, and teaching him right from wrong.
I really liked The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, because it didn’t make Cornelius a villain from the beginning. It created him as a complicated character, who you sometimes feel sorry for. He experienced circumstance that caused him pain and confusion. His fall was gradual, and shaped by someone who recognized him as a person that could be shaped as a protege. The only thing I didn’t like about the book was the ending. I was expecting a big event, something profound that would cause him to crack. Instead he seemed to go off the rails for no reason at all. I understand what he was thinking, but his actions and the sudden paranoia seemed very out of proportion and unnecessary. I feel like it would have been more believable if did it deliberately and cold-hearted, with full acceptance of what he was doing. Overall I recommend this read, but would suggest you have read The Hunger Games at some point in the past.