Perhaps one of the most shocking moments of Suzanne Collins’s Mockingjay is when the reader finds out that Finnick Odair–a past victor of the Hunger Games tournament who is attractive and always surrounded by suitors–reveals that he was sold and used as a sex slave for wealthy patrons residing in the Capitol. This confession is broadcasted across the dystopic nation of Panem in order to further fan the flames of hatred towards President Snow, the trilogy’s ruthless dictator. Although the novel makes no explicit mention of the terms “prostitution” or “sexual slavery,” the fact that Finnick was “pimped” is made quite obvious. As Finnick himself declares while broadcasting his confession:
“President Snow used to… sell me… my body, that is,” Finnick begins in a flat removed tone. “I wasn’t the only one. If a victor is considered desirable, the president gives them as a reward or allows people to buy them for an exorbitant amount of money. If you refuse, he kills someone you love. So you do it.” (Collins, emphasis mine)
What we observe in this instance is that Finnick becomes a commodity used to satisfy the sexual appetite of the Capitol’s residents. His position can be seen as a form of prostitution within this context because there is an implied exchange of goods triggered through the sexual act.
Through this act of prostitution, there is no doubt that in due course, Finnick’s placement as a being coerced to sell his body to others dehumanizes him, turning him into an object designed for sexual satisfaction rather than a subject capable of making his own sexual choices. This notion complies with Catherine A. Mackinnon’s views of sexual objectification in Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, in which she posits that “To be sexually objectified means having a social meaning imposed on your being that defines you as to be sexually used, according to your desired uses, and then using you that way” (422). Seeing as Finnick has no agency in terms of his sexual choices, objectification becomes a very apt term to describe his situation.
In Mockingjay, Finnick Odair points out that sometimes he was sold to patrons for an extravagant price, but other times, he was literally offered as a gift. Gayle Rubin, in The Traffic in Women: Notes on the “Political Economy” of Sex, focuses on how women many times are problematically approached as a material good exchanged in a transaction. Although women are most certainly part of this transaction, they are not an active agent within this exchange, but rather, a conduit to this exchange: they become a gift, while the man in charge of facilitating the transaction becomes the giver. This exchange, as Rubin argues, solely the benefit of social organization to “men who are the beneficiaries of the product of such exchanges” (Rubin 243-244).
In Finnick’s case, his gifting absolutely promotes the prominence of patriarchal values and chauvinism seeing as it helps to cement President Snow’s authority over Panem and the Capitol, and it still allows him to have absolute control over social organization: through this process of gifting Finnick and other victors to patrons, Snow upholds his absolute authority (and hierarchy) over them.
Interestingly, in Mockingjay we observe how Finnick takes advantage of his position in order to regain some of the power that Snow tried to take away from him. In other words, he uses the very power that the Capitol and Snow possess in order to counterattack the system. As Finnick points out during his confession:
“I wasn’t the only one, but I was the most popular,” he says. “And perhaps the most defenseless, because the people I loved were so defenseless. To make themselves feel better, my patrons would make presents of money or jewelry, but I found a much more valuable form of payment.” (Collins)
Finnick soon reveals that “secrets” became his preferred form of currency. Seeing as his patrons viewed him in as weak, delicate, exploitable, and vulnerable, they shared no hesitation whatsoever to open up to Finnick and share their deepest and darkest secrets with him, touching upon every subject from the sexual to the economic. Secrets were the currency that Finnick “saved” as a reservoir of personal power. Unfortunately, this power did not benefit him personally, but rather, it was usurped by District 13 as a way of intensifying hostility towards the Capitol. However, it is interesting to see how this power, despite coming from a morally corrupt source, was still able to be channeled for emancipatory means: secrets exposed the hypocrisy and decay of President Snow and the residents of the Capitol, which in due course helped to foster a thirst for rebellion against the very powers that converted Finnick into a sexual object.
Collins, Suzanne. Mockingjay. New York: Scholastic Press, 2010. (E-book version)
Mackinnon, Catherine A. “Toward a Feminist Theory of the State.” Feminist Theory: A Reader. New York: McGraw Hill, 2013. Print.
Rubin, Gayle. “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex.” Feminist Theory: A Reader. New York: McGraw Hill, 2013. Print.