The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

by

Suzanne Collins

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The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Suzanne Collins's The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Suzanne Collins

Suzanne Collins is the youngest of four children. Her father was an Air Force officer, so the family moved often but generally stayed in the eastern United States. (In Ballad’s acknowledgments, Collins credits her father with both introducing her to military strategy and to Enlightenment-era political theory.) She received a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University Bloomington; she double majored in theater and telecommunications. Several years later, she completed a Master of Fine Arts in dramatic writing from New York University. In 1991, she began to write for children’s television shows on Nickelodeon and for Scholastic Entertainment. In 2003, she published her first novel, Gregor the Overlander, and went on to publish four more novels in what’s now known as the Underland Chronicles. While the Underland Chronicles were popular, Collins rose to fame after publishing The Hunger Games in 2008. The Hunger Games spent more than 60 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and Collins followed the novel with two more over the next two years, Catching Fire and Mockingjay. She adapted The Hunger Games for film herself. The Hunger Games helped make Collins a household name. She was named one of Time magazine’s most influential people of 2010 and two years later, she became the bestselling Kindle author of all time. Between Mockingjay in 2010 and The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes in 2020, Collins published one other book, Year of the Jungle. She’s married and has two children.
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Historical Context of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

While Suzanne Collins got the idea for the original Hunger Games series from flipping back and forth between TV coverage of the Iraq War and reality TV shows, she went further back in time for inspiration for The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. She cites the Reconstruction-era American South, as well as Europe in the years after World War II, as time periods that influenced the novel. The Reconstruction era (roughly 1863-1877) saw the United States government attempt to put the country back together and give formerly enslaved Black people equal rights and protections after the devastating American Civil War. However, historians tend to characterize Reconstruction as a massive failure, as the government and the military failed to protect many Black people and supporters of civil rights from violence and murder—and many civil rights gains during this period were lost in the following decades. The Ku Klux Klan was also formed during this period. The influence of post-World War II Europe can be felt most in Ballad in the descriptions of rubble in the Capitol’s streets. In places that were heavily bombed during World War II, such as London, rubble remained in the streets for years. Today, there are even some places, such as Christ Church on Newgate Street, that have been left as ruins to remind people how devastating the Blitz was. The Hunger Games themselves are inspired by Roman gladiator fights—and many characters’ names in the novel, including Coriolanus’s, come from historical figures from the Roman Empire. Ballad also deals heavily with Enlightenment-era political philosophy, specifically with John Locke’s theory of tabula rasa—in short, Locke proposed that people are born as blank slates and that people’s experiences shape them into who they ultimately become. This theory would suggest that Coriolanus becomes the villain readers remember from The Hunger Games trilogy because of his experiences during the war, his experience of mentoring Lucy Gray, and his failed romance with (and eventual hatred of) her. Dr. Gaul is the character who most often repeats these Enlightenment theories; much of what she says to Coriolanus about human nature draws directly from these philosophers.

Other Books Related to The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a prequel to Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay); it gives backstory on the original trilogy’s main antagonist—President Coriolanus Snow—and explains how the Hunger Games (a nationally televised sporting event pitting poor children against each other in a fight to the death) came to be. Ballad offers a deep dive into Enlightenment-era political theory. The epigraphs include quotations from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract, John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, and Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan. All three Enlightenment-era works explore human nature and how government functions; the content of many of Coriolanus’s conversations with Dr. Gaul about human nature draw from these three texts. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein also appears in the novel’s epigraph. As a villain’s origin story, Ballad bears some resemblance to the sixth Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; in it, Harry and Professor Dumbledore explore how the villain Voldemort transformed from a poor orphan boy to the villain he is in the novels’ present. Other novels that feature villains from other works as protagonists include Madeline Miller’s Circe, Grendel by John Gardner, and Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire. The novel also references a poem by William Wordsworth called “Lucy Gray.”
Key Facts about The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
  • Full Title: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
  • When Written: 2019
  • Where Written: Sandy Hook, Connecticut
  • When Published: 2020
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Young Adult Novel; Dystopian Fiction
  • Setting: The Capitol; District 12
  • Climax: Coriolanus shoots at Lucy Gray
  • Antagonist: Hunger, the rebels, and Dean Highbottom. Coriolanus thinks Dr. Gaul is an antagonist for a while, but she becomes his mentor.
  • Point of View: Third Person

Extra Credit for The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Roman Origins. The name Panem has Roman origins. It’s part of the phrase “panem et circenses,” which translates to “bread and circuses”—which is, in a way, an encapsulation of what the Hunger Games is.

Wasn’t Me. Collins spent about a decade writing for children’s television shows before becoming a writer, and one of her most famous projects was writing the Canadian show Little Bear. She’s sometimes mistakenly listed as the writer for the source books, which were actually written by Else Holmelund Minark and illustrated by Maurice Sendak of Where the Wild Things Are fame.