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Sunday, March 3, 2024
The Observer

The essence of snow and ’The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’

Editor's note: This column includes spoilers for ”The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.”

“This world, it's dark, this world, it's scary / I've taken some hits so no wonder I'm wary / It's why I need you / You're as pure as the driven snow.” 

 Lucy Gray from “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes”
When I was in middle school, I learned that a snowflake is ice that formed around a particle of dirt. I’ve since come to learn that it is not necessarily dirt. Ice can also form around particles of dust, pollen or even sea salt. Anyway, that realization is why I stopped eating snow sometime in 7th grade. I could never get over the fact that this soft and seemingly pure delight was actually — at its core — dirt. Snow's deceptive nature parallels the character of Coriolanus Snow, the president of the fictional world Panem and the antagonist of The Hunger Games series, as portrayed in ”The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.”

Despite the book's publication in 2020, the recent film adaptation of “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” premiered just weeks ago. The narrative provides an origin story for President Snow, shedding light on his familial lineage and personal motivations. A recurring phrase in the movie is his family motto: “Snow lands on top.”

The motto exudes resilience and unwavering determination. Regardless of hardships, a member of the Snow family will always triumph despite any adversities. One can almost envision Donald Sutherland's President Snow, wearing his signature self-indulgent smirk, reciting these words with unyielding conviction.

In the book, the narrative unfolds from Snow's perspective, affording readers insight into how he constantly maneuvers to protect his own interests and manipulates others so they can see him in a kind light. He’s a textbook unreliable narrator, but his biased perspective reveals the breadth of his arrogance, while simultaneously presenting the layers of his many insecurities. 

The intriguing aspect of the film adaptation is the absence of the book Snow's inner monologue — a crucial aspect to understanding Snow as a fundamentally untrusting and self-interested individual. In the movie, it seems as if charming Snow has this somewhat unexpected (perhaps even sudden) descent into darkness. But if you’ve read the book — if you have the background information — you’ll know that this descent came as no surprise. Snow’s acquisition of increasingly negative and self-destructive values is more comprehensively explored in the book, making his evolution less sudden and more contextualized.

Although often overshadowed by the series’ romances, action sequences and the attractiveness of the cast members, a pivotal theme of The Hunger Games saga explores the dichotomy of human nature — whether humanity leans towards inherent goodness or inherent evil. Towards the film's conclusion, when queried about the purpose of The Hunger Games, Snow responds with a chilling revelation: “To remind us all who we truly are.” This chilling declaration unveils his conviction that humanity is inherently bloodthirsty. He is willing to undertake any means necessary to survive. At least, this is how he sees himself and how he justifies his decisions. In committing to this understanding of human nature, he secures his future in the Capitol and effectively becomes “the victor” of the 10th Hunger Games. He became an ambitious, conniving and cold individual. He cemented himself as a real member of the Snow family — and, as we all know by now, snow lands on top.

Now, at this point you might be thinking: Is the lesson of today’s column that some people are fundamentally evil? No, of course not. I firmly reject that notion. Human beings are not fundamentally evil, but Snow is. 

For Snow, being a true member of the Snow family holds an aspirational allure. Sure, it’s quite literally in his blood, but he doesn’t even remember his parents. The Snow prestige has all but disappeared. He only knows of his father’s legacy and the Snow family creed. For Coriolanus, the notion of being a Snow transcends mere lineage. It's an ideal reinforced by core values of supremacy, dominance and the acquisition of authority. He perceives the Snow name as synonymous with power, shaping his ambition and defining his pursuits.

As people familiar with the nature of snow, we know that it is nothing but dirt.

You see, I think human beings are like the water that inevitably becomes snow. As we evolve and mature over time, we encounter opportunities to define the particles around which we shape ourselves. This process allows us to consciously select the core values we cherish and fashion our growth around those principles. Some choose to develop around pollen which helps create life and continues on our life cycle or around sea salt which can be rich in cleansing minerals. At the same time, others may choose to develop around dirt which admittedly serves a purpose but is also dead matter. Ultimately, it's our conscious choices and the values we center ourselves upon that define our evolution and trajectory.

It is still hard to change once you are set in your ways. As the wise and formidable Olaf the snowman shares in “Frozen 2,” water holds memories. As you form and reform around various particles, you still carry your story with you. 

So, for today’s lesson, I remind you that we are in our prime self-discovery years — use them wisely. I encourage you to be mindful of what you gravitate toward and pay close attention to what you choose to prioritize. If you feel yourself developing into a person you don’t want to be, it is never too late to make different decisions and develop new habits. It’s hard, but not impossible. 

All this being said, as we draw nearer to our winter break and approach the new year in the upcoming weeks, I wish you all the best. In between spending time with loved ones and brainstorming New Year's Resolutions, I truly hope you find the time to read ”The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.” It is honestly such an interesting read. Regardless, safe travels and happy holidays.

As for finals, I’ll just say this: May the odds be ever in your favor.

Joy Agwu is a senior at Pasquerilla West, originally from Bowie, Maryland. She is pursuing a degree in philosophy with a minor in Constitutional studies. In her free time, she finds great pleasure in consuming media and reflecting on the deeper meanings behind the content she encounters. Whether you have recommendations for TV shows, movies, podcasts or any other form of media, or if would like to further discuss an idea presented in a column, feel free to reach out to her on Instagram @JoyfulJoyousss.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.