About the Book

Book Protagonist: Coriolanus Snow
Publication Date: 2020
Genre: Action and Adventure, Dystopian, Teen and Young Adult

Historical Context

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

By Suzanne Collins

'The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes' by Suzanne Collins is a prequel to the Hunger Games Trilogy, and has many historical influences.

The novel explores the origin story of the Hunger Games as well as the origin story of the major antagonist of the Trilogy – Coriolanus Snow. Collins was inspired by various periods of American and world history to write this novel.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Historical Context

Publication History

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes was published on May 19, 2020, by Scholastic. The book was launched virtually because of the covid-19 pandemic. The cover of the novel features a golden Mockingjay at a new angle and entwined with a snake. The cover was designed by Tim O’Brien and captures the central conflict of the novel.

An audiobook book was released at the same time. It is narrated by American actor Santino Fontana. 

Historical Influences

Suzanne Collins was inspired by the Reconstruction era in American history for The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. The Reconstruction period roughly lasted between 1863 and 1877. This was the time when the United States Government attempted to recover from the Civil Rights Movement. The government gave equal rights and protection to enslaved Black people after the war. However, the project was a massive failure. Both the Government and military failed to protect Black people and supporters of the Civil Rights Movement. As such, many of them succumbed to murder and violence. This was also the time that the Ku Klux Klan was formed. As a result, whatever rights were gained during the movement were lost in the subsequent period. 

This is exactly what happens in the novel as well. The Capitol is scrambling to put the nation back together after the devastating rebellion by the districts. However, unlike the Civil Rights Movement, the rebellion was a failure in Panem. As a result, rebels are treated as subhuman, and there is no question of equal rights whatsoever. 

Collins was also influenced by Europe after World War II. She used post-war Europe as inspiration for the setting of her novel. Several years after the war, there was rubble on the streets of London. This is the Capitol of Panem 10 years after the rebellion. War has not left the nation even after a decade. Rubble lines the streets, and dormant bombs are still waiting to go off. 

Suzanne Collins Personal Context

The same influences that pushed Susan Collins to write the Hunger Games Trilogy are at work in this novel as well. Collins’ inspiration for The Hunger Games was the blurring of two television channels – one of a reality show and the other of footage from the Afghanistan war – when she was channel surfing. Some of the main influences that helped her shape the trilogy, as well as its prequel include her father’s stint in the military, Greek and Roman mythology – specifically the myth of Theseus and the Roman gladiatorial games. 

Suzanne Collins borrows the names of many characters in the novel (including that of the protagonist, Coriolanus), from historical figures of the Roman empire. For example, Coriolanus is named after a Roman general who lived in the fifth century BC, while his friend Sejanus is named after a Roman soldier, friend, and confidant of the Roman emperor Tiberius.

Political Philosophy

Suzanne Collins draws upon the philosophies from the Enlightenment Era to form the basis of her novel. The most dominant of this philosophy comes from John Locke’s theory of tabula rasa. This theory states that people are born as blank slates, and their experiences shape them into who they become later in their lives. As per this theory, Coriolanus Snow was born a blank slate. It was his experiences in the novel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, that shaped him into the evil and autocratic ruler he is in The Hunger Games Trilogy. These experiences include war, the tenth Hunger Games, his relationship with and eventual hatred of Lucy Gray.

Collins also grapples with human nature in the novel. While Dr. Gaul, the Head Gamemaker, believes that human nature is essentially violent, Lucy Gray believes that humans are naturally good. This is in line with Jean-Jacque Rousseau’s theory that humans are inherently good and that humans can live peaceful and happy lives. 

Suzanne Collins borrows from the social contract theory as well. Dr. Gaul and Coriolanus argue that control is necessary for humans to function and that absolute control is essential for chaos to be eliminated. They speak of a social contract to establish this control. This is similar to the social contract theory, which reflects the view that people’s moral and political obligations are dependent upon a contract that is drawn amongst them. The contract typically legitimizes the authority of the state over the individual. This is what both Dr. Gaul and Coriolanus use to justify the cruel actions of the Capitol over the districts.

Literary Context

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes features several quotations in the epigraphs. One can see quotations from John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. It also includes a quote from The Social Contract by Jean-Jacque Rousseau. All of these philosophies make it into the novel – especially in the conversation between Coriolanus and Dr. Gaul. The novel’s epigraph also features a quote from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which is a popular 19th-century science fiction novel that questions human nature.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is similar to JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince, where the origin story of the antagonist, Lord Voldemort is revealed. Other novels that turn antagonists into protagonists (much like The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes) include Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire and Circe, Grendel by John Gardner. 

One of the protagonists of the novel, Lucy Gray is named after the main character in William Wordsworth’s ballad titled “Lucy Gray.” Lucy Gray Baird even sings the ballad on one particular occasion in the novel.


Is Katniss in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes?

No, Katniss is not in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. The novel takes place 64 years before the first Hunger Games novel, at a time when Katniss Everdeen is not born yet.

Is Lucy Gray Baird dead?

We do not know for sure whether Lucy Gray Baird is dead or not. Snow attempts to kill her in the forest before returning to his life as an officer. While the rains bullets in the same direction as Lucy Gray, he is unsure of whether any bullet hit her or not.

Why did Snow hate Katniss so much?

President Snow hates Katniss for several reasons. Firstly, Katniss stands for the rebellion that threatens to bring his autocratic rule down. Secondly, she reminds him of his lost love, Lucy Gray Baird.

Who does President Snow marry?

President Snow has a loveless marriage with a woman named Julia Pompey. It has been suggested that he killed his wife because she attempted to kill him and take their son’s place. He remarried twice after that – the first time to a woman from the Stone family and the second time to a woman from the Wilford family.

Neesha Thunga K
About Neesha Thunga K
Neesha graduated in 2020 with a degree in MA English. Before that, she has spent several years teaching English and writing for various organizations. As a lover of English literature, she truly believes that crafting stories through words is the greatest achievement of mankind. She is now pursuing her passion for literature as an Expert on the Book Analysis team.
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