Mockingjay
Suzanne Collins
Contributed by Loretta Ingwersen
Symbols
Symbols are objects or figures that artists use to represent an idea.
Mockingjay

As in Catching Fire, in Mockingjay the mockingjay bird is an important symbol of Katniss Everdeen’s conflicted nature, and her complicated roles in the wars between the rebels and the Capitol. Mockingjays are the descendants of genetically-engineered jabberjays (birds designed to be spies for the government) and true mockingbirds, and so they are resourceful, independent survivors who are, in a way, products of the government’s tyranny—like Katniss herself. As Katniss takes on a more important role as a Panem celebrity and symbol for rebellion (in the first two books of the trilogy), she is increasingly associated with mockingjays—from their whistle, which she uses during the Hunger Games, to the dresses designed for her by Cinna. In Mockingjay, Katniss agrees to become the symbolic figure of “the Mockingjay” for the rebel alliance headed by President Alma Coin. In this role, Katniss aims to be an inspiration for those who oppose the government headed by President Snow, inspiring them to rise up against tyranny. Katniss is highly successful in her capacity as Mockingjay: when she travels to the rebel districts, her presence immediately inspires rebel forces. Indeed, when she visits a hospital, her aura is so strong that it makes some of the patients feel better. Ultimately the Mockingjay is something like a symbol of a symbol—in other words, by studying what the Mockingjay “does” in the novel, we can understand how symbols themselves work—how they influence people, and what their limitations are.

Roses

President Snow sends roses to Katniss at several points in the novel—most shockingly, just after he orders her home, District 12, to be bombed. Because roses are typically a sign of affection and love, Snow’s message—that is, the juxtaposition of roses and violence—is far more appalling than violence by itself could ever be. This kind of juxtaposition is typical of the government’s political “style”: during the Hunger Games, for instance, the government combines entertainment and pleasure with violence. In general, then, roses symbolize the government at its gaudiest and most terrifying.

Arrow

At the end of Mockingjay, when the government headed by President Snow has been defeated, Katniss is invited to shoot Snow with an arrow given to her by the new leader, President Coin. Just as she’s about to carry out her duties and execute Snow, Katniss turns and shoots Coin (with whom she’s become greatly disillusioned), killing her instantly. The arrow sums up Katniss’s dilemma as Mockingjay: she’s forced to stick to a script—in this case, she’s supposed to use her arrow to kill Snow, according to Coin’s wishes. At the same time, an arrow is a weapon, and the only one who can control a weapon is the person who carries it. Thus, the arrow represents Katniss’s potential for going “off-script,” disobeying authorities, and using her considerable talents for her own purposes.

Double Bomb

The double bomb that kills Katniss Everdeen’s sister, Primrose, was designed by two rebels: Beetee and Gale, Katniss’s lifelong friend. Previously, Gale had explained that the double bombs are designed to appeal to mankind’s weakness for compassion. The first round of bombs, he goes on, is brutal, but the second round, which goes off shortly after the first—once a large crowd of sympathetic helpers show up—is far deadlier. Setting aside the double bombs’ obvious links to tragedy, betrayal, and the way they represent the rebels’ willingness to be just as bloody and underhanded as Snow in achieving their aims, they’re also an apt metaphor for Katniss’s state of mind throughout Mockingjay. The first “round” of pain that Katniss experiences is physical in nature: wounds she sustains during the Hunger Games themselves, rebel battles, the destruction of District 12, etc. The “second round” of devastation is always more painful for Katniss, however, because it appeals to her innate sense of compassion, rather than her body. Katniss is more pained by guilt than by her physical wounds—after the Hunger Games, for instance, Katniss is more upset at having abandoned Peeta to be kidnapped than at having hurt her arm.

The Hanging Tree

Katniss sings a song called “The Hanging Tree” about a man who has been hanged. In the song he calls out for his lover, still alive, to “flee,” but in the end, it becomes clear that he’s asking her to die along with him, hanging from a tree. Although Katniss has known this song for many years—her dead father taught it to her—it takes on new meanings as she becomes older, more mature, and more traumatized by the violence she’s witnessed in the Hunger Games. The Hanging Tree itself, a symbol of the eerie peacefulness of death, becomes increasingly appealing to her—she wishes she could escape from her duties and obligations to the rebel cause, and be “at peace.” This doesn’t mean that Katniss is suicidal, exactly. Rather, the tree encapsulates both pain and peace—in this way, it represents a kind of “compromise state.” Because of the trauma Katniss has accumulated, to be both peaceful and wounded is the best she can hope for.

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