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“They hadn’t anticipated its will to live”… Why the mockingjay symbol was so important in representing Katniss

Suzanne CollinsHunger Games series is a powerful collection of books with a very real and alarming message. They are more than just young adult fiction stories set in a dystopian future with a strong heroine. These books act as a warning; they show us the confusing and dark side of humanity. But at the same time, these books teach us about bravery and give us hope through the character of Katniss.

At its core, the Hunger Games novels are about a person’s fight and will to live. For The Hunger Games this is when you put 24 children in an arena to fight to the death. In Catching Fire, it’s when the rich and most famous are all put in the arena where the plan is only one will come out alive. In Mockingjay, it’s the will to survive during a war.

But, to me, Catching Fire is where we see the message of the Hunger Games series to be at its most poignant, because even the citizens of the Capitol stop seeing the contestants of the Games as pawns and more like real people who they love and don’t want to lose.

SPARKS ARE IGNITING.
FLAMES ARE SPREADING.
AND THE CAPITAL WANTS REVENGE.

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games. She and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark are miraculously still alive. Katniss should be relieved, happy even. Yet nothing is the way Katniss wishes it to be. Gale holds her at an icy distance. Peeta has turned his back on her completely. And there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol – a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create.

Much to her shock, Katniss has fueled an unrest that she’s afraid she cannot stop. And what scares her even more is that she’s not entirely convinced she should try. As time draws near for Katniss and Peeta to visit the districts on the Capitol’s cruel Victory Tour, the stakes are higher than ever. If they can’t prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are lost in their love for each other, the consequences will be horrifying. Katniss is about to be tested as never before.

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I’ve wrote before about the message of The Hunger Games and the warning that Collins was trying to get across – and I believe this is apparent across all the books in the series. The idea that these books act as a mirror of our current society – reflecting what our culture will be like and warns us of the situation we may find ourselves in 100 years from now if our media continues with difficulty to find the difference between entertaining television shows and reality. That as much as we want to, or try to, deny it, do we exist in a country divided by arbitrary boundaries; where dissent is repressed and passivity rewarded; a country where violence is a tragedy only so long as the people who suffer it look like us and share our social markings?

As I said, this is all the more obvious in Catching Fire when we see how everyone in Capitol, as well as Panem, react when they find out that previous victors have to return to the arena once again. But that’s not the message of the book that I want to reflect on today.

There are a lot of things moviegoers will have missed if they haven’t read the book, including the real reason why Katniss and the mockingjay became the symbol of rebellion, which, I believe, is also the reason why President Snow both hated and respected Katniss with equal ferocity.

The Games were meant to terrify people, make them feel powerless despite their anger and resentment at what was going on around them. They didn’t intend for someone to come out of the Games with the message that they can hurt the Capitol, that they could bring it down, and with it the Games.

In the novel, Katniss has a conversation with her friend, Madge. She says:

“But Mockingjays were never a weapon,” said Madge. “They’re just songbirds. Right?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” I said, But it’s not true. A mockingbird is just a songbird. A mockingjay is a creature the capitol never intended to exist. They hadn’t counted on the highly controlled jabberjay having the brains to adapt to the wild, to thrive in a new form. They hadn’t anticipated its will to live.
– Suzanne Collins, Catching Fire

This would never of had been able to make the film even if Francis Lawrence wanted to add it in. Madge Undersee, Katniss’s friend and the one who gave her the mockingjay pin, was never added to the cast. Even though that in itself is bad enough, this conversation explains why the mockingjay is the symbol for rebellion.

The Capitol created the jabberjay – a mutt which was a bird designed to record full human conversations from the rebels and then repeat them back to those the Capitol. Once the rebels saw what was going on, they used the jabberjays to spread lies and fake news and then the Capitol discarded them to the wild since they were now of no use.

However, these jabberjays found a way to survive and mated with mockingbirds to create mockingjays. The Capitol created the jabberjay, but they didn’t intend for a creature like the mockingjay to exist or to even come from their original actions.

In this way, Katniss and the mockingjay are similar: she wasn’t someone President Snow intended to exist and she went on to become who she was because of the thing they created, the Games.

This is why Katniss’s symbol is a mockingjay – and also why the symbol is another slap in the face to the Capitol – because no matter if it’s human, animal or a mutation creature, everything can adapt and do its best to survive with an extraordinary power and will to live.

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