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The Hanging Tree Symbol Analysis

The Hanging Tree Symbol Icon
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.

The Hanging Tree Quotes in Mockingjay

The Mockingjay quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Hanging Tree. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Revolution and Its Problems Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Scholastic Press edition of Mockingjay published in 2014.
Chapter 9 Quotes

I used to think the murderer was the creepiest guy imaginable. Now, with a couple of trips to the Hunger Games under my belt, I decide not to judge him without knowing more details. Maybe his lover was already sentenced to death and he was trying to make it easier. To let her know he'd be waiting. Or maybe he thought the place he was leaving her was really worse than death. Didn't I want to kill Peeta with that syringe to save him from the Capitol? Was that really my only option? Probably not, but I couldn't think of another at the time.

Related Characters: Katniss Everdeen (speaker), Peeta Mellark
Related Symbols: The Hanging Tree
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

During the filming of one of her propaganda videos for the rebels, Katniss recalls a song she learned as a small child. In the song, a murderer calls out to his lover, asking her to join his side; ultimately, we realize that the man is dead, and wants his lover to join him in the afterlife. Although Katniss has known the song for many years, she begins to consider what it means and finds associations between the lyrics and her own life.

It's not clear whether Katniss associates herself with the murderer or the lover, but it's obvious that she sees a deep similarity between her relationship with Peeta—her lover, currently captured by the government—and the murderer's relationship with his lover. Like the murderer, Katniss (and for that matter, Peeta) is both romantic and deeply selfish. Much as the murderer wants his lover to join him in death, Katniss wants Peeta to "join her" in her state of misery and trauma, even if Peeta is better off in another state of mind. Coping with trauma, as Katniss has been attempting to do for some time now, can be challenging and often rather selfish: one wants a friend with whom to share the burden of pain. Katniss, who's witnessed murder and carnage, feels a deep bond of trust and intimacy with Peeta, because he's one of the few people who knows what she's going through.


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The Hanging Tree Symbol Timeline in Mockingjay

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Hanging Tree appears in Mockingjay. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 9
Role-Playing, Authenticity, Television, and the Self Theme Icon
Trauma and Love Theme Icon
...Games whom she failed to protect from harm. Suddenly, she switches songs. Katniss sings “ The Hanging Tree ,” which the government has banned for its “subversive” lyrics. (full context)
Role-Playing, Authenticity, Television, and the Self Theme Icon
Trauma and Love Theme Icon
The Hanging Tree ” is about a man who kills three people and is then hanged for his... (full context)
Chapter 15
Revolution and Its Problems Theme Icon
The Power and Danger of Symbols Theme Icon
Role-Playing, Authenticity, Television, and the Self Theme Icon
Compassion, Callousness, and Revenge Theme Icon
Trauma and Love Theme Icon
...a great leap forward in his rehabilitation—he’s been exposed to footage of Katniss singing “ The Hanging Tree ” and shown no signs of anger or fear. This reminds Katniss of her father... (full context)
Chapter 25
The Power and Danger of Symbols Theme Icon
Compassion, Callousness, and Revenge Theme Icon
Trauma and Love Theme Icon
...bed, smiling, followed by Cinna, Delly, and, bizarrely, her own father, who is singing “ The Hanging Tree .” President Coin visits Katniss and assures her “I’ve captured President Snow for you.” This... (full context)