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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Mockingjay, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
The Power and Danger of Symbols Theme Icon

From the very beginning of Mockingjay, it’s made clear that symbols are of the utmost importance in the war between the government of Panem and the rebel alliance. The leader of the rebels, President Alma Coin, asks Katniss to play the part of Mockingjay: to be the embodiment of the rebels’ energy, courage, and desire for change.

When Katniss agrees to do so, it becomes clear that the Mockingjay is a key part of the rebel war effort. Katniss visits the various districts of Panem, and her presence by itself is enough to persuade the rebels to fight harder. When she visits a rebel hospital, she takes on an almost Christ-like aspect—it’s as if the aura of the Mockingjay symbol is so powerful that Katniss has the ability to heal the sick. Rebels use television to broadcast Katniss’s performances as the Mockingjay across Panem, thereby using a symbol to inspire millions of people to join the rebel cause.

The greatest power of symbols, Collins suggests, is that they act as a kind of placebo. Katniss, by herself, is a young, self-admittedly awkward woman. Yet when she assumes the guise of the Mockingjay, the people of Panem worship her. Katniss herself is the same person in either case. But because other people associate the Mockingjay with courage, energy, and rebellion, Katniss does, in fact, take on great majesty. A symbol is powerful, in short, because people agree that it represents something greater than what it literally is.

Symbols inspire people to do all sorts of virtuous and impressive things. And yet, symbols can be twisted and manipulated, as well. At the end of Mockingjay, it becomes clear how thoroughly President Coin has manipulated the power of symbols. By sending Katniss throughout Panem, she encourages the people of the districts to fight the government, and usually to die. At the same, she subtly encourages President Snow to spend huge resources trying to kill Katniss, thereby neglecting the rest of Panem and weakening his own government. The end result is that Snow’s regime collapses from the inside, the districts of Panem rise up against the Capitol, and (most diabolically) Panem is left so weak that Coin can easily “swoop in” and seize control of the country. Coin has, in essence, used the power of symbols to misdirect her enemies and weaken her rivals, ensuring victory. Ironically, Katniss—the Mockingjay herself—had no idea that Coin was using her in this way.

In the end, Collins suggests, symbols are neither purely “good” nor “bad.” They are, rather, powerful tools that can be used for any number of different purposes. Because Katniss is deeply uncomfortable with the notion that symbols can be used to send people to their deaths, she ultimately gives up her duties as Mockingjay, abandoning the world of symbols for good.

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The Power and Danger of Symbols ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of The Power and Danger of Symbols appears in each chapter of Mockingjay. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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The Power and Danger of Symbols Quotes in Mockingjay

Below you will find the important quotes in Mockingjay related to the theme of The Power and Danger of Symbols.
Chapter 1 Quotes

No one will fully understand—how it's not just a flower, not even just President Snow's flower, but a promise of revenge—because no one else sat in the study with him when he threatened me before the Victory Tour. Positioned on my dresser, that white-as-snow rose is a personal message to me. It speaks of unfinished business. It whispers, I can find you. I can reach you. Perhaps I am watching you now.

Related Characters: Katniss Everdeen (speaker), President Coriolanus Snow
Related Symbols: Roses
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

Shortly before the beginning of the novel, Katniss's hometown, District 12, is bombed by the Panem government headed by President Snow in retaliation for Katniss's acts of rebellion. When Katniss walks through the ashes of her town, she's surprised to find a rose in the remains of her house. Although there's no message attached to the rose, Katniss has no doubt about who placed it there, or what it means: she's positive that President Snow sent the rose to remind Katniss that he's watching her at all times, and will try to hunt her down and kill her.

It is interesting that we're not told if Katniss is correct in her interpretation of the rose. Her thought process seems reasonable—President Snow is famous for waging psychological warfare on his enemies. And yet Katniss has been wrong before when she tries to interpret ambiguous symbols (in the prequel to Mockingjay, she completely misinterpreted Plutarch Heavensbee's watch, a "symbol" that helped to save her life). We're reminded that signs and symbols—of which the rose is certainly an example—can never be understood with complete certainty. In the end, the quotation says as much about Katniss's current state of mind as it does about President Snow. Whether Snow placed the rose in District 12 or not, Katniss has become paranoid, frightened, and constantly anxious, haunted by her traumatic past.


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Chapter 3 Quotes

"It's just...Peeta. I'm afraid if we do win, the rebels will execute him as a traitor.”
Prim thinks this over. "Katniss, I don't think you understand how important you are to the cause. Important people usually get what they want. If you want to keep Peeta safe from the rebels, you can."

Related Characters: Katniss Everdeen (speaker), Primrose (Prim) Everdeen (speaker), Peeta Mellark
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

Katniss Everdeen's friend (and sometimes boyfriend) Peeta Mellark has been kidnapped by the Panem government in retaliation for Katniss's decision to join a group of rebels. Katniss tells Primrose, her little sister, that she's afraid that Peeta will be killed if the rebels win the war with the Capitol, since the Capitol has forced or brainwashed Peeta into making a series of anti-rebel propaganda videos. Although Prim is much younger than Katniss, she's remarkably perceptive—arguably more so than Katniss. Prim correctly points out that Katniss will be able to use her influence to keep Peeta alive.

Prim's argument is both wise and naive at the same time. She sees that Peeta will be kept alive because of his relationship to Katniss, but she wrongly assumes that Katniss has genuine power over the rebel leadership. The reality, Katniss later realizes, is that the rebels will keep Peeta alive, but not out of respect for Katniss—on the contrary, they'll keep him so that they have a way of controlling Katniss. Just like the Capitol itself, the rebels will try to manipulate Katniss into obedience. The fact that Katniss hasn't considered the rebels' course of action suggests that she still believes that the rebels are very different from the government of Panem, when in reality they're virtually the same. Furthermore, Katniss's unawareness that Peeta will be kept alive proves that she's also unaware of the extent of her own importance to the rebels.

Chapter 4 Quotes

"Punishing my prep team's a warning," I tell her. "Not just to me. But to you, too. About who's really in control and what happens if she's not obeyed. If you had any delusions about having power, I'd let them go now. Apparently, a Capitol pedigree is no protection here. Maybe it's even a liability."

Related Characters: Katniss Everdeen (speaker), Venia , Octavia , Flavius
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

Shortly after Katniss arrives at the rebel base, ruled over by President Alma Coin, she discovers that her prep team (i.e., the people who do her makeup, hair, etc.) has been imprisoned, supposedly to punish them for stealing food. Although Katniss is able to use her friendships with Plutarch and other important officials to free her prep team, the incident sends her a clear message. As Katniss explains in the quotation, Coin wants to let Katniss know that she (Coin) is in charge. Sending Katniss's friends to prison at the drop of a hat is a not-so-subtle reminder that Coin could do the same to Katniss if she wanted; her power over the rebel base is virtually absolute.

In a broader sense, Coin's actions start to suggest to Katniss that the rebel alliance against the current government of Panem isn't really that different from the government itself. Where the Capitol, headed by President Snow, tried to blackmail Katniss into obedience by threatening her friends and family, Coin proves that she's willing to do exactly the same. And whereas the Panem government exploited the people of District 12, throwing them in jail for no discernible reason, Coin's rebel alliance reverses Snow's actions by punishing former residents of the Capitol, such as Katniss's prep team. Coin's rebel alliance is opposite and yet also identical to Snow's.

The president allows a few moments of unrest, and then continues in her brisk fashion. Only now the words coming out of her mouth are news to me. "But in return for this unprecedented request, Soldier Everdeen has promised to devote herself to our cause. It follows that any deviance from her mission, in either motive or deed, will be viewed as a break in this agreement. The immunity would be terminated and the fate of the four victors determined by the law of District Thirteen. As would her own. Thank you." In other words, I step out of line and we're all dead.

Related Characters: Katniss Everdeen (speaker), President Alma Coin (speaker), Peeta Mellark
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

Katniss has used her influence and power to strike up a bargain with President Alma Coin: Coin will spare the lives of Katniss's friends (including Peeta), in return for which Katniss will devote herself to the rebel cause. Katniss must earn her friends' lives by making propaganda videos and speaking out in favor of the rebels. Here, Coin confirms the bargain by announcing it to the rebels under her control: if Katniss breaks her promise, everyone in the alliance will know about it (and the same is true of Coin).

Coin's agreement with Katniss tells us a lot about Coin's personality, and about the style of government she favors. Much like her rival, President Snow, Coin wants to use Katniss as a political puppet—a famous, instantly recognizable symbol who can be manipulated to suit the needs of the rebel alliance. And much as President Snow pressured Katniss into obedience by threatening to hurt her friends, Alma Coin is now implicitly threatening Katniss in precisely the same way—a threat that Katniss understands perfectly.

Chapter 5 Quotes

And now Coin, with her fistful of precious nukes and her well-oiled machine of a district, finding it's even harder to groom a Mockingjay than to catch one. But she has been the quickest to determine that I have an agenda of my own and am therefore not to be trusted. She has been the first to publicly brand me as a threat.

Related Characters: Katniss Everdeen (speaker), President Alma Coin
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

Katniss considers the agreement she's just struck up with President Coin, according to which Katniss will take part in the rebels' propaganda campaign, in return for Coin's protection of her loved ones (such as Peeta). Although Katniss proposes this agreement in order to protect the people she cares about, Coin tries to persuade her people that Katniss is a potential threat to the safety of the rebel alliance: i.e., because of Katniss's ties to the government of Panem, she can't entirely be trusted.

As the quotation makes very clear, Coin takes steps to paint Katniss as untrustworthy because she understands that Katniss's interests don't align with the rebels' on all issues—for example, Katniss wants to protect Peeta, whereas most of the rebels want him dead. Coin's steps to "brand" Katniss a threat—essentially, to control the "public relations" side of their agreement—shows us that Coin is a worthy opponent for Katniss. As much as President Snow or Katniss herself, Coin understands the importance of public perception, and she maintains power by controlling how her people perceive her, her allies, and her enemies.

Chapter 7 Quotes

"Katniss?" a voice croaks out from my left, breaking apart from the general din. "Katniss?" A hand reaches for me out of the haze. I cling to it for support.

Attached to the hand is a young woman with an injured leg. Blood has seeped through the heavy bandages, which are crawling with flies. Her face reflects her pain, but something else, too, something that seems completely incongruous with her situation. "Is it really you?"
"Yeah, it's me," I get out.
Joy. That's the expression on her face. At the sound of my voice, it brightens, erases the suffering momentarily.

Related Characters: Katniss Everdeen (speaker)
Page Number: 89
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Katniss arrives at a scene of mass carnage: the rebels in Panem are rising up against the powerful, militaristic Panem government, and they're being punished for their uprising. Rebels lie on the ground, bleeding and crying out in pain. When Katniss arrives on the scene—being filmed for propaganda purposes—she's amazed to find that her mere presence on the scene can inspire people and make them stronger in the most literal of ways. In this scene, where Katniss acts as a kind of Christ-figure, a few seconds of her time helps a wounded young woman re-energize in the midst of battle.

Katniss's behavior during the battle scene reinforces an important point: the power of symbols. At their best, as in this quotation, Katniss's status as a renowned celebrity is a powerful force for good. She's a symbol as well as a person: her status as a rebel and a Hunger Games victor inspires people throughout the nation to rebel against the government. Interestingly, Katniss does almost nothing in this quotation: it is the young woman's ideas of what Katniss stands for, not Katniss herself, that brings joy. All powerful symbols work this way: by themselves, a cross, a flag, or a star are nothing important, but because of the powerful associations they inspire in people, they can bring energy, joy, and hope.

Chapter 10 Quotes

If you panic, it could spread like wildfire," explains Plutarch. I just stare at him. "Fire is catching, so to speak," he continues, as if I'm being slow on the uptake. "Why don't I just pretend I'm on camera, Plutarch?" I ask.
"Yes! Perfect. One is always much braver with an audience," he says.

Related Characters: Katniss Everdeen (speaker), Plutarch Heavensbee (speaker)
Page Number: 140
Explanation and Analysis:

Katniss and Plutarch have returned to the rebel base, knowing that President Snow is about to bomb them. Katniss is ordered to run to her bunker underground, but Plutarch gives her special instructions not to panic: because everyone pays attention to her, her panic would spread throughout the rebel base almost immediately. When Katniss sarcastically asks if she should pretend she's on camera, Plutarch seems not to get the joke at all—he agrees that Katniss should act like she's being filmed.

This quotation shows Katniss struggling with the demands of being a symbol and a role model for thousands of people. She clearly resents the fact that even in the midst of a bombing she can't be herself; i..e, she has to be acting at all times. And perhaps because he's spent most of his life directing people on how to behave for an audience, Plutarch seems totally unsympathetic to Katniss's anxieties about being a role model. As far as he's concerned, playing for the audience isn't a burden at all; on the contrary, Katniss acts like a better person when she feels like she has an audience.

Chapter 15 Quotes

I know there are a couple of huge screens here on the square. I saw them on the Victory Tour. It might work, if I were good at this sort of thing. Which I'm not. They tried to feed me lines in those early experiments with the propos, too, and it was a flop.

Related Characters: Katniss Everdeen (speaker)
Page Number: 213
Explanation and Analysis:

Katniss and her propaganda team travel to a faraway district of Panem, where they try to convince government soldiers to surrender, while also inciting the people to rise up against the government. Katniss knows from experience that she's not a compelling figure when she's reading from a script; she's at her best when she's improvising, relying on her instincts and speaking from the heart. In her current situation, then, Katniss is unlikely to be an interesting speaker: she has a clear, predetermined mission, and she's been carefully coached on what to say by her propaganda team.

The fact that Katniss is no good at "sticking to the script" suggests that she has a problem with obeying authority: she has an easier time listening to her own instincts than she does listening to other people. Katniss's inability to follow orders convincingly makes her a liability to the rebel alliance, and yet it also makes her a huge asset to the rebels. When she's improvising, Katniss is a compelling and magnetic personality, a living symbol of hope and rebellion. The rebels' challenge, then, is to encourage Katniss to improvise, hoping that they'll be able to "spin" her behavior to support their political cause.

Chapter 18 Quotes

I don't think they quite know what to do with the three of us, particularly me. I have my Mockingjay outfit with me, but I've only been taped in my uniform. Sometimes I use a gun, sometimes they ask me to shoot with my bow and arrows. It's as if they don't want to entirely lose the Mockingjay, but they want to downgrade my role to foot soldier. Since I don't care, it's amusing rather than upsetting to imagine the arguments going on back in 13.

Related Characters: Katniss Everdeen (speaker)
Related Symbols: Mockingjay, Arrow
Page Number: 260
Explanation and Analysis:

Katniss has been recruited for a top-secret mission to the Capitol of Panem, where the rebels are planning to overthrow President Snow. At first, Katniss was forbidden to participate in the mission. Now, however, she's convinced her superiors that she'd be a valuable addition to the team. Nevertheless, it's clear that Katniss's commanders don't really know what to do with her. They don't know if she should be a propaganda star (stay out of danger and try to inspire rebels across Panem) or a legitimate soldier (face real danger and risk her life).

The rebels' confusion about how to use Katniss on the mission reminds us that, for the majority of her time with the rebels, Katniss wasn't a proper soldier at all. She walked through battle-torn districts, and even saw some active combat, but her purpose was never to fire a gun or kill her opponents. Katniss was always more valuable as a symbol of the rebel cause. A foot soldier can kill only a few enemies, but a symbol can inspire thousands of new allies at once.

Chapter 19 Quotes

"Sometime in the near future, this war will be resolved. A new leader will be chosen," says Boggs. I roll my eyes. "Boggs, no one thinks I'm going to be the leader." "No. They don't," he agrees. "But you'll throw support to someone. Would it be President Coin? Or someone else?" "I don't know. I've never thought about it," I say. "If your immediate answer isn't Coin, then you're a threat. You're the face of the rebellion. You may have more influence than any other single person," says Boggs. "Outwardly, the most you've ever done is tolerated her.”

Related Characters: Katniss Everdeen (speaker), Boggs (speaker)
Related Symbols: Mockingjay
Page Number: 264
Explanation and Analysis:

Boggs, one of the rebel soldiers who's commanding Katniss on her mission to the Capitol, offers some advice about the future of the rebel alliance. As he explains to Katniss, President Coin will try to maintain her power after defeating President Snow; she'll try to become the leader of the new government. In order to gain power, Coin will have to eliminate her rivals and, even more importantly, people like Katniss who don't particularly like her.

The fact that Katniss hasn't thought about the future of the rebel alliance—who will be the leader of the new government, for example—reminds us that she's still incredibly modest and naive about her own power as a symbol of the rebel cause. Katniss has been a celebrity for over a year now, but she's still not entirely used to this role. As a result, she's genuinely puzzled when Boggs tells her that she has more influence than almost anyone else in Panem. In general, Katniss conforms to one of the classic heroic archetypes: the "reluctant leader"; i.e., a heroine who doesn't know her own strength. 

Chapter 20 Quotes

"Don't trust them. Don't go back. Kill Peeta. Do what you came to do." What did he mean? Don't trust who? The rebels? Coin? The people looking at me right now? I won't go back, but he must know I can't just fire a bullet through Peeta's head. Can I? Should I? Did Boggs guess that what I really came to do is desert and kill Snow on my own? I can't work all of this out now, so I just decide to carry out the first two orders: to not trust anyone and to move deeper into the Capitol. But how can I justify this? Make them let me keep the Holo?

Related Characters: Katniss Everdeen (speaker), Peeta Mellark , President Alma Coin , President Coriolanus Snow , Boggs
Page Number: 282
Explanation and Analysis:

During the course of the rebel mission to infiltrate the Capitol, Boggs is killed by a bomb. His dying words, delivered to Katniss, are the ones related in this quotation. As might be expected, Katniss immediately decides not to follow Boggs's advice to kill Peeta—she still loves and values Peeta too much. Katniss is puzzled about what Boggs meant by "don't trust them," however—who is the "them" she isn't supposed to trust?

Katniss's confusion about the meaning of Boggs's dying words reminds us that Katniss doesn't really know who her own friends are. As the novel moves on, it becomes increasingly obvious that the people Katniss trusts, including Coin and Plutarch, have been manipulating her for their own ends. Even Gale, Katniss's lifelong friend, can't be totally trusted anymore, since he often callously ignores the value of human life. Katniss is a puppet, being cynically moved around Panem for the good of her supposed allies. It's a mark of how thoroughly Katniss has been manipulated that the "them" in Boggs's sentence could refer to dozens of people, both enemies and apparent allies.

Chapter 26 Quotes

"I brought you this." Gale holds up a sheath. When I take it, I notice it holds a single, ordinary arrow.
"It's supposed to be symbolic. You firing the last shot of the war."
"What if I miss?" I say. "Does Coin retrieve it and bring it back to me? Or just shoot Snow through the head herself?"
"You won't miss." Gale adjusts the sheath on my shoulder. We stand there, face-to-face, not meeting each other's eyes.
"You didn't come see me in the hospital."
He doesn't answer, so finally I just say it.
"Was it your bomb?"
"I don't know. Neither does Beetee," he says. "Does it matter? You'll always be thinking about it."

Related Characters: Katniss Everdeen (speaker), Gale Hawthorne (speaker), President Alma Coin , President Coriolanus Snow , Beetee
Related Symbols: Arrow, The Double Bomb
Page Number: 366-367
Explanation and Analysis:

In this tense scene, Katniss reunites with her childhood friend Gale, who presents her with an arrow. Katniss is supposed to use the arrow to execute President Snow, the leader of the former government of Panem. By firing the shot, Katniss is supposed to officially end the rebels' war with Snow, ushering in a new government headed by President Alma Coin. Although Gale has known Katniss for almost her entire life, there's no trace of intimacy in his interaction with her now. On the contrary, he acts like a messenger, delivering information to Katniss on behalf of his real allies, the rebels. Gale's behavior reflects his shifting allegiances: although he's always been loyal to Katniss in the fact, he's moved away from his old friend in order to become more powerful in the growing rebel government.

The ultimate example of Gale's shifting allegiances, which Katniss alludes to in this quotation, is the bomb he may or may not have sent to the Capitol—the bomb that killed Katniss's little sister, Prim. Gale doesn't know whether or not he sent the bomb that killed Prim. But whether or not Gale personally sent the bomb, the message is clear: Gale has become hopelessly divided from Katniss. He has chosen the rebels over Katniss, and Prim's death will always be an unbridgeable chasm between the two former friends. This moment also marks the breaking of the "love triangle" between Katniss, Peeta and Gale. Where Gale turns his back on his old friend, Peeta intuitively understands Katniss's pain, and tries to help her.