As the Hunger Games trilogy moves to its conclusion, Katniss struggles with more and more traumatic experiences. In Mockingjay alone, she witnesses her own sister being killed by a bomb, and her close friends having their legs blown off and their faces melted. How does Katniss—and, for that matter, the other characters in Mockingjay who lose loved ones—cope with trauma?
In general, the characters who experience the greatest trauma—those who lose loved ones to war and violence—respond by turning to their other loved ones for support and understanding. Throughout the Hunger Games trilogy Katniss grapples with loss, and turns to her two closest friends, Gale and Peeta, for help. In Catching Fire, Peeta’s ability to empathize with the pain Katniss has experienced in the Hunger Games kindles their romance. Similarly, in Mockingjay, the death of Katniss’s sister Primrose—to which Gale reacts with callousness and Peeta reacts with grief and sympathy—pushes Katniss to “choose” Peeta over Gale.
It’s possible to see Katniss’s feelings for Peeta and Gale as shallow and selfish, as if these young men were only tools for mitigating her pain—and this is the interpretation of Katniss’s feelings Gale ultimately subscribes to. When discussing Katniss with Peeta, Gale says that she turns to whichever one of them “she thinks she can’t survive without.” Gale is suggesting that Katniss doesn’t respect either of them as people: her first response is always to think of herself and her own survival.
What Gale fails to understand (and what ultimately distances him from Katniss) is that self-interest and compassion don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Gale isn’t entirely wrong to say that Katniss turns to him to alleviate her pain, but this isn’t necessarily, or isn’t exclusively, a selfish behavior. To take the inverse example: Gale, it’s often pointed out in Mockingjay, doesn’t value his own life at all—he’s perfectly willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the rebel alliance. And yet Gale’s selflessness doesn’t translate into any compassion for other people—on the contrary, he thinks that he’s perfectly justified in taking other people’s lives because he feels no hesitation in laying down his own.
Just as selflessness doesn’t necessarily equate to compassion, Katniss’s self-interest doesn’t necessarily mean that she doesn’t care about other people. This becomes clear at the end of Mockingjay, as Katniss begins to fall in love with Peeta. She simultaneously loves herself and sincerely cares about Peeta. In no small part, she feels this way because Peeta understands what she’s been going through. He too has competed in the Hunger Games and experienced torture and manipulation from the government, so in Peeta, Katniss has a friend who helps her cope with her trauma, and whom she helps to cope with his own, similar trauma.
In the epilogue, Collins reveals that Katniss and Peeta marry, have children, and continue to love one another. She also makes it clear that neither Katniss nor Peeta can ever entirely forget their traumas—they’ll always suffer nightmares about “the old days.” It is precisely because trauma never fully goes away that love and friendship are such important antidotes to it. Katniss and Peeta will never overcome their own memories, and thus they must remain together, helping both themselves and each other to cope with tragedy.
Trauma and Love ThemeTracker
Trauma and Love Quotes in Mockingjay
I use a technique one of the doctors suggested. I start with the simplest things I know to be true and work toward the more complicated. The list begins to roll in my head...
My name is Katniss Everdeen. I am seventeen years old. My home is District 12. I was in the Hunger Games. I escaped. The Capitol hates me. Peeta was taken prisoner. He is thought to be dead. Most likely he is dead. It is probably best if he is dead...
"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.
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.
Maybe this realization on my part is all Snow needs. Thinking that Peeta was in his possession and being tortured for rebel information was bad. But thinking that he's being tortured specifically to incapacitate me is unendurable. And it's under the weight of this revelation that I truly begin to break.
"Of course, we'll try, Prim," says Beetee. "It's just, we don't know to what degree we'll succeed. If any. My guess is that fearful events are the hardest to root out. They're the ones we naturally remember the best, after all."
It's only now that he's been corrupted that I can fully appreciate the real Peeta. Even more than I would've if he'd died. The kindness, the steadiness, the warmth that had an unexpected heat behind it. Outside of Prim, my mother, and Gale, how many people in the world love me unconditionally?
In the twilight of morphling, Peeta whispers the word and I go searching for him. It's a gauzy, violet-tinted world, with no hard edges, and many places to hide. I push through cloudbanks, follow faint tracks, catch the scent of cinnamon, of dill. Once I feel his hand on my cheek and try to trap it, but it dissolves like mist through my fingers.
We spend a couple of hours quizzing each other on military terms. I visit my mother and Prim for a while. When I'm back in my compartment, showered, staring into the darkness, I finally ask, "Johanna, could you really hear him screaming?" "That was part of it," she says. "Like the jabberjays in the arena. Only it was real. And it didn't stop after an hour. Tick, tock." "Tick, tock," I whisper back. Roses. Wolf mutts. Tributes. Frosted dolphins. Friends. Mockingjays. Stylists. Me. Everything screams in my dreams tonight.
"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?
"Can't help him!" Peeta starts shoving people forward. "Can't!" Amazingly, he's the only one still functional enough to get us moving. I don't know why he's in control, when he should be flipping out and bashing my brains in, but that could happen any second. At the pressure of his hand against my shoulder, I turn away from the grisly thing that was Messalla; I make my feet go forward, fast, so fast that I can barely skid to a stop before the next intersection.
First I get a glimpse of the blond braid down her back. Then, as she yanks off her coat to cover a wailing child, I notice the duck tail formed by her untucked shirt. I have the same reaction I did the day Effie Trinket called her name at the reaping. At least, I must go limp, because I find myself at the base of the flagpole, unable to account for the last few seconds. Then I am pushing through the crowd, just as I did before. Trying to shout her name above the roar. I'm almost there, almost to the barricade, when I think she hears me. Because for just a moment, she catches sight of me, her lips form my name. And that's when the rest of the parachutes go off.
Deep in the water, I'm deserted by all. There's only the sound of my breathing, the enormous effort it takes to draw the water in, push it out of my lungs. I want to stop, I try to hold my breath, but the sea forces its way in and out against my will. "Let me die. Let me follow the others," I beg whatever holds me here. There's no response.
"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."
Peeta and I grow back together. There are still moments when he clutches the back of a chair and hangs on until the flashbacks are over. I wake screaming from nightmares of mutts and lost children. But his arms are there to comfort me. And eventually his lips. On the night I feel that thing again, the hunger that overtook me on the beach, I know this would have happened anyway. That what I need to survive is not Gale's fire, kindled with rage and hatred. I have plenty of fire myself. What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again. And only Peeta can give me that. So after, when he whispers, "You love me. Real or not real?" I tell him, "Real."