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Katniss has returned to her family’s underground home in District 13. It is late at night, and Katniss’s mother and her sister Primrose are both asleep. Katniss gets out of bed and surveys her possessions: plain, grey clothes, and the mockingjay pin her mother gave her, which she wore during the Hunger Games. As Katniss stares, her mother wakes up and asks her what she’s doing. Katniss tells her that she’s planning to be the Mockingjay—to be the symbol of the rebel alliance.
Katniss’s relationship with her mother is often strained in the earlier books, but here she seems to trust her mother with personal, sensitive information. The presence of the mockingjay pin, a gift from Katniss’s mother, reminds us that Katniss’s mother, while she doesn’t have many “lines” in these stories, is still an important influence on Katniss’s personality.
Katniss’s mother asks Katniss why she’s agreed to be the Mockingjay. Katniss explains that the rebels have mostly been good to her—they’ve saved her life and helped her and her family. Katniss’s sister, Primrose, points out that Katniss has huge “bargaining power” with Coin and the other rebel leaders. Katniss should hold a public meeting with the leadership, she goes on, in order to ensure that they will keep their promises.
Here, Katniss seems weirdly naïve about her power in the District 13 government—it hadn’t occurred to her that she could use her influence to bargain for, essentially, whatever she wanted. In general, Katniss is an interesting combination of experience and innocence. She can be mature and insightful, but also innocent and unsure of herself—to the point that it sometimes seems unrealistic.
The next morning, Katniss encounters Gale at breakfast. Katniss tells Gale that she’s planning on assuming the role of Mockingjay, with a few conditions, which she’s written on a piece of paper. Gale suggests that one of these conditions be that they’re allowed to hunt above ground, just as they’ve always done in District 12. Katniss likes this suggestion, and also plans to make Buttercup’s presence another condition. She prepares to meet the rebel leaders in Command.
Katniss’s list of suggestions is hilariously uncontroversial—especially in bargaining over a cat. Even after Katniss’s mother talks to her, Katniss doesn’t understand the power she has. This is part of what is supposed to make Katniss sympathetic and charming to readers: she wields great power, but is also modest and naïve enough not to realize it.
Katniss and Gale walk to Command. Gale is reluctant to accompany Katniss, but she insists that his presence will send a clear message to the rebel leaders: Katniss has conditions. As she waits to meet with the leaders, Katniss performs her “relaxation exercise,” telling herself that her name is Katniss Everdeen, her friend Peeta is alive, and he’s a traitor, but she must keep Peeta alive. Just as she’s about to enter Command, Katniss realizes that she should be asking for much more from the rebel leaders. Almost without realizing it, she writes another condition on her list—“I kill Snow.”
In spite of the naiveté she’s shown in recent chapters, Katniss then exhibits some political savvy by bringing Gale into the room for negotiations. This, combined with the almost unconscious way she proposes killing President Snow, suggests that Katniss is wiser than she seems: she knows exactly what she wants to do, and just has to work up the courage to do it.
Katniss meets with Plutarch and Coin, and tells them that she’s prepared to be the Mockingjay, with a few conditions. Her first condition is that Buttercup be allowed to stay—this the leaders readily accept. Her second condition, that she be allowed to hunt above ground with Gale, causes Plutarch some concern, but Coin eventually agrees to it. The third condition is that Gale assist Katniss whenever she needs him. Coin matter-of-factly asks Katniss if she wants to present Gale as her new lover. This shocks Katniss, but before she can respond, Plutarch suggests that the rebel leaders “continue the current romance” between Katniss and Peeta, and pretend that Gale is Katniss’s cousin. This is exactly the tactic that Capitol reporters used with Gale when Katniss and Peeta were pretending to be in love with one another.
Here, we’re given more signs that President Coin and President Snow are similar kinds of leaders. Just as Snow and the Capitol leaders tried to present Katniss and Gale as cousins, focusing the public’s attention on Peeta instead, Coin now proposes that they continue this façade of Katniss being Peeta’s wife and Gale’s cousin. While Coin’s decision could be rationalized on the grounds that they need to make Katniss seem as admirable as possible to win the war effort and rid Panem of the tyrannical Capitol, it’s easy enough to see the logical flaw in this argument. In fighting Snow, Coin is becoming just as manipulative, untrustworthy, and tyrannical as he was.
Katniss is surprised with Plutarch and Coin’s willingness to manipulate her public appearance, but since they’ve agreed to allow Gale to assist her, she moves on to her next condition. Katniss asks that Peeta, along with two other rebels in the government’s control, Enobaria and Johanna, be pardoned if the rebels win the war with the Capitol. Coin flatly rejects this condition—she insists that Peeta and the others will be tried as war criminals. Katniss fires back that the government has clearly pressured Peeta into demanding a cease-fire—he isn’t a war criminal at all. Coin reluctantly agrees with Katniss’s request: Peeta will be granted a full pardon for his interview with Flickerman. Katniss’s final request is that she be allowed to kill President Snow. Coin smiles grimly at this, and tells Katniss that they’ll have to “flip for it.” Katniss grins and replies, “Fair enough.” With this, Coin leaves Katniss and Gale with Plutarch and his assistant, Fulvia.
Coin’s reluctance to pardon Peeta is troubling and puzzling for a number of reasons. It seems utterly uncontroversial that Peeta is being tortured into demanding a ceasefire: in fact, Plutarch, one of the rebel leaders, would know first-hand how dishonest the Capitol’s broadcasting policies can be. Yet neither Plutarch nor Coin speaks up to defend Peeta. This suggests that they want to uphold District 13’s strict code of justice—where no disobedience or treachery is tolerated—but in the light of the novel’s conclusion, it also hints at future power struggles. Coin might already be thinking of mitigating Peeta’s power, which could be a threat to her own rule.
Plutarch proceeds with briefing Katniss on her duties as Mockingjay. He shows Katniss a small sketchbook, full of designs for elaborate dresses. Katniss recognizes the work of her friend and stylist, Cinna, who she’d last seen being brutally beaten by a group of Peacekeepers (government soldiers). Plutarch informs Katniss that she will be part of a series of propaganda pieces that will be illegally broadcast onto every television in Panem. Beetee, an intelligent rebel who competed in the Hunger Games alongside Katniss, has hacked the television networks.
In this section, we see the rebels’ organization and bureaucracy at its strongest. There is something both impressive and horrifying, for instance, about the fact that the rebels are using Cinna’s old sketches on Katniss, even though Cinna himself has been horribly beaten, and may even be dead. Even after individual people are captured by the government, the rebels’ plans inexorably go on.
Fulvia and Plutarch continue to “prep” Katniss for her duties. Fulvia tells Katniss and Gale to follow her, and she and Plutarch lead them to an elevator, which takes them deep underground. Plutarch consults his notes, and confirms that they’re headed for Room 3908. When they reach this room, Plutarch is surprised to find an armed guard, who informs the group that they must leave. Gale and Katniss hear a muffled cry from behind the guard. Nodding at Gale to show that she has the same idea, Katniss drops Cinna’s notebook on the ground. When the guard bends down to pick it up, Katniss jumps past him and opens door 3908. She is shocked to find, naked and bruised, the prep team from the Capitol that had dressed her during the Hunger Games.
So far, we haven’t seen any evidence of serious abuse or tyranny in District 13—yes, we’ve seen Gale with a bloody nose, but this only hinted at possible brutality in the regime. Now, it becomes clear that the soldiers of District 13 are as callous and harsh as the Peacekeepers of the Capitol. Thus, Collins ends the chapter on a depressing note: evidently, Katniss has allied herself with a group of people who aren’t particularly better than the group (the Capitol government) that she’s chosen to oppose.