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.
The Power and Danger of Symbols ThemeTracker
The Power and Danger of Symbols Quotes in Mockingjay
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.
"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."
"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."
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.”
"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?
"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."