The Hunger Games: A mockingjay, an arrow and flames

There are several recurring images in The Hunger Games – a mockingjay, an arrow and flames. Each element on its own is powerful – together they stirred the residents of Panem to rebellion.

birdarrowflame.jpgThe mockingjay

We begin to see just how potent the mockingjay symbol is when, in Catching Fire, Katniss returns once more to the woods. Instead of finding peace and quiet she finds two starving women struggling to find their way to District 13 and safety. The only thing that keeps Katniss from shooting them is a biscuit. There is a mockingjay pressed into the top of it, copied from the pin Katniss wore into the arena. In the book series, the mockingjay pin was a gift to Katniss from her only friend, the mayor’s daughter Madge Undersee. It was a potent symbol for several reasons.

  • The mockingjay bird existed in spite of the Capitol’s intentions. The Capitol had created a “muttation” called the jabberjay to eavesdrop on conversations and parrot them to its handlers. When district residents caught on they filled the jabberjay’s ears with nonsense. In frustration, the Capitol released the muttations into the wild, assuming they would die off. Instead the jabberjays bred with the indiginous mockingbirds creating a new species. The mockingjay became a favorite of district residents as a symbol of a thwarted Capitol plan, and because its songs were so beautiful.
  • Katniss’ pin had been worn to the games before, by Madge’s aunt, who was killed by muttations in her games – the same games Haymitch won. The mockingjay is returning to the fight, as if to represent the indomitable spirit of the district residents.
  • The mockingjay is, in the end, a symbol of Katniss. She is a creation of both her home district and the Capitol that drove her to the woods to hunt and gather. It is this combination that makes her a survivor, a contender in the Games, and ultimately a symbol to others.

An arrow

On the book cover and movie poster for The Hunger Games (and the pin I wear on my jacket) the mockingjay holds an arrow in its beak. The arrow is a weapon, a symbol of war. Katniss, and the districts under the Capitol’s thumb have two choices: accept subjugation or join the resistance.

Official seal of the Church of the Nazarene

Official seal of the Church of the Nazarene

Flames

Katniss is associated with fire the first time she enters the Capitol. Her costume is not the expected variation of a coal miner’s suite. Instead she and Peeta are the coal. They are the source and spark and energy. They are the flame. Katniss is introduced as “the girl on fire.” But fire, like hope, can be a dangerous thing. President Snow warns that hope might lead to rebellion, just as a small spark can cause a great forrest fire. Katniss comes to understand how dry the forrest is when her tiny flame is all it needs to ignite an inferno of rebellion.

A bird, a weapon, a flame

So, I was thinking about these symbols: a bird, a deadly weapon and fire, when it suddenly occured to me how very similar they are to core symbols of Christianity. The dove that symbolizes the Holy Spirit. The flame represents holiness. And of course the cross, used to kill criminals and horrify the rest of the population into submission.

Culturally we recognize the dove as a symbol of peace, and it’s true that it was a dove that brought an olive branch to Noah after the flood to show that there would be peace between God and Man. In the New Testament, though, the dove comes to represent the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, as a friend and active helper in the life of believers.

John Wesley created this symbol for the chapel he build in London in 1777. The dove and snake are from Matthew 10:13 when Jesus says, "be as innocent as doves and cunning as serpents."

John Wesley created this symbol for the chapel he build in London in 1777. The dove and snake are from Matthew 10:16 when Jesus says, “be as innocent as doves and cunning as serpents.”

The cross takes us back to the militant Roman imagery that Suzanne Collins used so effectively in her novels. According to Wikipedia, “crucifixion was often performed to terrorize and dissuade its witnesses from perpetrating particularly heinous crimes. Victims were left on display after death as warnings to others who might attempt dissent. Crucifixion was usually intended to provide a death that was particularly slow, painful (hence the term excruciating, literally “out of crucifying”), gruesome, humiliating, and public.” Even more than death in the arena, crucifixion was a horrible way to die. Especially when you consider that although it was the fulfillment of prophesy, a sacrifice to atone humanity’s sin and make a bridge between us and God, Jesus was set up for political reasons not executed for a genuine crime.

Throughout the Bible, Old Testament and New, fire is a purifying event. Jesus said it is the Holy Spirit who leads believers into truth and enables us to live holy lives. In the book of Acts, tongues of flames appeared to settle on the early church, fulfilling Jesus’ promise of that he would send the Comforter, another name for the Holy Spirit. The best part is that guiding friend, that Comforter, that purifying force is still available today.

Symbols are important. Where Katniss’ mockingjay, arrow and flame represented freedom to be fought for, Christianity’s dove, cross and flame offer freedom freely given.

Mockingjay: Gale Hawthorne and Active Resistance

I’m Team Peeta. So sue me. But this does not mean I don’t appreciate Gale.

It isn’t until the third book of the Hunger Games series, Mockingjay, that Gale Hawthorne really comes into his own. In Catching Fire, however, there is one key scene – when Gale is whipped by the new Head Peacekeeper, Romulus Thread, for possessing a poached turkey. The beating is so severe Gale is unable to work for two weeks, but it doesn’t matter anyway because the mines have been shut down in a form of reverse strike. The Capitol is flexing its muscles to show the already starving district just who holds all the power.GaleDavid.jpg

Gale goes home with no more talk of rebellion between us. But I can’t help thinking that everything he sees will only strengthen his resolve to fight back.

~ Katniss Everdeen, Catching Fire

The most famous of Israel’s kings, David, started with similarly humble circumstances. He was the youngest of seven sons working at the least respected job on the family farm – shepherd. As the youngest he was extremely unlikely to inherit anything. But there’s a problem for this ambitious and talented young man. Israel was being overrun by a neighboring nation – Philistia. The Philistines were fearsome warriors, better armed, better trained and the soldiers are quite literally giants.

Like Gale, David is a skilled hunter, he is handsome and respected by those who know him. And he has every card in the deck stacked against him.

The most famous of the Philistine soldiers was Goliath.  Like a modern day dance-off, the best soldier of each army duked it out one-on-one to determine the best army. Goliath was over 9 feet tall, and every day as he stalked back and forth along the no-man’s-land between the two armies, he roared insults. The Israelites cowered in their tents, just like the Districts did for decades under the thumb of the Capitol’s cruel Hunger Games.

The similarities don’t end there.

  • It was during one of these events when David was doing one of the most mundane chores – delivering food and suplies to his older brothers in the army – that he first hears of Goliath. It was as normal as Gale bringing wild food and game to sell to the residents of District 12.
  • David quickly learned that King Saul had offered a pretty incredible set of prizes for whoever took on Goliath and won: wealth, the king’s daughter in marriage, and his entire family would be exempt from taxes for life. The prizes Gale hopes to win are not that different: freedom to earn a living for his family and the potential to win Katniss’ hand.
  • When David’s older brothers heard he was asking around they accused him of being vain and told him to shut up and go home. Kinda like how Katniss told Gale to be careful what he said and who he said it to.
  • None-the-less, word gets to King Saul that a young man is interested in challenging the Philistine champion. Saul suits up David in his personal armor and weaponry. When Gale and his family find refuge in District 13, Alma Coin, the leader of the district, tries to suit him up as a leader.
  • David finds he can’t even move in Saul’s armor and rejects it for his own simple sling. Gale also chafes under Coin’s traditional military style and finds greater success when he can draw on his skills as a hunter and trapper.
  • David faces Goliath and brings him down with a stone to the center of his forehead. Gale brings down the capitol when he destroys its last stronghold,also with rocks, a mountain fortress called “The Nut”. He uses landslides, actually, strategically set off to trap all the workers inside.

There are times and places for active resistance – times when what is yours will never be willingly given. Times when the power disparity is so great, and the political gulf so wide that so amount of picketing will bridge the gap. Gale, much like King David, is that kind of guy. And King David is the only one God ever called “a man after His own heart.”