The Hunger Games (Series) | Study Guide

Suzanne Collins

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The Hunger Games (Series) | Symbols



The symbolic meaning of the mockingjay changes throughout The Hunger Games trilogy. Early on, readers learn that the mockingjay is a hybrid between a mockingbird and a jabberjay, the latter genetically engineered by the Capitol during the Dark Days to eavesdrop on the rebels and mimic what they said. The rebels turned the birds against their creators, feeding them lies that were then taken back to the Capitol. So, even before Katniss became associated with it, the mockingjay was seen as "something of a slap in the face to the Capitol." The jabberjays were released into the wild to die, but the Capitol hadn't predicted that the highly controlled jabberjay would have the brains to adapt to the wild, and thrive in a new form. They "hadn't anticipated its will to live." When the jabberjays mated with mockingbirds, the mockingjay that resulted became even more of a literal mockery of the Capitol's plans, and a subtle symbol of rebellion within the districts. When Katniss wears the pin of a mockingjay into the Games, she is unwittingly presenting herself as a rebel. As she gains popularity, even people in the Capitol begin to affect mockingjay styles, an unintended additional "win" for the rebels.

On a subtler level, the mockingjay becomes associated in Katniss's mind with her father, whose singing could even cause the birds to go silent and listen, and with Rue, the young girl who becomes Katniss's ally during the Games. Rue used to whistle a four-note melody for the mockingjays to take up and mimic as a signal indicating safety in her district, and Katniss feels a sense of safety and home when she is with the girl. Rue's death signals the end to this comfort. However, when Katniss visits District 11 after the Games, the mockingjay tune is whistled by a man in the crowd, part of a display of respect for Katniss.

Eventually, Katniss is metaphorically transformed into a mockingjay, and becomes the human embodiment of the resistance. At the end of the 74th Games, she and Peeta are both winners—like the mockingjays, they represent something that never should have existed, and have demonstrated an uncanny ability to survive. Before the Quarter Quell, Cinna devises a costume that burns away as Katniss twirls before the cameras, transforming her into the human embodiment of the bird. Although none of the citizens in the Capitol are aware of the meaning, the districts and government certainly are. And once Katniss joins the rebellion in District 13, she is persuaded to become the face and symbol of the resistance, the Mockingbird with a capital M. Like the bird, Katniss eventually thrives in her new form.


Bread is associated with a variety of ideas in the trilogy. At its simplest level, it is food—a way to satisfy hunger and stay alive. But even in its base form, bread has different meanings. When Peeta "accidentally" burns bread when he is young so he can give it to Katniss, the bread becomes a symbol of his kindness, and something Katniss will always associate with the boy (even his name is a homonym for "pita," a type of Middle-Eastern bread). During the Games, bread becomes a way of sending messages. In The Hunger Games, bread appears from District 11 as a way to thank Katniss for her treatment of Rue. In Catching Fire, buns from District 3 become a code. They are sent in numbers indicating the time and location for Katniss's extraction from the arena.

The most significant uses of the word "bread" are in the name of the nation, Panem, and in the phrase panem et circenses: bread and circuses. The original intent of calling the nation Panem may have been to indicate that the new country would care for its citizens and fend off the horrors of starvation they had once experienced. The meaning is twisted, though, when the government adopts the ruling philosophy of panem et circenses, which means they keep the people of the Capitol submissive by giving them bread and circuses: food and entertainment. Thus, "bread" becomes a type of thought control, a way of managing the masses.


Fire is one of the most powerful symbols throughout The Hunger Games trilogy. At various times, it represents passion, rebellion, transformation, destruction, anger, and hatred. It also represents Katniss herself, "the girl who was on fire."

Fire makes its first powerful appearance when Peeta and Katniss are presented in the arena for the 74th Hunger Games. The stylist Cinna, secretly working for the rebellion, has designed Katniss's costume so that it literally bursts into flames with synthetic fire. His stated goal is to make the District 12 tributes memorable, but perhaps also to show that the people of District 12, like the coal they mine, is a source of tremendous heat, energy, and power. Later, in Catching Fire, Cinna provides Katniss with another evocative costume that uses fire as its symbol. When Katniss is forced by President Snow to wear her wedding dress for the pre-Quell interviews, it burns away to reveal the Mockingbird beneath. She becomes a phoenix rising from the ashes of a government-mandated show.

Fire as a symbol of rebellion and destruction is also made exceedingly clear when President Snow visits Katniss before the Victory Tour. He tells her that as the girl on fire who won the Hunger Games, she is also the spark that may grow to an inferno to destroy Panem. The inferno is the potential rebellion Snow feels she may trigger, and like any inferno, it has the power to incinerate whatever it reaches. But Katniss later turns this analogy against Snow after the Capitol bombs the hospital, crying out to the cameras, "If we burn, you burn." One other powerful reference to fire appears near the end of the trilogy, when Katniss compares Peeta and Gale. She says Gale's fire is kindled by rage and hatred, and she has enough of that of her own. She realizes that while this fire can be useful in time of war, it can also destroy her. She chooses the comforting warmth of Peeta.

The Games

In Mockingjay, Katniss looks at a holograph of the booby-trapped streets of the Capitol and realizes she has simply entered another level of the Hunger Games. This time, though, more people are involved, the government itself is being forced to play, and the future and freedom of the districts are at stake.

On a symbolic level, the Games and the larger battle for Panem both become microcosms of the world itself, where territories and countries continually battle for resources, power, or survival. They also design terrible weapons to control or destroy one another, and the morality of using these weapons becomes of secondary importance.

Also, just as in the Games, the soldiers who do the actual fighting have little choice in the matter. They are sent into battle by leaders who pit them against each other, and fan the fires of hatred. As Katniss says at one point to a young enemy from District 2, soldiers are slaves of the Capitol/government and "have no fight except the one the Capitol gave us." Through her portrayal of the Hunger Games and the battle for Panem, Suzanne Collins is revealing a larger truth about the world in general.


The names Collins chose for her characters often reflect their personalities, and can serve as wonderful metaphors. Katniss, for example, is named after an edible plant—her father once told her, "As long as you can find yourself, you'll never starve." This statement can be applied both literally and figuratively—as long as Katniss knows who she is, she will survive. The name of her sister, Primrose, is that of another plant, a flowering bush with a sweet fragrance that appears in early spring, a sign of hope and rebirth. Rue, the young girl who becomes Katniss's ally, is named for an evergreen shrub sometimes called the "herb of grace." The name suits the girl, with her sweetness and grace of character, and her memory remains evergreen in the minds of Katniss and the people who knew her. The name also has a second meaning—that of bitter regret. Her death and Katniss's inability to save her is something that will remain a source of pain for Katniss for the rest of her life.

Gale, the warrior, has a name that echoes storms and the gale-force winds that accompany them. Toward the end of the novel, Gale also becomes a source of destruction, becoming a warrior in the rebel army, and creating weapons that can destroy the enemy. Peeta's name, on the other hand, echoes a type of bread—pita—and provides a sense of warmth and comfort. President Snow's name carries several layers of meaning. Snow, deceptively clean, white, and pure, can also freeze and destroy whatever it covers. The man's icy demeanor is able to chill Katniss to her core. His first name, Coriolanus, was the name of a Roman in one of Shakespeare's plays who supported the aristocrats at the expense of the common people. As far as leadership styles go, Snow and the leader of the rebels are two sides of the same coin, which may be why the rebel president's name is Alma Coin.

The symbolic nature of other names extends to lesser characters as well. Those who live in the Capitol often have Roman names, reflecting the decadent aspects of the ancient city the Capitol is modeled after. Some of the names have additional significance. Plutarch Heavensbee, for example, is based on Plutarch, a Greek biographer best known for a book called Parallel Lives. Certainly, Heavensbee and other secret members of the resistance are living dual lives. His last name may refer to his position of Head Gamemaker, watching over the tributes from above and orchestrating their movements. Cinna, another name drawn from Shakespeare, was a poet in the play Julius Caesar who was mistaken for a politician by the same name who helped bring down the king. The poet was eventually killed. Cinna's dual nature as an artist and a rebel, and his horrifying death, are both reflected in his name. Caesar Flickerman's name is more of a nod and a wink: "flicker" suggests images broadcast over the media, and Caesar means "king," making Flickerman the king of the media. Another more playful name is that of Effie Trinket, the effusive, overly accessorized chaperone of the District 12 tributes. Her name literally describes her. Conversely, other "names" have a great deal of meaning. None of the districts has a name. Instead, they are identified only by a number. This sends a clear message to the citizens of the Capitol that the people of the districts are nothing more than cogs in a machine, relegated to providing them with the resources they need.

Questions for Symbols

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hello everyone, can you help me to writing a paragragh 500 words.
Objectives A large percentage of the writing we do in the workplace involves writing routine, neutral, and/or goodwill messages. Routine and neutral messages cover a wide range of topics, from the ord
I lost my book : The norton field guide to writing edition 2 i believe and i have an assignment due where im supposed to read "fast food four big names lose" on pages 779-789 and answer questions 1,2.
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