Nature as Refuge
Katniss, whose name comes from a plant that grows near the lake where she and her father spent time, retreats to nature when troubled so often that the natural world takes on symbolic meaning. The Meadow, for example, is a symbolic setting. The opening scene in The Hunger Games, the first novel in the trilogy, is set in the Meadow, where Katniss and Gale meet to hunt and burn off some anxiety before the reaping. The final scene in Mockingjay is set in the Meadow as well.Peeta and Katniss’s young children play there, unaware of the graves the flowers cover. Throughout the trilogy, Katniss flees, if she can, to the Meadow for time to think, grieve, and plan. The Meadow song, which Katniss sings to Rue as she dies, captures the idea of the Meadow as refuge: “Here it’s safe, here it’s warm / Here the daisies guard you from every harm”—words her children have no reason to distrust.
At various points in the story, Katniss seeks solace in the Meadow, is cut off from the Meadow, and sees the Meadow transformed into a mass grave for residents of District 12. At each point, the Meadow is a place of refuge or imagined refuge for her. The lake is a more private setting: By choice, Katniss prefers to take only those she loves, like Gale, to the place where she and her beloved father fished and sang. The abandoned cabin is almost like a shrine to her; she finds it difficult to film the propo near it and wanders to sit away from the crew, nearly unable to speak in that place.
When Katniss is away from District 12, other natural settings must stand in for the Meadow. The woods above the bunkers of District 13 allow her to breathe. The mountainside near District 2’s rebel headquarters offers escape from the terrible discussion about the Nut. When Katniss can, she abandons buildings and bunkers for woods and streams. When Katniss must navigate the streets and underground of the Capitol, she finds herself utterly cut off from nature, trapped in the Gamemakers’ bizarre machinery of death. When she is recovering from her burns in the Capitol, too, she has no access to nature, and her sense of self crumbles as she hides in closets and corners. Katniss needs the Meadow, the lake, and the woods to maintain her equilibrium, which makes the final scene, set in the Meadow where she watches her children play, fitting.
Food—its lack, its overabundance—functions as a metaphor throughout the trilogy. In Mockingjay, food is of particular interest when readers think about its treatment in District 13, its value in the Capitol under siege, and its power to those who control or refuse it.
District 13 has developed regulations and traditions around food. These made survival possible after the Dark Days but also encoded in the residents a treatment of food that goes beyond the scientific calculations of calories needed to an almost fetishistic approach to food. How one consumes food becomes a reflection of how devoted one is to Coin’s cause and an extension of Coin’s rigid control over 13’s residents. Readers see the importance of food especially when the regulations are violated. When Katniss’s trio of stylists are imprisoned and punished for taking extra food, the guard is utterly mystified by the “repeated infractions” because “You can’t take bread.” He cannot imagine a circumstance in which food loses its almost hallowed standing in 13. Food is survival; obedience to the rules surrounding food is life.
By contrast, Capitol residents have long had such access to food that they routinely waste it. This is why Octavia, Venia, and Flavius have such a hard time adjusting to the rations they get in 13. Whispers of food shortages in the Capitol are a measure of the rebels’ success, but they are also informative in their details. Capitol citizens can’t get the seafood they love; they complain over the loss of specialty food items because that is their idea of deprivation. As the districts gradually cut off the supplies, however, Capitol residents quickly learn to value whatever food they can get, hoarding stashes of canned goods for personal use, a practice that disgusts Leeg 1, who assumes that hoarding must be illegal. Messalla’s response—“in the Capitol you’d be considered stupid not to do it”—speaks to the difference in mentality of Capitol citizens, who would let others go hungry while hiding food.
Food is control. Capitol citizens eat too much and become complacent and pudgy; the districts are kept on near-starvation rations to promote quiescence; tributes in the arena find their actions circumscribed by what food the Gamemakers provide, withhold, or poison. In Mockingjay, Katniss finds a new way to control food. Food becomes symbolic of her resistance—to Snow, to Coin, to the whole terrible game that she can’t escape in any other way. After she assassinates Coin, she realizes that she can exit the game in only one way: control her food intake—or, more to the point, starve herself to death. The rejection of food is Katniss’s rejection of the Games. By controlling food, Katniss hopes to control her autonomy.
Labyrinths, Mazes, and Traps
Katniss is an introspective first-person narrator whose struggle to find her way through increasingly difficult scenarios makes up much of the trilogy. In all three novels, Katniss faces labyrinthine settings that threaten her survival, but in Mockingjay in particular, she encounters increasingly complex puzzles. In fact, the complexity of the mazes and the threat of traps increases as the novel approaches the scene in which Prim and the Capitol children die, suggesting the increasing difficulty Katniss has in determining her way forward.
Divided loyalties, clashing goals, and attempts to escape manipulation have been Katniss’s constant concerns throughout the trilogy, but in the final third of Mockingjay, they cause crisis. The mazes, traps, and subterranean labyrinth of the Capitol both reflect and intensify Katniss’s struggle as deaths, injuries, and the rebels’ cause drive her toward Snow.
The city is laid out in orderly blocks, but its order is deceptive. Any step, any paving stone, any door may hide a Gamemaker’s device, as Katniss and the crew quickly learn. The Holo’s map is out of date, they know, making it a less than useful tool. Mitchell’s death in the net and Boggs’s fatal injury occur as a pod triggers the black wave, and these traps force Katniss into the position of command as Boggs transfers the Holo’s control to her. His last words, “Don’t trust them. . . . Do what you came to do,” remind her of her conflicting duties and desires and of her doubts about Coin’s purpose in sending Peeta as a replacement. Her decision to relocate to a new apartment buys the crew time to rest but forces Katniss to decide whether to kill Peeta to keep him out of Capitol control. As she recalls the dead man beckoning his beloved, in “The Hanging Tree,” to “Wear a necklace of rope” with him; her sense of being trapped again, as in the arenas, nearly overcomes her.
The crew’s respite is brief, and they are soon forced into the sewers and tunnels beneath the city, a true labyrinth that, like the original in Greek myth, comes complete with beasts in the form of the terrible, rose-scented mutts. With Pollux’s help, Katniss attempts to guide her crew to safety, but every hiding hole is a potential trap. Once the mutts give chase, deaths come fast: Messalla, Jackson, Leeg 1, Castor, and—heartbreakingly for Katniss—Finnick, who helped her navigate and survive the puzzles of the Quarter Quell arena.
Above ground again, Katniss must take refuge in a hiding place guarded by a woman who could easily betray them—there would be no exit for them. Then the maze becomes more complicated as the crew must separate to try for the mansion through streets jammed with fleeing, crying Capitol citizens—streets that open treacherously beneath their feet, explode, send out sound beams that smash brains, and swarm with Peacekeepers. When she emerges where all the twisting paths lead—the city center—she escapes not only the mazes but the conflicting needs and desires. But having reached the center of the puzzle, she cannot solve it because she has been well distracted all along, by Coin. The entire, grand, puzzling game is Coin’s trap, baited with the person Katniss most loves.