The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Katniss’s Bow and Arrow (Symbol)

Katniss’s prowess with her bow and arrow is one of her defining characteristics. Early on in the novel, we learn that her deceased father first taught her archery when he was not working in the mines. Thus, from the beginning Katniss’s bow and arrow is a symbol of her relationship with her dad. When her father is killed in a mining accident and Katniss must assume the role of family breadwinner, her archery tools symbolize her independence, her ability to provide a livelihood for her family, and the heavy responsibilities she bears. By the end of the novel, when Katniss’s ability with a bow and arrow prove to be highly useful in the games, they are symbolic of her fighting spirit and success as a competitor.

Mockingjay (Allegory)

The mockingjay is a bird species formed by the mating of male jabber jays and female mockingbirds. Katniss recounts the story of the jabber jay and the creation of the mockingjay in Chapter 3 of the novel. The jabber jay is a genetically altered bird that the Capitol designed during the rebellion to spy on the rebels. The bird could listen to important rebel conversations, memorize them, and repeat them back to Capitol officials. After a while, rebels realized the jabber jays were spreading their secrets and began to use them to their own advantage by leaking false information to the Capitol. The jabber jays became useless to the Capitol and were released into the wild to die. Unbeknownst to the Capitol, the jabber jays were able to procreate with mockingbirds and pass along some of their DNA. The result was a completely new species called the mockingjay, which has some qualities of the Capitol creation. It cannot repeat human speech, but can mimic other human sounds, like laughter and melodies.

The Capitol did not predict or plan for ability of the jabber jay to mate with the mockingbird and create the mockingjay. This is somewhat shocking in the world of the Hunger Games, because the Capitol appears to be a omniscient force that controls all things. The story of the mockingjay is an allegory for the idea that the Capitol may not be as all-knowing or all-powerful as it believes: it should not underestimate the strength and will of the entities within the prism of its control.

Real vs. Fake (Motif)

The line between what’s real and what’s a farce is heavily blurred through the entire Hunger Games trilogy and is first introduced as a major motif in this first novel. This motif is particularly important with regards to the relationship between Katniss and Peeta. From the moment that Peeta tells all of Panem he loves Katniss during his interview with Caesar, their relationship is put under a huge magnifying glass. From that moment on, they must act the roles of “the star-crossed lovers from District 12." Katniss believes the intimacy between her and Peeta is mostly a façade, a tactic they must use to get sponsors and win the Games. However, Peeta actually does love Katniss, and, unfortunately, he thinks her feelings are real when she begins to ostensibly return them. This misunderstanding causes a strain between the two Victors at the end of the novel, when their differing feelings come to light.

Nightlock (Symbol)

About halfway through the Games when there are less than 10 tributes left, Claudius Templesmith, one of the hosts of the Games, announces that the Gamemakers have made a new rule. If the two tributes from the same District are the final 2 tributes alive, they can both be crowned victor. This new rule turns out to be a farce on the part of the Gamemakers, who wanted to stage a final epic showdown between “the star-crossed lovers of District 12.” Once Katniss and Peeta have defeated all the other tributes, Claudius announces that the new rule has been revoked and that there can only be one winner. Rather than be a pawn in the Capitol’s game Katniss decides to win on her own terms. Remembering the nightlock she kept handy, she gives some to Peeta and reasons that the Capitol would rather have 2 winners than none at all. She is proven correct when both she and Peeta are declared the winners of the 74th Hunger Games.

In this way the nightlock berries are symbolic of rebellion and revolution, of fighting back against the Capitol. They illustrate that it is possible to outsmart the Gamemakers and the Capitol as a whole at their own game. This moment is the turning point not only for Katniss and Peeta, but also for Panem as a whole.

Survival (Motif)

The topic of survival, in various forms and modes of expression, is a central idea in The Hunger Games. It is a motivator that causes characters to act in certain ways and do particular things. It is a justification for characters when they commit unethical acts. It is the reason why Katniss plays along when Peeta declares his love for her, and later on, why she escalates their relationship by kissing him in the arena. She realizes that the more “in love” with Peeta she acts, the more help Haymitch with send them in the Games. Finally, survival is the weapon the Capitol and the Gamemakers leverage against the tributes. They rely on the idea that, when tested, the human will to survive will be stronger than the human sense of right and wrong.