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The most prominent symbol in the novel is the mockingjay, and its exact meaning shifts somewhat over the course of the story. Initially, at least for Katniss, it still has a connection to Rue, the girl Katniss befriended in the Hunger Games. In the previous book, Rue and Katniss used the birds to communicate by having them repeat a certain melody. It’s for that reason the old man in the crowd in District 11 whistles a melody to signal everyone to put up the gesture of respect in District 12. When Katniss sees the birds in the woods early in the story, her thoughts turn to Rue immediately. It also represents a mistake by the Capitol, and thus a lapse in its control. As Katniss explains, the Capitol never intended for the bird to exist. It was an accident brought about by the Capitol’s genetically engineered jabberjays breeding with wild mockingbirds. The jabberjays were created to spy on the rebels but they were ultimately used by the rebels against the Capitol. Thus the mockingjays remind the Capitol, as well as the people of the districts, that the Capitol can’t control everything.
For the people in the districts, the mockingjay has begun to take on another meaning. Katniss wore a mockingjay pin throughout the Hunger Games and used the birds to communicate with Rue. Consequently, the mockingjay has come to be associated with her. (It’s even become a fashionable accessory in the Capitol because of Katniss’s pin in the Games.) But since Katniss herself represents defiance of the Capitol, the mockingjay has taken on that meaning as well and become a symbol more broadly of the rebellion. That’s why the two refugee women from District 8 in the woods show Katniss a cracker with the image of her mockingjay, and why Plutarch Heavensbee uses a mockingjay on his watch’s face to signal to Katniss that he’s allied with the rebellion. That dual meaning of the mockingjay also explains what Plutarch means when he tells Katniss they needed to keep her alive and cooperating because she is the mockingjay.
Katniss symbolizes defiance of the Capitol and the rebellion working to bring it down, though she isn’t even aware of the full extent of this symbolism for much of the novel. At the end of the Hunger Games, Katniss defied the Capitol’s rules by threatening to commit suicide with Peeta. The Capitol intended for there to be only one victor, but Katniss forced them to accept two or lose both. It’s not until she meets the refugees from District 8 in the woods, however, that Katniss and the reader begin to see that people in the districts did, in fact, take her act as a gesture of outright rebellion against the Capitol. It’s the first inkling Katniss has of her status as a figurehead of sorts. Further hints crop up that Katniss in some way represents defiance of the Capitol, like the mockingjay costume Cinna creates for her, but it isn’t until the end of the novel that the extent of her symbolism becomes clear. As Haymitch explains, Katniss is the mockingjay, meaning she herself is the symbol of the rebel movement working to bring down the Capitol.
These weapons have a specific meaning to Katniss: They represent security. First, they allow Katniss to hunt. It’s because she knows how to hunt that her family has survived as long as it has, and she’s always felt that as long as she has these weapons and game to kill she can feed herself and her family. That knowledge brings her a great deal of comfort, and in the act of hunting in the woods itself she feels more comfortable than she does anywhere else. In the arena, a bow and arrows represent a different type of security. They allow Katniss to feel that she’s able to protect herself. Consequently they give her confidence and a feeling of safety in the midst of uncertainty and hostility.