The Duplicity and Power of Appearances

Right from the start, Katniss and many of the people close to her must maintain appearances that often contrast with reality, and as the story progresses we see several cases of characters who appear to be one thing but turn out to be quite another. To begin with, Katniss and Peeta have to act as if they’re in love so that the Capitol can keep up the lie that their threat of suicide at the end of the previous novel was simply the desperate act of two love-crazed teenagers and not a gesture of defiance. That fear speaks to the power of appearances, since as President Snow explains to Katniss, if people saw Katniss as a rebel, that alone could encourage the districts to revolt. Katniss, it turns out, has already become a symbol of the rebellion, but again the appearance doesn’t reflect the truth. Katniss has no involvement with any organized rebel movement and doesn’t even know one exists for most of the novel. She even spends the first part of the novel trying to appease President Snow and keeping up the love act with Peeta in the hopes of subduing any potential uprisings. (Admittedly, she isn’t very successful and actually does end up encouraging people to defy the Capitol.) In both situations, however, what’s important isn’t what Katniss actually believes or feels. Her value to both sides is primarily as a symbol, which suggests that her image is perhaps more powerful than she is herself.

Gradually, we learn that Katniss isn’t the only character maintaining a public persona that doesn’t correspond with reality. Plutarch Heavensbee, the new Head Gamemaker, is revealed to be part of the rebellion. Finnick isn’t the shallow womanizer he appears to be, and several tributes, including some like Finnick who’ve enjoyed fame and wealth in the Capitol, are actually part of the rebellion. Many of the events in the Quarter Quell also turn out to be covers for hidden agendas. The tributes’ efforts to keep Peeta alive have nothing to do with turning him into a leader, as Katniss believes, but are just to keep Katniss cooperating with them. Some aspects of the Quarter Quell itself were even engineered to help the tributes escape, notably the wire Beetee invented being included among the weapons. The last chapters of the novel largely center on Katniss finally coming to understand the truth of many of these events. In most of these cases, the reason for the false public image is fear of the Capitol, which harshly punishes dissent of any sort. The power of the lie is that, as long as the Capitol believes it has control, it allows the rebels to work without detection to undo that control.

The Struggle for Control

Much of the conflict in the novel revolves around a struggle for control, with the Capitol always at one end trying to maintain control and various characters or groups on the other trying to take back control. Katniss’s confrontation with President Snow essentially centers on this idea. He wants to dictate nearly everything she does even down to what she wears, as when he selects the dress she wears for the tributes’ interview with Caesar Flickerman. The control President Snow exerts over Katniss parallels the control the Capitol wants over all the people in Panem. Through its laws and the squads of Peacekeepers it deploys to enforce them, the Capitol systematically maintain control over all the districts. Any act that defies the Capitol’s control results in harsh punishment. Notably, the Hunger Games themselves are meant as a reminder to the people that they have no control and that they have to obey the Capitol.

All the forms of rebellion we see in the novel are variations on people regaining, or at least fighting to regain, control. When Katniss tells Peeta she doesn’t want to be a pawn in the Capitol’s Games, she’s saying she doesn’t want to be controlled. When we see how Haymitch rebelliously won his Games, it was by finding a loophole in the Capitol’s control—since the Capitol never intended the force field to be used as a weapon—and exploiting it. The reason the mockingjay is symbolic is that it represents the Capitol’s lack of control, since the bird was actually an unintended consequence of a weapon created for use against the rebels that ultimately backfired. What the rebels want is to retake control of their lives and no longer have the Capitol forcing them to live by its restrictive laws and do things like sacrifice their children in the Hunger Games.

This fight for control is precisely why Katniss has become a symbol of the rebellion. At the end of the Hunger Games, when she had the idea for her and Peeta to commit suicide, she was essentially rejecting the rules set up by the Capitol. In doing so, she denied the Capitol control of her life and took it back into her own hands. The act evident set a precedent for all the viewers watching at home, suggesting that they too could take back control from the Capitol.

The Ignorance of the Privileged

The privileged of Panem are chiefly those people who live in the Capitol, and their ignorance stems from the fact that they’re insulated from the hardships faced by the people in the districts. They are relatively wealthy and always have enough to eat. They aren’t forced into exhausting and often dangerous labor. Their children also don’t have to participate in the Hunger Games. Because their lives are so comfortable and secure, they generally don’t have to think of things that people in the districts think of, such as how to feed their families. As a result, many if not all are oblivious to the harsh realities that most of the people in Panem face.

This ignorance is apparent any time Katniss encounters people from the Capitol, which usually means her hair-and-makeup team. The first time in the novel that they arrive at her house in District 12, she notes that their concerns are almost entirely about frivolous things like parties and appearances. Later, during the feast at President Snow’s mansion, Katniss and Peeta are both appalled when they’re told that people in the Capitol will often make themselves vomit at feasts so that they can keep eating. Katniss thinks of the numerous people starving back home and how insensitive and insulting her prep team sounds. The scene prompts Peeta to wonder if they should try to subdue dissent. That same ignorance is apparent in the fact that people in the Capitol consider the Hunger Games, in which children are forced to kill one another, entertainment. The example suggests that their ignorance isn’t necessarily of the facts: they know that the children of people in the districts are drafted into the Games. It’s of the experience of life outside their privileged bubble. They appear completely unwilling, and perhaps even unable, to imagine what life in the districts is like, and consequently they seem to have no compassion for the everyday struggles of people like Katniss beyond what’s broadcast on their televisions for their amusement.