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Katniss, the protagonist, deals with the reality of war as her defiance during the Hunger Games results in open warfare in the struggling districts of Panem against the Capitol. The conflict with President Snow, the antagonist, becomes less personal as more people are drawn into the war. At the start of the novel, Katniss struggles with the losses she has already encountered in the war, such as the destruction of her home, District 12, and the loss of Peeta. Even as she learns that Peeta did not die, she deals with the grief of knowing that he is at the mercy of the Capitol. Katniss has little control over her life, and she struggles against oppressive systems to make decisions for herself and figure out how to achieve her goals.
Katniss takes action by allowing herself to become the symbol for the rebellion as the Mockingjay. She leverages the power of the symbol with her desires. The power of symbols becomes apparent when she uses her newfound status to help others. Haymitch reveals that the power of the symbol of the Mockingjay is in Katniss’s unscripted passion for those around her. As she visits District 8, her presence alone inspires the injured soldiers. As she warns the Capitol of mutually assured destruction, she rallies the districts to fight with her. Later, as a soldier from District 2 shoots her while telling them not to be the Capitol’s expendable pawns, she unifies the final district to the rebellion. The Mockingjay symbolizes hope in a long hopeless society, which proves to be a powerful tool in bringing the districts together to fight the Capitol.
While President Coin uses Katniss as a symbol to unify the districts in their rebellion against the Capitol, Katniss struggles with the inhumanity of individuals on both sides of the conflict. By agreeing to be the Mockingjay, Katniss continues to be a clear target for President Snow. Katniss observes the deterioration of Peeta during Capitol propos, and she knows that Snow hurts Peeta to hurt her. Later, after a team from District 13 rescues the victors, Katniss has to grapple with the consequences of the Capitol brainwashing Peeta into thinking she is evil. Katniss also views the fallout of the Capitol’s cruelty in Johanna as she hauntingly fails to communicate how she and Peeta were treated in the Capitol. However, Katniss watches people in the rebellion possess similar levels of cruelty, with President Coin threatening the people she loves if she fails as the Mockingjay, Gale and Beetee creating weapons that attack rescuers, and even Gale’s heartless plan to trap even the innocent citizens in District 2. Not only is she being used as a pawn by Snow, she is also being manipulated by Coin. Even though Katniss fights for a worthy cause, she sees that the Capitol does not have a monopoly on cruelty.
Personal relationships continue to motivate and shape Katniss, revealing their importance. Her desire to protect those she loves, such as Peeta, drives her to agree to be the Mockingjay. Haymitch, who knows her well, shapes her team to help her succeed as the Mockingjay. Later, as she fights, she is heavily dependent on her team to not only help protect her, but also to teach her and guide her. However, even as Katniss finds success in her interdependence, the relationships around her also serve as effective ways to hurt her. Snow, who realized she loves Peeta, brainwashes him to inflict deep pain on Katniss.
Throughout the novel, Katniss faces death, pain, and destruction, but despite the life-and-death stakes of the conflict, the comparatively mundane parts of life still matter. Events such as Prim growing up and training to be a doctor in District 13, escaping with friends from District 12, and reconciling with Haymitch over mutual guilt for not saving Peeta shape her everyday life, but even though the world seems grim, Katniss still celebrates small victories such as Finnick and Annie getting married, suggesting hope for the future in a depraved world.
As Katniss enters the war in the Capitol and fights in battles, the cost of war becomes even more apparent. Although the goal of fighting against the oppressive system of the Capitol remains at the forefront of their minds, the squad feels the grief of repeatedly watching friends die. Katniss and Peeta both grapple with whether living in such an evil world is better than being dead, which parallels the song, The Hanging Tree. When the remainder of the squad arrives at Snow’s mansion, they witness innocent children and rescue workers being targeted and bombed. The painful irony of Prim’s death by one of Gale’s inventions punctuates the already-terrible cost of war.
Katniss faces the reality of power’s corruption as she realizes her supposed ally, President Coin, probably killed her sister. She also learns that Coin wants to continue the cycle of violence by hosting another Hunger Games, only this time with children from the Capitol. Katniss sees in Coin not a just leader but the tyrant who killed her sister, and ultimately chooses to execute Coin instead of Snow. In spite of her grief and in spite of the depravity she knows the world contains, Katniss makes the decision to move forward, and her life in District 12 with Peeta and their children suggests there’s hope for the future.