Unchecked Power Corrupts

Just a tiny whimper. Like something a cowed dog might make to avoid being struck, only all too human and familiar…. The stink of unwashed bodies, stale urine, and infection…The three figures are only just recognizable…The shackles on her wrists shift down a few inches, revealing raw sores beneath them.

This quote, taken from the end of Chapter 3 and beginning of Chapter 4, details the condition in which Katniss finds her prep team deep in the bowels of District 13’s underground. They have heard her familiar voice outside, and one of them whimpers to attract her attention. President Coin has taken her power to an extreme and is holding these three captive in conditions unfit for animals. They are guarded, unfed, denied bathing and toileting privileges, and infected from the sores caused by the shackles around their wrists. To spite Katniss, and, more importantly, to control her, Coin is holding her prep team in inhumane conditions, demonstrating the horrific results of absolute power.

‘It follows that any deviance from her mission, in either motive or deed, will be viewed as a break in this agreement. The immunity would be terminated and the fate of the four victors determined by the law of District Thirteen. As would her own.’ In other words, I step out of line and we’re all dead.

This quote from the end of Chapter 4 shows President Coin at her most devious and menacing. Katniss has just presented her terms for serving as the Mockingjay for the resistance, asking for immunity for the other tributes if they win. Her plan is for Coin to agree to this in front of witnesses, so she cannot go back on her word. Coin agrees, surprisingly easily. Just when Katniss believes she holds some power as the desired symbol of the rebellion, Coin, who holds the real power, turns the agreement back on Katniss with a threat of death to her and the other tributes. Coin knows that Katniss does not follow orders well and plans early on to kill the Mockingjay when her usefulness is over, just in case Katniss poses some threat to her power.

Off camera, Snow orders, ‘End it!’ But between the images, we are privy to the real-life action being played out on the set. Peeta’s attempt to continue speaking. The camera knocked down to record the white tiled floor. The scuffle of boots. The impact of the blow that’s inseparable from Peeta’s cry of pain. And his blood as it spatters the tiles.

Part I ends with a scene played out on live television across Panem while Snow personally interviews Peeta. The Capitol and Beetee have battled back and forth for control of the airwaves, each getting some airtime. Peeta has just given Katniss a personal message that District 13, where she is, will be dead by morning, endangering his own life by doing so. This enrages President Snow, and he orders the broadcast to be cut. Unfortunately for Snow, the cameras are still rolling, and the country sees and hears what follows. As his blood “spatters the tiles” on Snow’s command, and Peeta is heard crying out in pain, the consequences for his sacrifice are made abundantly clear.

Systemic Oppression Leads to Revolution

I stare down at my shoes as a fine layer of ash settles on the worn leather…. Almost nothing remains of District 12…. the Capitol’s firebombs obliterated the poor coal miners’ houses in the Seam, the shops in the town, even the Justice Building…. But no one is returning except me. I made it a condition of my cooperating with any of their plans.

This passage serves as the introduction to Katniss’s narration when she visits the ash and rubble that was once her home district. District 12 was the poorest district, and starvation was an all-too-common problem with Katniss’s own family. The people of District 12 were miners, and there were often deaths due to the unsafe conditions in the mines, including children and Katniss’s father. These oppressed people scratched out their existence as best they could, but now the Capitol has bombed the city leaving the dead where they fell. Gale helped a minority survive by hiding in the meadow, and they have been relocated to District 13. Now, Katniss and Gale, tired of the crushing burden of day-to-day existence, have agreed to join the rebellion of the districts against the Capitol. Despite the troubles she suffered there, Katniss misses her home, and made returning for a visit a condition for her cooperation with the revolutionaries’ plans, indicating that it’s not District 12 she associates with suffering—rather it’s the Capitol who made living conditions there so horrific, and it’s this knowledge that lies at the root of her rebellion.

The old man shot in District 11 for whistling. The crackdown in 12 after I intervened in Gale’s whipping. My stylist, Cinna, being dragged, bloody and unconscious, from the Launch Room before the Games. Plutarch’s sources believe he was killed during interrogation.

This quote from Chapter 1 illustrates how cruel President Snow and his edicts are. The examples of oppression Katniss enumerates here are representative of Snow’s treatment of the people in the districts of Panem. After Gale is whipped and Katniss lays her body across his, Snow cracks down on District 12, leaving them with even fewer resources. These are a few of the acts that drive the citizens of the districts to band together and rebel against their oppressors. They finally realize they must take actions into their own hands and plot their revolt if anything is ever going to change for the better in their lives.

It’s not the water I mind, but the mirror that reflects my naked fire-mutt body. The skin grafts still retain a newborn-baby pinkness. The skin deemed damaged but salvageable looks red, hot, and melted in places…. I’m like a bizarre patchwork quilt of skin. Parts of my hair were singed off completely; … And how I watched my little sister become a human torch.

This quote from Chapter 25 reflects Katniss’s thinking after she has been surgically repaired as well as possible following her attempt to rescue her sister. Prim was killed when the children were firebombed as they surrounded President Snow’s mansion. Katniss’s scarred and burned body is symbolic of the malevolence and subjugation she has suffered. It is a reminder of the horrible and senseless death that Prim, a doctor in training rushing in to help injured children, suffered. The action of killing children results in Katniss’s final decision to kill Coin with her arrow instead of Snow, who is already slated for execution. Even though she is not sure if it was that Peacekeepers or the rebels who released the fake aid parachutes that the children eagerly grabbed, she knows that allowing either Snow or Coin to wield power will lead only to more crushing tyranny. She realizes that even though Snow will no longer be president, nothing will change. Coin wants power, and Katniss wants freedom. The desire for liberty from oppression guides her hand.

The Power of Symbolism

My nose twitches. It’s the smell. Cloying and artificial. A dab of white peeks out of a vase…on my dresser. I approach it with cautious steps. There…is a fresh white rose. Perfect. Down to the last thorn and silken petal…. When I begin to gag at the stench, I back away and clear out…. It’s not just a flower…but a promise of revenge…

This quote, found at the end of Chapter 1, reveals President Snow’s omniscience in Katniss’s world. The rose symbolizes Snow and his power and corruption while demonstrating that he has the luxury of growing perfect flower specimens while extravagances like flowers are essentially unheard of in the districts. The rose is “fresh” and “perfect,” suggesting that Snow or one of his henchmen was recently in Katniss’s house. The “artificial” and overpowering fragrance of Snow’s roses is never explained, but it can be surmised they are genetically engineered. The effect of the flower on Katniss is one of fearful anxiety, which is exactly what Snow meant it to achieve. Katniss draws near cautiously as though it has the power to hurt her. She gags at the “stench,” a contrast to the way the smell of a rose might normally affect a person. She can’t take the threat the symbolic rose portends, and she runs, knowing it is a harbinger of “revenge.”

Joy. That’s the expression on her face. At the sound of my voice, it brightens, erases the suffering momentarily…. I hear my name rippling through the hot air…The sounds of pain and grief begin to recede, to be replaced by words of anticipation…. It’s the sight of me, alive, that is the inspiration.

In Chapter 7, this quote exemplifies what Katniss as the Mockingjay means to the wounded and dying people of District 8, which has just been bombed. There are no hospitals in the districts, so the wounded have been brought to a warehouse. Katniss is horrified at the sights, sounds, and smells of the corpses and the injured, and she wants to cover her face and run. With Gale at her side, she steels herself to take on her role as the unifying symbol of the districts’ rebellion. As Katniss is recognized, ripples go through the makeshift clinic. For the first time, Katniss sees the power of her embodiment of the Mockingjay and knows she must fulfill her mission to bring an end to the suffering of the districts at the hands of the Capitol. The mere sight, sound, or touch of the Mockingjay brings relief from “pain and grief,” and Katniss knows she must fight to stay alive and join the districts together under the promise the Mockingjay represents.

Peaceful. Until I smell the roses. I dive behind some curtains, shaking too hard to run, while I await the mutts. Finally, I realize no mutts are coming. So, what do I smell? Real roses? Could it be that I am near the garden where the evil things grow...The odor becomes overpowering…By now the smell’s so strong it begins to flatten out…

In Chapter 25 Katniss is in President Snow’s mansion. Just the smell of the evil roses sends her hiding and shaking behind the curtains. The “overpowering” fragrance reminds her of the mutts who killed her squad and almost destroyed her, and it makes her quake with fear. President Snow promised to exact revenge on Katniss, and the roses symbolize his power to make good on that promise. He has used the roses at every turn to remind her he has the upper hand. The rose, so pure and beautiful, has been tainted by this evil man and transformed into a weapon. Even though Katniss knows Snow has been captured and is heavily guarded, awaiting his execution by her hand, the smell of roses, and what it represents, fills her with dread.