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The Capitol has bombed District 12 into rubble. Katniss Everdeen stands alone among the ruins of her former home. She tries to remember what happened in the arena a month ago, but she struggles due to the concussion she suffered. Katniss recalls that she and Peeta Mellark won the 74th annual Hunger Games, and also participated in the Quarter Quell, the 75th anniversary of the Games. Their strategy included a fabricated romance and the pretense that Katniss was pregnant. Afterward, President Snow warned her she could spark a rebellion that would destroy the entire country of Panem, and seemed to be asking for Katniss’s help in preventing this outcome.
Katniss blames herself for the destruction of her district, but she also blames District 13 for pulling her into a plot to overthrow the Capitol. No one in District 12 even knew that there were people living in District 13 until days after the bombing. Gale Hawthorne, Katniss’s best friend, had led District 12 survivors to safety, and they were taken underground in District 13. Katniss makes her way through her ruined district to the Victor’s Village, the only part of the district left standing. As Katniss gathers a few family possessions and collects her sister Primrose’s cat, Buttercup, Katniss notices a sweet, artificial smell. She spots a single white rose, still fresh, and she recognizes it as a warning from President Snow: he knows her every move. She does not mention the rose to Gale as she boards the hovercraft to return to District 13.
Katniss and Gale return to District 13. In the time since the Dark Days (a term that refers to the rebellion seventy-five years ago, during which the Capitol supposedly obliterated District 13 and all its citizens), the Capitol has shown propaganda footage of the district to make it look like a desolate wasteland. However, the Capitol did not kill the citizens of District 13; instead, they agreed to a secret truce. The former seat of Panem’s nuclear arsenal, District 13 agreed that they would not fire the weapons at the Capitol, as long as the Capitol left them alone. As part of the agreement, the citizens of District 13 stay out of sight underground.
Katniss is reunited with her family and then joins Gale for dinner, but they are interrupted by a summons from District Command. Katniss and the others watch as President Snow airs more propaganda, a “propo.” In an interview with Hunger Games host Caesar Flickerman, Peeta Mellark describes the last moments of the Quarter Quell when Katniss shot the arrow into the force field enclosing the arena. He explains his plan to save Katniss and their supposed baby, and he tries to convince Caesar that Katniss didn’t know what she was doing. Peeta calls for a lasting cease-fire between the Capitol and the rebels, fearing that the conflict will destroy all of Panem.
Katniss is overwhelmed after Peeta’s interview and leaves Command. Gale follows, and he and Katniss argue over the damage Peeta may have just inflicted on the rebellion. Gale believes Peeta is still trying to protect Katniss, and she concludes that Peeta must not know the Capitol destroyed District 12. Katniss decides to tell Coin she will embrace her role as the Mockingjay, the symbol of the revolution.
The rebellion, led by District 13’s President Coin and former Hunger Games maker Plutarch Heavensbee, rescued Katniss from the arena, hoping to use her fame for their cause. Katniss tells Prim that she plans to agree to accept the role of the Mockingjay. Prim suggests that Katniss might be able to name any condition she liked, including Peeta’s rescue. After breakfast, Katniss presents a list of demands to Coin. Prim must be allowed to keep the cat, Buttercup, and Katniss wants permission for her and Gale to hunt above ground. Coin tells Katniss that she needs to publicly maintain her relationship with Peeta, including the faked pregnancy. Therefore, Gale’s on-screen role in Katniss’s life must remain platonic. Katniss also asks that the three tributes still held in the Capitol be pardoned. Coin objects to this last term at first, but then agrees to announce the tributes’ pardon.
Katniss makes one final demand: that she be the one to kill President Snow. Coin accepts, and she leaves the group to begin planning for Katniss’ first appearance as the Mockingjay. Plutarch and Fulvia, Coin’s assistant, show Katniss their plans so far, which include one final Mockingjay costume designed by Cinna. Katniss and Gale are taken to a lower floor, where Katniss discovers that her Hunger Games prep team are being held prisoner.
Katniss is shocked at the state of her former prep team—Flavius, Octavian, and Venia. They were rescued, on Cinna’s request, but have been held in a cell deep in District 13 for stealing bread. Food theft is punished severely, as food is scarce and strictly rationed. Katniss demands her team’s release and sees that they are treated in the hospital wing by her mother, now serving as a nurse. Both Katniss and her mother are shocked to learn that this kind of abuse is happening in District 13. Katniss believes that Coin punished the team to send a message to anyone from the Capitol, including Plutarch. Gale and Katniss begin hunting above ground, and they finish before their allotted time is up. When Gale challenges Katniss for defending her team, she explains how much they cared for her while she was in the Capitol. Katniss and Gale return underground and give the kills from their hunt to the kitchen staff.
Later, everyone gathers for Coin’s announcement. Katniss spots fellow tribute Finnick Odair. Coin announces that Katniss has agreed to be the Mockingjay in exchange for the full pardon of Peeta and the other tributes still in the Capitol’s hands: Johanna, Enobaria, and Finnick’s girlfriend Annie. Coin adds that if Katniss doesn’t fulfill her responsibilities, their immunity will be revoked. Katniss takes this as a threat on all their lives.
Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist, becomes aware of her helplessness as the Capitol destroys the people she loves, and District 13 attempts to use her as a symbol to rally around. Katniss feels a palpable guilt for bringing destruction down upon her home of District 12, then willingly allows herself to be used as a bargaining chip after learning Peeta is still alive. She becomes the symbol of hope as the Mockingjay in exchange for some comfort for her sister, the rescue of the other tributes, and the promise of revenge. While Katniss appears to possess agency by making choices to help reach her goals, Coin quickly reminds her of her vulnerability. Should Katniss fail in her role as a symbol for the rebels, the tributes she is trying to protect will be killed.
Katniss’s love for the people in Panem, especially her family and friends, motivates her to stand against the Capitol. The Capitol threatened her life repeatedly and Katniss wants revenge, but she was not willing to be used as the Mockingjay. Katniss agrees to be the Mockingjay only when she knows Peeta is alive and realizes that acting as the Mockingjay is the only step she can take to protect him. Love for those around her proves to be a more effective motivator than her desires for herself.
Katniss still has some hope despite her difficult circumstances, evident in her reflection of things she is thankful for. Even though she feels guilty for the bombing of District 12, she is pleased that her best friend, Gale, survived the bombing and led survivors to safety. She manages to save her sister’s cat, Buttercup, and learns to function in District 13. While circumstances are not ideal, she keeps moving forward. Her mother and sister’s growth in District 13 also give her a reason to be thankful. Ultimately, Katniss has hope, even if it is small, for the future.
Prim’s growth in particular shows that life goes on, contrasting the hopeless landscape of war and violence portrayed in the novel. Katniss watches Prim and realizes her sister is no longer a child and confides in Prim that she will become the Mockingjay. Prim shows her growth as more of an astute adult than the child Katniss has been trying to protect as Prim explains to Katniss that she has bargaining power as the Mockingjay. Since Coin wants Katniss for the position, she has the power to set the conditions for the role. Katniss follows that advice, ultimately bargaining for what she wants and boldly asking to be the one to kill President Snow.
The cruelty shown to Katniss’s team in District 13 provides commentary on the wickedness of human nature. The Capitol does not have a monopoly on cruelty. Katniss is surprised to find her Hunger Games prep team, from the Capitol, held in squalid conditions as prisoners for stealing bread. Katniss and her mother guess that the harsh punishment is President Coin’s way of sending a message to the people of the Capitol, shaping President Coin’s character as a parallel to that of President Snow’s character. Just as President Snow uses violence and intimidation for power, President Coin appears to be doing the same thing. This characterization begins to foreshadow the kind of leader she would be as President of Panem.
The symbol of the Mockingjay emerges as Katniss agrees to be a figurehead in the rebellion, but it is ironically undercut by her lack of control. While the Mockingjay is a figure to rally around, Katniss is treated as a soldier with a role to fill. While she outwardly seems to be able to make decisions and demands about the war effort, Katniss is reminded by Coin that she in turn has power over the people Katniss cares about. Nonetheless, the symbolic power of the Mockingjay begins to give the rebellion hope that they can unite against the Capitol.