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Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
Panem is ruled by the iron fist of President Snow, the citizens of the Capitol wield power over the inhabitants of the districts, and Alma Coin leads the rebellion. In all three instances, those in power become corrupt. From the start, President Snow pits children against each other in the deadly Hunger Games as entertainment for his Capitol citizens. Furthermore, he has killed ruthlessly to gain and keep his power and tortured people to achieve his own ends. As a result, the people who live in the Capitol live lives of power, privilege, and luxury; they want for nothing. They don’t think of the Hunger Games as punitive or tragic—to them, the Hunger Games are merely excellent entertainment. They live lavish, outlandish lives where surgical enhancement, outrageous clothing, and bountiful, expensive food are the norm, unconcerned that they have all of this because others do not.
Even Coin, who gains power with the promise to finally rid the districts of President Snow, is merely a tyrant by another name. Instead of using her power for good, she intends to take control just as President Snow once did, and to even start her own Hunger Games. Though she presents herself as a preferable option to Snow, she is just as manipulative, allowing Katniss to think she has some bargaining power only to turn around and threaten lives if she is not obeyed. Once Katniss has been used as a symbol of unity, Coin sends her into almost certain death.
The people in the districts do not remember a time when they were not oppressed by the Capitol. Their jobs are done only for the luxury of those in the Capitol. While the president and Capitol citizens live indulgently, those in the districts live in poverty, some die of starvation, and their mere existence is squeezed out in drudgery. Their children are sent each year to die for the entertainment of Capitol citizens, all for the chance of being the only one left alive and briefly bringing recognition to their district. When Katniss and Peeta go against the norm and refuse to follow the rules of the Hunger Games, they incite small flames of rebellion that begin to flicker across the country. As the rebellion grows and more and more people learn truths about their oppressors, the insurrection consumes the districts, and a full-scale revolutionary war begins. The oppressed rally around the Mockingjay, their symbol of rebellion, and follow Coin into battle. No longer will they passively allow the Capitol to keep them hungry and steal their children. When Coin reveals herself to be as oppressive as Snow, she is killed by the very symbol she created.
The power inherent in symbolism is a prevalent theme throughout Mockingjay. For Katniss, the very sight of one of President Snow’s roses—symbolic of the power he holds over her and over others—makes her tremble and feel both sick and powerless. Snow knows this and uses every opportunity he can to put his roses in Katniss’s path to remind her of what he could do to her, her family, and the people she loves. For the citizens of the Capitol, the rose in President Snow’s lapel stands for his strong leadership and the lavish lives they live, though the fact that Snow employs the rose as a means of covering up the scent of blood also suggests his power, and therefore the lavish lives of the Capitol citizens, come at the expense of others.
For the people of the districts, the Mockingjay symbolizes rebellion. In the scene where Katniss walks among the wounded at a makeshift hospital, injured people light up as they recognize her, suggesting the very sight of her gives them hope. She is a symbol that unites them, and Coin knows this. It is the Mockingjay in the propos that air throughout the districts and the Capitol that brings the districts together, ultimately leading them to a successful rebellion, though it’s clear in the end that symbols can be manipulated and used for good and evil.
Having been chosen for the Hunger Games and Quarter Quell, Katniss and Peeta’s youth is ripped away from them from the very beginning of the series. Mockingjay illustrates the aftermath of these events as they struggle to grow and learn in a world ravaged by war. Katniss agrees to be the Mockingjay, forcing her into situations beyond the capacity of a teenager, but despite the life-or-death stakes, she is still a young woman besieged by the typical trappings of adolescence, including romance. On the one hand, Gale knows he loves Katniss, but he is often peevish and argumentative with her, just as she is with him. On the other, Peeta is hijacked by the Capitol and becomes highly confused about what is real. Katniss cares for them both and must assess her feelings for them, even in the midst of constant danger.
Prim, the archetypical little sister, is forced to grow up far too soon, and her untimely death strikes a particularly tragic blow to the novel’s bittersweet resolution. It was Prim whom Katniss fought to protect at the beginning of the series, and it’s Prim she fails to keep safe at its conclusion. That Prim grows up over the course of the story only to die tragically while Katniss lives with the pain signifies the final nail in the coffin of the latter’s childhood.