Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1656
Mockingjay by author Suzanne Collins is the third installment in The Hunger Games series. This young adult novel follows protagonist Katniss Everdeen as she fights in a futuristic rebellion against a sadistic dictatorship run by President Snow. Mockingjay largely explores the psychological and emotional costs of war.
Panem is a dictatorship that maintained its power after a failed rebellion. After the war ended, the country was divided into the Capitol and twelve outlying districts (the thirteenth district was supposedly destroyed in the failed rebellion), each of which is responsible for producing a specific good for the Capitol. The Capitol is relentless in its effort to suppress further rebellion in the outlying districts. To maintain power, it relies on military might, resource control, and especially televised propaganda. The crowning achievement of this propaganda program is the Hunger Games, an annual event in which each of the districts must send two “tributes” to fight in a hellish arena full of booby traps, extreme environments, and merciless opponents. The Hunger Games are meant to remind the outlying districts of the cost of rebelling against the Capitol. The “victors” of these games survive to endure both fame and psychological trauma.
When Mockingjay opens, nearly all of the outlying districts are at some stage of rebellion against the Capitol. Katniss Everdeen has already fought in the Hunger Games twice and has now become a symbol of the resistance against President Snow. Katniss’s partner in both previous games, Peeta, is held captive in the Capitol. The rebels, in turn, have kidnapped Katniss and seek to use her to launch their own propaganda campaign against President Snow. Meanwhile, Katniss’s home in District 12 has been firebombed. Led by President Coin, the rebels operate in an underground bunker in District 13, which was actually spared during the failed rebellion because of its nuclear arsenal. Life in District 13 is so utilitarian and heavily regimented that people are tortured simply for stealing bread.
Although the rebellion is well under way, Katniss is in shock. Having endured two bouts of Hunger Games, she is traumatized by her experiences and wears a bracelet proclaiming her mental instability. For Katniss, there are many unanswered questions that she must face now that she has the time to consider them. Although Katniss is highly responsible and loyal to her family, she is also a very capable killer. Confusing matters further, Katniss is stuck in a love triangle with two boys who are also both loyal and dangerous. By her side in District 13 is Soldier Gale, her childhood friend with whom she hunted as a girl. Held captive in the Capitol is Peeta, who fought by her side in two Hunger Games and who loves Katniss unconditionally. Finally, although she is not a natural actress, Katniss has also become a symbol known by many as "The Mockingjay." Should she use her celebrity status to wage a propaganda battle with the Capitol?
The propaganda battle begins before Katniss can decide. On television, a healthy-looking Peeta calls for a cease-fire, which enrages the rebels. Katniss reasons that a cease-fire would only lend more power to President Snow and the sadistic tastes of the Capitol, leaving the Districts to continued hunger, unending desperation, and the prospect of more children lost as tributes in the Hunger Games. At last, Katniss agrees to fight a publicity battle as The Mockingjay on several conditions, including that Peeta and other captured victors will be given immunity when the war ends.
Unfortunately, Katniss is a poor actress and is unable to inspirationally proclaim rebel slogans in staged environments. However, when she is taken to a hospital to visit real victims of the war, Katniss shines like a true star. Merciless, the Capitol sends a second round of bombers to kill not only the wounded but also the survivors who are caring for them in the hospital. Katniss, Gale, and their publicity crew defy orders and destroy several bombers, although they fail to save the hospital. In a moment of fury, Katniss comes up with a new slogan for the rebellion, declaring that “fire is catching. If we burn, you burn with us.” Beetee, a tech-savvy victor with the rebels, is able to hack into the Capitol’s television network, showing promotional programs starring Katniss and Gale. The programs work, and the rebellion surges in several districts.
The Capitol fights back with its own publicity. A now-haggard-looking Peeta appears on television, again calling for a cease-fire. Before he is taken off the air, however, he warns that District 13 is going to be bombed, for which he is beaten on camera. Katniss and the rebels in District 13 descend into the depths of their underground bunker, surviving the bombing. Katniss realizes that President Snow is torturing Peeta to punish Katniss for taking part in the propaganda battle. When she is called upon to make further programs, she finds herself unable to speak out of fear that Peeta will suffer.
Hoping to reclaim their Mockingjay, the rebels in District 13 mount a successful rescue attempt for Peeta and the other captured victors. However, it is discovered that Peeta’s mind has been "hijacked": he was tortured and injected with hallucinogens while exposed to films of Katniss. The power of these associations is so strong that Peeta can no longer distinguish between what is real and what is invented, but he does want to kill Katniss.
Unable to bear being near Peeta in his current condition, Katniss asks to be sent to the front. Of the thirteen districts, only District 2 is still controlled by agents supporting the Capitol. Holed up in a mountain fortress, the Capitol’s soldiers defy the rebels. However, Gale comes up with a solution: use avalanches to bury the Capitol soldiers inside their mountain stronghold and then bomb their only means of escape. Katniss and the rebel leaders dismiss the latter option for its lack of mercy, and Katniss begins to challenge Gale for his increasingly horrifying strategies to kill Capitol soldiers. However, after witnessing the firebombing of District 12, Gale is in no mood to listen. The attack is successful, but Katniss is shot while calling upon the District 2 soldiers to join the rebellion. She wakes up, again in District 13, her spleen removed and her ribs bruised. Peeta has begun to slowly normalize and is allowed to leave the hospital, though he is still under guard.
Katniss learns that the final assault on the Capitol is about to begin and hopes to join the attack. However dangerous Katniss may be in the games, she is not a soldier. She is denied access to the front unless she completes basic training. She completes her training and is again sent out as the Mockingjay to create publicity shots among the soldiers. Once there, however, Peeta arrives. Officially, President Coin has sent him in to improve the propaganda campaign, but everyone in Katniss’s unit believes that Peeta’s true purpose is to assassinate the Mockingjay, who is no longer of any use to Coin alive. In fact, because Katniss has come to symbolize the rebellion so strongly, she may be a threat to the rebel president when Coin tries to assume control of Panem.
The rebels must first take the Capitol, which is defended as though it has been turned into a Hunger Games arena. Pods that fire poison, bullets, and more are scattered throughout each city block, and Katniss’s unit quickly falls prey to them during a promotional shot. Her commanding officer killed, Katniss assumes command of her unit and declares that they are going to penetrate the Capitol’s defenses in order to assassinate President Snow. Although every member of her unit is left behind, killed, or captured, Katniss survives to reach the president’s mansion just ahead of the rebel forces. President Snow has lined the grounds around his mansion with a human barrier made up of refugee children. A hovercraft appears, dropping parachutes that the children mistake for bundles of food. They are actually explosives. Rebel medics, including Katniss’s sister Prim, sweep into the grounds to tend to the wounded. A second wave of parachutes explodes, killing Prim and severely injuring Katniss.
Katniss wakes up in the Capitol under intensive care. She, Gale, and Peeta have survived to see a rebel victory. President Coin and her staff are making decisions about the future of the country. The rebel districts are demanding that the Capitol pay for decades of brutal rule. Coin and her staff cannot decide whether to let the Hunger Games continue now using the children of the Capitol. They leave the decision to the victors. Peeta argues that the brutality of the Hunger Games is exactly what the rebellion was supposed to stop, but Katniss sways the majority in favor of allowing the games to continue, thus dooming Capitol children to fight against each other to the death.
There is one last mission for the Mockingjay to perform: to “fire the last shot of the war,” publicly executing President Snow. As she heals, Katniss begins to wander around the president’s mansion and eventually finds President Snow under guard in his rose garden. Snow informs Katniss that it was Coin who dropped the parachute explosives that killed the children and Katniss’s sister. When Snow’s execution finally takes place, Katniss assassinates President Coin.
The rebels take over Panem, but without the Mockingjay. Katniss and her mentor Haymitch return to District 12 where they try to recover from their experiences. With neither Coin nor Snow in power, the Hunger Games have been abolished. Gale takes up a post in another district, but Peeta returns to help Katniss recover. In time, she chooses to settle with Peeta rather than with Gale, reasoning that she does not need in her life more of Gale’s desire for vengeance. After a year, Katniss begins to stabilize, although she never fully recovers. She and Peeta slowly start a family in District 12.
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