Yesterday we began a look at unveiling some reasons why Katniss supported President Coin’s decision to begin another Hunger Games and then why she killed Coin instead of Snow. My argument is that these two actions by Katniss are the proper climax of the trilogy, the hinge upon which the whole structure turns. We looked partly last time at this moment as releasing Katniss from the new, invisible Games that she is caught in, struggling to survive the wranglings and manipulations of both the Capitol and District 13. Now we must see the whole answer of how the act of killing Coin frees her from these games. And the place to begin is in her love for Peeta.
For the Love of Peeta
This act of Katniss’ makes sense and resolves the thematic purposes of the story resolves her love for Peeta and frees her from the duty of supporting Coin or being the Mockingjay any longer. At the beginning of the book she purchases his safety by making his pardon for supporting the Capitol a condition of her cooperation with District 13’s war. This turns out to be the condition Coin is least likely to keep. After the battle in the Capitol when Peeta loses control and results in the death of members of the Star Squad, he even says he’ll never be pardoned for what he did.
In this, Peeta has literally become the man about whom “The Hanging Tree” song is written. This song is about Peeta, and the man’s lover beckoned into death is Katniss. The song is constantly associated with Peeta. Three or four times when Katniss looks at him she is reminded of “The Hanging Tree” song for reasons she cannot articulate. Singing the song to him is the only thing that brings him back to her, the only connection between them not corrupted by the Capitol.
So what is “The Hanging Tree” about? The central lines of the song are the most important.
Where they strung up a man they say murdered three.
Where the dead man called out for his love to flee.
Where I told you to run so we’d both be free.
Wear a necklace of rope, side by side with me.
This man strung up on the Hanging Tree is killed for heresay. It doesn’t say he actually killed three, it says they strung him up because “they say” he “murdered three.” This is an unjust lynching. But the Tree then becomes a place where the man beckons his love to join him, to don the noose in solidarity with her lover so that on the Hanging Tree they might “both be free.” A man murdered for a crime he did not commit beckons his beloved to join him on this tree for a crime she equally did not commit so they might be free together at last.
To make this more clear, this is a song about a Man falsely accused and unjustly killed on a Tree for a crime he did not commit, who beckons His Beloved Bride to join Him on this Tree in an act of sacrifice so they might be together and free at last. If you didn’t catch the overtones of the Cross this time, I can’t spell it out any more clearly. On the Cross (traditionally the words Cross and Tree are synonymous – Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; 1 Pet. 2:24) Jesus not only bore the sins of humanity, but was falsely accused; and on this basis He beckons His Bride, the Church, to suffer with Him for the sake of the world. He is stabbed in the side with a spear and blood and water gushes from His side; for the ancient theologians of the Church, this was the moment the Bride was formed, the Church called together under the banners of redemption by blood and baptism by water. Many scholars have noticed that the book of Acts is structurally parallel to Luke’s account of Jesus’ life. So Christ goes through a narrative of suffering and death for the world, and the Church then follows Her Husband in this path of suffering and death for the sake of the world.
Specifically, Peeta is put on the Tree by his ruined reputation among the victors of the war. Supporting Snow, even when brainwashed, and accidentally causing the death of others, makes him virtually unforgivable in the eyes of the new Administration. He is the Betrayer, who suffers the slings and arrows of others unjustly. To this fate he calls Katniss too, to join him on the Hanging Tree.
She answers this call when she kills President Coin, by becoming a “murderer” in the eyes of the world, though in reality she slays a new Serpent that has come into their midst. This act makes her a betrayer, who is only spared execution by others pleading insanity on her behalf. She has become, like Peeta, of no reputation in the eyes of the world. That which is Just and Right is seen by all others as betrayal and treason. Thus, they are exiled together, and are, as the song says, finally free. With one stroke of her bow she prevented a new Hunger Games from beginning, protects the innocent casualties of such a blood sport, executes justice, and frees herself from the bigger, larger Games she has been trapped in since the end of the first book. No more the Mockingjay, no more the symbol of a rebellion gone off the rails, no longer of any use to either side in a total false political choice, united forever with Peeta in peace and calm in a new symbolic Eden, in bodies transformed by fire. Instead, Peeta and Katniss are the New Man and New Woman, freed from the manipulation of a false choice, freed from influence from either totalitarian Leftism or the hedonistic corporatism of the Right, both the temptations of the world. They are, instead, the symbols of all who wish to escape the influence of the world; they remain “in” the world, but are no longer “of” the world. Redemption and salvation come not from social utopias (which are naught but nightmares made flesh) but rather from love and self-sacrifice for the sake of those who hate you. This, finally, is what the Mockingjay truly represents.
This is the final transformation of the books, the transformation of the Mockingjay as a symbol. Having begun as a symbol of freedom, under the manipulation of District 13 it became a symbol of the same power they had overthrown, a symbol of vengeance and control and corruption, of temporal authority and selfishness. Katniss, as the Mockingjay, kills Coin and forever tarnishes the symbol for such use, transforming it by this act into a symbol for all those who wish to follow the dangerous path out of the world by the narrow way of love and self-sacrifice.