A few months back I wrote a two-part post here about the transformation of Katniss. I want to pick up this theme again briefly by showing that Katniss and Peeta becoming muttations is not a bad thing, but the natural conclusion of the series, and symbolically becomes associated with what the Christian tradition has called the Resurrection of the Body.
In my previous posts, I emphasized that Katniss was the phoenix, the Girl Who Was On Fire, transformed and purified by fire, specifically the fire of Peeta’s love. With all the fire symbolism, it was only inevitable to expect her to actually be burned. I was quite pleased when, after expecting this very thing after reading the first book, I found it was exactly what happened in the finale of Mockingjay.
What is a Muttation?
Before we explore the meaning of Katniss and Peeta becoming Muttations, we first have to discover what a Muttation is in the rest of the books. We are first introduced to them at the end of The Hunger Games. Though they are wolf-like, they remain unmistakably human in intelligence. The only common element is always the eyes.
The green eyes glowering at me are unlike any dog or wolf, any canine I’ve ever seen. They are unmistakably human. And that revelation has barely registered when . . . the whole horrible thing hits me. The blonde hair, the green eyes, the number . . . it’s Glimmer. (p. 333)
Peeta says, “What did they do to them? You don’t think . . . could those be their real eyes?” When the parachute bombs go off and consume Katniss, it is the climax of her phoenix narrative.
Real or not real? I am on fire. . . . A fire mutt knows only a single sensation: agony. No sight, no sound, no feeling except the unrelenting burning of flesh. … I am Cinna’s bird, ignited, flying frantically to escape something inescapable. The feathers of flame that grow from my body. Beating my wings only fans the blaze. I consume myself, but to no end. (Mockingjay, 348).
Now, this trans-muttation is not a bad thing; it is transformation by way of suffering and pain, the fire is the Refiner’s Fire. She is the burned bread from the first book whose lover purifies and transforms her in the oven of the Games by the heat of his love. The burns are things that cannot withstand the transformation – the dross will be scraped away to reveal the enduring material of gold and silver. Katniss is also the symbolic Pearl from Catching Fire; “As coal pressured into pearls by our weighty existence. Beauty that arose from pain,” (Catching Fire, p. 365).
The other Muttations are transformed into evil creatures, both Muttated and Hyjacked to be aggressive killing machines. But the Muttation that happens to Peeta and Katniss is transformative; it reveals their true natures. All throughout Mockingjay Katniss has struggled to find her own identity amid all the competing narratives which others have forced upon her. Being burned in this way unveils her own humanity; it does not conceal it. As she recovers she realizes “there’s no going back. Gradually, I’m forced to accept who I am. A badly burned girl with no wings,” (Mockingjay, p. 350). That is, she is no longer a symbol, no longer anything but Katniss, a human girl who has been burned, and in burning, transformed finally into herself. She is free from all other identities forced upon her.
The Resurrection of the Body
At the end of all things the dead will reclaim their bodies, bodies that are the same yet utterly transformed. No one is really sure what this will be like or how it is possible that a body can be the same yet transformed. We’re not really meant to know or to explain how it works. That’s God’s business. But the Scriptures everywhere attest to it. “I will see God with my own eyes,” Job says. Christ took up the very body that went into the tomb, yet this body could now walk through walls. He ate food and the disciples touched his hands and side, so we know it was still physical. He was not a ghost. And yet He was transformed, and we will receive bodies like His.
Mockingjay gives us a glimpse of this idea in the trans-muttation of Peeta and Katniss. And specifically, the eyes are the symbol that is most called attention to. The eyes are how we recognize other people. Philosophically and symbolically, the eyes are the window to the soul. Jesus himself even tells us that the “eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness,” (Matt. 6:22-23).
Thus, the theme of recognition is often associated with the eye as the organ that reveals the inner person or the soul. So it is of vital importance that after their trans-muttation Peeta and Katniss can recognize the other person after their transformations by their eyes. As they doctors seek to save her life, Katniss notes that “My eyes were spared,” (p. 350). When she sees Peeta again, she realizes
We are both fire mutts now. My eyes travel up to where the flames licked across his forehead, singing away his brows but just missing his eyes. Those same blue eyes that used to meet mine and then flit away at school. Just as they do now,” (p. 368-369).
When they are finally reunited in District 12, the first thing she notices are his eyes. “Thin and covered with scars like me, but his eyes have lost that clouded, tortured look,” and she tries to “push my hair out of my eyes,” (p. 382). This is new birth, resurrection from death. The survivors of District 12 plow with ashes to grow food (p. 388), using death to grow new life. These are the ashes of a Phoenix-burning, ashes that give way to life once again. Is it any accident that Katniss, after burning as the Phoenix, dreams of being totally buried by ashes only upon waking to be reunited with Peeta (p. 282)? No, because these are the phoenix ashes that precede resurrection. The fire she needs is not the destructive fires of the world, but the Refiner’s Fire, transformative fire that brings about new life. “What I need to survive is not Gale’s fire, kindled with rage and hatred,” but rather “what I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction,” (p. 388).
She is Katniss the Phoenix, the girl reborn by fire.