A Curious Cat: Mockingjay’s Tigris As More Than Just Another Freak in the Capitol Circus

Last week, when our esteemed headmaster, John, sent along his amazing three-part series on Unlocking Mockingjay, I was, like John, and several others, still puzzling over Tigris. She’s a peculiar character, and not just because she has had more plastic surgery than everyone on the cover of the latest tabloid put together. In order to get beneath the stripey surface of this intriguing safe-house keeper, it seems we need to look at three possible purposes that she represents outside her mechanical function as plot-propelling individual who takes in Katniss and the remnants of the Star Squad.

1. Fabulous, until it isn’t: Katniss readily spots Tigris as an individual who has had one too many visits to the plastic surgeon. To quote Joan Rivers “This face has seen more knives than a Benihana.”  Here is a powerful critique of our culture that endorses more and more extreme forms of “beauty” and methods for achieving them. Collins repeatedly emphasizes the perversity of surgical means to attain endless youth and beauty, including the character of Caesar Flickerman: like Dick Clark, he’s a fixture of an annual televised event, complete with the twinkle-light covered coat that evokes the falling New Year’s Eve ball in Times Square.

In order to be truly fabulous, though, celebrities, and thus, by extension, everyone else, are expected to go beyond “Beauty Base Zero”; they must seek out more and more shocking ways to stand out, from tattoos to piercings, to paintings (did anyone else imagine poor Messala’s melting as involving his ear, nose, tongue, and lip rings pinging onto the pavement, yuck?) Some of these “enhancements” are done today, including the cat face with whiskers, though such extremes are rare and usually the stuff of documentaries. Tigris’ exclusion from the Games highlights the fine line between extreme beauty and freakishness.

In the media limelight, celebrities today keep having their bodies altered to achieve some sort of perfect or unique “look”; but once they cross that fine line, they too, like Tigris, are exiled from the center stage where they once held court. Just as Tigris is reduced to selling theme underwear, once-popular actors and musicians become only objects of pity featured on tabloid covers as examples of “plastic surgery gone wrong.” I even heard one poor actress described as unable to find work unless there is a part for a character who has had too much plastic surgery.

2. A little history lesson with furry accessories—Tigris’ name is readily familiar to us all, of course, from middle-school geography, when we learned all about Mesopotamia, and the Fertile Crescent, and the dynamic duo of rivers: the Tigris and the Euphrates. The name, to Katniss, simply is connected to the kitty-cat look, and the historical connection with regular tigers certainly is apt: tigers were featured “performers” for the Roman games, both prized rarities from far-off lands brought to impress the audiences and fighters to kill and be killed in exhibitions with gladiators (with all apologies to Russell Crowe). Tigris, once an object of display,  now surrounded by the pelts of creatures only slightly less fortunate than herself, certainly takes in the classical history aspect of the tiger.

But the Tigris River element may be the more interesting aspect of her name.  After all, the major inspiration for the story came to Collins while she was flipping stations between banal reality TV shows and footage from the war in the Middle East. The Tigris runs along the border between Iraq and Syria, and Baghdad stands on its banks. Not only that, the Tigris River also gives its name to the town of Tikrit, which is on the river and is the hometown of Saddam Hussein.

So the creepy stylist who protects Katniss and her team is directly connected to the very landscape of the country where so much of the nasty war business of the last few years has taken place. Because it has been the site of violence and changing empires for thousands of years, the river has many names, including the Greek Tiger word that we use. One of those many other names is Pahlavi tigr, which means “arrow,”  a very nice set up for the third function of this intriguing woman.

3.      Mirror, Mirror—Perhaps the most important function Tigris fulfills is as a mirror for Katniss. Long before the war and her flight through the Capitol, Katniss wonders if her prep team, as they work to keep her beautiful year after year, will use extreme techniques on her, like tattoos and cat whiskers. Steve Barkmeier last week posted an excellent analysis of the ways in which that grumpy old tomcat, Buttercup, reflects Katniss, so her identification with feline figures is not unusual. Also, as she is usually thrust into the role of bird, the Mockingjay, by others, it is interesting that she usually sees herself in the bird’s natural predator, the cat, making her quite the resolution of contraries.

But what really shows Tigris as a reflection of what Katniss is becoming is what happens just before Cressida leads the team to the fur-shop safe house. The Star Squad bursts up from their subterranean nightmare into an apartment, where they startle a gaudily made-up and dressed woman. When she appears to be calling for help, Katniss shoots her dead without hesitation. Though she seems to forget all about the woman until seeing her face on the news later, Katniss realizes that she is now reduced to killing unarmed civilians, a fact made even more evident by the lack of anyone in the apartment to whom the woman could have been calling for help. She was no threat, and yet, she represents all that is so wrong, in Katniss’s eyes, with the Capitol, from her gilded butterfly (innocent creatures killed and dipped in gold for ornamentation) hairdo to her greasy,well-fed fingers.

With her death, Katniss is in serious danger of losing her humanity, of killing anyone who might be only a remote threat, if one at all. Her thirst for revenge against Snow has already led to the deaths of most of the Star Squad. Once she encounters Tigris, however, things change in Katniss’s descent from humanity. Tigris, who has dropped so far from humanity that she only eats raw meat when she eats anything, is primarily motivated to help Katniss, it seems, because she wants revenge on Snow for excluding her from the Games when she became a sideshow attraction instead of a spotlight stylist. Katniss, too, is becoming a less-than-human revenge machine, so set on killing Snow that she gets numerous friends and even bystanders killed in the process. She is almost as much an animal as Tigris, who, in giving Katniss a pair of furry leggings that will make the Mockingjay more animal-like, is perhaps acknowledging their connection

Interestingly, even though the body count continues to go up after the segment in Tigris’s shop, no other members of the Star Squad are killed, and Katniss shows great concern over the Capitol refugees who die in the crossfire between the rebels and Peacekeepers, with the girl in the lemon-yellow coat particularly affecting her. Though she still shoots her confiscated weapon rather indiscriminately, Katniss notices the suffering of the Capitol residents, re-connecting with her humanity.

She is also on the way to her painful transformation from revenge-seeker to instrument of true justice when she realizes that rather than killing Snow, who is dying anyway, she must eliminate Coin and her continuation of the abominations of Snow’s regime. The introduction of Tigris thus both reveals the dehumanization revenge can bring and sets up Katniss’s turning from that brink of descent into sub-human vengeance that Tigris represents.

Though she may seem just a strange stop on the strange journey that takes Katniss from a staged fight scene through the most nightmarish section of the book, culminating in the death of Prim, Tigris is a powerful and important character who, in her many functions, serves Collins’s purpose in showing the way revenge and war, like the quest for the wrong kind of beauty, can take away our humanity.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the great post! I knew that Tigris was important to the story but I couldn’t figure out why. Your analysis make a lot of sense.

  2. I really enjoyed this post. I like the idea of Tigris as a mirror of Katniss, but I guess I ended up reading her as a more sympathetic character. (I’m sure that’s just me, though. I was sympathetic to everyone but Coin). Tigris made me think of Katniss’ prep team, which she described more than once as being like pets. People who were shallow, but not evil.
    In some ways Katniss and Tigris share the same fate. Both of them are important to the Games, until they’re not anymore. They both take on disturbing physical traits of the animals they’re named after (Tigris with her whiskers and stripes, the Mockingjay with the flaming wings that Peeta told her she would need to survive) With their unpretty, crazy appearance both are sent away to life out of the public eye.
    Of course I think Katniss’ post-Games life is far better than Tigris’ But I thought she made for an interesting alter ego to Katniss, and a female one this time!
    And I also liked your comments on the obsession on beauty in the book. I can’t help but think of how increasingly polished Suzanne Collins looks in the interviews/events she’s done as the books become more popular. I wonder if she’s been assigned a prep team, too.

  3. Great post, wow.

  4. I love your posts, Elizabeth! I, too, see Caesar Flickerman as Dick Clark, so I enjoyed that observation.

    I also like how you linked Tigris with Katniss’s turning point. It makes perfect sense. I found Tigris fascinating because while I was reading, I immediately thought, “Oh no–a bird/cat combo never works and this could be bad” (like Buttercup & Katniss). But, just as she and Buttercup make amends, it does work out for the best.

    Kathy-so funny/true about Collins and her “prep” team. I have also noticed that she seems more “polished”.

    Has anyone posted about the connection between the Star Squad 451 & Fahrenheit 451? I noticed that allusion right away, so I went back & wrote down other numbers from the novel (I love researching symbols & allusions) and found that 3908 (the dungeon room in which Katniss’s prep team was found shackled to the wall) is also the name of an asteroid, 3908 Nyx. Of course, Nyx is the Greek goddess of night, who gives oracles from a cavern. Interesting, eh?

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