No piece of critical writing is every truly comprehensive, covering every possible base. In a March post on bird images in The Hunger Games, I hit some of the highlights of bird connections with the two segments of the trilogy we have thus far, knowing that I wouldn’t get every single reference, of course, but happy to see that we had some great conversations on our feathered friends in Panem.
This week, however, a bird connection occurred to me that I had not pondered before, and it seems like one we might want to address. I wasn’t even thinking about HG, strangely. We were doing a memorial service for Civil War soldiers on a particularly chilly evening, so I wrapped my daughter up in an old fur cape, cast off from a college theatre department, which looks charming with her 1860s garb (in our neck of the woods, we tell folks it’s bearskin, though I guess it’s mink). The poor thing is pretty bare in spots, and, as Isabella was patting the soft fur, she noticed an old, rusty straight pin stuck in the hem. Thankfully, we got it out and discarded before anyone needed a tetanus shot, but it started me thinking about Mrs. Everdeen pinning Katniss’s old Reaping outfit on Prim.
That’s a very poignant scene, in my mind, as Katniss is so concerned about Prim’s shirt coming untucked, what she calls a “duck tail.” At first, I thought this just a throwaway, a moment of tenderness and levity as the girls quack at each other before the Reaping, but, as I pondered it further, I noticed that it is the sight of Prim’s “duck tail” that specifically incites Katniss to volunteer. It’s the trigger that sends her “flying” to the platform to take Prim’s place. The bird connections here may be far more complex and meaningful than an untucked blouse, as the duck is replaced by the Mockingjay.
For one thing, it’s specifically a duck tail, rather than some other bird or animal. Ducks are aquatic birds, of course, contrasting the cool, calm Prim with her sister, the “girl on fire” who is both Mockingjay and Phoenix, thanks to Cinna’s amazing costumes. In addition, ducks are food, raised for slaughter and consumption. Prim, were she to go into the arena, would be just another sacrificial child murdered for the entertainment (consumption) of the Capitol viewers. Katniss, though, is associated with a very different bird. The Mockingjay is the very epitome of rebellion, the “in-your-face” defiance of the Capitol as its tool, the jabberjay, survived attempts to let it die out after outliving its usefulness, going on to create a hybrid outside the control of the Capitol.
Also, Katniss specifically “quacks” at Prim to lighten the mood during their preparations. This might be inconsequential, if it were not for the other bird call that makes such a striking appearance in the story. The four-note call Katniss and Rue use as a signal becomes a subversive signal among the disenfranchised citizens of Panem; the mere use of this call when Katniss and Peeta visit Rue’s home district leads to the immediate execution of suspected rebels without trial or explanation. The Capitol clearly wants “quackers,” citizens who function like domestic poultry, following along in a line and capable of being herded, instead of the wild, unpredictable mockingjay whose very existence smacks of rebellion.
Even ducks, though, are not as tame as they seem. An angry duck can flog a full-sized human as easily as its larger and more aggressive cousin the goose can. So perhaps we should not write Prim off as a mere tame bird. There may be more to her underneath the feathers.
Of course, this could all be “quacking up the wrong tree,” so to speak, but I’m eager to see what becomes of our duck in Mockingjay and to hear your thoughts on this idea, which may just be bird-brained after all.