Guest Post: The Meaning of Prim’s Cat & Kat-niss Mockingjay Discussion Point 27

by John on September 4, 2010

From Steve Barkmeier, some challenging thoughts on the story relationship of Buttercup, Primrose Everdeen’s cat, and Primroses’ sister, Katniss:

Prim’s cat, Buttercup, doesn’t have many appearances in the first two books of The Hunger Games trilogy. However, his involvement comes at key points in the series. In addition, he plays a pivotal role in Mockingjay. I believe that Buttercup serves a purpose in the series as Katniss’s alter ego and points towards Katniss’s relationship with herself throughout the series.

Katniss and Buttercup have numerous parallels through the series.

  • Most obviously, Katniss’s name suggests a connection to cats.
  • In The Hunger Games, Katniss states that Prim is the only person that she knows she loves. In a similar vein, Buttercup loves Prim but does not display that love toward any other character.
  • Katniss is a hunter. At the beginning of Mockingjay, Buttercup makes an appearance and is well fed. Katniss assumes that Buttercup has survived by hunting field mice. In District 13 Katniss states that Buttercup will be expected to hunt to feed himself if he misses curfew.
  • In the first chapter of Catching Fire we find that both Katniss and Buttercup prefer their old home over their nicer home in Victors Village.
  • In the shelter in District 13, Buttercup becomes a celebrity. Katniss is clearly portrayed as a celebrity.
  • Their methods of obtaining celebrity are even similar. Buttercup wins the hearts of the people of District 13 by playing a game of chasing light from a flashlight. There is no way for him to really win the game and the light is always out of reach. Katniss gains celebrity status by participating in a game that is hopeless. She finds out in Mockingjay that even the victors who have won the game haven’t really won. The Capitol continues using and abusing the victors even after they exit the games. Every victor has personality issues that began with participation in the Hunger Games.
  • Most telling, Katniss even states “I am Buttercup” in chapter 11 of Mockingbird at the start of an extended simile relating Buttercup’s relationship with the light and Katniss’s relationship with Peeta. I think this is also an indication of how Peeta represent’s Katniss’s light throughout the series.

We first meet Buttercup in the third paragraph of The Hunger Games. Authors often introduce characters and themes that appear minor at first but take on great importance by the end of the work. Katniss describes Buttercup as “the world’s ugliest cat” with a “mashed-in nose, half of one ear missing, eyes the color of rotting squash.”  By the end of Mockinjay, Katniss is also much worse for the wear. Buttercup distrust Katniss and Katniss hates Buttercup. I believe that this is a representation of Katniss’s uneasy relationship with herself. She doesn’t see herself as beautiful. She mistrusts any feelings she has towards anyone but Prim. She even questions her motives in caring for Peeta and accuses herself of only appearing to care for him to survive.

When Katniss is on the train to the Hunger Games, she is comforted by the thought of her alter ego, Buttercup, guarding over Prim and comforting her.

Buttercup again makes an appearance in the first chapter of Catching Fire. Here we find that Katniss and Buttercup have come to a sort of accommodation. Katniss states that they are still not fond of each other but they do tolerate each other. I believe that this is an indication that Katniss has grown somewhat more comfortable with herself. She doesn’t really like herself at this point but she is less at war with herself.

In chapter 1 of Mockingjay, Katniss finds Buttercup in the house in Victors Village. Katniss’s relationship with Buttercup seems to have taken a step backwards.  She fights with Buttercup to take him to Prim. It’s clear that she strongly dislikes Buttercup but she brings him to District 13 for Prim’s sake. At this point Katniss has a strained relationship with everyone in her life except Prim including herself. She really only seems to tolerate herself for Prim’s sake.

The turning point in Katniss’s life after the war happens in her encounter with Buttercup in the final chapter of Mockingjay. At this point, Katniss and Buttercup both break down with grief over the loss of Prim. They reconcile with each other and Buttercup begins guarding Katniss just as he guarded Prim. Based on comments about the book, many people found this point to be the emotional peak of the series. In addition, I think it represents the key turning point in Katniss’s relationship with herself. After this she is willing to love Peeta. She no longer blames herself for all the problems of the world.

In the epilogue Buttercup is no longer present. I think this is a sign that Katniss is now one with herself. She no longer needs an alter ego. She still suffers from nightmares about the Hunger Games and the war. However, she has come to terms with herself. Although the series does not end with a traditional happy ending, it does end with Katniss as more of a whole person. I think this is a key redeeming feature for the ending being something other than hopeless.

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