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.

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Louise M. Freeman September 4, 2010 at 8:35 am

Very nice insights. I’ve been thinking about the relationship ever since Gale mistook Katniss’s name for “Catnip.” but I think you’ve nailed it.

Cats, of course, also have a love-hate relationship with catnip; they are attracted to its scent, which can give them a mild, drug-like high, but too much makes them aggressive. Catnip is also a wild-growing plant with medicinal properties for humans (a painkiller or sedative) meaning it’s probably included in the Everdeen book.

Elizabeth September 4, 2010 at 9:03 am

Great post, Steve! Thank you so much for sharing these wonderful insights! I was so happy to see that Buttercup was, like Hermione’s Crookshanks, the cat who is more than a cat. I also think he allows Collins to use a little humor. Does anyone else think it amusing that the ugliest cat in the world has the same name as the Princess Bride’s most beautiful girl in the world?

Also, as we’ve been talking music, Buttercup is much like the cat from “The Cat Came Back” an amusing little ballad about a farmer who tries every way possible to ditch an old “yaller” cat that manages to survive every attempt on his life, and is the sole survivor of nuclear war!

PK9 September 4, 2010 at 10:59 am

After reading Mockingjay, I picked up the Hunger Games and skimmed through the first chapter. One of the things that immediately jumped out at me was the line about Buttercup. “Entrails. No hissing. This is the closest we will ever come to love.” I almost broke down emotionally upon reading that line.

Knowing that Susanne Collins had the whole series planned out when she wrote the first book, I can’t help but think that she already had the Buttercup ending in mind when she wrote that line. It turns out – some 1100 pages later – that Katniss was wrong about the future of their relationship. It takes Prim’s death, but by the end of MJ Katniss is feeding Buttercup bacon and Buttercup’s watching over her as she sleeps.

diva_alix September 5, 2010 at 11:55 pm

These are great insights, I was trying to hold off on commenting until I could say something more than how much I liked this post, but… I really can’t say much more than that. I think it makes total sense that Katniss projects her feelings about herself on Buttercup. As you point out, their relationship at the beginning of Mockingjay has taken a step back, and right around the time she and Buttercup have their first interaction Katniss remarks “I hate almost everyone these days, especially myself”. Her insulting and yelling at Buttercup in the final chapter, right before they reconcile is easily her expressing her anger at herself.
Again, great insights!

Tara September 6, 2010 at 12:48 am

I’m posting around for Mockingjay discussions and reviews, I teach 8th grade English and my students are trying to start up book clubs to read The Hunger Games and other new series. If anyone wants to help out our cause, here’s the link. Every little bit helps!

http://www.donorschoose.org/donors/proposal.html?id=424558&sharebar=true

PK9 September 7, 2010 at 1:09 am

mashed-in nose, half of one ear missing, eyes the color of rotting squash

Holy crap, Buttercup is a Kneazle

Elizabeth September 7, 2010 at 5:01 am

Yep, I’ve been holding out for him as a distant Crookshanks cousin since book one! Obviously, he has some supernatural power to keep him coming back!

Kathy September 7, 2010 at 11:08 am

This is such a great post! I was thinking how it was sad in the books that Katniss had no one to look at to try to understand herself. I guess I was expecting some other strong female character, but most of the women in Katniss’ life are either weak and need to be protected (like her mom), or somewhat stupid and need to be protected (like her prep team and Effie), or are grandmotherly figures like Mags or Greasy Sae. She doesn’t really identify with any of them, even though she cares about them.
So I love the idea that the cat is her alter ego (and a male cat at that). I thought it was really sweet that her reunion with Buttercup let her say goodbye to Prim, had her singing again (which she always associated with her dad), and gave her the strength to call her mom. Coming to terms with the cat/herself helped her fix the other relationships in her life.

PK9 September 10, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Hmm… the female protagonist/male animal alter ego reminds me of another series… His Dark Materials. I wonder if that’s intentional.

Lynn September 16, 2010 at 11:37 am

I really like the comparison of Katniss and Buttercup. To add a little, in Chapter 11 of Mockingjay (page 153) there is the mention of the game of crazy cat. Catniss enjoys it as a petty form of getting to Buttercup and thinks that the game makes him look stupid. She uses it as a form of “petty” revenge against him. This is right after Prim points out Snow’s “game” of using Peeta as a weapon to break Katniss and make her into a crazy cat of sorts. I see a little of Peeta being the light beam from the flashlight. Katniss worries her feelings about Peeta and the effects make her look weak and stupid which is the way she views Buttercup over the game. Interestingly others view Buttercup (and her) differently than that. They think it makes Buttercup seem “clever and delightful”.

Kate Lynn Etihw September 21, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Hey Eliabeth,thats exactly what i was thinking!

ms tart March 26, 2011 at 8:53 pm

This is a truly insightful post. Everything clicks. Thanks!

Don May 22, 2011 at 10:03 pm

That was a most EXCELLENT article………I think your analysis of Buttercup being the metaphor for Katniss’ fight within is 100 percent dead on! I can’t believe I didn’t see this before – but I now want to re-read the entire series just to see how the relationship with Katniss and the cat / her struggle within evolves and ultimately at the end is resolved. Thank you for an outstanding critical analysis!

LiSa June 24, 2011 at 12:44 pm

So slow on the uptake to all this but what of the cat like old stylist that hides them before they go to the mansion?

Elizabeth June 24, 2011 at 6:59 pm
LiSa June 24, 2011 at 9:53 pm

Thank you Elizabeth. At the time I read about Tigris in the book I was just thinking Tigris is what becomes of people never getting what they are searching for (love the Micheal Jackson reference). After reading the posts here, this thought moved me to thinking that Tigris could be seen as a projection of what Katniss could or is becoming. Now that I read the post link referenced above, looks like my thoughts aren’t to far off from others. PS Of all the discussion points on this website, I’m thinking this one has really help me the most!

Carolyn Scott February 3, 2012 at 3:21 pm

I’m so glad this was posted! I loved the Hunger Games, but one of the things that made me literally mad at the author was the treatment of poor Buttercup. I kept thinking, “What is the point of showcasing such cruelty toward this cat?” I considered stopping the series several times… that’s how serious I am about cats. :) Finished it… still disturbed despite their reunion until I found this article. Makes perfect sense as Katniss despises herself through all the books. Thank you for making me not so sad. :)

Meganlee Rose March 11, 2012 at 12:07 pm

WOW soooooooooooo trueeeeeeeeeeeeee just what I think but better write it XD

Jamie March 21, 2012 at 8:12 pm

I seriously love this post. It helps something click into place that was niggling at the back of my brain since my first read of the trilogy. Brilliant :) .

Tammy April 12, 2012 at 10:59 pm

Naturally a cat always finds its way back home. Buttercup and Katniss love Prim dearly and very protective of her…they both failed in doing so anyway.
Buttercup in HG is a reminder to Katniss that she has to feed her family and show some of her insensitivity character when she wished to drown him to save him from such pitiful life in 12.
In MJ Buttercup is also on the list of Katniss’ request to Coin, just for the sake of her beloved Prim which confirm Coin in Prim’s important to Katniss.
Buttercup made it back to victor village and this is important because Katniss rarely cry hard or even express a real sobbing. Only when she confront the cat and accept that her most important living person she wanted to protect most had gone forever and will never be back . Without Buttercup Katniss will not be able to let out her desperate lost and grieving over out loud. Sometimes you just need to cry your heart out to realize and accept the truth then go on with life.
A hunter, survivor, loyal, protector and love…these are Buttercup and Katniss.
At least Katniss finds that she has Buttercup to share her lost of Prim just like when she wanted Heymitch than others when she learn about Peeta’condition because he is the only one that loves Peeta too.

selina May 7, 2012 at 7:06 am

katniss loves that cat for good

Justine May 18, 2012 at 8:52 pm

I am a recent reader of Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, of which I just finished the last. I was not fond of the movie, Hunger Games. it really left intrigue part of the story in the book out, i.e. the relationship of Buttercup to Katniss and Prim. After reading Mockingjay I have been haunted with the significance of Buttercup. After reading what you have said a great deal is more clear about Buttercups role in the books, particularly Mockingjay. Because Katniss is very cat like in her physical traits I see a similarity between the two and also in a Jungian sense that Buttercup represent the male side of her personality as well.

D. D. Falvo June 19, 2012 at 9:17 pm

I found your post because I had to google to see if anyone thought the same thing, re: Katniss is Buttercup. lol. Loved that you did! I wanted to add that I do believe, in the very end, that when Katniss and Buttercup turn to each other, this is Katniss learning to love and accept herself. :)

Majortom August 13, 2012 at 4:02 pm

This is a really interesting post. Being somewhat of a late-comer, I just read all 3 books over a one week period and could not put them down. I love the parallel between Buttercup and Katniss. I think this is an excellent metaphor. The grieving scene over Prim’s death is the only time I outwardly cried reading the books! One final thought….. I wonder too if there is an analogy with the “cats have 9 lives” idea. Both she and Buttercup should have died so many times, but they both always anaged to survive. In the case of Katniss, I wonder if one goes through the books if in fact she may have had 9 life saving incidents, but someone else I m sure would know that detail!

Justine August 13, 2012 at 9:31 pm

I was the one who originally proposed the relationship and importance of Katniss to Buttercup and His importance in the development of her character throughout all three books and you will be surprised by his ‘ghostly’/next generation appearance in the fourth book that Collins is writing in the series. It is no longer a trilogy but a series. She has stated she felt that Mockingjay did not end effectively enough and is writing a sequel to it. Most likely name Primrose Hope where; Katniss and Peeta are married they have two children and something major happens after 13 years of peace. Look at the back of newer additions of Mockingjay and on the web for this info.

Justine August 13, 2012 at 9:33 pm

A much better articulation of my points Steve Barkmeier.

John August 14, 2012 at 9:32 am

Fascinating, Justine!

Please share us when you have a moment the urls for (a) your discussion of Katniss and Buttercup that make this topic a series of, as you say, “my points,” and (b) where and when Ms. Collins has said she is writing a sequel.

Justine August 14, 2012 at 9:51 am

I have a newer addition of Mockingjay and she wrote a teaser at the end of that. About Primrose Hope.

Rochelle August 15, 2012 at 3:04 pm

I just Googled every combination of “Suzanne Collins” “new book” “Primrose Hope” and “Mockingjay” that I could think of and didn’t get any information at all… I’m interested in a link, too.

Rochelle August 15, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Also, to the best of my knowledge (i.e., Wikipedia and Google), there is only one edition of Mockingjay out right now.

Justine August 15, 2012 at 7:14 pm

All I know is I have it on my nook and it is the last chapter in thbook.

Buttercup August 28, 2013 at 3:01 am

I realized this, and then was happy to see your post!
I’d also like to point out that after Katniss wins the Hunger Games, Prim gives Buttercup a blue ribbon (usually a blue ribbon is given to signify a winner) and Kat(niss) notes that he looks particularly smug.
Moreover, Katniss often regards Buttercup’s behavior as a strategic show to draw a reaction from his audience, Prim, such as his ‘helpless kitten meows.’ – I wonder if these correspond with her strategies, such as trying to look more like an innocent child after winning the first game?

Buttercup August 28, 2013 at 12:21 pm

@Justine: Does that teaser say “Epilogue” above it? If not, could you write a few lines of what you see for us.

Debbie April 11, 2014 at 3:31 pm

Super article! I’ve just read the trilogy for the first time and the part with Buttercup in the final chapter did bring a tear to my eye bring Katniss to the point of grief so she could begin to heal. Thank you for articulating this.

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