Mockingjay Discussion 15: The Hanging Tree

I’ll argue tomorrow that Katniss’ ‘Meadow Song’ is the theme of the Hunger Games trilogy and that the reference to it in the epilogue ties the finale into the series, but today I want to open a thread here about ‘The Hanging Tree’ and its multiple occurrences in Mockingjay. It is the heart of the finale and a key to its most profound and challenging meaning. Let’s look at the song, where it shows up, and what it means to Katniss  before beginning that discussion.

‘The Hanging Tree’ has twenty-four lines organized in four stanzas of six lines each. The rhyme scheme is a-b-b, c-b-b. The stanzas are identical except for the third line which changes in each

Are you, are you
Coming to the tree
Where they strung up a man they say murdered three.
Strange things did happen here
No stranger would it be
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree.

Are you, are you
Coming to the tree
Where the dead man called out for his love to flee.
Strange things did happen here
No stranger would it be
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree.

Are you, are you
Coming to the tree
Where I told you to run so we’d both be free.
Strange things did happen here
No stranger would it be
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree.

Are you, are you
Coming to the tree
Wear a necklace of rope, side by side with me.
Strange things did happen here
No stranger would it be
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree.

Katniss sings the song to Pollux the Avox on the trip she takes with Gale and a film crew to District 12 as part of their episode in the ‘We Remember’ District 13 propo-ganda campaign (chapter 9). The physical location of her singing is by the lake beyond the fence where Katniss and Gale had fought after Katniss’ return from the first Games about whether to run or stay and fight (Fire, chapter 7). The pair are angry with each other here, as well; Katniss is furious that Gale had not told her about the Peeta propo aired the previous night and he is upset that she cannot understand why he decided not to say anything.

‘The Hanging Tree’ is mentioned again in chapter 15 during Katniss’ time in District 2. Haymitch tells her that the rescued but hijacked Peeta recognized the song when his restoration team showed him the propo made with Katniss singing it. He remembered her father singing it in the bakery when he was a small boy. “It’s the first connection to you that hasn’t triggered some mental breakdown, Says Haymitch. “It’s something, at least, Katniss” (p. 219).

We hear the last verse of ‘Tree’ during the last battle inside the Capitol, when the Celebrity Squad has been caught filming a propo and hit with a manually activated “black wave.” Boogs is dead and Katniss has taken command. Peeta has just insisted their best next move is to kill him lest he kill another member of the squad because of his re-programming. He argues that leaving him behind isn’t an option either, if they care for him, because the Capitol will capture and torture him.

Katniss thinks (chapter 21, pp. 290-291):

Peeta. Back in Snow’s hands. Tortured and tormented until no bits of his former self will ever emerge again.

For some reason, the last stanza to “The Hanging Tree” starts running through my head. The one where the man wants his lover dead rather than have her face the evil that awaits her in the world.

Peeta insists on receiving a Nightlock pill, named for the berries he and Katniss used in their first Games. Katniss refuses.

The last time we hear the song is in Tigris’ sub-basement the night before the surviving five members of the Star Squad head out for the final push on the President’s mansion. Because Peeta is still “unpredictable,” Gale and Katniss urge him to stay behind and wait for the end of the battle in hiding. He agrees that he’s to much of a risk to stay with the group but decides “he’s going out on his own,” that he “might still be useful” by “causing a diversion” (chapter 24, p. 335).

Gale is worried about Peeta’s being captured and gives him his nightlock tablet. He has to assure Peeta that, if he is captured, he is capable of killing himself or that Katniss will kill him if he can’t manage it.

The thought of Peacekeepers dragging Gale away starts the tune playing in my head again…

Are you, are you

Coming to the tree

“Take it, Peeta,” I say in a strained voice. I reach out and close his fingers over the pill. “No one will be there to help you.” (p. 336)

What does the song mean to Katniss? It’s important to her for a variety of reasons.

First, I think, and always is the song’s association with her father. He taught it to her on one of their days in the woods and she sings it “softly, sweetly, as my father did”  (p. 122-123). She claims that the reason the song is “irrevocably branded into my brain” is because her father said mother “just wanted me to forget it” (p. 126). Something about her young daughter making nooses out of rope scraps bothered mom.

Dad liked the song, though, and before mom yelled at him to stop, he used to sing the song in shops. Or maybe just in certain shops, like the bakery.

Mother Everdeen had another reason not to like ‘The Hanging Tree,’ though. Katniss clues us in to this when she says she hasn’t sung it “out loud for ten years, because it’s forbidden, but I remember every word.” It’s against the law to sing the song so of course mom doesn’t want her husband or her daughters singing it in public. She gets enough healer business from the whipping post without having to treat her own husband’s back-become-mincemeat.

Given Katniss’ contrarian Mockingjay Abernathey-esque spirit, I’m guessing that the reason the song is illegal is probably why she has it written on her heart.

We are not told in the narrative line why the song is forbidden though Katniss explains a good deal of it, most notably how the song’s four changing lines clarify in each stanza who is talking and to whom he is talking. ‘The Hanging Tree’ is the invitation in song of a murderer to his true love; the dead man asks the beloved “to flee,” by which he means to join him in death “at midnight in the hanging tree,” her wearing a “necklace of rope” alongside him.

Pretty gruesome, I suppose, but why would the Capitol make singing the song a punishable offense? Here’s my guess based on two popular songs from the 50s with related imagery.

You can’t talk about a ‘hanging tree’ song if you’re in my generation and not think immediately of  Strange Fruit (If you haven’t heard the Billie Holliday anthem, you can listen to it here).

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh!
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

More to the point of Ms. Collins’ reference, though, is the country-western song, ‘The Hanging Tree,’ that was the hit title song for a popular Gary Cooper cowboy movie in 1959. Here are those lyrics::

I came to town to search for gold
And I brought with me a memory
And I seem to hear the night wind cry,
“Go hang your dreams on the hangin’ tree
Your dreams of love that could never be
Hang your faded dreams on the hangin’ tree!”

I searched tor gold and I found my gold
And I found a girl who loved just me
And I wished that I could love her too
But I’d left my heart on the hangin’ tree
I’d left my heart with a memory
And a faded dream on the hangin’ tree.

Now there were men who craved my gold
And meant to take my gold from me
When a man is gone he needs no gold
So they carried me to the hangin’ tree
To join my dreams and a memory
Yes they carried me to the hangin’ tree.

To really live you must almost die
And it happened just that way with me
They took the gold and set me free
And I walked away from the hangin’ tree
I walked away from the hangin’ tree
And my own true love, she walked with me!

That’s when I knew that the hangin’ tree
Was a tree of life, new life for me
A tree of hope, new hope for me
A tree of love, new love tor me
The hangin’ tree, the hangin’ tree, the hangin’ tree!

This song is sung by a man who has at least been to a gallows of the make-shift, arboreal kind and is about true love and the re-union of the almost hanged man and his “own true love.” If you could graft in the message  or spirit of Strange Fruit to this country-western setting, I think you’d have the heart of Ms. Collins’ ‘Tree’ and why it plays the role it does in Mockingjay.

Fruit is a poetic indictment of the lynchings of African-Americans in the United States. Though the photograph which is supposed to have inspired it was taken at a hanging of two black men in Indiana, the song is aimed about the practice as it existed in southern states. A Holliday signature, it became a Civil Rights movement anthem in the late 50s and 60s.

I suggest ‘The Hanging Tree’ of Mockingjay was also a “movement” song or anthem and that the meaning of the lyrics were not as important as what it may have come to mean to the rebel miners in terms of what caused the Capitol to make it illegal.

My best guess for what is means, the foundation of its use as a rebel tune, is that the “murderer” who was executed, the man on the tree singing for his love to join him, wasn’t a criminal but a revolutionary. His murders were not homicides committed in passion, then, but the shooting of Capitol Peacemakers or Mining Company thugs. His public execution was punishment, but, as important, an effective way to deter anyone thinking of joining the freedom fighter/terrorist’s cause. Capita l punishment, the death penalty, here is Capitol punishment, a means to make the districts fear the consequences of resistance more than they hate their masters.

In essence, ‘The Hanging Tree’ calls on the living who love freedom to join the martyred freedom fighter in putting this cause above concerns for their individual lives. It is an invitation to revolution, i.e., to risk death in the hope of a greater life. Mr. Everdeen isn’t singing it because it’s a simple catchy tune; he’s expressing his revolutionary beliefs as openly as he dares and asking others to join him. Mrs. Everdeen, it turns out, was right to be terrified by her husband’s boldness. It’s probably safe to assume that he and Gale’s dad died in a mine explosion that was set by the Capitol to kill men known to be plotting against the regime.

I’m confident this is what Ms. Collins’ version of “Hanging Tree’ means because it is such a match for Katniss, the Mockingjay. She becomes the lightning rod for resistance to the Capitol when she sacrifices herself to save Prim at the Reaping and by her actions in the arena, most notably, her love for Rue and Peeta and her defiant willingness to die for her friend rather than conform to the Hunger Games’ rules. ‘The Hanging Tree’ is the Mockingjay’s song well before Katniss sings it to Pollux, a man who was tortured by the Capitol and would sing the song to the rebels if he could.

Peeta hears this song, and, though he is more than half-mad consequent to his having been ‘hijacked’ and reprogrammed, he identifies with its message and with Katniss. ‘The Hanging Tree’s call to death before demeaning slavery resonates in that remnant of the revolutionary artist’s soul left in Peeta and begins his revival.

Katniss thinks of this song twice after she sings it, both in the context of Peeta being in the Capitol and the dangers he faces. The first time, when Peeta asks for a poison pill, appropriately named ‘Nightlock” after the berries he and Katniss used to defy the Capital in the 74th Games, she remembers ‘Tree’ and refuses his request. The second time, he asks permission to “create a diversion” for the four of them going to the President’s mansion to kill Snow; she insists here that he take a Nightlock tablet.

What’s going on?

In the first instance, Peeta is offering to kill himself rather than be a risk or a burden to the surviving Star Squad. He wants the pill because he is afraid of being re-captured and tortured. It is not a hero’s death he is asking for but a coward’s suicide. This is not the message of the Mockingjay anthem, ‘Hanging Tree,’ so his request for nightlock is refused.

In the heart of the Capitol, though, after Katniss’ kiss, he has again become Peeta the Selfless Warrior sufficiently that he is thinking only of his friends and how he can protect and help them. He has no thought of the consequences of his actions in terms of the risks he is running for death or capture and torture. This resonates with ‘Tree’ so much that, in an echo of her decision in Games, she forces the nightlock tablet into his hand to protect him from being tortured if captured.

We learn in the final chapter that Peeta shadowed Katniss to the Mansion and was burned horribly in the same blast that killed Prim and made the Mockingjay a Phoenix, the girl on fire. Though she does not mention the song, perhaps it is Peeta who hears it after Katniss assassinates President Coin; he prevents her then from taking the nightlock tablet in her Cinna Mockingjay battle-suit for much the same reason that she would not give him the pill in his fear. The Mockingjay cannot die that way.

Why not? For that you have to go to the symbolism of the Mockingjay as the Phoenix and resolution of contraries.

(1) When a writer puts a symbol or a poem or story into the narrative line, it is a very good bet that understanding this image, poem, play, or prose piece is a key that unlocks the story-line. Think of Nabokov’s Pale Fire for an over the top example of imbedded poetry or of the ‘triangular eye’ symbol and ‘Tale of the Three Brothers’ in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. As I explain in ‘The Seeing Eye’ chapter of The Deathly Hallows Lectures, Ms. Rowling is explaining via her characters’ attempts to understand the Hallows symbol and Brothers tale how to interpret the most important artistry and meaning of her book.

(2) Oddly enough, the meaning of that Hallows symbol — the bisected triangle enclosing a circle — was most profoundly explained in text not by Xenophilius Lovegood, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger (no relation), or even Albus Dumbledore. Harry shows us what it means when he buries Mad-Eye Moody’s magical eye in the shadow of the oldest oak tree he can find and carves a cross on the tree trunk (again, see Lectures). The tree is the heart of the symbol in Hallows as it is to the esoteric meaning of ‘The Hanging Tree’ in Mockingjay; as the country western tune puts it, the Hanging Tree is the “Tree of Life.”

A tree is an apt symbol of God and His relationship to the world because, like a tree, especially an ancient one,

  • He is relatively immortal or timeless,
  • His beginning is unknowable and invisible,
  • He is a unity at His core or base
  • that grows into a seemingly infinite extension at His periphery.

All traditional cultures, consequently, understand trees as natural transparencies through which any thinking person can see God, the Creator who brings everything into existence (see, for instance, Romans 1:20). ‘The Hanging Tree,’ from this understanding, is death to the individual ego and carnal concerns but the greater life and love available in God. The seeming contradiction of having to lose your life to gain it, of course, is at the heart of the teachings of the Galilean (see John 12:24-25 and Luke 17:33).

The “tree” of this song, in one word, is the Cross, the “murdered three” is a not-so-opaque reference to the three who were murdered by the state at Calvary, and the criminal calling his beloved to take up his cross is Christ.

“The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.” (Acts 5.30.)

“And we are witnesses of all things which he [Jesus] did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree” (Acts 10.39.)

“And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre.” (Acts 13.29.)

“Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness” (Peter 2.24.)

This is the Mockingjay’s song because sacrificial love and death to one’s ego is the most radical and revolutionary politics that no regime, the World, can tolerate. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Just as at the beginning of Games, when Katniss sacrifices herself to save Prim, she offers herself as a sacrifice at the end of the series to save all the Prims who will die in the revived Hunger Games if Coin lives.

Katniss, in having embraced the Pearl of Great Price in Fire, the example and teaching of Peeta the Christ figure, and committing herself to die for him becomes the sacrifice that redeems the world in Mockingjay; she answers the call of Christ on the Cross and becomes a “murderer,” executing President Coin, knowing it means her death, which, of course, means her greater life with Peeta as Christ.

This is why he intervenes at the assassination to prevent Katniss’ death. She answers the call of the man on the tree, her beloved, the light and life of the world, to join him, a sacrifice prefigured in Fire by “the lightning tree” that is her means of transcending the fallen, murderous world of the arena if she is willing to die to herself and confront “the real enemy.” Mockingjay, throughout which she and Finnick are making nooses from rope pieces as Katniss did as a child on hearing the ‘Hanging Tree’ song, is the story of her preparation to die to self and join her beloved on the tree.

I offer for your consideration that this sacrificial love and means to transcendence is also the meaning of Hunger Games that resonates most profoundly in the hearts of Ms. Collins’ readers, who with Katniss, have the message of ‘The Hanging Tree’ if not its words within them.

As I said in the beginning of this post, though, there is another Hunger Games song that, unlike ‘Tree,’ is in all three books, a song Katniss also learned from her father. Tomorrow I hope to explore the meaning of the Meadow song and how it, too, opens up the meaning and, consequently, the popularity of these books.

Your comments and correction, as always, are coveted.




Comments

  1. Was it actually illegal to sing this? The only word I can find is ‘forbidden’ and I thought it was forbidden only by Mom. She says that she and Dad never sing again due to mom’s (understandable) discomfort with the song. (pg. 125) Just being forbidden by mom would have been enough to indelibly engrave into my head.

  2. “Forbidden” could mean just “against my mom’s rules” but the response of the Avox, Plutarch, and Mrs. Everdeen suggests there is a well-known meaning to this song among the rebels that Katniss doesn’t know. There’s no way anyone grasps the depths and suggestive meaning of this song on the first pass, I don’t care if the singer can make the birds stop to listen, without there being some association with a cause beyond the surface meaning of the words.

  3. I’m so glad you brought up the Billie Holliday song “Strange Fruit” (written by a Jewish school teacher named Abel Meeropol). I use that poem/song in my “To Kill a Mockingbird” unit when we discuss the men at the jail wanting to take Tom. But I had never heard of the Gary Cooper song and I think you are so right connecting the two. I also agree it’s not just forbidden by her mother, but similar to a “Jim Crow” law of the South. And ultimately, her father was punished for singing it (and probably for other rebellious actions) by being blown up in the mines.

    Thanks for sharing your insight & I also look forward to your analysis of the Meadow song!

  4. This is so interesting about tying the song into the Christian symbolism. I had missed that so thanks!

    John, I hope that you can illuminate further the meaning of Katniss being a silenced song bird for so long and then only singing at poignant times (such as for Rue). By the series end she opens up her song bird voice and fills the air with song. I feel that you or some of your very intelligent readers would do the best job in fully giving the symbolism for this. I would love to read it!

  5. Arabella Figg says

    This is a wonderful post, all the ideas and meanings. Thank you!

    You’re absolutely right that this is a revolutionary song, rather than a Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley type song (about a man hanged for the murder of his lover’s secret lover). The hangee is reported to have “murdered” three people, but who has defined the word “murder”? There’s a strong sense of injustice about the “crime.”

    The hangee is urging his love to flee, or run to be free from an intolerable existence, and that she can do this by continuing the fight, and not fearing being hanged (the unsurprising result), because they will be together in a better world. Great connection with Strange Fruit. I hadn’t heard the film song, but wonder if the “gold” wasn’t the dream of freedom that gold can buy. This would tie in to a poverty-stricken district very well, thematically.

    The fact that Katniss’ father deliberately taught his very young child this song is significant.

    I think the MJ Hanging Tree song was a means of conveying a secret message between the miner revolutionaries of Katniss’ father’s generation, as some American slave used their songs. The baker was friendly toward Katniss (buying her squirrel kills and bringing her cookies at the Justice Building); perhaps his bakery may have been a safe place for revolutionary meetings or message exchanges during his youth.

  6. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxannOn-4TM

    What I thought of for the melody. I loved the message, and saw the martyrdom and also what it might come down to with Peeta and Katniss, and it haunted me. So I youtubed something for once…

  7. John, I can’t remember… have you written anything about Katniss’s family name? I know there’s been talk of her first name and the plant themes in the trilogy. But the talk of trees reminded me that the family name sounds quite like “Evergreen.”

  8. One of my favorite parts of The Hunger Games series is the folklore and songs. The Hanging Tree ballad is similar in theme and structure to some roots and Appalachian songs (like “Graveside Song,” “Long Black Veil,” and “Oh Death”).

    I like to take the districts in a West-East configuration, with District 13 being the eastern seaboard and District 12 Appalachia (District 2 is the Rockies, District 4 somewhere on the Gulf). District 12 as Appalachia makes the wedding dance a joyous contra and the ballads a beautiful roots tradition stretching back centuries.

    I love the song.

  9. I like your ideas and your take on the song better than my original ones. At first I thought the Hanging Tree song was foreshadowing for Gale’s storyline.

    After Katniss first sings the Hanging Tree, and then explains how it’s about a murderer calling out to his love to come join him in his actions, in death, for a better world, Gale tells her maybe he’ll be like the guy in the song. (pg. 130) And he kind of is, by story’s end. He calls to Katniss over and over to agree with him on the war, to see his way of thinking, to try to win her over to his side (in the fight, and romantically).

    In the end he becomes the murderer, and she won’t come to him. I thought the murdered three were Katniss and Peeta, who complete their metamorphosis after becoming victims of the bomb, and Gale himself, who loses everything after his devices kill a bunch of innocent people, Prim in particular. (Although she cuts him some slack on p. 126 “I used to think the murderer was the creepiest guy imaginable. Now, with a couple of trips to the Hunger Games under my belt, I decide not to judge him without knowing more details.”)

    Your take is definitely happier. I’ll have to keep it in mind as I read the story again.

  10. At first when I read the word “forbidden” I thought it was against the law. But then after Katniss explained it, I came to the conclusion that it was “forbidden by mom”. At the moment, I’m undecided whether there was a Panem-wide taboo on the song.

  11. As for Mr. Everdeen, I thought the Pearl Plot theory was well-thought out before Mockingjay, but it seems insufficient to have a single song be the only evidence that he was a revolutionary. The series is over, the last book has been published. If and Mr. Hawthorne truly were revolutionaries, it needed to be revealed more plainly in the third book. Otherwise it just feels like you’re taking bits and pieces to support your theory rather than the theory evolving from the body of evidence as a whole

  12. Hunger Games is a first person narrative that ended in a non-stop action piece with very little back story revealed and exactly none about Gale’s and Katniss’ fathers other than this song. It is hardly fair to classify my explanation of Mrs. Everdeen’s reaction as stretching to confirm a pre-Mockingjay theory. It is simply the most plausible reason that she responds so viscerally. It also explains why Pollux is shattered by the song and the delight Plutarch feels. If you have a better explanation, I’m all ears!

    But even if it isn’t a revolutionary song or call to arms, the song has a central place in the book, literally and and as a theme. Why else are major characters endlessly making rope necklaces as part of their therapy? Collins is pointing to their heeding the call of the man on the Hanging Tree which points to the spiritual, esoteric meaning I discuss in the post.

    That’s the take-away meaning that I’m confident Ms. Collins wants her serious readers to focus on. If the parallel with the Pearl Plot bothers you, ignore it. But don’t forget the Tree of Life and the Man of Sorrows who hangs from it. That’s the keeper. He’s your only way back to the Meadow.

  13. I agree John, it doesn’t make sense for Mom to forbid this song if it didn’t have some deeper meaning that tied to revolutionary thinking. I had wondered if, like many of our children’s songs today, the song sent some secret message to the common people that was intended to go over the head of the Capitol. Perhaps it was found out by the powers that be or just to obvious. Maybe it was only song in private. It likely started as a song about a real event and then was passed down liked children’s songs of old did that hid a tale in it and contained a revolutionary message like you discussed. I keep thinking of songs like “Ring around the Rosy”or the rhyme “Humpty Dumpty” and what they are really about. I bet you could think of even better examples.

  14. Sorry, I should slow down and edit my posts better. To should be too and song should be sung.

  15. I’m not dismissing your theory outright, I’m simply of the opinion that it is too big of a detail for Katniss to be kept unawares about even after the Revolutionaries won the war. One of the key predictions in the Pearl Plot theory is that Katniss would learn of the details and her role in it; that part never came to fruition.

    I do understand that the Hanging Tree is significant in the book. However, I see its significance as that of death being equated to freedom. Katniss picks up on this when Peeta is asking for the nightlock pill. She realizes two things:
    1) Death is infinitely more preferable than capture and torture in the hands of the Capitol.
    2) Death is the only way one can truly be free of the misery that is the world.
    #2 is what drives her to try to kill herself after killing Coin. But she isn’t allowed the easy way out. She has to live and deal with the consequences to her psyche, and eventually heals partially with the help of Peeta.

    In the words of the great Joss Whedon: “Life’s not a song, life isn’t bliss, life is just this, it’s living…”

  16. You need to read the post on ‘Katniss’ Meadow Song’ I think to get a clearer idea of the Nightlock back and forth between Peeta and Katniss in Mockingjay. It’s a return to the finish of their first Games and about when it is acceptable to choose death. Why Katniss refuses and gives Peeta a Nightlock tablet and why Peeta blocks Katniss after the assassination is more meaningful I think than you suggest here.

  17. Here’s a part of The Hunger Games that I think is significant about what the citizens can say or not say out of fear:

    “District Twelve. Where you can starve to death in safety,” I
    mutter. Then I glance quickly over my shoulder. Even here,
    even in the middle of nowhere, you worry someone might
    overhear you.

    When I was younger, I scared my mother to death, the
    things I would blurt out about District 12, about the people
    who rule our country, Panem, from the far-off city called the
    Capitol. Eventually I understood this would only lead us to
    more trouble. So I learned to hold my tongue and to turn my
    features into an indifferent mask so that no one could ever
    read my thoughts.

    It seems (to me) as though The Hanging Tree song being “forbidden” could not be just forbidden by her mother, but a song that would “lead us to more trouble” if sung.

    In an interview for Scholastic, Collins said that so much of this series depends on the readers’ own experiences. The beauty being we can all read the same words on the page, yet who we are & what we’ve done in our lives influences how we interpret those words. I agree with her & feel the same way about all literature/poetry. We will all read into things differently, but that’s the point. Sharing in our opinions is just part of the fun.

    What I would LOVE to read is a prequel. I want to know more about how Haymitch’s family was killed, I want to read about Katniss’s father when he was younger, and how on earth Peeta’s father ended up with his awful mother! Maybe she left the door open in Mockingjay so she could go back and fill in those blanks with a prequel. One can only hope!

  18. I just read it, and I agree with everything you said in that post. My only resistance in this one is to your argument that Mr. Everdeen was a revolutionary. I think it’s a plausible theory, but the evidence given in the books simply isn’t enough to convince me. But I’m going to drop it now, because this post is about so much more than that point.

  19. Jabberwocky says

    I was totally with you until you brought in religion. The author makes a pretty pointed avoidance of any mention of religion in the books, so I can’t buy the song as a metaphor for joining Christ when, for all we see, Christ is unknown in this setting. Besides which, people trying to find religious messages in books that don’t even mention religion always makes me uncomfortable.

    Everything else though is very interesting. I was not familiar with either of the songs you mentioned (too young, I suppose), but I can definitely believe that the author drew on both of them when creating ‘The Hanging Tree’ for the book.

  20. Wow, so much to think about. The role of music and song in this series is huge I think, and something I really want to explore at greater length (and a topic that, as a singer, I have an affinity for).
    I think the song is a revolutionary song, it struck me as one from early on, each stanza making it seem more so. I don’t think the man was a “murderer” in the way we imagine it, but a man who committed “crimes” against a regime. I’ll look forward to reading the Meadow song next for more thought on the idea of when it’s acceptable to choose death, and when it isn’t, because I think you’re onto something there. I think the song was forbidden for that reason, not just because Mom found it disturbing. Of course, I don’t blame Mom Everdeen for that either. If I had kids and they were innocently singing this very creepy, dark song, while fashioning their own necklaces of rope, I’d freak out as well. Yikes.
    The hanging man imagery reminded me of The Hanged Man tarot card. I don’t think the meaning of the card perfectly ties in with this song in Mockingjay, but it does symbolize the need to sacrifice and to adopt new perspectives.
    I really like that you brought in Strange Fruit, so fitting!

  21. I completely agree with Jabberwocky. I am so tired of people scraping for religious (usually Christian) messages in all works of literature. It seems everyone’s a Christ figure these days. What I love about these books is that for once, the focus is not on religion and spirituality but war, love, violence, redemption and other themes.

  22. “What I love about these books is that for once, the focus in not on religion and spirituality but war, love, violence, redemption and other themes”.

    My response is just that the sentence above about war, love, violence, and redemption ties directly into Christianity for those who are Christians. You are free to read this book and series without it of course. But you need to understand that these themes tie into the root of Christianity and thus many Christians will resonate with those themes because of their faith.

  23. These themes apply to life not just Christianity. I think bringing religion into these books is actually a mistake. Suzanne Collins created a whole world and did not include religion. This seems deliberate. Every society that has ever existed has had a religion and yet she omits what religion, if any the Panem people worship? None of the characters ever, not once, bring up religion. You can tie anything back to Christianity if you want to but that does not mean doing so is correct. I’m sure Christians are going to see how every single theme reminds them of their beliefs but understand that for the many non-christians out there, like myself, it gets very annoying.

  24. Just because something does not have meaning for you does not mean that it can not have meaning for others. I was not aware that there was only one “correct” way of interpreting this series. You are free to not see these meanings in the work but I don’t understand why it would offend you that some do.

  25. Jabberwocky says

    @Lynn – It’s not necessarily offensive, just a bit grating. To put it a little bluntly (but maybe more clearly), Not Everything Has to Be About Jesus.

    As I said in my own comment, I found the insights in the first 2/3rds of the article to be very interesting. Why were those thoughts– the connections to racism and revolution, to questions about when and how it is okay to die– why were they not enough to think about? Why did we have to bring Jesus into it?

    It’s jarring because we were talking about one thing, and then a completely different topic (religion) is brought in, and it’s a topic that’s not even in the book. It feels like the original material is being commandeered to deliver a Moral Message from one point of view, and the one thing that irritates me more than anything else about religion is when the religious try to impose their morals on me.

    Christianity itself is also such a broad and vast religion, with so many subgroups and so many different schools of thought, I find it a little misleading to apply the label to any one idea.

  26. people trying to find religious messages in books that don’t even mention religion always makes me uncomfortable.

    You mean like in Tolkien?

  27. I don’t know yet where I stand on Collins’s books as pointers to a Christian view of reality, though I’m listening carefully and hoping for a re-read sometime soon.

    Still, I need to point out that Jabberwocky and Krystal have proven the exact opposite of what they’re trying to prove. Here’s why I mention Tolkien in the comment above:

    Tolkien believed that the problem with the Arthurian stories were that they explicitly utilized the Christian religious forms. Funny thing for a Christian to say, no?

    Tolkien believed the stories that best communicated the Christian view of reality did so by absorbing the beliefs into the story itself, not laying them out on the page. There is no religion on The Lord of the Rings, either.

    In other words, it proves nothing to say Collins didn’t mention religion, and as I said above, it might just prove the opposite. If she’s writing at all in Tolkien’s vein and as a student of his kind of literature, then she would deliberately not include religious observances in her story.

  28. “There is no religion on The Lord of the Rings, either.

    Yes there is. It’s not Christianity, but Middle Earth has it’s own theology. Eru Ilúvatar is the supreme “God”, creator of Middle Earth, and the Valar are the equivalent to angels.

    Suzanne Collins created a whole world and did not include religion.
    Krystal, I think that might have been part of her critique on secularism. We have a world without religion, and what is it like? Dystopian. We can probably surmise that the History of the Future According to THG is that science and secularism eventually pushed out all religion, and then mankind proceded to almost annihilate itself, leaving only this oppressive society that is Panem remaining.

  29. “Krystal, I think that might have been part of her critique on secularism. We have a world without religion, and what is it like? Dystopian. ”

    First of all, if that was a critique on secularism it was a very very obscure one. Suzanne Collins’ message was that war is wrong. Anyone who analyzes it can spin it anyway they want but her message was simple. If she had meant to say a world without religion is bad then why aren’t her protagonists religious or at least questioning if there is a higher power? Why no mention of it at all?

    As far as Tolkien, PK9 pointed out that there was religion in that story. The people in Battlestar Galactica worshiped the Gods of Kobol. Star Wars references “the force”. Many, many stories have overt religious themes. THG is not one of them and shoehorning it in there when there are already so many stories you can go to that explore this theme is irritating.

  30. Eru Ilúvatar is the supreme “God”, creator of Middle Earth, and the Valar are the equivalent to angels

    Right. All of which is found in The Silmarillion, published posthumously. Yes, Middle Earth has its own theology, but it plays no obvious role in LotR or The Hobbit. It’s not in those stories. No one, reading LotR or The Hobbit at the time of their publication, would have said, “Look at the religion in these books.”

    Really, one cannot possibly hold the position that a book can only contain a religious message if it contains an actual religion in its story. Literature just doesn’t play by rules like that.

  31. First of all I am not saying wether Suzanne Collins placed religious meaning in her work. I honestly don’t know. Travis does a great job of defending the possibility that John’s posting above could be accurate. I found it interesting none the less, and yes I am a Christian. I am also not a literature expert like many of the people who are regulars around here.

    I still just don’t understand why it would bother someone if a Christian found Christian content in a book wether it was “meant” to be there or not. I don’t see how someone finding this meaning in a work forces any morality on anyone who does not get that same meaning. It would be one thing if this a a classroom setting instead of someone’s personal blog and you were being told how you should interpret everything. John is just throwing out things to discuss. But if you go to a Christian’s website and read what they found meaningful and then are annoyed and grated by it to the point where you comment……..

    If I went to your website and you found meaning related to something I didn’t see or believe in, I wouldn’t be annoyed. If anything I might quietly shrug my shoulders and move on. I think it is OK to agree to disagree, but I don’t know why someone is annoyed enough to comment because someone found allegorical Christian content. In other words I understand you not seeing or agreeing about the meaning being there but I don’t understand annoyance at it just because it relates to Christianity.

  32. If i’m annoyed those are my feelings and I have a right to them. I have read a lot of literary analysis and there is the constant need to tie in Christian themes and find the Christ figure. (Reading that Peeta is a Christ figure made my eyes roll all the way to the back of my head.) It just seems like a lazy way to interpret literature. That is more my critique then on whether the work actually has religious themes or not. I was simply pointing that out.

    As for being bothered to comment. Well, that’s kind of what discourse is for. To argue and debate. That’s also kind of the point of this website is it not? To disagree and find the different opinions? If my being annoyed annoys you that cannot be helped. The emotion comes with the opinion.

    “Literature just doesn’t play by rules like that.”
    Like I said in my previous comment, one can look at a story any way they want to. Every reader is biased in that their experiences shape the way they see a story. There really is no helping that. But there has to be a line somewhere. I could say Mockingjay is about protecting the environment. I probably could weave a whole argument for that and there are a couple lines in the book that would help. But i’m sure everyone would agree it’s a big stretch to say that that is a major theme. My main point is that I would like to see someone analyze a story without pulling out the bible for once. Just a personal preference.

  33. Krystal, I’m curious, what do you see as the role the song is playing in the book? (Obviously not Christian imagery) Or the themes of the story? I saw some Christian similarities, but I’m a Christian, so it makes sense that I would. 🙂
    I hope I don’t sound argumentative or condescending. I really am interested in your perspective.

  34. “Every reader is biased in that their experiences shape the way they see a story. There really is no helping that.”
    I agree with that. And I am not annoyed like you more curious than anything else.

  35. Well, getting back to the song… The Hanging Tree also connects to some other ballads as well.
    If you’ll forgive my slipping into Appalachian Culture teaching mode, ballads (which are narrative, with characters and a plot, not just slow songs; that misconception gives us the mistaken term “power ballad” for any slow rock song) fall into three main categories: literary, which have authors and are written as intentional artistic works (“Ode to Billie Joe,” “Ballad of the Green Berets, ”etc.); broadside, based on actual local scandals, though with plenty of elaboration (“Tom Dooley,” “Little Omie Wise”); and folk, or popular ballads, ancient songs that have no identifiable author, have morphed over time, include figures like knights, ladies, gypsy lovers, and highwaymen, and revolve around the themes of love and death.
    The Hanging Tree, of course, to Katniss, is a folk ballad. The real folk ballad it echoes most strongly is probably “The Hangsman’s Tree,” in which the speaker, a woman, interestingly enough, stands at the gallows asking each friend and family member who rides up if that person is there to pay her debt and get her pardoned or to see her “hanging from the gallows tree.” After running through all her relations, finally, her true love is there to save her, not to watch her die. This one was recorded by Peter, Paul, and Mary, and was on my parents’ LP, which I loved listening to when I was a kid. So, like Katniss, I went around singing songs about a hanging. It’s not that odd, really. Many of the lullabies I’ve sung my own children are ballads of death, ghosts, and love affairs. The pediatrician has assured me this will not turn either of them into serial killers. In fact, it may warn them out of trouble(see this amusing website for just that idea: http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/006448.html).
    The Hanging Tree strongly resembles a broadside, and not just because broadsides are often narrated by the convicted murderer shortly before he gets a short rope and sudden drop. Obviously, they weren’t written by the actual individuals. “The Ballad of Frankie Silver” a local (for me)song based on the very real case of Frankie, the first woman hanged by the state of NC (1833), makes her give a powerful gallows speech, though eyewitnesses and court records aver that she went to her death silently. Hanging is a big theme in Appalachian ballads, with Tom Dula (Dooley) being one of the better known ballad characters to end up on the end of a rope, and broadsides are often tabloid reports of murder, rape, adultery, and other unsavory topics (Dula was convicted of murder, but he and most everyone else in the story also had syphilis from their tangled sex lives with one another. Yuck.) Though based on true events, the broadsides often bring in the supernatural, like dead people talking.

    However, our so-called murderer is never identified or placed in the context of real events, so that makes the song a District 12 folk ballad. Broadsides sometimes evolve into folk ballads (“Pretty Polly” started out based on a real murder, but has long since transformed into a folk ballad).
    The possible political connotations of the song tie it in with rebellion songs like “By the Risin’ O’ The Moon,” too.
    Even though it’s folk ballad in the context of the story, the fact that Collins wrote it for her book makes it a literary ballad. She could have used a real ballad, but she would not be the first author to instead create the song she needs. In her wonderful novel Songcatcher (no relation at all to the movie of the same name), Sharyn McCrumb traces the journey of a song through a family, using a song she and a friend created: “The Rowan Stave.”
    It really would be interesting to know Collins’s process in shaping “The Hanging Tree”; if, as I suspect, she has roots in Appalachia, she may be drawing from those. Or maybe she just had a really good class in Appalachian Culture or music history!
    If you’d like to check out and hear some of these songs, you can find many of them here: http://www.childballads.com/

  36. John,

    That was a fascinating interpretation of the meaning behind the song. I totally agree. I would add that the song was likely a code carrier for rebels during the original rebellion. Every verse is identical, but the third line is easily replaceable with almost any message.

    This is particular poignant when we remember that the Mockingjays were singing it in the forest after Katniss sang it for the cameras. It was a tune they were capable of carrying. By the time her father would have been engaging in revolutionary activity the Mockingjay would have replaced it’s geneticly enhanced ancestor entirely. Much like Rue and Katniss used the Mockingjays to pass messages of safety to one another, the rebels of Mr. Everdeen’s era could’ve done the same. This also makes sense considering how Rue seemed to so naturally know that Mockingjays could be used this way and was so drawn to Katniss’ pin.

    Another commentor seemed utterly appalled at the mention of religion in regard to this book series. While there is no mention of any kind of religion in THG, I think that’s the point. Remember that all religion is in opposition to any tyrannical state. Any belief that would place any being on a higher level than the state is a threat to it. This is why the Soviets eradicated it, as did the Chinese and North Koreans (among others). It is impossible to establish a personality cult in a society that has religioius ties. Collins is smart enough to know this. It would have been impossible to inject any outwardly religious symbology into THG and have it remain credible.

    As I read the books though, I couldn’t help but think of the obvious. These people have no faith, no beliefs, no higher calling…and they are miserable. It isn’t until the characters identify with their “spirit” that they become free. This may be loose, but it is an undeniable insinuation that something intangible is missing from their lives.

    I will admit that I didn’t see as much Christian symbolism in the books as John and others do, but I am also not nearly as well versed in Biblical knowledge. The points that John made in his analysis are sensible, and I believe he is correct about them.

  37. Good points, Tim. Thanks for joining in! It’s also interesting to notice the lack of philanthropy to the Districts. Although many humanitarian efforts are, of course, sponsored by secular agencies, many are faith-based. Panem has no well-meaning do-gooders going out from the Capitol to help the deprived district folks, not even in patronizing or self-congratulatory ways (other than Effie’s lessons in table manners). The lack of a “Geneva convention” may also be attributed to the lack of a faith system, too, don’t you think?

  38. Krystal,

    I think that you oversimplify things when you state that The Hunger Games is about war. The series is about quite a few things. In fact, there is no war in the first two books, only Roman gladiator style entertainment. The series includes heavy criticisms of reality television and of consumerism.

    I can certainly understand how someone who doesn’t like to read from a Christian perspective could find it frustrating to read so much analysis of literature done in Christian terms. However, you also need to understand that the history of English literature is a history of literature based on Christian themes and imagery. Whenever an author draws deeply from literary history, she is likely to pull in much of the Christian imagery. In addition, that history has included a long history of literary interpretation based on Christian themes.

  39. I think the simplest meaning of the song is, as the article says, “come join the rebellion”, “come die for the rebellion”.

    The actual song asks if the listener is coming to the tree, which I think can be interpreted as the rebellion. Here’s how I interpreted the song.

    Are you (Are you, are you)

    Joining us, the dead or sentenced to die, (Coming to the tree)

    To die for the people on false accusations (Where they hung a man they say murdered three)

    It’s better to run from the danger (Where the dead man called out for his love to flee)

    It’s the strongest rebellion to die by our hands instead of theirs (Where I told you to run so we would both be free)

    But let’s die beautifully, in agreement with the rebellion (Wear a necklace of rope, side by side with me)

    Yes, it’s revolutionary (Strange things did happen here)

    But we’re not the first of humankind to rebel (No stranger would it be)

    To die of our own means for the people and the eye of the public (If we met up at midnight at the hanging tree)

    This fits the death-by-choice scene in HG perfectly.

    They would rather die than please the Gamemakers/Capital, or want to rebel. They’re inviting a rebellion.
    It’s better than playing by the Capital’s rules of killing each other. The danger of killing each other.
    The near-death sparks the rebellion. Death is rebellion.
    They’re dying by pill, not slaughtered by muttants. It’s a fairly quiet death given the circumstances.
    It IS strange to defy the Games.
    This isn’t the first rebellion in the arena. Haymitch’s trick with the forcefield is the earliest I found.
    They’re attacking the structure of the games (dying for the people) and making the death a spectacle (for the public).

    The song matches up with the scenes at the lake and why they can or cannot take whatever action is being discussed.

    In Tigris’s sub-basement, the last line of “Tree” comes into play. Meeting up at midnight would be Peeta staying hidden, but going to the tree means fighting. Because he wants to fight, he is given the nightlock.

    The song communicates when the characters should fight and when they should accept death- and how to die. If the song’s instructions are followed, freedom will result.

    Also, didn’t Katniss hang a Seneca Crane dummy to defy the Gamemakers? More evidence that death by the method “Tree” describes is a parallel to rebellion.

  40. Wonderful comment, thank you! I especially enjoyed the Seneca Crane connection at the very end — we’ve been set up for the Hanging Tree for quite some time.

    You restrict your interpretation though to the political and moral lines which is a shame. The allegorical referents extend well beyond rebellion from the state.

  41. I found this interpretation completely fascinating. When I had read the book I immediately was struck by the song and read it over in my head countless songs, it was the type of song and imagery that leaves you with goosebumps and was eerie in a way. After reading MockingJay I was left somewhat in a daze trying to sort out my feelings about the book. For a short while I had thoughtlessly dismissed Catching Fire and Mocking Jay because they hadn’t impacted me as much as The Hunger Games did but after reading this I think I’ve come to love all the books equally.

  42. I acctually like this song.. its very gloomy but meaningfull oh and

    Are you, are you
    Coming to the tree
    Where I told you to run so we’d both be free.
    Strange things did happen here
    No stranger would it be
    If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree.

    Where I told you to run so we’d both be free. I direct that at Gale!!!

  43. You forget that also Katniss thinks of the song a third time, when She realizes Gale was telling her to kill him, so the Capitol wouldn’t torture him and use his information.
    This is Brilliant, though. I look forward to hearing your interpretation of the meadow song.

  44. it probly isnt “illegal” but if the capitol new they were singing it (a sign or rebelion) there family would be ponished

  45. I was excited by this post until we abruptly veered off into “Peeta as Christ figure.” I read the song lyrics as a combination of lament and deathwish — each time Katniss thinks of it, she’s in a situation where death might be the best case scenario. The song first appears in District 12 where Katniss almost wishes that she could join the dead, then plays again each time she imagines death-by-torture. The rebel anthem reading is a wonderful extra layer, and it makes perfect sense (now that you’ve pointed it out) that Katniss’s father was probably a rebel.

    However, I have to agree with Krystal: a Christian reading merits an eyeroll all the way to the back of my head.

    If religion were important, it would be absent in the Capitol but have deep roots in District 12, the same way music and dancing do. Its absence throughout the Capitol and all 12 districts suggests that Suzanne Collins is specifically discouraging religious readings. She’s so careful that she even scrubbed it completely out of the language — not a single character, good or bad, ever exclaims “oh my God!”

    This is as close as an American author can go to atheism and still expect to sell some children’s books. Remember in the reaping, when Effie asked the audience to applaud Katniss? “I stand there unmoving while they take part in the boldest form of dissent they can manage. Silence. Which says we do not agree. We do not condone. All of this is wrong.”

    Slate published an interesting article recently about how Americans are actually just as un-religious as Europeans are; the difference is that when surveyed, Europeans tell the truth but Americans feel social pressure to say they believe in God. “Walking Santa, Talking Christ”: http://www.slate.com/id/2278923/

  46. Sorry, Ms. Tart, you are simply ms-taken.

    The absence of formal religion in the surface narrative of a work of fiction tells us exactly nothing about the allegorical and anagogical content of the work. Remember all those churches in Narnia, Middle Earth, Hogsmeade, and Forks? No? That’s because there aren’t any.

    This is English literature, not ‘show and tell.’ If you don’t think Peeta is a Christ figure — the guy who dies sacrificially in every book and lives to save Katniss, not to mention the ‘Peter’ and Eucharist quality of his bread-name — you’re reading with atheistic blinders.

    That’s a whole lot more common than reading Christianity into a text, and a lot sillier in approaching a tradition that is front to back laden with Christian artistry and meaning. Understanding ‘Hunger Games’ in denial of its spiritual content (which comes as it almost always does in Christian forms) is to miss out on most of its power.

  47. Jabberwocky says

    First off, I think you’re definitely stretching to think that Peeta = Peter. I think the much more obvious intent behind his name is that Peeta = Pita, which is a type of bread, appropriate because not only is he described as “the boy with the bread” but he’s also a baker’s son. Bread is also food, and food and the struggle to get food and have enough is a central part of the Hunger Games. The country itself is named “Panem” – Bread.

    When we’re talking about themes in books, I generally try to go with the evidence presented in the book. The evidence the author gives us. I think it’s a mistake to read my and several others’ comments as “there’s no Christianity mentioned, thus there are no Christian themes.” That’s not exactly what we’re saying. Everyone is, of course, free to interpret books any way they like. There are a lot of universal themes and tropes in literature. Christianity uses just as many of these as any other faith or culture, and anyone is going to relate familiar themes to what they know best or are most familiar with.

    What we’re saying is, just because you see a parallel to Christian themes, that doesn’t mean the author intended that parallel. To be honest, I really, really doubt Suzanne Collins intended religious readings of her books. The Hunger Games trilogy is a pretty straightforward commentary on war and reality TV, and the way that we treat human suffering too much like a game.

    To go through your examples of other books and religion: Chronicles of Narnia was explicitly a Christian allegory. It’s most obvious in Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe with Jesus!Aslan (who specifically dies and is resurrected to clear Edmund’s sins), and the Last Battle which is pretty obvious about its correlation to Revelations. No, there weren’t any churches, but CS Lewis was pretty obvious about his intent. This is actually why I can’t re-read the Narnia books. I enjoyed them when I was younger and missed the allegory; now I just feel like I’m being preached at, and it’s annoying.

    In Middle Earth, the main story itself was pretty much The Hero’s Journey archetype all over again. It’s a quest story, and the books were created as a place for Tolkien’s created languages to exist. That’s why the stories are more about mythic themes and scenery, and the characters are all 2-dimensional. However, Tolkien was a Christian and good friends with CS Lewis, and there is plenty of material in the books that would lend themselves to a Christian discussion– lots of places where you could discuss faith and draw parallels.

    I am a little surprised Harry Potter and Twilight were mentioned here, but then I’m still surprised we’re discussing religion in the Hunger Games. Anyway. Harry Potter is a coming of age story. I’m sure you could read Harry as a Jesus figure too, if you wanted, since he has to sacrifice himself, die and come back to save everyone, but you would have a hard time convincing me that was actually JKR’s point. If religion was important to the Harry Potter universe, I’m sure we’d hear about it– taking place in the same world as ours, we can assume that the churches exist. Since they’re not mentioned, and no character is described as specifically religious, I feel like it is a safe assumption that religion is not a focus of the story. In fact, it might have been more interesting if that were included– a character who came from a very religious family but then was found to have magical power could face an interesting dilemma.

    Finally, Twilight… as far as I know the only Christian-friendly theme is about abstinence, and even that is a poor reading of the series which focuses on a borderline abusive relationship posing as “true love” which makes it all okay somehow. I’m a little saddened that it’s even compared to the other three.

    Now that I’ve got those examples down, I’m going to counter with an example of my own: the His Dark Materials series, by Philip Pullman, is a fantasy series that does specifically mention religion, and which obviously intends to talk about religion and Christianity in general. That’s what I mean when I say that if you’re going to talk about themes, the evidence should be there in the book. At least if you’re talking about author intent. If it’s just your own interpretation, you can make up whatever theories you want. Just don’t claim the author put them there.

    Finally, one thing that I think is important when considering the Hunger Games. These books are from Katniss’ perspective, someone who is brutally mentally damaged by the end of the trilogy, and Katniss flat out does not care about anything outside her immediate situation. This is why we never get any real backstory on the history of Panem. Katniss doesn’t care.

    If we had a wider lens to see the world, I actually do think there would be a strong religious base in the districts, because religion– and especially Christianity– is a comforting thought when you live in a horrific world where everyone suffers. The idea that if you’re good, there will be something better after your death; in fact, that whatever misery you suffer is a test or a trial to be rewarded for. It’s definitely more comforting than the thought that awful things happen to people for no reason at all. It is not surprising to me that the Catholic Church held the greatest political and economic power during the Middle Ages, when the majority of people led brief, miserable lives. Similarly, there was a strong tradition of faith that grew up among the American slaves that lived in brutal surroundings.

    People need hope, and religion can be a very good tool for that. But Katniss doesn’t have any hope– at least, not hope in any higher power. She believes in her resources and strength alone. Since it’s Katniss’ view we see the world through, we don’t see any religion. It’s not a theme of the book, although like I said, you’re free to make up whatever interpretation you personally enjoy.

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