Q&A on “Who is the Mockingjay?” Part 2 HogwartsProfessor Reader Questions

Right into the mailbag, then; HogPro comments and questions first! SPOILER ALERT — stay away if you haven’t read Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.

Hello, John!

I love your reasoning and the points that you have made here. However, I have one question, about this point:

“We learn from Madge that even the Mayor’s wife, her mother, cannot travel to the Capitol for medical treatment and medicines without special permission. Obviously, though, Mrs. Undersee does get this kind of allowance.”

This does not necessarily hold true. I had always assumed that the trip to the Capitol would cure Ms. Undersee’s illness completely, whereas the pain medication simply keeps it at bay. So, couldn’t the pain medication simply have been shipped from the Capitol to District 12? If the Capitol can create mutant wolves out of the body of dead tributes, they would have to be able to cure depression.

However, this can be favorable towards your opinion. Perhaps the Capitol does not allow Ms. Undersee into its city because they suspect her, or at least are wary of her connection to Maysilee Donner.

Thank you for a wonderful article,

Sanna Sharp, HungerGamesTrilogy.com

Thank you, Sanna Sharp, for bringing up the best objection to my Madge’s Mom is Mockingjay theory (and for being so kind while doing so that I could enjoy the correction as much as I did!). She is referring to this passage from Catching Fire. chapter 6, when Katniss and Madge talk about Mrs. Undersee:

Her parents seem nice but I don’t think she sees a whole lot of them. Her father has District 12 to run and her mother gets fierce headaches that force her to stay in bed for days.

“Maybe you should take her to the Capitol,” I said during one of them. We weren’t playing the piano that day, because even two floors away the sound caused her mother pain. “They can fix her up, I bet.”

“Yes, but you don’t go the Capitol unless they invite you,” said Madge unhappily. Even the mayor’s privileges are limited. (page 87)

Sanna Sharp’s reading of these paragraphs is that Mrs. Undersee does not get to the Capitol and her medicines are sent to her. This undercuts my argument that Mrs. Undersee is the Mockingjay puppeteer who pulls the story strings because that theory all but requires that the surviving Donner twin be able to get to the Capitol and other Districts to make contact with players in this drama like Cinna and Plutarch.

Two points.

First, this is the common sense reading of the paragraphs and, if taken as conclusive evidence Mrs. Undersee cannot go to the Capitol, it pretty much destroys the Pearl plot thesis.

I can live with that.

Second, the point of the post I made was largely narrative misdirection, i.e., how we are fooled by believing everything Katniss sees and believes as true. Haymitch is a drunken loser, Heavensbee is a bad guy, District 13 was destroyed and those who don’t think so are delusional, etc. The question here is whether we should believe Madge and her mother, who, if they are smart enough to stage the Mockingjay redeeming Romeo and Juliet narrative within the Hunger Games, are smart enough to cover their tracks with a few performances of “sick mommy” and “we can’t get to the Capitol, either” conversations with Katniss.

Katniss believes the story. Should we?

Here it helps to recall the ‘Harry is a Horcrux’ dispute I mentioned earlier or the Shipping debate within Harry Potter fandom. A good writer is going to give you all the clues to solve the story puzzle — and enough other clues and red herrings that other endings are credible. Very intelligent people, the smarter crowd, frankly, in my experience at fan cons, were Harry-Hermione shippers. That they were wrong doesn’t mean that the books didn’t support that possibility.

As to the conversation with Madge about her mom at Chez Undersee, it certainly seems like a disqualifier for the Donner Twin ‘Pearl’ mastermind theory. But with the theme of our not knowing whom to believe and that people are often not what they seem (because they want to deceive us), can we be sure?

Rhetorical question.

I never would have thought that there was anything more to the books than dystopian fiction. Your post is so interesting and headache inducing;(In a good way=]) but has some really stirring ideas.

There is a whole lot of stuff that you said that I don’t think I understood. But one thing I’m curious about: what do you mean when you say “…with intentional alchemical artistry” or “…alchemical dramatist…”? Sorry, I’m not very educated…

I’m guessing it’s something to do with alchemy..? =]

Anyways, I really enjoyed reading your thoughts. I’m definitely going to have to re-read the first two books!

Thank you for the kind comments! Believe me, the alchemical elements in this series, most importantly the nigredo and albedo character of and the black, white, and rubedo elements in the first two books, the contraries to be resolved between Seam and City, Capitol and District, the Quarreling Couple of Peeta and Gale, the alchemical wedding we’ve been to (almost), and the phoenix-mockingjay imagery in Cinna’s costumes, will be the subject of their own post. No need to feel stupid for not picking that up. Only people with an MFA from NYU or those who have read Harry Potter or Shakespeare closely are going to pick that up on their first runs through the book (I had two readers point it out to me…).

John,

I just finished Catching Fire this evening, having read the entire book today. I am thrilled to have found your blog, and detailed theories on the two books. I too read with analytical theories running through my subconsious as I ingest the plots, subplots and host of primary and secondary characters. I am amazed how close our two minds work, and I too see evidence that Mrs. Undersee, Madge and Haymitch are to be more important characters in the up-and-coming Mockingjay; which isn’t coming out soon enough.

Thanks for your detailed insight and thoughful analysis. I must say, for a book written for young adults, I found it richly entertaining….maybe I just have a young mind, but I’m in my 40’s, and I loved this read.

Keep blogging. You do a great job.

Sincerely,

Marianne Hyde, sevierUT girl

Thank you, Marianne Hyde! Notes like that make it much more likely that I’ll be posting a lot on The Hunger Games at Hogwarts Professor.

I think that……you guys are reading too much into the whole Donnor/Undersee thing. Your theory could be possible, but I highly doubt that it’s true. Why not just settle for a simple theory and twist it around a bit?

Okay. But you’ve got to tell me where I read too much into it, why you doubt it’s true, and how a simpler theory is more likely. As it is, you’ve just told me you “don’t like it” and that doesn’t give us much of a foundation for conversation. Thanks for writing, though!

Hello! I just found your blog and loved reading your ideas. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Undersees had a much bigger role to play, but I don’t know if I’m convinced yet that it’s quite that big.

And I hate to admit it, but the mid-20’s med doesn’t see Peeta having a long life span. I think it will end with a Gale/Madge pairing and Peeta sacrificing himself for Katniss. But me 10 years ago would have wanted nothing more than the “happily ever after” ending with everyone nicely alive and paired up. If Collins goes that route, I don’t see how Katniss could pick anyone but Peeta.I wonder, what do you make of some of the secondary characters? Johanna almost seems like an anti-Katniss to me (a “good guy” who isn’t really that good)

Again, I need to know where you think I went wrong in making the Donner-Undersee survivor the woman in charge of crafting the Mockingjay rebellion. I don’t think a demonstrative or conclusive answer can be given (see first answer) but I would like to know where you think this one falls apart.

I think your Gale/Madge pairing with Peeta dying a sacrificial death (as he has, truth be told, in both books so far, right?) is the most credible finish I’ve heard so far. More on this later, too.

AMAZING! I knew to expect something good when I found this link. 😀 (I adored your book that outlined the alchemical and Christian elements in Harry Potter.)

I suspected the Haymitch-Donner connection while reading CF — that’s not too much of a stretch for me. I wouldn’t even be surprised if Madge turns out to be Haymitch’s daughter. Your theories ring with the tone of truth in my ears. 🙂 (Everything else on the Donner front fits too with the hints we were given in THG and CF.)

The pearl theory . . . I believe the pearl was there for a reason, personally, a subtle drop of a hint to be on the look-out for red herrings and the truth behind the scenes. Writers like Suzanne Collins have reasons for every little thing they place in their plots, and the pearl was one of those hints to us readers.

I also agree with those who have commented on the Peeta/Gale/Katniss front. The Gale/Madge pairing was hinted at for a reason; I wouldn’t be surprised if they somehow paired together while Katniss and Peeta were in the Quarter Quell. Due to Peeta’s stance as the Christ-figure/sacrificial love-archetype in these books, I also wouldn’t be surprised if he does sacrifice his life for Katniss. (Also, in CF, we were given a “coming back to life/from the dead” scene after Peeta’s heart stopped in the Arena. That also cements his role as a Christ-figure if anyone was doubting that.)

I could see the same with Johanna — akin to Snape in HP as Arabella pointed out.

I look forward to reading the rest of your theories as the days until MJ slowly tick down. 🙂

This reader may not have said much that added to the conversation but the interesting thing to me is that s/he does get narrative misdirection and the power of allegory and symbolism. I love these kind of notes, not, I hope, because they’re very flattering (though they are) but because I have a new friend with whom to read and talk at some depth about well written books. You’re looking forward to my theories; I’m looking forward to the conversation about Ms. Collins’ artistry and meaning the theories will illustrate. Stay tuned (and bring a like-minded friend, okay?).

Thank you for your very interesting thoughts on this excellent series! Unfortunately, I am not persuaded by your theory about Madge’s mother.

Why “unfortunately”?

First, having read Collins’ other series, I am skeptical that she believes in “the necessity of a narrative misdirection ‘wow’ in the series finale.” While she certainly pulled some surprises in her Gregor books, she’s not writing mysteries, where the goal is to misdirect the reader (how annoying I find it when the reader is truly surprised because insufficient foundation has been laid is a topic for a different discussion!), and the overal theme in the Gregor series felt Hero’s Quest-like to me, with the teens growing up and learning to make the right choices. I get that same flavor with these books.

Excellent point. An author’s previous work is often an excellent indication of how they think and work. But as pointed out in answers to previous points above we already have instances of narrative misdirection in the first two books. The themes of a Bildungsroman and the postmodern meme not to believe what you think are not mutually exclusive.

Second, Madge’s mother is just not a major presence in the books – to the point where we don’t even know her first name. That makes her as Ultimate Puppetmaster hard for me to accept; I think the reader would feel cheated if someone apparently that insignificant turns out to be pivotal. In contrast, we saw all along that Haymitch seemed to be more than met the eye; even the example you give of Haymitch knowing the labrinyth of District 11 clues the reader in to his hidden depth. (And c/would he really know the layout of a building because he’d been told by someone else?)

Again, excellent point about Haymitch and the building. I doubt this is his first time back there in 25 years or that he could have run the maze on someone elses’s map drawing for him. I suspect the answer is either something simple — all District Justice Buildings have the same floor plan and he knows where the ‘dead spots’ are in District 12’s building — or that he has been there several times since.

About Mrs. Undersee being too far off screen to be a satisfying puppet-master, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. I think Ms. Collins’ point in large part here is about television and how the beliefs and plotting of television writers we never meet or know anything about nonetheless craft the stories and ideas that shape our lives. Mrs. Donner-Undersee fills that role rather well, no?

Third, I did not read the books to suggest “that she does get to the Capitol because of her illness means she gets around,” let alone “it’s safe to assume that she goes to other Districts as Mayor Undersee’s escort.” Rather, I read that “cannot travel to the Capitol for medical treatment and medicines without special permission” to mean that, even as the Mayor’s wife, she was denied the ability to go to the Capitol to be cured, and accordingly was forced to “spend half her life in bed immobilized with terrible pain, shutting out the world.” She could certainly obtain medicines without freedom of movement.

As discussed above, that is certainly the surface meaning of the story Madge tells Katniss in the Mayor’s mansion. I like your point, too, that this vignette underscores the uniform cruelty of the Capitol (making Madge a much more sympathetic character, contra Gale’s comments in the first chapter of Hunger Games). But, again, the question comes back to narrative misdirection. Do we believe everything Katniss sees and believes? Should we? Your point is well made but it accepts the author’s narrative line as perfectly credible, which we know it doesn’t have to be and hasn’t been.

Fourth, I think your assessment that “it’s safe to assume that she goes to other Districts as Mayor Undersee’s escort. I would bet she knows the major political players in every district as the First Lady of District 12 and has relative freedom in the Capitol to meet important people there” is very implausible. The last thing the Capitol would want to do is allow the leaders of the different Districts to meet with each other and thereby have “the ability to craft a rebellion.”

Another great point. District Mayors are not like State Governors in the US to be considered team players by the regime. Or are they? If District Mayors are to be kept apart and in the dark about other Districts, why does the Capitol send Mayor Undersee live footage of the uprising in District 8 that Katniss sees? I think you overstate the degree that the Mayors are just like any other Joe in the street, though it is an interesting point. To some degree the Capitol rules through its Mayors and keeps them informed of other Districts. The story line tells us that.

But I certainly enjoyed reading your theory, and look forward to reading any further ideas on these books that you’ll share.

Phew! I really appreciate your careful attention to the text and hope that in our future discussions — the next one will be about the story structure as 3 act drama — you’ll share your knowledge of Ms. Collins’ other books and how they are set up.

That’s enough for me tonight. More tomorrow from the Hunger Games fandom site threads!
This morning’s post included this note:

I admire your ability to analyse a book in so much detail but i was wondering whether maybe you make too much out of nothing? Or, perhaps, overlook the obvious in favour of the hidden?

See my explanation in the previous email. It is much more likely, frankly, that you favor the surface over the greater meaning. Though certainly I have been known to miss the obvious (see the top of this post!)

You say Prim and Peeta were meant to be called. If Katniss were the ultimate object, why not cut the middle part out and place her name in the bowl? I understand that volunteering for her sister gave her some extra attention, but not enough to justify this, i think.

Let’s assume you’re right and Mrs. Undersee is the eyes of D12. There’s still only a possibility that she’s noticed the depth of feeling Peeta holds for Katniss – it’s possible he hid it well anyway. Besides, there are enough people wandering District 12 that i doubt she had enough time to analyse it all. And anyway, surely the Reaping bowls would be checked? By other Capitolians? Would Effie get away with rigging it? I doubt it.The Peeta/Prim dream pairing – because it is a book perhaps? Surely having Katniss volunteer for her sister and then discover a secret love is far more gripping than Katniss being called alongside a random guy who gets killed 1 minute into the Games.

This scene, if read as a set-up rather than a tragedy-of-chance goes just perfectly. Madge and Haymitch have told Mrs. Undersee everything they need to know: Katniss is the only young woman with a prayer of surviving the Games, she is devoted to the protection of her younger sister, and Peeta loves her. Gale will not volunteer for Peeta because the puppet master understands he must stay to provide for Katniss’ family. Effie is told by Mrs. Undersee her only hope of having a winning pair is picking Peeta and Prim. She obliges by just saying those names, whatever ball she pulls. Haymitch does his supposedly drunken nosedive (think “Foster Brooks”) to supply the necessary distraction so Katniss can pull herself together.

It’s choreographed based on knowledge of all the players, which I doubt was as difficult or risky for someone to figure out who is looking for such things as you suggest. The crowd throughout Panem gets a great show and immediately identifies and sympathizes with Katniss. First objective accomplished.

Of course, if you want to believe it happened just as Katniss, the crowd, and we readers experienced, fine. Your option!

You argue that Rue and Thresh were picked on purpose. Rue is 12, with a loving family. I just don’t see her family consenting to it. Rue would be too young to want to agree as such. Would you let your 12 year old daughter give up her life on the slim chance that she might be able to help a Rebellion, assuming everything else works as planned? Why would their deaths spark rebellion? They are but 2 members of District 11. Their deaths would be tragic, end of. The district is so large that they probably weren’t known before-hand.

I certainly didn’t argue that Rue and Thresh were chosen by their parents! I suspect they were chosen by the Victors of District 11, close friends of Haymitch, because, like the Tributes of District 12, they are the ones most likely to survive and and the ones most likely to win viewer identification and sympathy. Haymitch tells Rue or her mentor to look for the Mockingjay pin, which she loves for obvious reasons. Think of how winsome this alliance is — and in a Hunger Games that is being staged as a play or several plays within the play to show how love is greater than power and Games programming, it is these set-up relationships that deliver the message.

As someone has said, Mrs Undersee probably couldn’t get to the Capitol. If she was there, i doubt the Capitol would let her talk to Gamemakers and other influential figures – she’d be getting her medicine.

See the first response to part 2, above.

I’m not saying your overall idea is wrong – for all i know, she IS the mockingjay. And you have some interesting ideas with excellent research. But, perhaps you should step back from the minute detail occasionally to consider the ‘goes-without-saying’ aspects?

Geth Trefoto

Here’s the deal, Geth, I’ll spend a little more time at the surface of the story, if you’ll give the ideas of narrative misdirection and symbolism that are the substance of the Pearl theory a chance.

Time for another set of responses from fandom forum threads — see Part 3!

Comments

  1. Thank you for your kind responses to my comments; I have some further responses!

    But as pointed out in answers to previous points above we already have instances of narrative misdirection in the first two books. The themes of a Bildungsroman and the postmodern meme not to believe what you think are not mutually exclusive.

    Yes, both themes can co-exist, and I acknowledged that Collins “pulled some surprises” in the Gregor series (and agree that she did in the first two books here too). But the surprises there were within each book and were gradually built up without misdirection; she did not have an across-the-series “wow” moment. Rather, the Bildungsroman, allowing her characters (and readers along with them) to grow with each revelation, was central. I see an overarching “wow” revelation as diminishing gradual growth.

    About Mrs. Undersee being too far off screen to be a satisfying puppet-master, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. I think Ms. Collins’ point in large part here is about television and how the beliefs and plotting of television writers we never meet or know anything about nonetheless craft the stories and ideas that shape our lives. Mrs. Donner-Undersee fills that role rather well, no?

    That’s a very interesting point about one of the books’ messages being the excessive role television and television writers play in our lives, and how an unknown Puppetmaster plays into that theme. Maybe part of why I have trouble accepting Mrs. Undersee as Puppetmaster is in fact because I’d prefer that the revolution is led by characters we actually do see as a contrast to the invisible forces controlling people’s lives from the Capitol that exist pre-revolution.

    As discussed above, that is certainly the surface meaning of the story Madge tells Katniss in the Mayor’s mansion. I like your point, too, that this vignette underscores the uniform cruelty of the Capitol (making Madge a much more sympathetic character, contra Gale’s comments in the first chapter of Hunger Games). But, again, the question comes back to narrative misdirection. Do we believe everything Katniss sees and believes? Should we? Your point is well made but it accepts the author’s narrative line as perfectly credible, which we know it doesn’t have to be and hasn’t been.

    I like your point that this makes Madge a much more sympathetic character, countering Gale’s early comments.

    However, I think we disagree regarding the likely extent of the narrative misdirection. I see a significant distinction between believing that we readers are meant to accept what Katniss believes as true and thinking that Collins is deliberately misdirecting us to provide a “wow” moment. If Katniss weren’t a flawed narrator, the books would be far less interesting to me.

    District Mayors are not like State Governors in the US to be considered team players by the regime. Or are they? If District Mayors are to be kept apart and in the dark about other Districts, why does the Capitol send Mayor Undersee live footage of the uprising in District 8 that Katniss sees? I think you overstate the degree that the Mayors are just like any other Joe in the street, though it is an interesting point. To some degree the Capitol rules through its Mayors and keeps them informed of other Districts. The story line tells us that.

    Excellent point! It is your last line in particular with which I agree: the Capitol rules through its Mayors and keeps them informed. Where I think I can’t follow you, though, is your assumption that this means the Capitol doesn’t want to keep the Mayor apart. Because I assume that the Capitol wants to ensure centralized management, with all information flow and indeed all contact being controlled by the Capitol, so as to prevent coordinated revolt.

    I look forward to our future discussions!

  2. Me, too! Thank you for this conversation —

  3. I would just like to address a few points, but before I do, you should probably keep in mind that I am not looking nearly as deep in to the meanings of certain texts. I am merely skimming the surface, and believing what Katniss believes.

    While I think it possible that Thresh may have been chosen as most likely to survive (though most likely to win viewer sympathy? He was much too cold; he merely won the viewers’ respect), Rue certainly couldn’t have been though of as a possible winner. She definitely had skills in certain things, but why not choose someone older, more in control, and more dependable? The only reason she was able to win the viewers’ sympathy is because of her bond with Katniss, most certainly not her age, since I doubt that bothered Capitolians (?) in the past.

    About Prim/Peeta being pulled out of the bowl… Why would they choose Prim in the first place? There is absolutely no guarantee that Katniss would have volunteered, as what she did was the “radical thing”. They would be taking a chance to put Prim in the Games, because despite some arguments I’ve heard that she is strong, she would fall apart in the Games. Putting her in there would be a waste. Pulling Katniss straight out of the bowl would be much easier, and Peeta could still confess his love.

    Also, while Effie could easily be hiding a facade of a silly, dimwitted woman, I kind of believe that that really is who she is. I don’t believe her devious enough to agree to rig the reaping, but that is purely opinion.

    A few things from your last post I never addressed:

    I believe Madge’s last name (Undersee) has more relation to the mayor rather than Madge herself. As mayor, he is supposed to oversee the district and make sure everything runs smoothly with strict punishments. Instead, the mayor is lenient and kind. Instead of overseeing, he undersees.

    I don’t think Madge is Haymitch’s daughter. I don’t have any evidence to back it up, but I just find it completely creepy, to be honest. Lol. Sorry, but it just freaks me out, the idea of Haymitch being her daughter…

    Thanks for actually reading this incredibly long post. I’ll be interested to read your next post! Though, admittably, I have a feeling we’ll disagree in the long run.

  4. Arabella Figg says:

    John, these are great posts and I’ve enjoyed all the comments. While some may disagree with John, and he may get some surface plot points wrong, for those who want to understand just why a good book has such a hold on them to the extent they’ll participate at a fan site, John is your man. He will take you on a literary adventure that will help you love your favorite stories even more. Thanks to him, I recognized the literary alchemy structure and meaning and more in the HG books.

    I believe Prim was deliberately chosen knowing Katniss would volunteer for her. She is known to be the sacrificial provider for her fatherless family. Of course she’ll volunteer. This sacrificial volunteering immediately boosts Katniss’ profile; as they say, you can’t buy that kind of publicity (but you can maneuver it). Now add the daring costumes and Peeta’s profession of love. Kapow, you’ve got dynamite “celebrity.” And celebrity’s what it’s all about, right? These kids are artificially-created celebrities, created for the most literal consumption by a jaded Capitol culture which loves them to death while snacking on grapes.

    I totally buy the Pearl/Donner-Undersee theory. Mrs. Undersee is so deliberately invisible that there is something definitely there. I believe that Madge has told Gale everything, too, and I suspect that he also is withholding or will withhold critical information from Katniss in Mockingjay.

    Effie Trinket is given a ridiculous name and manner, one bound to make us dismiss her as a fool and that’s narrative misdirection right there. Two points about the Dist. 11 Justice Building: 1) Katniss says that as far as she knows, Haymitch hasn’t been there since his Victory Tour (CF 64) and 2) Effie, in Dist. 11, says she is “something of an expert in architectural design” (CF 69). My theory is that Effie sussed out the Dist. 11 J.Bldg. design and then passed it on to Haymitch. But I like the same design theory, too.

    I am so looking forward to further discussion here!

  5. I have answered each of these great posts over at the Part 3 thread. Please join the conversation there rather than posting here!

    Grateful John, herding the stray cats

  6. reading your theories are very entertaining. i never would have given the story a deeper meaning, as i tend to enjoy the surface of a story. however after much thought i think you could be correct. but if you arent? well who else could it be? it would have to be someone on the inside, who could talk and spend time with peeta and katniss. this person would also have to have access to the capuital. perhaps through someone else? finally they would have to want to avenge the death of their sister/mother/aunt. these leaves two people mrs. donner is a likely option. but i believe more would have to be known about her first. so it will seem rushed if indeed in mockingjay we find she is the mockingjay. the second person we know a bit more about and seems more capable of starting a rebellion (with some help from her mother and haymitch of course). this person is… madge. just some food for thought.

  7. Hi John, I’m reading through all of these, and if I can find the most recent thread I’ll repost there, but one line that really caught my eye on this thread was “we are fooled by believing everything Katniss sees and believes as true.”

    I actually disagree with this. One of the beauties of SC’s writing is that we get the same clues Katniss does, but sometimes it’s blindingly obvious that Katniss has jumped to a wrong conclusion. One example would be Gale. In THG chapter 1, when Katniss reasons that Gale could have his pick of any girl in town, it becomes immediately obvious to the reader that Gale is only interested in one certain girl who shoots like Robin Hood. Katniss doesn’t figure this out until somewhere in CF. So as the reader, we learn to separate the reliable part of the narration (Katniss’ description of people and events) from the unreliable (Katniss’ erratic conclusions based on the (sometimes easily forgettable) fact that she’s a 16-17 year old hormone bomb. Just because Katniss believes something, it doesn’t automatically convince me, and I don’t need Katniss to make the same conclusions I do for me to put weight into one of my theories.

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