More ‘Hunger Games’ Bird Thoughts: Katniss and Prim as Dead Duck and Brilliant Mockingjay

No piece of critical writing is every truly comprehensive, covering every possible base. In a March post on bird images in The Hunger Games, I hit some of the highlights of bird connections with the two segments of the trilogy we have thus far, knowing that I wouldn’t get every single reference, of course, but happy to see that we had some great conversations on our feathered friends in Panem.

This week, however, a bird connection occurred to me that I had not pondered before, and it seems like one we might want to address. I wasn’t even thinking about HG, strangely. We were doing a memorial service for Civil War soldiers on a particularly chilly evening, so I wrapped my daughter up in an old fur cape, cast off from a college theatre department, which looks charming with her 1860s garb (in our neck of the woods, we tell folks it’s bearskin, though I guess it’s mink). The poor thing is pretty bare in spots, and, as Isabella was patting the soft fur, she noticed an old, rusty straight pin stuck in the hem. Thankfully, we got it out and discarded before anyone needed a tetanus shot, but it started me thinking about Mrs. Everdeen pinning Katniss’s old Reaping outfit on Prim.

That’s a very poignant scene, in my mind, as Katniss is so concerned about Prim’s shirt coming untucked, what she calls a “duck tail.”  At first, I thought this just a throwaway, a moment of tenderness and levity as the girls quack at each other before the Reaping, but, as I pondered it further,  I noticed that it is the sight of Prim’s “duck tail” that specifically incites Katniss to volunteer. It’s the trigger that sends her “flying” to the platform to take Prim’s place. The bird connections here may be far more complex and meaningful than an untucked blouse, as the duck is replaced by the Mockingjay.

For one thing, it’s specifically a duck tail, rather than some other bird or animal. Ducks are aquatic birds, of course, contrasting the cool, calm Prim with her sister, the “girl on fire” who is both Mockingjay and Phoenix, thanks to Cinna’s amazing costumes.  In addition, ducks are food, raised for slaughter and consumption. Prim, were she to go into the arena, would be just another sacrificial child murdered for the entertainment (consumption) of the Capitol viewers. Katniss, though, is associated with a very different bird. The Mockingjay is the very epitome of rebellion, the “in-your-face” defiance of the Capitol as its tool, the jabberjay, survived attempts to let it die out after outliving its usefulness, going on to create a hybrid outside the control of the Capitol.

Also, Katniss specifically “quacks” at Prim to lighten the mood during their preparations. This might be inconsequential, if it were not for the other bird call that makes such a striking appearance in the story.  The four-note call Katniss and Rue use as a signal becomes a subversive signal among the disenfranchised citizens of Panem; the mere use of this call when Katniss and Peeta visit Rue’s home district leads to the immediate execution of suspected rebels without trial or explanation. The Capitol clearly wants “quackers,” citizens who function like domestic poultry, following along in a line and capable of being herded, instead of the wild, unpredictable mockingjay whose very existence smacks of rebellion.

Even ducks, though, are not as tame as they seem. An angry duck can flog a full-sized human as easily as its larger and more aggressive cousin the goose can. So perhaps we should not write Prim off as a mere tame bird. There may be more to her underneath the feathers.

Of course, this could all be “quacking up the wrong tree,” so to speak, but I’m eager to see what becomes of our duck in Mockingjay and to hear your thoughts on this idea, which may just be bird-brained after all.


  1. Elizabeth, are you familiar with the phrase, “dumb cluck?” I remember using the term to tease my siblings when we were young, but have no idea where it originated and for what purpose it served other than to irritate them to distraction. It certainly falls in line with your description of domesticated fowl and their penchant for group-think!

    Also, I wonder if other readers have discerned the significance of the use of jabberjays in these Quell games?! I believe Plutarch Heavensbee has had a heavy hand in the use of the jj’s, contrasting the rebellious symbolism of Kat’s Mockingjay against the historical failure of the Capitol’s avian creation. Brilliant thinking, yes? Can I prove it? No. We’ll have to wait for the final installment to find out.

  2. Arabella Figg says

    Very interesting, Elizabeth. I think you really have something, pulled out of something subtle but specific. I too feel that Primrose is an unreckoned force who will move from the background to a more critical place. There’s a reason for her transformation, and I wonder how its connection with becoming a healer (a quack? Heh!) will play out.

  3. Ducks also have the peculiar habit of sleeping in a protective line (middle birds sleep more soundly, while birds on the end serve more as sentries) and with one eye OPEN and semi-alert to intrusion of predators. The parallels here are pretty overt!

    I, too, agree that there is more to young, innocent Prim than meets the eye. Not only is she compassionate, she is also courageous in matters of healing and exposure to others’ pain . . . a skill Katniss believed she lacked until she was called upon to exercise it in an emergency.


  4. Funny that you mention the duck’s sleeping patterns, STS–didn’t Katniss make it a point to mention how Prim climbed in bed with her or her mother? Not just once, but more than once she mentioned how Prim would have to be sleeping with her mother when she was gone. Very interesting! I love it!! Bring on some more connections!

  5. Elizabeth says

    Perhaps I am grapsing at some very faint straws, but I’ve been looking at duck imagery a little more closely lately after this great conversation. The other evening, I was reading my daughter the Disney storybook version of Peter and the Wolf, and there, of course, is a central duck character. In the Disney version, she has a name, Sasha, and, unlike in the original composition, she is not actually eaten by the wolf. As we were reading, I was thinking of some of our little duck thoughts, and I noticed something: in addition to the duck, little blond Peter (Peeta?) is accompanied by a fiesty bird and a sneaky cat (with whom the bird, especially doesn’t get along.). Is it possible to see Peeta, Katniss, Prim, and Buttercup here? Does the Disney version, with its narrative misdirection that makes us certain poor Sasha was wolf kibble, foreshadow our thoughts/hopes of a more intersting Prim than we’ve seen thus far? Does the original version, in which the duck, swallowed alive and still “audible” inside the wolf, add to our thoughts about the undying fire of rebellion in District 12? Is it too much of a reach to think perhaps Collins, children’s TV writer who doubtless knows young Peter’s escapade very well, was at all influenced by the story? Or maybe I just made the connection because the Disney wolf in the illustrations, with its rangy, crafty look, resembles a Muttation wolf far more than it does an actual canine. Does anyone else think this has any merit?

  6. Wow–I don’t think that is a stretch at all, Elizabeth! I think you are right on. I love all these connecting-of-the-dots.

  7. the cover of hunger games has a jabberjay on it and catching fire has a mockingbird

Speak Your Mind