Mockingjay Discussion 22: Ring and Mirror Composition in the Hunger Games Series Finale

We have already noted that the plot point sequence of Mockingjay is consistent with Hunger Games story formula down to the chapter. What I missed in my first hurried read through the book was the story structure of the 27 chapters in Mockingjay specifically. In a nut shell, the series finale is a book whose last thirteen chapters mirror the first thirteen chapters and whose beginning, middle, and end points echo one another. Let’s look at exactly how this works with chapter line-ups and then discuss why Ms. Collins would bother with such artistry.

If you take a piece of paper — I take two sheets and tape them so I have a 22″ long single page — draw a line on it lengthwise, and then divide the line into 27 pieces so you have spaces for each chapter, you can chart this for yourself. Graphing the action and plot points of each chapter and then comparing it with other chapter events reveals two distinct patterns, namely, an overlap of beginning-middle-and-end with especially sharp echoes in the first and last chapters and a point to point reflection in chapters after the mid-point with chapters from the start.

The beginning, middle, and end chapters — 1, 14, and 27 — take place in Panem’s mining districts, the Capitol-destroyed District 12 and the about to be destroyed by the Rebels District 2. The specific points of echo in Chapters 1 and 27 are hard to miss. Katniss lands in the Meadow and kicks a skull in Chapter 1 and the Epilogue to Chapter 27 is all about the Meadow as graveyard and playground. She finds Buttercup in Chapter 1; Buttercup finds Katniss in Chapter 27. Katniss finds the white rose from President Snow in Chapter 1; Katniss finds the same rose and burns it in Chapter 27.

Chapter 2 has echoes in the ending chapter one ring in from the finish, Chapter 26, as well as in Chapter 15, the first chapter after the midpoint. Chapter 2 features Peeta’s interview with Flickerman calling for a cease-fire and Katniss’ refusal to obey President Coin; Chapter 15 has Katniss broadcasting to Panem about the need for an inter-District cease fire and Chapter 26, of course, has the Mockingjay assassinating President Coin.

Chapter 3, too, reflects both the next ring in from the end, Chapter 25, and the next chapter after the center, 16. Chapter 3 has Cinna’s costume and notebook as a major ‘reveal’ and chapter 16, with its Finnick-Annie wedding, is the only other place with Cinna designs in the book. We learn in Chapter 3 that District 13 is torturing Katniss’ stylists and in Chapter 25 we learn from President Snow that District 13 bombed the Capitol children and killed Prim, Katniss’ beloved sister.

Chapter 4 follows the same pattern. Katniss goes hunting with Gale in 4 and the two race together to the City Center until separated at the Seam pod in Chapter 24. We learn the deatails of the Stylists’ torture in 4 and Katniss’ deal with Coin is made official and in 17 Katniss makes a deal with Coin in order to be allowed to join the attack on the Capitol. Johanna shocks the Victors table in the cafeteria with details of Peeta’s torture in the Capitol.

Chapter 5 echoes Chapter 18, its reflection after the divide, in being failed attempts to stage propos with Katniss. In 5, it is a solo failure as the studio-packaged Mockingjay; in Chapter 18, Katniss passes her training test to enter Squad 451 (yes, a pointed reference to the Bradbury classic about gov’t control of ideas and disinformation). the television team of the invading rebel army. They also produce disappointing videos.

Chapters 6 and 19 are segue moments to gather our breath before battle sequences. In 6, Katniss armors up and picks up weaponry from Beetee in anticipation of her trip to District 8. Chapter 19 features Boggs’ tutorial with Katniss about President Coin and Real-Not Real conversations with Peeta which set-up the Star Squad fiasco on a Capitol side street that leaves Katniss in charge.

In Chapter 7, the Mockingjay unexpectedly takes flight; she shoots down a few planes with her high tech bow and arrow and gives a flaming ‘Girl on Fire’ speech to the Capitol. In Chapter 20, Katniss takes command, assesses the Star Squad’s situation after Boggs’ demise, and leads them successfully into hiding. Both chapters feature the valiant embedded film crew. Mockingjay goes to war!

Chapters 8 and 9 find reflections in Chapter 21 with Peeta begging Katniss to end the war in 8 and begging her to kill him in 21. Chapters 9 and 21 each have a President Snow broadcast with him wearing the white rose, ‘The Hanging Tree’ receives an important place, and Peeta takes steps toward suicide in hope of protecting Katniss (“Dead by morning!”).

Chapters 10 and 22 find Katniss deep underground, safe in District 13’s lowest bunkers during the Capitol’s attacks and leading a Squad taking casualties in the Capitol’s sewers.

We see Katniss suffer something of a breakdown or crisis in confidence in both chapters 11 and 23. Gale helps pull her out of her funk in 11 by volunteering for the mission to rescue Peeta from the Capitol. In 23, Gale and Peeta say just the right things to bring her back into play as the team leader.

Chapters 12 and 24 are the Mockingjay attacks on the Capitol’s City Center. Finnick and Katniss provide distracting video while Gale and crew rescue Annie and Peeta in 12. Chapter 24 is the blood-bath rubedo attack Gale and Katniss make to get to the President’a Mansion. Katniss is surprised in each chapter by the appearance of a loved one only to be nearly destroyed consequent to seeing them; Peeta nearly kills her and Prim becomes a fire ball that turns our Mockingjay into a Phoenix.

Chapter 13’s vignette with Beetee and Gale planning weapons along the lines of President Snow’s “rulebook” is echoed in Chapter 15, immediately after the center pivot, when Gale argues forcefully with Volts’ support that they destroy the District 2 mountain fortress with everyone inside. Gale discusses with Katniss in chapter 26 the exact weapon under development in Chapter 13 and the likelihood of whether it was the delayed fuse bomb that killed Prim.

If you think that was accidental on the author’s part or wonder if I’m not ‘forcing the pieces,’ please listen again to the 5 Questions Interview with Ms. Collins that Scholastic posted the week before Mockingjay was published. In answer to the third question (1:20 into the clip), “How do you typically plot or plan your books?” she said,

“It helps me to work out key structural points before I begin a story: the inciting incident, act breaks, mid-story reversal, crisis, climax, those sorts of things. I know a lot of what fills in the spaces between them as well, but I leave some uncharted room for the characters to develop, and, if a door opens along the way and I’m intrigued by where it leads, I’ll definitely go through it.”

Note first that Ms. Collins, by including this in her five question preview, wants her readers to be thinking about how she structures her stories. Then pay attention to her saying explicitly that, while she allows that she doesn’t begin work in a formulaic straight jacket, that she works with specific traditional three-act “key structural points,” to include a “mid-point reversal.”

I hope her pointing to her story structure as important and the evident ring and mirror composition of the finale together are sufficient argument that this is intentional artistry on her part. The question now is “why would she bother?”

The Point of Ring and Mirror Composition

This is much too long a discussion for me to do more than begin here. For the full discussion of the symbolism of the circle, read chapter four of Spotlight, and for the meaning of mirrors in fantasy fiction, please see chapter five of The Deathly Hallows Lectures. Here is the very short course:

The involved artistry of a book whose beginning and end meet in a circle and whose first and second halves reflect one another produces an effect on the reader that makes the effort to produce it more than worthwhile. The effect is one of completeness and satisfaction, of resolving all contraries as a mirror does subject and object, and, having completed the circular journey, of arriving at the defining center and origin of that circle. In a single word, the effect of ring and mirror composition is “transcendence.”

It’s not something that Ms. Collins invented, of course. It is the structure of Homer’s Iliad, for a classical example, the structure of much of the Bible’s poetry and speech, most traditional story telling, and such modern novels as Tristam Shandy and C. S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy. Ms. Collins learned about it, no doubt, in her MFA work at NYU in dramatic writing or just in reflecting on the chiastic structure of the seven Harry Potter novels. See Mary Douglas’ Thinking In Circles: An Essay in Ring Composition if you’d like to learn more about the biblical and anthropological traditions.

Is it important for understanding the artistry and meaning of Mockingjay and The Hunger Games as a whole? It certainly is. We’ve already discussed the importance of the Meadow that is such a big part of Katniss’ journey; tomorrow, time allowing, I’ll unwrap the loaded symbolism of the white rose and its central place in grasping the alchemical and allegorical meaning of these books.

I covet, as always, your comments and corrections.


  1. This was great. Will we get one for the series as a whole? I thought multiple times while reading MJ that parts reminded me of things that happened in Games. Katniss being burned the first day in the first arena, being burned the last day in the last “arena.” Her “when did you first start liking me?” chats with Peeta and Gale about midway through each book. The story of Peeta burning the bread in front of his family and then sharing it with Katniss near the beginning of Games, Katniss explaining the toasting and its connection with marriage about midway through the middle book, Katniss and Peeta (I assume) being married at the end of the last book.

    And, the big one, Prim being sentenced to death in the Games under Snow’s regime, and then being sentenced to death again in the parachute bombing under Coin’s. It certainly gave the feeling of ending up where you started in the series.

  2. chiasms. every time – authors just can’t get away from it in stuff like this.

  3. Well done, John, and well said. Very insightful.

    Is this the basis of the odd ending of the series? I am having difficulty seeing any transcendent resolution and overcoming when Katniss spends months/years in a suicidal, drug dependent, catatonic, and mentally ill state. That’s the result of her breakthrough vision (her Neo moment) when she sees as she is seen, and shoots Coin?

    Any insights welcome.

  4. Louise Freeman says

    I think the transcendent aspect of it was the singing that began in the training center; given the connection of music to her father, I think that’s the point her mind reached back to to begin the healing process. (It reminds me of Harry’s Patronus taking the form of his father Prongs.) It was after that that they started to reduce her morphling. Then the process continued when she returned to her home and started to see the community start to rebuild, as they buried the dead.

    One significant point, I think was when Katniss asked Finnick whether he had loved Annie from the start and he said no, she had crept up on him. Katniss had been playing her own “real-not real” game with her love for Peeta since HG and it was hard for her to see how a relationship she had faked for the TV cameras could evolve into something real. Knowing that Peeta’s love for her was real from the beginning, but not hers for him made her unable to trust her own feelings. Seeing the example of Annie and Finnick made a huge difference for her.

    But it was clear that both she and Peeta had to start over from scratch. If the book could be summarized in three words, I would pick “War hijacks everyone.” She had to find comfort in Peeta’s arms (platonic) before the kisses (romantic) could begin again.

    Neither Katniss or Peeta will every recover completely, but they do get a lot better. And we are told their children will be even more safe and healthier. That’s where the hope is.

  5. Great points and I really enjoyed reading about this structure.

    I love researching symbols in literature and this series has been chock full of them. I’ve searched to see if anyone has posted this or written about it (since I, unfortunately, do not have time to read every single discussion or post–I’m a high school English teacher…too many papers to grade!) and have not found anything. But forgive me if someone already has. Anyway, the “451” popped out at me right away, so I started researching the other numbers in the book. Katniss’s compartment with Prim and her mother was first room 307. Room 307, Gilman Hall, U of CA Berkeley was the historic space where plutonium was identified as a new element; it was also used in WWII for classified work in nuclear chemistry as part of the Manhattan Project. Coincidence?

    I posted elsewhere about 3908 where her prep team was found, and I do not know if you’ve commented on room 2212 elsewhere (the room they moved into on page 183), but it is also the room number for the Committee on US Armed Services. I have no idea if any of these connections make sense or are truly symbolic, but I find them fascinating. Collins made a point of writing the room numbers (which were left out in the last two books, except to say they were on the 12th floor of the training center), so I figure they must mean something. I’m sure anyone can make any connection if they look hard enough, so I think this will be a good assignment for my students to research & see what they find.

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