Mockingjay Discussion 12: “Real or Not Real?”

When we meet Katniss in District 12 as Mockingjay opens, she is recovering from her concussion and having a hard time staying clear about who she is and what she’s about. It’s bad enough that she has to repeat a mantra of sorts about her life-identity essentials: My name is Katniss Everdeen. I am seventeen years old…

When we meet Peeta after his rescue, he’s gone to the place-of-no-maps. Having been ‘”hijacked” by Capitol brain washers, his memories have been modified and the process has left him either convinced that what is not-real is real or hopelessly unable to discern the difference. He has been transformed into the mutt-ation shadow-monster of the Peeta we know from Games and Fire, who was something of an Unconditional Love and Meaningful Aesthetics incarnation. His solution is to trust those around him rather than himself and to ask them in his confusion if any given perception he has is “Real or Not Real?”

This struggle of the story’s two central protagonists is the central theme of Mockingjay and is the heart of Collins’ critique of war, of television, and their intertwining in news coverage of armed conflict.

“To murder innocent people costs everything you are” Peeta tells Caesar Flickerman, Caesar repeats it, and in case we didn’t get its importance , Katniss says this is what it’s really like in the arena (chapter 2, p. 23). Remember, Katniss’ father told her she will “always survive if she can find herself” — but war and the inevitable murder of innocents takes away “everything you are,” your survival as an integrated person.

Katniss’ struggle to keep her thinking straight is not only a function of the arena’s madness, but also of the artificial environment of District 13. Separated from the sun and the real world, her grip on reality is tenuous at best. Peeta suffers a much worse fate or extreme deprivation and re-programming in his being “hijacked,” a kind of drug-and-television mind-wipe-and-reset.

The Capitol’s scientists inject into his brain housing group false presentations and distortions of events he has experienced or did not know about. He learns eventually that he can distinguish these misrepresentations and lies from real memories because the artificial ones shimmer, but his ability to do this is very weak. Peeta’s grasp of “real or not real” is so weak that he must confirm with others whose minds have not been formatted lest he act on his false inner convictions.

Can you say “postmodern epistemology”? “Don’t believe what you think” because the metanarrative of cultural programming makes true perception of reality impossible; we are necessarily blinded by prejudices. Ms. Collins’ distinguishing point in this is only that television programming by the power holders is the primary means to our mind formatting, reprogramming, and consequent inability to discern real from not real.

And both the rebels and Capitol power players are all about television. The war is largely a battle between Volts and the Capitol teevee producers for the air waves and, once Volts makes broadcast possible to the Districts and Capitol, between the program producers and their packaging of the war’s meaning. Neither the district or Capitol residents seem to have any resistance to the images of the broadcasts that confirm their beliefs. They’re not asking “real or not real” as Peeta does and are, consequently, prisoners in Plato’s cave to the shadows on their wall, the images on their television screens.

The last words of the book are Katniss’ answer to Peeta’s question:

“You love me. Real or not real?”

I tell him, “Real.”

This conversation is only possible after a prolonged time away from the Capitol or District 13, from the madness if the war, and from the induced mind-stupor of television, unnatural living, and socialist/hedonist cultural ideologies. In the first two books of the trilogy, the enemy was the Capitol, an enemy we came to think of as “other,” not us, because of our identification with the districts through Katniss and Peeta. In Mockingjay, Ms. Collins forces us to come to terms with the reality that those in resistance to the Capitol in District 13 are nothing but the other side of the coin if they use the same tools — war harming innocents and television production — to gain and hold power over people’s minds.

The Capitol is the Hunger Games story stand-in for corporate America. The brave new world of District 13, similarly is Ms. Collins’ transparency for do-gooder big government that regulates every aspect of life. Both control us as they do, turn us into mutt-ations incapable of telling “real from not real” rather than vehicles of love, via our televisions and media. Their regimes only have their authority in the world because of their willingness and ability to murder innocents — and present this murder in such a way that we embrace it as, if not entertainment, than at least an idea and reality we can live with.

The last word, though, is that love is the only reality and the human task is to escape the cave and seek this reality that can only be known in the light, “the bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction.”

Your comments and corrections, as always, are coveted.


  1. Very little of the assigned reading I completed in grad school was actually useful and/or memorable. One which defied that norm, one to which I find myself repeatedly referring over the years was “Reality Isn’t What It Used To Be”, by Walter Anderson. Another good title for it would be Post-Modernism For Dummies. Interestingly, the book had only tenuous connection to the course for which it was assigned.

    To say that Collins’ trilogy hints at post-modern thought would be the understatement of the year, to be sure!


  2. Kristy Claire says

    Well, I haven’t received my copy yet. It will arrive via Amazon today. “Spoilers” spoil nothing for me though as I love to process ahead of time. Your blog here is giving me much to process as I read Mockingjay.

    This is the quote that’s haunting me at the moment …

    “In return for full bellies and entertainment,” he tells Katniss, explaining the Latin phrase panem et circenses, “people had given up their political responsibilities and therefore their power.” ~ Plutarch Heavensbee, former Head Gamemaker

    This book, like the movie The Matrix, seems to leave people mentally pulling back from what they THINK is real in their everyday lives and asking themselves “what if it’s not? …. just …. what if?” What if we, too, are all products of brainwashing and manipulation? Where then do WE find what’s real?

    I love what you said here, John, “The last word, though, is that love is the only reality and the human task is to escape the cave and seek this reality that can only be known in the light, “the bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction.”

    Now maybe we should open up a blog string on what love REALLY is. I’ll get it started. Here is what I think …

    1 John 4:7-12

    Cheers, my friends,


  3. There’s lots I could say on post-modernism. But I won’t because I could go on a long time. Let’s just say I think it inherently flawed as a system for giving us any sort of certainty, primarily because it is based on uncertainty & suspicion. But Peeta is looking for certainty. And the whole “Don’t believe what you think because the metanarrative of cultural programming makes true perception of reality impossible; we are necessarily blinded by prejudices.” How is Peeta going to get “real or not real” by asking other people for reality who have also been blinded by their cultural programming & prejudices?

    And in the end, aren’t the two prevailing metanarratives, that of the Capitol & of District 13, replaced by a whole new metanarrative? In the Epilogue Katniss says of her children, “They learn about it (the Hunger Games & the Rebellion) in school.” Isn’t school just one big engine of cultural programming? Of inculcating one set of prejudices as opposed to other sets of prejudices?

    Wait, I wasn’t going to say much on post-modernism, was I? 🙂

    Oh, if love is the only reality, who says so? Why? Can’t it be deconstructed just like everything else?

    What I see instead is people desperately trying to escape the bounds of post-modernism & trying to find something real, something certain. Love may be a starting point, but it cannot simply be the ending point.

  4. John, you give voice to the thoughts I have being trying to communicate on a few of the other discussion links. I am right with you here.

  5. The “Real or Not” game intrigued me too. I agree with the parallels to our world and Panem.

    Ultimately I had to ask myself that question after reading the series. Knowing that these books are not real, gives me some respite. However, moving away from the concrete and toward the abstract: another way that I look at the “Real or Not” question is “What matters and what doesn’t.” I’m not saying that the books don’t matter because they are fictional. They do matter to an extent. But other things in life that are more trivial should be such a big deal as they are. Collins might be telling us that she thinks that since love is “real”, it should matter.

    (side note: I’m curious how other readers, internationally view the HG series? If they relate it to America or there own country? Both possibly?)

  6. *their

  7. I find myself too ignorant of the details of post modernism to add much to that discussion. I know very little about it. But isn’t the ending line about Love being “real” defining something and thus incompatible with post modernism? See, I am mostly exposing my ignorance here I am sure.

  8. …those in resistance to the Capitol in District 13 are nothing but the other side of the coin if they use the same tools — war harming innocents and television production — to gain and hold power over people’s minds.

    I don’t think it’s coincidence that the president of District 13 shares a name with a notoriously two-faced object: Coin.

  9. This thread just went a long way in helping me make peace with the ending of the book.

  10. I concur with Blake and want to thank John and all those posting who are helping me work through my thought and emotions having just read through this book today. ‘Real not real’ was an intriguing and possilbly my favorite detail of the book. It did make me think ‘hmmmm…first you believe one set of ‘realities’ given you by one set of people and now your only option is to ask for confirmation from another set of people with another world view’.. This is what we face everyday…ever watch the news on Fox and then again on MSNBC? But I thought it also brought a little sweetness and human caring among characters that were really suffering from all the war ravages of the book. Ultimately, Peeta did find a way to ‘objectively’ verify the information he was receiving when he realized some memories were ‘shiny’. I think we are to take from that that we can look at information given us and make judgements on our own….that there can be an objective truth.

  11. I personally think that the thing about the Hunger Games, and especially Mockingjay, that makes it so thought provoking is the similarities. Just like Lor said, in the news today we are presented different perspectives of reality. We go to school and are presented a certain view on history…or politics…or world issues. By the time anyone enters the world as adults, they are full of prejudices that have been programmed into them. This holds true in both our world today, and the world of Panem.

  12. I’m not sure if this is right thread to add this comment, but I feel like it relates to some of the discussion here. When Haymitch and Plutarch explain about the hijacking and that the Capitol has used tracker-jacker venom to distort Peeta’s memories and link them with deep fears, I thought “the only thing that will truly help him back to himself again, that will help him get close to the “truth” is the only thing that can be stronger than fear, love”.

  13. The Peeta Lover says

    when i read about the game played between Peeta and his crewmates infiltrating the capitol, Real or Not Real, i was thinking about how Peeta was relying on them to build back his very history, his life. i saw him again as the boy with the bread, not exactly aware of the consequences of his actions, acting on impulse, and not on judgment. i felt more bad for Katniss then i did for Peeta, because he couldnt remember a lot of the life altering things they went through, and when he did remember one, he couldnt decide if it was a real or Capitol made thought. whereas Katniss remembers everything that happened between them, from the bread to the reaping to the Victory Tour to the hijacking.

    on the topic of which country Panem is, if any, i am certain that it is future USA. everything fits, the Capitol is present day California, District 12 is along the Appalation Mountains, where we mine coal today (and where i live :), District 13 i see as being somewhere North, like around Massachusetts, NY, and Maine. District 11 would be around Florida/ Mississippi/ Georgia/ SC/ all the rest of the Southern farming states. Obviously, after reading Mockingjay, we know District 2 is somewhere on the Rocky Mountains, hence the Nut and mountainside quarries.
    any questions about the location of districts or just want to chat with me about the Hunger Games Trilogy, email me at

  14. Indeed, TPL, in cases of memory loss (or here, alteration), the caregiver often struggles far more than the one with the condition. Many of us have witnessed this with elderly folks; an individual is frustrated over trying to figure out who that visitor could be, while that visitor is devastated his mother doesn’t know him. Those who are surfacing from such memory loss tend to react more like those around them, thus Peeta’s distress when he knows who he and Katniss are, that he loves her, but still finds thoughts in his head, like pods, that confuse or terrify him.
    The post-modern connection here is the difficulty those who escape the “cave” have adjusting to the light, and the fact that those still in that cave will try to kill the truth-tellers who want to get them out. Even when Peeta is free of the cave/Capitol handlers, he is blinded, unsure of reality.
    I also like the fact that the fake memories are “shiny,” just as all we see in the sanitized, media-produced world is “prettied up”; KC, the Matrix connection is perfect, as the gritty, unpleasant world is the real one, and the shiny, bells-and-whistles version is phony.
    Of course, Collins is very clear that Panem (which has the nice touch of sounding like Pan- Am, as well as all its other elements) is what was once North America (not that it IS, a difference I’ll hit elsewhere). A few months back, we talked about the Appalachian connections to District 12 (, and I think we’re all still hoping Collins will give us an official map!

  15. I love the connection to the allegory of the Cave but I am a bit hesitant to claim that love is the final “truth” or “good.” I think in many ways Peeta’s questions apply to this as well. We are all constantly questioning what is true or the final good. I think that perhaps Collins claims that the “true” or “good” is what we can live with. Gale finds happiness in Coin’s revolutionary society with strict government control. Peeta and Katniss on the other hand have experienced too much to be able to function in such a society.
    I was wondering if anyone had thoughts about Katniss’s decision to have one more reaping. Why is it “for Prim” as she says? How do you think this ties in?

  16. Love is not something we can fully trust to be “real or not real”. I think Collins, at the end of Mockingjay was simply saying that there can be no way to find out if anything is real or not real in this reality. Also, when Peeta states that the fake or hijacked memories are shiny, it didnt mean that it would be any easier to tell what is real and not real, because right after that Katniss says that it is good, because now he can figure what is real and not on his own, but he says “If I could grow wings, I could fly. Only people can’t grow wings”. I find it sad that even at the end of the book when Peeta and Katniss are growing closer together, he still gets those mutt-need-to-kill-Katniss-urge amd has to grab on to the back of the chair until the flashbacks are over.

  17. Thank you John very much for the analysis.

    Yes for me Mockingjay is the best of the trilogy, and actually it makes the definition of the trilogy as YA no more valid because it actually put the trilogy far more beyond the mere love, identity, abuse etc classic YA topic.

    Capitol and District 13 seems so different: One is shiny, bright, with high rise buildings, people vomit so that they can eat more; the other is poor, dull, everything underground, food is rationed. But at the core both are the same. By replacing one by the other wont change anything at all. This alone put the book outstanding in all those good-rebel-against-evil-empire games. And it is actually proven so many times in the history, like in Cuba.

    I wont go too far to say that Panem is an allegory of any current country, though there are certain parallels to the globalized world.

    One thing I find interesting and didn’t read any comment on it. While they were in the cellar of that old stylist Katniss heard Peeta and Gale talking about her. And Gale concluded “Katniss will pick whoever she thinks she can’t survive without.” Katniss was quite upset by this statement because she thought it meant her being old. But at the end of the book she confesses: “The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again. And only Peeta can give me that.” is in my opinion sort of a prove that Gale was right.

  18. I see the Capitol and the Districts more like China. That’s a very sad country. I feel very sorry about our future. We will live in a place very similar to the districts. China to me is very similar to the capitol and his 13 Districts…

  19. I like your analysis, John. And Pelleks that’s what I think too about Gale and Peeta’s conversation in the cellar.

  20. Pelleks, I also have to agree with you about Gale and the cellar, but I think that furthers why Katniss couldn’t be with Gale. She says a few times in the series that Gale knows her more than anyone else in the world, but when Joanna asks her if she thought in MJ that she was the same person who first entered the arena in HG74 and she says no, it comes to show that one of the reasons Peeta gives her hope in the world is because he doesn’t know the “old Katniss” only the one he fell in love with, really began to know, in the games. Peeta never changed, Gale never changed, but Katniss needed to be with someone who could deal with her change, and that was Peeta. Gale didn’t suffer in the way she had, though that I’m sure can be argued. Annie and Finnick seem like an odd mix, but they truly complement each other, because they have gone through the same pain. Just like Katniss and Peeta. Any other matching would have felt untrue.

  21. I just started reading the books and am almost finished with Mockingjay. Is there a PEETA support group? I am pretty rattled by the abuse he’s gone through. It breaks my heart man. I can only say that from what I’ve read so far I think that he just needs rehabilitation! If Katniss choose him I can only believe it was out of love because who would have the patience to handle all of that unless it was LOVE. I don’t mind spoilers at this point but does the Epilogue give any indication on his healing process. I guess by the time somebody reads this I will have finished the book! And then I guess I will be able to form a better opinion about it all. I was just needing somewhere to post because this story has me on EDGE! Sigh.

  22. Have hope, Jo. Remember the pearl as one of our controlling symbols…

  23. Thank you everyone, reading all the comments are great and the analysis provided really challenge me to read more into the book. I am still making up my mind on several things, but there are things I am pretty sure of and one of those is Katniss’s romantic love for Peeta. I also believe that Peeta was the one who got the worst of it having his memories altered and lost his entire family (with the exception of Katniss). Though the argument about Katniss having it worse because she is actually aware of all that is going on is really compelling and I think I need to give it more thought. But I think we can all agree that Katniss and Peeta the worse.

    I think that Peeta is recovered from the hijacking, but as with any illness there is sequelae. But yes, you can see the leaps he has made in recovery when they all take the vote for future hunger games and though he is outraged that some victors, including Katniss, vote yes, he does not become a muttation. Also in the panic that ensues Coin’s assassination he is able to stop Katniss from committing suicided. He then goes on to receive more treatment and gets back to district 12 cured as he plants the primroses around Katniss’s house. I always that as the final Real or not real game as more of symbolism rather than Peeta trying to differentiate between a real or shiny memory. But maybe I should think more about it.

    Another thing on why I think Katniss actually has romantic feeling for Peeta that I haven’t heard mention of. So there is a point when Katniss asks Finnick if he always loved Annie, and he basically says no, but that she just creeped into him. Peeta does the same with Katniss and that is why I believe it takes her a while that he has creeped into her heart. She even for shadows it at the beginning by saying, “Kind people have a way of working their way inside me and rooting there.” Just a thought.

  24. I agree with you Lily, about Katniss’ feelings for Peeta creeping up on her. In many ways, that also shows what true love really is. It builds and builds until one day you realize that is the person you can’t survive without. Gale, while the way he said it may have sounded cold, was right.

    I read this entire series and then turned around and re-read it again. Reading for the 2nd time, without as much of the page-turning suspense, helps to truly grasp some of the more thought-provoking themes within the story. Much of what’s in this thread already sums up much of what I thought while reading the story, the parallels to our own modern world and ‘reality tv.’ Real or Not Real is far more than a game, but a very strong message.

  25. I agree w/ both Amanda & Lily. I have read the Hunger Games Trilogy many times and have watch Katniss fall in love w/ Peeta. We see in the beginning that she didn’t want Peeta to be in the Games along w/ her because he was ‘the boy w/ the bread’ but soon changed her mind when she thought he was plotting to kill her and win so he could go home. So she keeps her guard up but somewhat relaxes as they train together. Then becomes hostile when Peeta confesses his feelings on national tv. Angered when she sees him w/ the Careers, confused when he saves her from Cato. Finds him, play up the romance, risk her life for the medicine, then attempt double-suicide so she won’t be haunted of his death and won’t be alone. In CF, she’s hurt that Peeta not talking to her because he’s hurt when he found out that her love was half an act. She admitted to have confused feelings in HG. They become friends (in private) on the Victory Tour and grow closer together. So close that they could now sleep in the same bed. Then when the QQ gets announced Katniss was willing to lay down her life and die so Peeta could live. She was livid when she found out that Haymitch left Peeta behind when the arena was destroyed. She agonized over Peeta’s imprisonment and hijacking once he was rescued. She told him down in the sewers of the Capitol “Stay with me” and kissed him to bring him back to her. She left Gale and accepted Peeta at the very end. She just couldn’t survive without Peeta. She needs him, will always need him. And he will always need her.

  26. Wow, I don’t think I’ve thought about the implications of all this this much before! Thank you everyone for sharing your thoughts, especially Kristy Claire… very profound!
    Also I had thought a bit about the parallels between the social structures in the series and the USA but I wasn’t convinced until I saw this form Lor “ever watch the news on Fox and then again on MSNBC?”
    When I first moved to the USA from Australia I was shocked by how biased and inaccurate the news was no matter which channel you watched it on… both sides leave massive gaps in stories or twist facts to fit their own agenda and it’s so noticeable when you compare the international stories they cover with each other and then with how they are covered in AUS… it’s crazy!

  27. I am at once both moved by Katniss and Peeta’s relationship and the stage (Panem, HG,QQ, etc) in which they and the other characters play out their lives. Everything that’s been said here has been helpful in processing how the entire story moved (and still moves) me. So thank you for that…Perhaps I am fool, but I found this post because I was in search of some concrete resolution that Katniss did not choose Peeta because he is the ‘logical’ choice but that she it was because of genuine (“real”) emotion.

  28. There is a major section in Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (pp. 231-233) entitled “Realities are more important than ideas”. Here is a taste:

    “231. There also exists a constant tension between ideas and realities. Realities simply are, whereas ideas are worked out. There has to be continuous dialogue between the two, lest ideas become detached from realities. It is dangerous to dwell in the realm of words alone, of images and rhetoric. …[R]ealities are greater than ideas. This calls for rejecting the various means of masking reality: angelic forms of purity, dictatorships of relativism, empty rhetoric, objectives more ideal than real, brands of ahistorical fundamentalism, ethical systems bereft of kindness, intellectual discourse bereft of wisdom.”

    This final list includes a few examples of “ideas masking reality” present in the Capitol and District 13, such as the emphasis on “rhetoric” (the ancient world’s TV propaganda – note how emphasis is placed in the Trilogy on the importance of the use of words and the “propos”), “objectives more ideal than real”, “ethical systems bereft of kindness” etc. In the next paragraph, Pope Francis names one way in which ideas trump reality in the manipulation of truth represented by “cosmetics [which] take the place of real care for our bodies” (the Capitol?).

    We are in real trouble in our (post-)modern world: ideas which “reshape” what we perceive as “reality” spread like wild-fire via the internet and media. I have noticed this especially in precisely the generation that the Hunger Games trilogy was written for, the online generation, especially in regard to political ideas and ideas surrounding issues of gender identity. Ideas are really useful when they help us to grasp what is real. They are diabolical when they are used to mask reality, to make our lives and world a “choose your own adventure”, a world in which it is no longer possible to distinguish between “real or not real”, where our young people live in a world of fantasy rather than connected to reality.

    It is ironic that it is through a work of fiction such as the Hunger Games trilogy that our generation is being challenged to ask again the vital question: “Real or Not Real”.

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