Mockingjay Prediction: Cinna the Mysterious

Three Days Until Mockingjay! The First Family is even reading The Hunger Games; perhaps we’ll have Obama sightings at the New York City or Philadelphia Main Line ‘Midnight Madness’ release parties next week. Sunday I’ll ask where you’ll be that night, how you are getting your copy, and what plans you have for reading it; I’ll share then the Hogwarts Professor plans for next week’s discussions and the site’s spoiler policies. Monday will be our last chance as a group to share our speculative genius on the record — and I hope you’ll all write out your top 10 guesses for everyone to see. No fair saying “I knew that would happen!” on Tuesday if you didn’t dare put it in print on Monday.

Today, though, I want to share some thoughts about Cinna, the stylist behind Katniss’ Mockingjay line of formal wear: we’ll review his appearances, then discuss Cinna’s alchemical function as well as his role as the story’s ‘portrait of the artist’ or ’embedded author.’

(1) Who is Cinna? The Appearances Review

We meet Cinna in Games, chapter 5, in Katniss first meeting with the prep team and stylist. She has been “prepped” and meets Cinna without her clothes on (p. 63). She is impressed by what she sees:

The door opens and young man who must be Cinna enters. I’m taken aback by how normal he looks. Most of the stylists they interview on television are so dyed, stenciled, and surgically altered they’re grotesque. But Cinna’s close-cropped hair appears to be its natural shade of brown. He’s in a simple black shirt and pants. The only concession to self-alteration seems to be metallic gold eyeliner that has been applied with a light hand. It brings out the flecks of gold in his green eyes. And, despite my disgust with the Capitol and their hideous fashions, I can’t help thinking how attractive it looks.

This is a a paragraph pregnant in meaning. For starters, he is the contrary of expectations. His black outfit with gold highlighting is essentially the outfit he is about to put the naked Katniss into. She mentions her “disgust for the Capitol” and it isn’t much later that he says “How despicable we must seem to you!” Even Katniss wonders if he can “somehow read my thoughts” (p.65).

And the green eyes? All-Pros who have read Deathly Hallows Lectures know how important this note is from important passages in Dante and the Hogwarts Saga. I suspect, like Ms. Rowling and Harry Potter, that Ms. Collins has green eyes.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Cinna, the man of “calm and normal demeanor,” dresses Katniss for the opening chariot ride in a black unitard with boots, cape, and headpiece all of which has been treated so that they won’t ignite when he lights her cape up with “a little synthetic fire Portia and I came up with” (p. 67). The “Girl who was on fire” look, of course, steals the show, especially with the two District 12 tributes holding hands on Cinna’s instructions.

The stylists come to dinner and Haymitch tells Cinna that the hand-holding was “just the perfect touch of rebellion.” Katniss has to agree that “presenting ourselves not as adversaries but as friends has distinguished us as much as the firy costumes” (p.79). Haymitch sends Peeta and Katniss away “while the grown-ups talk” (p. 79).

Cinna and Portia show up again later for the de-briefing meal after the private sessions with the Gamesmakers (chapter 8). Cinna asks the first question when Katniss tells them she “shot an arrow” at them. “And what did they say? says Cinna carefully (p. 106). He gives her a hug when she learns she has the highest score:

“Oh, wait until they see your interview dress.”

“More flames?” I ask.

“Of a sort,” he says mischievously. (p.109)

Katniss spends a miserable day being prepped for the interview by Effie, Haymitch, and the actual physical prep team before she has her time with her stylist. Just as with the chariot outfit and entrance advice about hands, Cinna creates the image and theme that gets Katniss through the ordeal well ahead of the pack.

Having put on the dress with her eyes closed, Katniss sees her image in the mirror (p. 120):

The creature standing before me in the full-length mirror has come from another world. Where skin shimmers and eyes flash and apparently where they make their clothes from jewels. Because my dress, oh, my dress is entirely covered in reflective precious gems, red and yellow and white with bits of blue that accent the tips of the flame design. The slightest movement gives the impression I am engulfed in tongues of fire.

That, of course, is a reference to the experience of the Apostles and Virgin Mary at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon them: “And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them” (Acts 2:3, KJV). In case the “illumined by the Holy Spirit” reference wasn’t clear enough, Cinna drives it home by telling her she should “just be yourself” rather than put on the usual act (p. 121):

“I don’t find you [sullen and hostile]. The prep team adores you. You even won over the Gamesmakers. And as for the citizens of the Capitol, well, they can’t stop talking about you. No one can help but admire your spirit.”

Katniss grabs at this straw as her best hope and eagerly accepts Cinna’s further suggestion that she pretend during the Flickerman drama that she is talking to Cinna rather than Caesar. The strategy — with a cue from the stylist to twirl the tongues-of-fire outfit — works to perfection. Only Peeta’s revelation that he is love with “the girl on fire” ices that cake.

Cinna dresses and escorts Katniss to the tracker placement in a hovercraft and then for the trip to the arena. Why are the stylists taken to the arena and allowed to launch their tributes? No idea. “Cinna has had no say in my outfit, does not even know what will be in the [clothing] package” (chapter 10, p. 146). Cinna does braid Katniss’ hair and get her dressed, but we learn the reason he is there when he “pulls the gold mockingjay pin from his pocket” that he rescued from the “green outfit you wore on the train” (ibid). Katniss had completely forgotten Madge’s gift and the District token; Cinna walked it through a review board process and fixes it to her shirt.

Not an insignificant accessory.

We don’t see Cinna again in Games, of course, until after Katniss’ Berry Rebellion and clean-up/recovery. When she meets her team “Cinna just hugs me tight and doesn’t say anything” (chapter 26, p. 352). She is prepped by the three beauticians and Cinna gives her a new dress, the subdued, Polly Purebread ‘Girl on Fire’ look (p. 355):

I am still the “girl on fire.” The sheer fabric softly glows. Even the slight movement in the air sends a ripple up my body. By comparison, the chariot costume seems garish, the interview dress too contrived. In this dress, I give the illusion of wearing candlelight….

I look very simply, like a girl. A young one. Fourteen at the most. Innocent. Harmless. Yes, it is shocking that Cinna has pulled this off when you remember I’ve just won the Games….

Although I do not yet understand Cinna’s design, It’s a reminder the Games are not quite finished. And beneath his benign reply, I sense a warning. Of something he can’t even mention in front of his own team.

Haymitch explains the design in his warning; Katniss realizes “I’ll need to look as girlish and innocent as possible” (chapter 27, p. 360). Katniss and Peeta, also in a candlelight shirt, watch the first three hour “love story” highlight reel ever.

Next day she is prepped by the gang of gigglers and Cinna “dresses me in a white, gauzy dress and pink shoes. Then he personally adjusts my make-up until I seem to radiate a soft, rosy glow.”

A radiant rose? All dressed in white?

The live interview goes perfectly. Is Cinna the “someone” Katniss says returns “the mockingjay pin Madge gave me” to her room? We don’t know. Cinna’s part in Games ends with Katniss noting that “we barely have time to say goodbye to Cionna and Portia” (p. 378).

On to Catching Fire. We see a lot more of Cinna in Fire.

  • He arrives with clothing for the photo shoot of Katniss’ faux talent; he again dresses her in the “simple clothes” and colors he prefers: “Flowing black pants made of a thick warm material. A confortable white shirt. A sweater woven from green and blue and gray strands of kitten-soft wool” (pp. 39-40).
  • He puts her in a white fur coat (“Ermine,” he tells me; p. 41) and a “bright red scarf” for the District 12 trip to the Victory Tour train and pins the mockingjay token “on the knot in the scarf.”
  • For the District 11 stop, he dresses Katniss in an incendiary “orange frock patterned with autumn leaves,” a headband “of metallic gold,” and again he is the one who secures “the mockingjay pin I wore in the arena to my dress” (pp. 56-7).
  • After the District 11 debacle, “Cinna comes up behind me and arranges a shimmering silver wrap around my shoulders” (p. 68).
  • We get to see the wedding dresses (p. 166):

Creamy lace and pink roses and ringlets. Ivory satin and gold tattoos and greenery. A sheath of diamonds and jeweled veil and moonlight. Heavy white silk and sleeves that fall from my wrist to the floor, and pearls.

  • Cinna is interviewed by Caesar Flickerman for the Panem-wide broadcast of the television show in which Katniss wears all six dresses and the Capitol audience votes for their favorite. President Snow reads the Quarter Quell card that sends Katniss back in the arena at the end of this show. Ouch.
  • On the train trip to the Capitol, the prep team loses control of their emotions when working with the seemingly doomed Katniss. Cinna assures Katniss he won’t weep on her: “Don’t worry. I always channel my emotions into my work. That way I don’t hurt anyone but myself” (p. 205).
  • This year’s chariot outfit? A harsher, smoldering girl-on-fire (pp. 206-207):

The costume looks deceptively simple at first, just a fitted black jumpsuit that covers me from the neck down. He places a half-crown like the one I received as victor on my head, but it’s made of a heavy black metal, not gold. Then he adjusts the light in the room to mimic twilight and presses a button just inside the fabric on my wrist. I look down, fascinated, as my ensemble slowly comes to life, first with a soft, golden light but gradually transforming to the orange red of burning coal. I look as if I have been coated in glowing embers — no, I am a glowing ember straight from our fireplace…

[Looking in a mirror,] I do not see a girl, or even a woman, but some unearthly being who looks like she might make her home in the volcano… Katniss, the girl on fire, has left behind her flickering flames and bejeweled gowns and soft candlelight frocks. She is as deadly as fire itself.

  • Cinna advises her this time “no waving, no smiling,” just contempt. Katniss happily complies.
  • Cinna and Portia again make the scene for the presentation of scores after the Victors’ private sessions with the Gamesmakers.
  • Cinna has an outfit for the Flickerman pre-Quell interview, but it seems to be a wedding dress he designed for Katniss that he brings because President Snow ordered him to rather than an original production. It is “heavy white silk with a low neckline and tight waist and sleeves that fall from my wrists to the floor. And pearls. Everywhere pearls” (p. 247).
  • It’s much heavier than when Katniss tried it on in District 12. Cinna explains, “I had to make some slight alterations because of the lighting” (p.248). Ho, ho. By twirling on stage, Katniss initiates “the lighting” of the fire that consumes her wedding dress and reveals her mockingjay costume beneath it. Cinna did not pin the mockingjay token on the wedding dress, because this time the rebellion symbol was within the design.
  • Cinna again accompanies Katniss to the launch plate and helps her dress. To no one’s surprise I hope “he takes my gold mockingjay pin from his pocket and fixes it to the jumpsuit” (p. 262). When she is within the glass cylinder tube, three Peacekeepers enter the room and beat Cinna to a bloody pulp with metal-studded gloves. They drag him out of the room and “all that’s left are the smears of blood on the floor” (pp. 262-3).

Cinna and Portia are not mentioned in the Quell or in the Hovercraft making its round about way to District 13.

(2) Who is Cinna? His Artistry in Review

Two things I left out of the survey are important to grasp for understanding who Cinna is and the meaning of his artistry beyond the few details we have about his physical appearance. First, he admires beauty where he finds it; his comments in admiration of the naked Katniss’ hair styling, a ‘do done by her mother, startles her and all but wins her heart at the start. Second, he asserts that he was not assigned District 12 because he was the new guy; “I asked for District 12,” he says without further explanation (Games, chapter 5, p. 65).

This choice and his comment “How despicable we must seem to you!” a moment later are consistent with his rebellious, even incendiary designs for Katniss’ outfits. He has a revolutionary message for Panem’s repressed districts that there is a greater power than the force the Capitol uses to crush them and a larger, more engaging story than the political metanarrative of brutality and helplessness the Hunger Games delivers.

His primary images to convey this message are light, love, and freedom. Every one of the colors for Katniss’ outfits that he designs communicate the idea of light in darkness, of fire on coal, of pearls that are the lights out of the depths. In  Games and Fire, Cinna works with coal for the chariot ride because he must use the district’s signature product; in each book, though, it is the light of flame on the coal, the girl on fire, that is the point. In Games, all the outfits he designs, each with a subtly different message to fit the circumstances are gold-colored because gold is solid-light or hard-fire. In Fire, the white stage of the series, the public outfits are white with perhaps a touch of red, but the meaning is the same; the purity of white, silver, and ermine are a reflection of the radiance within.

The love images are his work with Portia in co-ordinating Peeta’s and Katniss’ outfits and their relationship (“Hold hands!”) to communicate that the two are not pawns of the powerful Capitol’s Hunger Games but young people in love, subject to a greater power. Haymitch recognizes this counter-narrative as rebellious immediately in the hand-holding and congratulates Cinna for it.

The freedom image, of course, is the mockingjay token, the golden circle with bird-of-unintended-consequences which Cinna always seems to have in hand when it’s time to get dressed and about which Katniss seems singularly indifferent. Cinna, fortunately, recognizes the power of the symbol and its complementary meaning with the colors and images he is using to write a story within the Hunger Games story that will inspire a counter-response to or rejection of the Games’ fear and hopelessness.

We learn in Fire’s denouement in the hovercraft that “Plutarch Heavensbee has been, for several years, part of an undercover group aiming to overthrow the Capitol” (chapter 27, p. 385). I think this is the Capitol branch of the Pearl Plot and that Cinna is a key part of it if not its leader.

Haymitch tells Katniss in his typically harsh fashion on this hovercraft ride that her passion and immaturity are why she is in the dark about what’s going on. “See, this is why no one lets you make the plans” (p. 384). We’ve seen him making plans without her, remember? Right after congratulating Cinna on the rebellious quality of the hand-holding, he sends Katniss and Peeta to bed for sleep “while the grown-ups talk” (Games, p. 79). Cinna is the other “grown-up” in the room.

Cinna is careful with everything he says or asks Katniss and is as careful with his emotions and exterior displays. Everything about Cinna is subdued except his artistry. As he says in Fire, “I always channel my emotions into my work. That way I don’t hurt anyone but myself” (p. 205). As inflammatory, literally and figuratively, as Cinna’s designs are, they use Katniss as a vehicle without abusing her. He creates and protects her as invaluable symbolic property for the revolution.

Cinna is an artist in the service of the rebellion, an agent sending contra-cultural, contra-medium messages within the oppressive and demeaning context of the Hunger Games themselves. If we didn’t get this from his luminous, loving, and freedom inspiring designs, his name might tell us as much.

(3) Who is Cinna? His Alchemical Function

Hunger Games names, especially those in the Capitol, are taken largely from the age of the Roman Caesars. Plutarch, Octavia, Portia, Darius, Flavius, Venia, Brutus, and Cato are examples of this. ‘Cinna’ is, too, and with a twist. The two most notable members of the Cinna branch from the Cornelius gens are Lucius Cornelius Cinna and Gnaeus Cornelius Cinna Magnus. Both men served the emperor in public office but were rumored to be plotting against him. The latter even received a pardon from Augustus for his conspiracies.

But an anti-imperial revolutionary working within the imperial government is only the surface layer meaning of Cinna’s name. As STS pointed out here, Cinna also suggests ‘cinnabar,’ the scarlet to dull red ore of mercury (HgS).If you see the word ‘mercury’ at HogwartsProfessor, of course, you should expect literary alchemy to be in the offing. Here it comes… after a short detour!

There are reasons to doubt that Cinna will play a large role in Mockingjay beyond having been beaten to death or near-to-death by Peacekeepers at the end of Fire. Most notably, I think, his value as a weaver of images to be projected over the airwaves for the revolutionaries largely depended on his ability to work within the Capitol bureaucracy as an employee and the Hunger Games continuing to be broadcast to the districts. Neither of those things seemed likely at the beginning and especially not at the end of the Third Quell. Unless President Snow is in on the Pearl Plot, I have trouble imagining the Capitol power-holders giving Cinna access to Panem television screens and through them to the rebels in the streets of the districts.

Having said that it seems superficially improbable that Cinna will have a stylist’s role in Mockingjay, the ore of mercury aspect of his name suggests he will be. Cinnabar is dark red. Mockingjay is the series rubedo or red stage. As much as Cinna is the alchemical painter with the black, white, red, and gold palate of Hunger Games, I expect to see him back to give us more “radiant rosy reds” in the crucible of the revolution.

I think it’s important to note, too, something I think fairly obvious if you’ve read this far into an overly long post. Cinna is not a ‘Minor Character‘ of the series (if you doubt that, read the review of Cinna scenes above one more time). He is, as alchemical mercury, the agent of Katniss’ transformation in conjunction with Haymitch Abernathy, the story’s sulfuric transparency.

This isn’t just an argument based on the association of Cinna and Cinnabar-mercury, though, like Romeo and Juliet’s Mercutio and Harry Potter’s Hermione, that sort of name marker is hard to overlook. Mercury in the alchemical work represents the feminine and intellectual pole of aspect in opposition and coordination with the more masculine and passionate or willful pole. Cinna is a Panem caricature of the effeminate New York Garment District fashion designer: “Get dressed, you worthless thing,” he says, tossing a bundle of clothes at me (Fire, chapter 3, p. 39).

He consoles, coaches, and listens in good-cop fashion to what Katniss is thinking and feeling — and designs brilliant outfits for her, ‘brilliant’ both in the sense of ‘genius’ and literally ‘illuminating,’ outfits that bring out the “spirit” in her and inspire the viewing audience. He does not quarrel with Haymitch Abernathy his polar contrary who takes the opposite tack in guiding Katniss. Both Haymitch and Cinna, though, sulfur and mercury working in opposition for her purification and survival as Mockingjay-Phoenix, are essential in their complementary and antagonistic qualities to the Great Work.

Given that Cinna and Haymitch seem to have been the principal lieutenants if not the directors of the Pearl Plot themselves, at least in that part of the Plot we have been able to see through Katniss’ point of view, it’s very hard to imagine Ms. Collins delivering on the themes of the story so far without Cinna being there to manipulate the teevee images and making sure Katniss is wearing her mockingjay token.

Is Cinna an Embedded Suzanne Collins?

In a guest post yesterday, Sharon Jackson of Australia wrote that the Hunger Games books were an allegory critical of the United States’ position as the world’s most-favored nation (see ‘The Capitol is Capitol Hill‘). The curious thing about this, of course, is that this critical portrait of the US is written by an American from a family with pride in its military background. I think the role that artists play in the books, especially Cinna but Peeta and Katniss, too, explain what Ms. Collins is after here.

Peeta’s artistry is meant to awaken and challenge his audience. He’s sending a message much like Cinna, perhaps with Portia’s coaching. Think of his painting a picture of Rue with flowers for the Gamesmakers to awaken their conscience. Much like his star-crossed lover performance in the Games arena and in the Quell,  this painting reflects the ambition he shared with Katniss on the rooftop before the first Games to do something before he dies that will reveal he is not just a pawn of the Capitol. This ambition, of course, is what inspires Katniss to honor Rue in death as she does. Peeta’s choice for sending his message to the Capitol audience, though, was to sacrifice himself to save Katniss, his beloved, i.e., to put love above ego advantage, even survival.

This is Peeta’s radical message that Katniss adopts, namely, ‘love means more than life.’ Their story undermines the power-and-humiliation ideas implicit to the Games and eventually, in the narrative line at least, destroys them vis a vis the arrow into the force field. Attacking the story parameters, remembering the metanarrative ‘system’ is the real enemy, Katniss’ last thoughts in the Quell are about the Pearl that Peeta has given her as a token of his love, the Pearl of Great Price.

This is heroic artistry on the tribute’s part but it wouldn’t have been possible except for Cinna’s genius with clothing design. His ‘girl on fire’ outfits in light, gold, orange, yellow, and white, not to mention the fiery chariot costumes and Katniss’ mockingjay wedding dress that gives the second book its name, preserve and project the message that these star-crossed lovers are not subject to the parameters of kill-or-be-killed selfishness that are the rule of the Games. They are light in darkness and loving inspiration set in the most demeaning and destructive story medium imaginable.

Alfred Hitchcock appeared in almost every one of his many films by inserting a short cameo of himself, even in films like Lifeboat where the limited set made this much more difficult. My parthian thought on the subject of Cinna is that Ms. Collins has written herself into the story of Hunger Games, not as a Mary Sue character like Bella Swan or Harry Potter, but in cameo a la Hitchcock, albeit here as a major character. I have three reasons for this suspicion.

The first is the idea that the political allegory of Hunger Games is largely as Mrs. Jackson explained it, namely, that the Capitol represents the decadent United States and the suppressed twelve districts of Panem represent the rest of the world (12 often symbolizing the whole). If this is the case, then Ms. Collins as an American is writing a story in which she is saying to the oppressed of the world and to her fellow citizens “You must find [US] despicable!” much as Cinna is speaking to both Katniss’ districts and the people of the Capitol.

Next, Cinna is writing image-stories with his clothes designs that are producing a message that is contrary to the Hunger Games medium in which that message is expressed. He sets the stage for Katniss’ and Peeta’s sacrificial and loving choices in the Games by having engaged their audience and made them sympathetic, even supportive of the lovers caught in a nightmare world of murder and mayhem.

If you have read Jerry Mander’s Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television (and if you haven’t, you should), you recognize this delusion of reforming the teevee beast from within as the fantasy of most television writers who don’t understand the nature of the medium or its effect on the human person. There cannot be a lasting or ultimately ennobling message sent through something that only stimulates the desires and sentiments.

Ms. Collins, however, was a television writer for many years. Hunger Games I think in its exaggeration of the power of Cinna’s images and Katniss’ story to inspire rebellion in the districts and outrage or even confusion in the Capitol reflects the wish-fulfillment fantasies of television writers that they can overturn a glass-tit culture using inspired boob-tube programming. That’s not possible — witness this story being as powerful as it is precisely because it was not written as a television program or screenplay but as fiction requiring imaginative rather than sense engagement — but the Cinna character seems to represent the former (?) teevee writer’s belief that it is or wish that it was.

My last reason for thinking that Ms. Collins is using Cinna as a story stand-in for the revolutionary television writer she always wanted or still hopes to be is her self-description on a YouTube video as a Gamesmaker in recovery. She seems to have misgivings about her work on television and Cinna is definitely the anti-telivision television writer’s kind of guy. I mean, smuggling alchemical imagery into the hearts and minds of readers is the business of great writers like Ms. Collins, bit wouldn’t it be neat if it were possible to do that with teevee like Cinna does?

I look forward to reading your thoughts about Cinna as revolutionary artist, as alchemical mercury, and as Suzanne Collins’ embedding herself into the narrative as an American criticizing America through her Katniss story transparencies. I covet, as always, your comments and corrections — except about the value of teevee.

HG cakeHappy Birthday to Dr. Freeman’s daughter! She celebrated with a Hunger Games inspired cake. Yumm. May the odds always be in your favor, indeed.


  1. Here is a thought that my 13 year old son had about 6 weeks ago when we were listening to Hunger Games and Catching Fire during a car trip – He told me that he believes that Cinna and Portia are from District 13. That they somehow, maybe with the help of Plutarch Heavensbee, were able to secure positions as stylists in the games. My mouth dropped open at this point, since I had just the night before stumbled on this site and read the “Pearl Plot” and other in-depth literary analysis on these two books. This thought could fit with the idea that Katniss and Peeta were not randomly chosen for the games, but selected for their skills, chemistry, history, etc. My 9 year old chimed in right after that she didn’t think that the mine accident that killed Katniss’ father was a true accident. That he and Gale’s father were targeted for breaking too many of the Capitol’s rules by hunting and making weapons. (I was driving at the time and these revelations from my children made me nearly run the car off the road!) I told them about this discussion forum and they ask me to post their ideas to see if anyone else had similar or contrary ones!

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