Teaching Symbolism Using Mockingjay

August 30th, 2010 by Brian Leave a reply »

When I was a Language Arts teacher, I would always look for examples from life of symbolism to help students connect the concept to reality. Things like a heart representing love or a red light representing the idea of stopping translate well.

Where it got tough was connecting it to literature. Sure, we understand a peace sign, but what about a character carrying an olive branch? Sometimes it’s like we’re stretching too much (and it seems like that because, frankly, sometimes we English teachers find symbols everywhere…even if the author didn’t intend them).

Mockingjay (and the whole Hunger Games series) has symbolism all over the place. I want to focus specifically on the mockingjay. It’s a bird that the rebels used in their fight against the Capitol before the first book starts. Throughout the story arc we see the mockingjay show up when freedom is discussed.

But what I think is the really cool spin that Suzanne Collins does is to label Katniss as the mockingjay (most characters call her that at least once). She is now the symbol of freedom for those oppressed by Panem. What makes it work is that Katniss struggles with freedom. She is in constant rebellion and many characters are able to point out that her individualism has swung so far that it is considered a character flaw. She isn’t completely free, though. Throughout she is described as the girl on fire (another symbol) who will fly away, but she doesn’t feel like she has the wings to do it (she even voices her concern for a lack of wings).

Her fight for freedom, not just from Panem but in the larger “transition to adulthood” freedom, is what causes every other plot point. She is a flawed mockingjay figuring out how to fly (cue the Foo Fighters song).

I think that many students will be familiar with the Hunger Games series after a while and that the series will provide a great example for symbolism that they can connect to.


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